Won 0 Oscars / Nominated for 0 more
It's so rare for me to like a horror movie as much as I did this one. The plot is set up wonderfully, so we know the motivations of each character who plan to rob a blind guy's house. What results is the craziest game of hide-and-seek of all time. Mysteries are unraveled and relationships are formed during this gruesome game. Dylan Minnette, who is a relatively new actor, shows a great deal of promise. In such a unique premise for a horror/thriller flick, Don't Breathe is absolutely worth the brisk 88 minute thrill ride in Stephen Lang's dark abode.
Won 0 Oscars / Nominated for 0 more
Another project I took on in 2016 is watch every piece of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The latest Captain America movie is the culmination of almost every character in this continuity. We are really only missing the Hulk and Thor here. Almost everyone else is accounted for, and it is sheer entertainment to see them duke it out against each other. Daniel Brühl as Zemo isn't a fantastic villain, but that might be a positive criticism about the movie. Because there isn't an end-of-the-world type scenario like in the Avengers movies, the large cast has time to fight among themselves and the story has time to reflect upon what has occurred in prior MCU films. Both sides of the conflict are presented fairly, and it is easy to see how politically divided our country would be if we really lived in a world of super heroes. The introduction of Black Panther is perfect, giving him enough exposure to fully understand the character, but not too much exposure to get us to want more for his solo adventure in 2018. I can't wait to see what the future of the MCU has in store.
Won 0 Oscars / Nominated for 0 more
The spiritual successor to Dazed and Confused (1993), this movie is a joyride. It follows a group of players on a college baseball team the few days before classes start. The characters are quickly understandable and they are all exceptionally funny in their own ways. The player that the movie focuses on the most is an incoming freshman, Jake played by Blake Jenner. Therefore, the point of view is from this freshmen's eyes, coming on to an established fraternity of sex-seeking college students. The balance of the baseball veterans both hazing and being protective of the new guys reminds me of the experience I had in my college marching band. I was able to connect to this complicated and delicate balance in a very deep way. Whenever the dialogue is between two characters, in which Jake is always involved, there are ideas presented that are very profound. Linklater knows how to have fun at these parties. but pull away at the perfect moment to give substance to this fun comedy. Here for a good time, not a long time.
Won 0 Oscars / Nominated for 4 more (Best Picture, Best Writing [Original], Best Supporting Actor, Best Film Editing)
This one feels a lot like No Country for Old Men (2007), but still has its original moments that keep it fresh and worth the Oscar buzz it received. It takes familiar plot lines, such as the retiring cop (Jeff Bridges), doing crime for a good purpose, and having the storylines meet up in a standoff near the conclusion. However, the movie takes the familiar and routinely serves something fresh in each scene. Jeff Bridges banter with his partner had me laughing out loud quite a bit. Ben Foster is the right amount of big and Chris Pine plays an uncharacteristically quieter role. This duo provides conflict in that you don't know if you should be rooting for them to be caught or to get away with their bank robbing spree. The cinematography of the landscape is also stunning. One shot in particular is breathtaking, in which both pairs of characters are driving across a bend in the road, on the way to the final bank robbery. If you're a fan of the Coen brothers film referenced above, this is one that will more than satisfy.
Won 2 Oscars (Best Actor, Best Writing [Original]) / Nominated for 4 more (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress)
Manchester by the Sea is a masterfully crafted and very depressing narrative. The writing, camerawork, and acting take us to a very dark place that is hard to surface from after the movie's credits. Casey Affleck gives an incredible performance, showing how light-hearted and fun his character is before the traumatic event, then showing a man who can never forgive himself and has a completely broken heart and psyche. His performance is so deserving of the Oscar he earned, as he is able to demonstrate this range of joy and heartbreak. Michelle Williams earns her keep as well, in a very memorable scene in which she confronts Affleck in the streets. The editing is also superb, in that we intermittently see hints at why Affleck is so broken, but the film waits to show the horrible catastrophe until well over an hour into the movie. It's a film that doesn't encourage multiple viewings due to how depressing the subject matter becomes, but the accolades are justified and almost everything about the movie is remarkable. A truly unique experience that must not be missed.
Won 1 Oscar (Best Sound Editing) / Nominated for 7 more (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Writing [Adapted], Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Production Design)
Arrival is such a smart sci-fi movie. It manages to keep everyone's attention without the usual violence and bloodshed of most alien invasion stories. Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner aren't here to throw punches. They're here to bring the science back to science fiction. I always enjoy the use of time in stories (see: my #1 movie of all time). In the third act, we learn how time works when it comes to how these aliens communicate and when Adams comes to this realization, which might occur either before or after the audience, everything clicks in terms of the purpose of the extra terrestrials. It's a plot that begs multiple viewings, especially after you learn the unique nature of the alien language. The music is also a highlight in that its positively chilling when the aliens are involved. Fantastic acting, a plot that involves time, Amy Adams, atmospheric music, and science fiction; this is a movie that contains so many elements that are associated with my movie-going tastes.
Won 0 Oscars / Nominated for 2 more (Best Animated Feature, Best Song ["How Far I'll Go"])
Songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda is an Oscar short of becoming an EGOT. With an Emmy, two Grammys, three Tonys, and even the Pulitzer to his name, Miranda has already become one of the most decorated songwriters...and he's only thirty seven. He's also the biggest reason why I enjoy Moana so much. His songs, most notably "How Far I'll Go" and "You're Welcome," have been constantly playing on my phone since I left the theater last November. The score by Mark Mancina complements the songs very well. It is easy to get swept up in the ocean waves along with Moana with this wonderful music. The characterizations of Moana and Maui are dynamic so it is fun to see how the story changes them over the course of the film, the animation (especially the hair) is impressive, and the voice acting is magnificent. Disney has been on a roll with their animated output lately, and this is no different.
Won 0 Oscars / Nominated for 1 more (Best Supporting Actor)
Looking at my number 5 film and this selection, it might be easy to tell who my favorite actress is. Amy Adams demonstrates her range so well when comparing Arrivals to this. In Nocturnal Animals, she is very understated. A big reason is that she is alone in most of her scenes. The plot revolves around her reading a book that her ex wrote. The movie takes us into the novel's story, which contains standout performances from Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Michael Shannon. It also gives us flashbacks to Adams past, when she was dating Jake Gyllenhaal. One can start drawing parallels between the novel's story and these flashbacks, partly due to the outstanding editing. Other than the acting, editing and the script, this is a beautiful film on so many more levels. The camerawork is exceptional, especially the lighting and colors. The book scenes were really warm and yellow, which juxtaposes the very deep blue scenes in which Adams is physically reading the book. The sound is also a highlight. The movie is very quiet at times, which contrasts how loud the gun shots are. The sound of the guns in this movie made me physically stir in my seat. The score has also been a mainstay on my phone for the past few months. If you can get past the very strange opening, there is so much to sink your teeth into here.
Won 3 Oscars (Best Picture, Best Writing [Adapted], Best Supporting Actor) / Nominated for 5 more (Best Director, Best Supporting Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score)
So I looked back at the previous years' lists to see where other Best Picture winners stood in my rankings. I slotted the Best Picture winner at numbers 7 and 5 for 2014 and 2015, respectively. The 2016 winner jumps up to number 2, so maybe the Academy and I will come to an understanding soon. Moonlight is a gorgeous film in every way. From the camera, to the seamless transitions between each of the three times of the main character's life, to the wonderful acting and direction, and to the inclusion of both original and source music. The cinematography really stands out. There is a perfect blend of active and static frames. The camera is the first thing that draws you into the movie, even before we meet Chiron, so to have that bold spinning opening is key to setting the tone from a production standpoint. The demeanor of each actor playing Chiron is so similar to each other. This connects each of the three chapters in his life, even though he projects to be a very different person in those chapters. Getting this demeanor so similar in three different actors says a lot about the competency of the director, Barry Jenkins. Although Damien Chazelle is my favorite current director, I was pulling for Jenkins in the latest Awards. Last but not least, the identity crisis concept is so powerful. Chiron suppresses his true self and lets the world around him shape who he portrays to be. I think most people can relate to this. I certainly can, which makes this film one of the most introspective pieces I've experienced in a long while. Although the main character is Black and gay, two things that I am not, I still connected with this movie on such an emotional level. Listening to the score or even thinking about this movie can bring me to tears. Not my "favorite" film of the year, but certainly the best. The Academy got it right.
Won 6 Oscars (Best Director, Best Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Original Song ["City of Stars"], Best Production Design) / Nominated for 8 more (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Writing (Original), Best Film Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Original Song ["Audition"])
It didn't win as many awards as it was projected to win, but La La Land constantly demonstrates why it had so many nominations in the first place. The modern day musical has been reinvigorated by Damien Chazelle, who has used jazz as a central plot point in all three of his feature films thus far. This fusion of music and plot is key to why I like his movies so much. Every single song is a home run. My favorite is "Audition," but the duets between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are something to behold. Not only is the in-movie music excellent, but the score is great too. There is hardly a moment to let your ears take a break. This is another soundtrack that has been on repeat since I left the theater. To this day, I listen to the songs at least once every other day. The cinematography, a common theme that is among my top three films, is also masterful. I counted multiple instances of super long takes with a constantly moving camera. It makes me not only appreciate the camera work and how good it looks, but the choreography and competence of the actors and dancers. The opening number is particularly impressive. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are superb. They make you fall in love with the story, which makes the music that much more enjoyable. The style overall is a bit nostalgic to musicals from an era gone by. This is done with class in that it doesn't feel like a checklist of every musical trope ever, but an homage to the classics. The balance between old and new is perfectly struck. La La Land will continue to dazzle cine-philes for years to come. It inspires the viewer the go back and watch the sources of inspiration for it like Singin' in the Rain (1952) and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), while cementing itself as an instant classic. This is a movie that makes me happy and excited for the future of cinema itself. Here's hoping musicals make more of a comeback and here's to the dreamers.