Oscar Predictions 2017

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Well, here we are again…it’s the day before the Oscar nominations are announced and I’m going out on a limb with my picks for who will get nominations early Tuesday morning.  It’s been a good year for movies though I’m a bit puzzled how some films and performances have gone the distance while others haven’t even been a part of the conversation.  Always a little bitter with the sweet, right?

Thanks again to Shane over at Film Actually for organizing a little contest between online critics!

Here are my picks for the 2017 Oscar Nominations…keep in mind these aren’t necessarily who I WANT to be nominated.  I’ll talk more about that tomorrow after the nominations are announced.

BEST PICTURE
1. Arrival
2. Fences
3. Hacksaw Ridge
4. Hell or High Water
5. Hidden Figures
6. La La Land
7. Lion
8. Manchester By the Sea
9. Moonlight

BEST DIRECTOR
1. Damien Chazelle – La La Land
2. Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge
3. Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
4. Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester By the Sea
5. Dennis Villenueve – Arrival

BEST ACTOR
1. Casey Affleck – Manchester By the Sea
2. Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
3. Ryan Gosling – La La Land
4. Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
5. Denzel Washington – Fences

BEST ACTRESS
1. Amy Adams – Arrival
2. Isabelle Huppert – Elle
3. Natalie Portman – Jackie
4. Emma Stone – La La Land
5. Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
1. Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
2. Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
3. Hugh Grant – Florence Foster Jenkins
4. Lucas Hedges – Manchester By the Sea
5. Dev Patel – Lion

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
1. Viola Davis – Fences
2. Naomie Harris – Moonlight
3. Nicole Kidman – Lion
4. Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
5. Michelle Williams – Manchester By the Sea

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
1. Eric Heisserer – Arrival
2. August Wilson – Fences
3. Allison Schroeder, Theodore Melfi – Hidden Figures
4. Luke Davies – Lion
5. Barry Jenkins – Moonlight

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
1. Matt Ross – Captain Fantastic
2. Taylor Sheridan – Hell or High Water
3. Damien Chazelle – La La Land
4. Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou – The Lobster
5. Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester By the Sea

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
1. A Man Called Ove – Sweden
2. Toni Erdmann – Germany
3. The Salesman – Iran
4. Land of Mine – Denmark
5. My Life as a Zucchini – Switzerland

BEST EDITING
1. Arrival
2. Hacksaw Ridge
3. La La Land
4. Manchester By the Sea
5. Moonlight

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
1. Arrival
2. Jackie
3. La La Land
4. Moonlight
5. Silence

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
1. Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them
2. The Handmaiden
3. La La Land
4. Jackie
5. Silence

BEST SOUND MIXING
1. Arrival
2. Hacksaw Ridge
3. The Jungle Book
4. La La Land
5. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

BEST SOUND EDITING
1. Arrival
2. Hacksaw Ridge
3. La La Land
4. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
5. Silence

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
1. Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them
2. Florence Foster Jenkins
3. Jackie
4. La La Land
5. Silence

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
1. Mica Levi – Jackie
2. Justin Hurwitz – La La Land
3. Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka – Lion
4. Nicholas Britell – Moonlight
5. Michael Giacchino – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
1. 13th
2. The Eagle Huntress
3. I am Not Your Negro
4. OJ: Made in America
5. Weiner

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
1. Finding Dory
2. Kubo and the Two Strings
3. Moana
4. The Red Turtle
5. Zootopia

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
1. Arrival
2. Doctor Strange
3. Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them
4. The Jungle Book
5. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING
1. Deadpool
2. Florence Foster Jenkins
3. A Man Called Ove

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
1. Audition (The Fools Who Dream) – La La Land
2. Runnin’ – Hidden Figures
3. City of Stars – La La Land
4. How Far I’ll Go – Moana
5. Drive it Like You Stole It – Sing Street

Movie Review ~ Split

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The Facts
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Synopsis: After three girls are kidnapped by a man with 24 distinct personalities they must find some of the different personalities that can help them while running away and staying alive from the others.

Stars: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor Joy, Betty Buckley, Jessica Sula, Haley Lu Richardson

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 117 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review:  I hate to say it, but M. Night Shyamalan brought it all on himself.  With a succession of movies, the writer/director (producer, cameo, etc.) introduced sophisticated ideas wrapped in a mystery to less and less fanfare.  Known more for his twist endings than the sum total of his accomplishments, the director of The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs began to lose himself in the inner-workings of his storytelling. Sacrificing plot, good dialogue, and characterization for that one moment, “the twist”, that would entice an audience into sticking with the film despite the absurdity of it all, it wasn’t long before Shyamalan’s name stopped being the selling point and instead became an Achilles Heel.

Laying low for a few years and producing the occasional movie or TV show, Shyamalan emerged from the shadows with 2015’s The Visit, a tight little scare fest made for a small fee which wound up doing surprisingly good business.  Showing he wasn’t entirely beholden to his twist endings (though that film did have one), good will led Shyamalan back into the conversation and it felt as if his second act in Hollywood had begun.

The first thing I’ll tell you about Shyamalan’s Split, and to keep spoilers squashed I won’t tell you much, is to do your best to go in without thinking of this as the horror film its being falsely marketed as.  True, the film boasts a few nerve jangling moments and an overall sense of dread usually reserved for films with a high body count, but I made the mistake of expecting a thrill ride when in reality Split is more like an uncomfortable Sunday drive.

A trio of girls celebrating a birthday at a local mall are abducted in the parking lot and held captive in an underground compound by a man (James McAvoy, Trance) with dissociative identity disorder (DID).  While two of the girls (Jessica Sula & Haley Lu Richardson, both largely forgettable) plot a way of escape, the third (Anya Taylor Joy, Morgan & The Witch) takes a different approach, recognizing their captor could be manipulated depending on which of his 23 personalities they are talking to.  Time is running out, though, for several of the identities talk of a 24th personality, The Beast, that’s “on the move.”  Meanwhile, the man’s psychiatrist (Betty Buckley, Carrie), disturbed by a concerning change in demeanor for her patient, attempts to lure out the new personality that’s been causing trouble.

To me there are two short films going on here with overlapping ideas that Shyamalan couldn’t quite stretch to feature length.  The first is the kidnapping plot with its increasingly desperate attempts at escape from the teenagers and the second is a film centered on the psychiatrist exploring the inner workings of DID.  Both have some value and are staged nicely by Shyamalan with tight close-ups that give the film a claustrophobic feeling but to really take on discussions of mental illness Split needed to choose which story to tell and it never can decide.

Taylor Joy’s saucer-eyes look great in a Shyamalan close-up and the actress keeps a sense of mystery along the way that’s as interesting as it is slightly creepy.  Through flashbacks we see her as a child spending time with her father and uncle; there’s something off about these memories and as the film progresses, we begin to see why.  Shyamalan throws a lot of unspoken feelings at Taylor Joy and asks her to fill in the blanks which she winds up conveying quite convincingly.

Surprisingly, it’s Buckley that nearly steals the show…though considering her storied history on stage and screen it’s not that surprising at all.  Her therapy sessions with McAvoy’s character(s) give the film it’s most crackling edge and I kept wondering if these intimately crafted scenes hadn’t originally been written for the stage.  Buckley doesn’t appear on screen as often as she should but her performance here makes you wish she would.

At the end of the day, though, this is McAvoy’s picture and he walks away with the whole kit and caboodle.  There’s such a very fine line between honest and camp when it comes to playing a character with multiple personalities but McAvoy approaches each with a level of dignity and respect.  True, there are some moments McAvoy got too actor-y for my taste but overall it’s a dynamic, full-bodied performance that goes far beyond simply changing his voice or how he holds himself.  With each new personality introduced, McAvoy seems to change appearance entirely which makes the impending arrival of the feared 24th identity even  more ominous.

Audiences familiar with Shyamalan have been well trained to prepare for a twist but my advice would be not to look too hard.  There are a few late-breaking turns that won’t come as a total surprise and one big shocker at the end you’re either going to love or hate (the audience at mine was an audible mixture of both) but Split is less concerned with fooling its audience and more interested in bringing them into the mind of trauma victims coping with their past in the present.  It’s not an entirely successful film (and at nearly two hours, a too long one at that) but it’s stuck with me just like Shyamalan’s earlier work did.

Movie Review ~ Patriots Day

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The Facts
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Synopsis: An account of Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis’s actions in the events leading up to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath, which includes the city-wide manhunt to find the terrorists behind it.

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, J.K. Simmons, Michelle Monaghan, Alex Wolff, Khandi Alexander, Melissa Benoist, Themo Melikidze

Director: Peter Berg

Rated: R

Running Length: 133 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: I can still vividly remember watching the manhunt unfold back in 2013 for the two men suspected of orchestrating the bombings at the Boston Marathon.  Glued to the late night breaking news, I watched as police and FBI surrounded a boat suspected to be the hiding place of the last living suspect and held my breath along with the rest of the country.  By now we know how things turned out but even going into Patriots Day with these facts, audiences are bound to be caught up once again in the true life tale of that fateful day in April and the men, women, and children whose lives were forever changed in an instant.

Based on several different sources and news accounts, Patriots Day is the second film released in 2016 surrounding a real-life event directed by Peter Berg and starring Mark Wahlberg.  It was only back in late September the director and star teamed up for the underseen Deepwater Horizon which was a strong collaboration after first finding success in 2013’s excellent Lone Survivor.  Berg (Battleship) and Wahlberg (The Gambler) have scored their highest marks yet with Patriots Day, an effective and authentic examination of the investigation surrounding the hours/days after the bombing.

Patriots’ Day, Boston’s state holiday to celebrate the first battles of the Revolutionary War, also marks the annual Boston Marathon and April 2013 started like any other day.  People took their time to get out of bed, kiss their loved ones, and become a spectator or participant in the race, all the while never suspecting they will become targets for two radicalized brothers striking back at perceived injustices in Afghanistan and Iraq at the hands of U.S. officials.

Berg and cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler (Mr. Holmes) jump around the city for the first part of the day, getting time with Wahlberg and his wife (Michelle Monaghan, Pixels), watching the Tsarnaev brothers (Alex Wolff, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 and Themo Melikidze) prepare for their crime, and finding moments to capture with other civilians and law enforcement officials who will become major players once the bombing occurs.  The lead-up to the devastation is taut but not fraught with clock watching tension and by the time it happens we’re a bit distracted and are caught off-guard much like everyone else was on that otherwise ordinary day.  After that, the movie takes off like a rocket as Wahlberg and his men secure the site and watch as the FBI comes in and makes their own rules.

Though populated with many real characters, Wahlberg’s Sgt. Tommy Saunders is an amalgamation of several different Boston police officers that were involved.  Wahlberg may be listed as the star but it’s not a “Mark Wahlberg Movie”, per se.  Rather, it’s an ensemble drama that seemed to go out of fashion with the disaster pictures of the ‘70s that introduces us to no less than a dozen players we’ll eventually cross paths with as the movie unfolds.

For nearly an hour, Wahlberg hovers on the periphery of the action while the likes of Kevin Bacon (Friday the 13th), John Goodman (Love the Coopers), and J.K. Simmons (Zootopia) are activated and enter the story.  I had forgotten many of the developments that happened during those desperate hours and learned a lot more about what happened behind the scenes as the bomb site was recreated to piece together the clues that led authorities to the brothers on that final fateful night.  For all you small bladder people out there, be sure to visit the restroom before the final act or plan on holding it for the duration because the final hour of Patriots Day is a breathless cat and mouse game between the brothers on the run and the officers sniffing out their trail.  There’s a well-staged shoot-out that rivals anything the OK Corral could throw at you and a real sense of the dangerously high stakes permeates every frame.

Wahlberg continues to carve out a better than decent track record with his performances and the Boston-bred actor invests himself totally in this role that obviously hits close to home.   The rest of the supporting players are strong but special mention should be made to those involved in two of the most successful scenes in Patriots Day.  As a student carjacked by the brothers, Jimmy O. Yang (The Internship) underplays his fear and visibly musters up the courage to break free from certain death.  Then there’s an interrogation scene between the wife of Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Melissa Benoist, The Longest Ride) and a FBI Agent (Khandi Alexander) that’s alone worth the price of admission. I don’t think I blinked during this brief but highly effective sequence.

Ending with a somber but gracious visit with the real people featured in the movie, Berg and company hit all the right notes with Patriots Day.  Like the previous two pictures they’ve made together, Berg and Wahlberg have shown a vested interest in bringing important tales of bravery/heroism to the screen with a reverential but not overly sentimental voice.

Movie Review ~ Monster Trucks

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The Facts
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Synopsis: Looking for any way to get away from the life and town he was born into, Tripp builds a Monster Truck from bits and pieces of scrapped cars. After an accident at a nearby oil-drilling site displaces a strange subterranean creature,Tripp may have just found the key to getting out of town and a most unlikely friend.

Stars: Lucas Till, Jane Levy, Thomas Lennon, Amy Ryan, Holt McCallany, Rob Lowe, Danny Glover, Barry Pepper

Director: Chris Wedge

Rated: PG

Running Length: 100 minutes

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review:  It’s not always the case, but when a completed movie sits on the shelf watching numerous planned release dates come and go it’s a sign something isn’t quite right.  Filmed nearly three years ago and waiting for a release date ever since, the early notices for Monster Trucks weren’t great and this silly (okay, stupid) family fare became the scapegoat for its studio (Paramount) to lay some of their money problems on.  I’m not sure how that all came about but there’s little in doubt the movie isn’t anything someone would be proud to feature on their tax returns, resume, or digital library.

Creaky from frame one, Monster Trucks shows its battle scars of reedits and reshoots loud and proud with familiar faces being introduced and then vanishing (Oscar nominee Amy Ryan pops up at the beginning and then is MIA until the epilogue, same goes for a wheelchair bound Danny Glover) or actors sporting different hairstyles and/or obvious wigs from one scene to the next.  That leaves the movie with ideas that are hard to string together, let alone follow with any kind of interest.

Teen Tripp (blank faced Lucas Till, Kristy) wants to get out of his small town and into…well, I dunno and obviously neither does the movie because Tripp is painted as someone that doesn’t know what he wants, but it sure isn’t what’s standing right in front of him.  Pined after by a sweet classmate (Jane Levy, Don’t Breathe), he’s a loner grease monkey more at home in the junkyard where he works than in school or at home.  His mom has married the local sheriff (Barry Pepper, The Lone Ranger, sporting lips so purple as to suggest a serious lack of oxygen) and his loser dad (Frank Whaley, Ironweed) is out of the picture working for a local oil company.

It’s at the drill site for the oil company where three creatures escape when the evil CEO (Rob Lowe, Sex Tape, oilier than the crude his company peddles) ignores environmental warnings of digging too deep.  Two “monsters” are captured but the third finds his way into Tripp’s life and fixer-upper roadster.  Going over what happens next isn’t worth my time or yours, but know that Tripp’s new friend Creech somehow becomes part of the car and improves the life (and gas mileage) for its young owner.

Directed by Chris Wedge, Monster Trucks is a very lame attempt at catering to a specific audience who are already wise enough to know there are better options out there.  Whether it be from its long gestation or problematic production process, no one seems to be invested in the film and that goes double for the special effects team.  I’ve seen better effects in a Hot Wheels commercial and at least those are around 30 seconds.  At 100 minutes, Monster Trucks is the kind of roadkill material audiences of all ages are wise to avoid.

Movie Review ~ Live by Night

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The Facts
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Synopsis: A group of Boston-bred gangsters set up shop in balmy Florida during the Prohibition era, facing off against the completion and the Klu Klux Klan.

Stars: Ben Affleck, Zoe Saldana, Sienna Miller, Elle Fanning, Chris Messina, Chris Cooper, Anthony Michael Hall

Director: Ben Affleck

Rated: R

Running Length: 128 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: I’m not going to go into the strange vitriol directed at March’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice but will say that had Live by Night received a larger release in 2016, it would have been the second most mis-understood Ben Affleck film of the year.

There’s going to be a lot of people that don’t like this movie and maybe for good reason.  It’s an uneven throwback picture that feels comfortable in its gangster era trappings and broadly drawn characters several tiny degrees removed from Dick Tracy-esque caricatures.  It has about twelve endings with only the first three being the least bit satisfying and its director/star traipses around in an array of unintentionally humorous XXL zoot suits and wide brimmed fedoras locking lips with two very different broads.  Pushing the limits of two hours, it’s slow (but steady) and a far cry from the slow burn films Affleck has directed previously.

So why the moderately high score, you may ask?  Gosh…I just liked it…flaws and all.  I’m a big believer in just going with your gut and not letting films like these stew too long in the brain.  My advice would be to catch Live by Night when you’re in a forgiving mood and aren’t looking to have your socks totally knocked off.  Had Affleck (Gone Girl) not directed as well as starred in this and had it arrived three or four years ago this might have gone down a bit better because the expectations wouldn’t be quite so high.

Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane (an author Affleck has adapted before in Gone Baby Gone), it’s a relatively straight-forward tale of a Depression era small-time crook lured by love into a war between an Irish gangster and an Italian Mafioso.  Overseeing a rum-running business during Prohibition, Affleck balances making his boss a mountain of cash while plotting revenge on his enemy for a betrayal years earlier.  Oh…and there’s a minor subplot involving the KKK that feels judiciously lifted from another Lehane tome.

With its big budget and handsome production, there’s little question the movie should have been better but what’s there isn’t anything to cry over, either.  Affleck doesn’t quite have the emotional well the role calls for but he gives it, as usual, his best effort.  It’s Chris Messina (Cake), with fuzzy eyebrows and gnarled up teeth as Affleck’s short fused sidekick, that kept me wondering how the movie would have been had Messina been given the chance to star.  Alas, from all accounts this was Affleck’s passion project and we’re too far along into the picture when we realize the casting snafu.

The supporting cast fares better than our leading man, though.  Brendan Gleeson (Edge of Tomorrow) finds several nice moments as Affleck’s law enforcing father and as Affleck’s love interest, Zoe Saldana (Out of the Furance) feels like an equal match to her partner.  Chris Cooper (The Company You Keep) and Elle Fanning (The Neon Demon) are father and daughter, and while both eventually find some focus they struggle mightily with the tone of the picture for most of the film.  Surprisingly, it’s Sienna Miller (Foxcatcher) that leaves the most lasting impact…but I’m not totally convinced it wasn’t her robust Irish brogue or her unnerving porcelain doll make-up in her final scene that caused her to remain so prominent in my memory.

Bound to come and go with so many other films for grown-ups building on the strong word of mouth this one isn’t destined to gather, Live by Night may be a minor infraction on Affleck’s so far so good resume but it’s not a totally wasted effort.