Oscar Predictions 2014

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Hello!

Well, though I always find it difficult to nail down my Oscar selections pre-nomination day because I feel like I’m somehow cosmically jinxing  potential favorites, I’m taking part in The 2014 Oscar Contest over at Film Actually because…well…it’s just the right thing to do 🙂

This being a contest and all I threw in a few dark horse candidates and left out some bigger names just to keep it interesting.  I don’t necessarily think there will be 10 nominees for Best Picture but ultimately I couldn’t make up my mind on which ones to remove from my list…

I hope there are a few surprises tomorrow morning, though….even if it means I lose a few points in the contest 🙂

Below are my predictions for who will go to bed tomorrow night an Oscar nominee…

BEST PICTURE
12 Years a Slave
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
Her
Nebraska
Philomena
Saving Mr. Banks
The Wolf of Wall Street

BEST DIRECTOR
Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
Spike Jonze, Her
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
David O. Russell, American Hustle

BEST ACTOR
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Robert Redford, All is Lost

BEST ACTRESS
Amy Adams, American Hustle
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Judi Dench, Philomena
Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Daniel Brühl, Rush
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
James Gandolfini, Enough Said
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

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

BEST EDITING
Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers, American Hustle
Joe Walker, 12 Years a Slave
Christopher Rouse, Captain Phillips
Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Sanger, Gravity
Jeff Buchanan, Eric Zumbrunnen, Her

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine
David O. Russell and Eric Singer, American Hustle
Joel & Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis
Spike Jonze, Her
Bob Nelson, Nebraska

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave
Tracy Letts, August: Osage County
Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, Richard Linklater, Before Midnight
Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope, Philomena
Terence Winter, The Wolf of Wall Street

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
The Broken Circle Breakdown, Belgium
The Hunt, Denmark
The Grandmaster, Hong Kong
The Great Beauty, Italy
The Notebook, Hungary

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Sean Bobbitt, 12 Years a Slave
Emmanuel Lubezki, Gravity
Bruno Delbonnel, Inside Llewyn Davis
Phedon Papamichael, Nebraska
Roger Deakins, Prisoners

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Adam Stochausen & Alice Baker, 12 Years a Slave
Judy Becker & Heather Loeffler, American Hustle
Catherine Martin & Beverly Dunn, The Great Gatsby
Jess Gonchor & Susan Bode, Inside Llewyn Davis
Michael Corenblith & Susan Benjamin, Saving Mr. Banks

BEST SOUND MIXING
Captain Phillips
Gravity
Inside Llewyn Davis
Lone Survivor
Rush

BEST SOUND EDITING
All is Lost
Captain Phillips
Gravity
Lone Survivor
Rush

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Catherine Martin, The Great Gatsby
Patricia Norris, 12 Years a Slave
Daniel Orlandi, Saving Mr. Banks
Michael Wilkinson, American Hustle
Mary Zophres, Inside Llewyn Davis

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Alex Ebert, All is Lost
Thomas Newman, Saving Mr. Banks
Steven Price, Gravity
John Williams, The Book Thief
Hans Zimmer, 12 Years a Slave

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
20 Feet from Stardom
The Act of Killing
The Crash Reel
Stories We Tell

The Square

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
The Croods
Despicable Me 2

Frozen
Monsters University
The Wind Rises

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Iron Man 3
Pacific Rim
Star Trek: Into Darkness

BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING
American Hustle
Dallas Buyers Club
The Lone Ranger


BEST ORIGINAL SONG
“Amen”, All is Lost
“Let It Go”, Frozen
“The Moon Song”, Her
“Ordinary Love”, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
“Young & Beautiful”, The Great Gatsby

2013 – Best of the Best, Worst of the Worst, Grand Totals

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My my my, how time flies!  It’s hard to believe I’m just finished up my second year of reviewing movies for this blog.  I think I’ll look back on this year as the truly terrible twos as I found it difficult to carve out time in my schedule to write as many reviews as I wanted and didn’t tackle as many older reviews as I planned.  Thanks to some creative shuffling all of that will change in 2014 so you can look forward to 365 days of consistent reviews and information on upcoming releases. 

But hey…wait a second…we still need to wrap up 2013, right?  Below I’ve compiled my list of the best and worst of 2013.  At first I was going to do a Top 10 for both because I absolutely had candidates to fill all the slots, but then I decided to stick with five each to truly highlight the best of the best and worst of the worst.

As always, I’ve appreciated your feedback, your patronage, and your general presence in my blog. Even if you read this everyday but have never commented or made contact I can still tell you’ve been here and that means a lot.  My readership and subscriptions continue to increase every month and it’s all thanks to your word of mouth, likes, and shares.  If you haven’t already, make sure to follow this blog, follow me on Twitter, and like my new Facebook page so you can help me continue spreading the news about The MN Movie Man.

Best Wishes to you and yours for a most Happy New Year!

~Joe (The MN Movie Man)

 

Best of

5. Gravity I’m a total sucker for films set in space so the concept of Gravity had me hooked from the start and I tracked each step of its journey from casting to early buzz to the eventual release of one of the best made films, well, ever when you look at it from a cinematic standpoint.  Director Alfonso Cuarón fashioned a breathtaking look at both the solemnity of outer space and the strength of inner human emotion in a taut 90 minutes that delivers astounding technical prowess and dynamite performances from stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.  Bullock especially flexes impressive acting muscles here, reminding us again that she’s more than a romantic comedy sweetheart and silencing all the naysayers jawing that her Oscar for The Blind Side wasn’t deserved. 

4. Stoker – This film came and went pretty quickly but it’s still very much on my mind all these months later.  If you missed this dark family drama in theaters do yourself a favor and seek it out pronto if you’re in the mood for a black as night tale with no real heroes and several sly twists that keep you off balance.  The first US film from Korean director Chan-wook Park was sleek and sophisticated with bursts of violence that delivered a wicked jolt…like Alfred Hitchcock meets David Lynch.  Nicole Kidman (Far and Away) was especially good in this one as jealous widow living in a creepy mansion with her troubled teenage daughter.  When a mysterious relative appears soon after her husband dies under shady circumstances, the bodies start to pile up and no one is quite safe from vengeance.

3. Prisoners – About halfway through Prisoners I realized just how starved I’d been for an edge of your seat crime drama.  This is an A-List film from top to bottom with a starry cast of Oscar nominees doing impressive work with very heavy material.  Special mention must be made to cinematographer Roger Deakins (Skyfall) who finds terrifying ways to frame the action and star Jake Gyllenhaal (End of Watch – a top film of mine for 2012) who brings a gritty sophistication to a cop tracking the disappearance of two little girls.  Though a long affair, Prisoners earns/deserves every minute of your attention as it makes its way through a mystery that gets deeper and more horrifying as it goes on.

2. Her – Though it hasn’t been released in all markets yet, trust me when I say that Her is one of the best and most original romantic films you’re likely to see.  I was originally unsure of how much I’d like this one, not being a huge fan of Joaquin Phoenix (The Master, Parenthood) and finding director Spike Jonze’s work to be admirable but generally over praised.  Add to that a concept (man falls in love with a computer operating system) and you have a film that on paper probably shouldn’t work.  But work it does and fairly brilliantly under the collaboration of Jonze, Phoenix, and the voice of Scarlett Johansson (Don Jon).  Without ever being in the same room (or even seeing one frame of Johansson) the two actors form a believable romance involving two personalities that find each other and connect in a most special way.  And say what you will about American Hustle but Amy Adams does her best work of the year here as a friend of Phoenix that has her own journey and observations on life.  An appealing and (more importantly) different film that winds up being just what the 2013 doctor ordered.

1. The Way Way Back – I caught this one before 2013 was half over and I knew right away that the film would wind up pretty high on my best of the year list.  Reflecting back on 2013 I can’t say that I saw a film that moved me more than this true treasure of a film.  Following an awkward teen during a summer vacation with his mom and her new boyfriend, our young hero finds his voice that had been held at bay by adults that don’t understand him.  When he forms a bond with a carefree worker at a local waterpark, he discovers his own worth and a transformation occurs that we can only see a small part of because it happens from within.  Jim Rash and Nat Faxon, the Oscar winning screenwriters of The Descendants, make their directorial debut with an even hand that allows for equal parts laughs and tears.  Sam Rockwell (Iron Man 2) deserves an Oscar nomination for his performance as a Peter Pan-ish guy that finds himself the mentor to a boy that just needs a friend and someone to listen to him.  Steve Carrell (Despicable Me 2) gets to show his non-comedic side to stellar results and there’s rich supporting work from Allison Janney and especially Toni Collette (Muriel’s Wedding).  Rash and Faxon steer clear of the pitfalls of most of these types of coming-of-age films by not heaping new problems onto our lead character but dealing with the baggage he came in with.  I saw the film three times in theaters and told everyone I knew about it and I’ve yet to meet someone that hasn’t loved it as much as I did.  Winners don’t come in a better package than The Way Way Back and though it doesn’t look like the film is getting the type of end of the year awards it deserves, this gets my vote for Best Picture of the year.

Honorable Mentions: The Conjuring, Nebraska, Saving Mr. Banks, 12 Years a Slave, 20 Feet From Stardom, About Time, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Hunt,

Worst of

5. The Heat – I remember the first preview I saw for The Heat and was stunned that a purported comedy from Bridesmaids director Paul Feig and starring Melissa McCarthy had exactly zero laughs in it.  That’s when I started to get worried that this rushed into production film that paired McCarthy with Sandra Bullock would be a comedy in name only and I’d be stuck for two hours of ham fisted attempts to pummel me into laughter submission. Turns out my gut was right because The Heat was a debacle to watch and a pain in the ass to sit through.  As a fan of Feig, McCarthy (who was better in the worse reviewed Identity Thief), and Bullock I wanted this film to be one hundred times funnier and twenty minutes shorter.  The supporting players are embarrassing and the wasted potential of the movie is one of the honest tragedies of 2013.

4. Side Effects – Though I sorta liked what Steven Soderbergh did with Haywire in 2012 I put his other effort from last year, Magic Mike, on my worst of the year wrap-up and sadly 2013 finds another Soderbergh film earning a spot on the naughty list.  Widely rumored to be Soderbergh’s last film as a director, Side Effects sends the Oscar winning director out with a whimper thanks to a ripped from Law & Order: SVU plotline and a lack of logical construction that left cast members like Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Jude Law (Hugo), Channing Tatum (21 Jump Street), and Catherine Zeta-Jones (Red 2) out in the cold.  The true side effect from the film is ambivalence to Soderbergh’s future efforts.

3. Now You See Me – I’ve always had a problem with films that deal with magicians because the suspension of disbelief isn’t the same as seeing someone perform a trick live.  So the deck was slightly stacked against Now You See Me, which doesn’t excuse the fact that the film is pretty lame and barely eeks by with its flimsy heist plot.  The worst thing about the film is that it winds up cheating the audience and pretty blatantly so with its revisionist plot twists that don’t make sense no matter how many rabbits the filmmakers try to pull out of their cinematic hat.  The ending for the film feels tacked on, an obvious product of reshoots due to poor reaction to early preview screenings.  Despite a nice roster of watchable actors like Marc Ruffalo (Marvel’s The Avengers), Michael Caine (Batman Begins), and Morgan Freeman (The Dark Knight) this was a summer bummer.  Now You See Me is one you shouldn’t.

2. Austenland – Listen, I love a “chick flick” as much as the next guy but there’s got to be a point where you say enough is enough and stop shelling out money to see what amounts to over produced television movies that somehow have found their way into your local cinema.  Austenland is a trip you’ll fire your travel agent (or movie critic) for recommending to you thanks to a general absurdity and bland leading performance from Keri Russell (Dark Skies) that turns what may have been a pleasant enough Lifetime movie to a Montezuma’s Revenge affair you’ll be thankful you don’t have to visit ever again.  Skip it, rent a hotel room and watch any other Jane Austen adaptation if you desire to be transported to another place in the company of characters from the Austen canon.

1. Girl Most Likely – It’s almost ironic that Kristen Wiig is starring in a movie called Girl Most Likely because her potential is fairly unlimited…but not if she keeps making garbage like this would-be comedy that winds up at the very top of my Worst of the Year list.  Unfunny, ungainly, and filled with heinously unappealing performances from the majority of the cast, I can’t imagine Wiig (Friends with Kids) is very proud of this one nor should she be.  Her sad sack playwright is the worst kind of anti-hero…the one the film wants you to root for but who has their head so far up their ass you simply cannot get behind them.  Wiig does what she can with the material but gives up about fifteen minutes in, which is more than I can say for Darren Criss, Matt Dillon and Annette Bening, all ghastly bad in their supporting roles that are less supporting and more sabotaging.  When the film changes tone for the ninth time near the conclusion you’ll be numb in both the mind and butt.  Painful to sit through, this is one turkey viewers should earn a medal for sitting through.

(Dis)Honorable Mentions: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Trance, The Hangover Part III, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Don Jon, This Is the End, Olympus Has Fallen, Thanks for Sharing

Special mentions

Most Misunderstood

Oblivion – Seems like Tom Cruise just can’t catch a break.  Though Oblivion fared better at the box office than his 2012 misses Rock of Ages (which deserved to tank) and Jack Reacher (which didn’t) there seemed to be this lingering animosity to Cruise that people (aka critics) just can’t get over.  That’s too bad because Oblivion was an exciting sci-fi film with excellent visuals, a powerful score, and strong performances (especially Andrea Riseborough, Disconnect) that kept me hooked.  Some fuddy duddy people aped on the Twilight Zone-y plot but they probably should have checked their logic sheets at the door because in sci-fi all rules are off.  Cruise has another futuristic film coming out way in 2014 and we’ll see if Edge of Tomorrow gets shirked in the same way Oblivion did.

Honorable Mention: Beautiful Creatures

Joe’s Humble Pie Award of 2014

The CallIf you had asked me my thoughts on The Call based simply on the trailer I would have told you that Halle Berry’s losing streak was going to continue.  So it was with a special kind of eating my words type of glee that I was happy to report the film was much better than its trailer would suggest.  The movie had thrills and chills and even if the twists felt a bit stale it didn’t matter much because the action moves like a locomotive.  Berry (Cloud Atlas) has struggled with headlining a film but the decent box office of The Call shows that she may be finding her footing in choosing her projects.  Definitely worth a look for fans of tightly wound thrillers. 

Honorable Mention: We’re The Millers

Movies You Probably Haven’t Seen But Should:

Indian Summer

The Changeling

Smooth Talk

Ghost Light

The Grandmaster (Yi dai zong shi)

The Spectacular Now

Blackfish

The East

Kon-Tiki

The Silence (Das letzte Schweigen)

Click HERE for a full listing of films seen in 2013

Total Movies Seen in the Theater: 138

Total Movies Seen at Home: 225

Grand Total for 2013 (not counting films seen multiple times): 363

Where I Saw the Most MoviesShowplace ICON (51!)

Movie Review ~ Prisoners

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When Keller Dover’s daughter and her friend go missing, he takes matters into his own hands as the police pursue multiple leads and the pressure mounts. But just how far will this desperate father go to protect his family?

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello, Terrance Howard, Viola Davis, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano, David Dastmalchian

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Rated: R

Running Length: 146 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (10/10)

Review: When I reviewed the first trailer for Prisoners back in June I was mad.  I had reached my breaking point for trailers pushing the three minute mark that seemed to show the entire film, freely giving away plot twists and turns that I so enjoy discovering when I’m watching the entire film.  Seeing the trailer often before films these last few months I would always turn to my seat mate and say “They showed the ENTIRE movie!”…even when I was seeing a film solo.

Then I started reading more about the movie as it started to be screened at various film festivals and heard that there was more to this crime drama than the trailer was letting on.  As the film gathered steam (and award recognition) I began to hope that the buzz was true and Prisoners, with its impressive cast and dark plot details, was more than met the eye.  Could there be any secrets left unturned?

The answer was a resounding yes and Prisoners has now hurdled to the top of my Best of 2013 List (don’t worry, The Way Way Back…you are still going strong as my favorite film but you’re a different movie than Prisoners).  It’s not only one of the best, most satisfyingly intense films of the year but one of best crime dramas of the last decade…taking a place on the shelf next to L.A. Confidential and Zodiac.

The set-up of the film is exactly how the trailer opens, two young girls go missing on a drizzly Thanksgiving day in a modest suburban development.  While their families are lounging around suffering the effects of a filling turkey feast, someone has infiltrated this quiet neighborhood and now the girls have vanished.  These early scenes are played by the actors so casually and unassuming that we instantly know the relationship these neighbors have formed.  As the realization that the girls are missing grows, the film begins its vice grip on the audience, applying only light pressure as we watch Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables, The Wolverine), Maria Bello (Abduction), Viola Davis (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) and Terrance Howard (Lee Daniels’ The Butler) begin their search as concerned parents before giving way to frantically tearing through the neighborhood to find their children.

The next character to be introduced is Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal, End of Watch) as he’s brought in to investigate a Winnebago that was seen in the vicinity, now ominously parked at a rest stop.  Inside is Alex Jones (Paul Dano, Looper, Being Flynn), who looks like the perfect suspect with his slightly off personality and big “I’m a creep” glasses.  Trouble is, with no girls found and no evidence in the Winnebago Alex is soon released back into the custody of his aunt (Melissa Leo, Oblivion, Olympus Has Fallen) only to be taken himself by Jackman’s survivalist father that isn’t satisfied with what the police have done to find the girls.

Now that’s about as much as the trailer shows you and it’s as much of the plot that I’m going to give away…because all of this happens in the first 40 minutes of the 2 ½ hour film…I know because I checked my watch wondering what would take up the remainder of the film.  Well, the turns the film takes and the secrets that are slowly revealed are explored fully, making Prisoners one of the rare films that gets more interesting the more you know about what’s going on.

More than anything, the film raises some questions about justice and how far we’ll go to get the answers that we want…which could make us no better than the criminals that are out there.  It’s not the most revolutionary question to ask an audience but the delivery is so skilled, detailed, and profound that it’s a punch to the gut when you consider the very real situation on hand in Prisoners.

The vice that keeps applying more pressure to the audience is given greater strength by a full battery of actors that push off any pre-conceived notions we have of them and let true characters shine through.  Jackman is always a dependable presence but he goes deeper with his tormented father than he ever has before, showing the blood and pain that hides below his exterior.  Davis and Howard work well both in tandem and solo as their characters have a moral bridge to cross that they may regret going over.  Bello is probably the least successful in her draft of the character, not ever being fully convincing as Jackman’s suddenly fragile wife.  Her performance has guts, true, but it left me wanting more.

For my money, the film belongs to Gyllenhaal.  After End of Watch, I wasn’t sure I could me more impressed with his work but he raises the bar on his own career with a nuanced and deeply etched detective that hates to be wrong and beats himself up for missing obvious clues.  Gyllenhaal fills his character with quirks and ticks that aren’t ever really explained and never go into “performance” mode.  He’s an actor that builds his character from the ground up and he’s made the wise choice to put a back-story in that only he knows and lets the audience try to figure out what makes him tick.  It’s a brilliant, haunting performance.

The whole film is a haunting experience, actually, and that’s thanks to not only the cast but director Denis Villeneuve excellent pace in handling Aaron Guzikowski (Contraband) dense script.  Guzikowski has only written three scripts and is clearly someone to pay attention to.  Making maybe even more of an impact that the direction or script is the brilliant cinematography of Roger Deakins (Skyfall), giving the film even more complexity.  Though the film is largely shot in the grey gloom of winter, Deakins comes up with some incredibly vivid images that highlight the terror and the hidden darkness that plagues these two families, the detective that is desperate for clues, and an evil that’s not revealed in full until the final moments.

I know films of this nature can be hard for some people to take and if you’re one of those people I’m sure you’ll make the decision on your own if putting yourself through this intense experience is worth it.  I found the film to be practically flawless, achieving success on every level without making sacrifices.  There were genuine surprises that made me gasp and a denouement that felt justly earned…it’s not the punishing experience that so many of these films tend to drift toward but instead it emerges as a rewarding piece of filmmaking that will easily land the movie in prime awards consideration.

The Silver Bullet ~ Prisoners

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Synopsis: A Boston man kidnaps the person he suspects is behind the disappearance of his young daughter and her best friend.

Release Date:  September 20, 2013

Thoughts: Here’s the thing…the premise of Prisoners suggests a halfway decent flick that could provide some great opportunities if everything lines up like it should.  The problem I have so far with Prisoners is that the trailer gives away more than a few key plot points, leaving the viewer to wonder why they need to see the finished product.  With a starry cast that includes Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables), Jake Gyllenhaal (End of Watch), Viola Davis (Beautiful Creatures), and Melissa Leo (Oblivion) and Oscar-nominated director Denis Villeneuve making his English language debut this might be a modest hit…but man, think of what the movie could have been had you not known where it was headed!