Monday, January 16, 2017

The Top 20 Films of 2016

Movies ended up taking more of a backseat than I would have liked this year.

I found I was unable to see--or simply missed--more films than I would have hoped. It was a very busy year for me, one where a lot of things began to speed up: I got married, I made it is a resolution to take up more hobbies, I made more of an effort to visit friends and family, dissertation research and writing kicked into high gear, and I was given more responsibilities and opportunities in my classrooms. I wouldn't have traded any of these things, but it means I did miss a lot of weekends at the cinema.

So there are a lot of holes here. Manchester by the Sea and Jackie are two whose absence is felt the strongest to me: knowing their subjects and reputations, I imagine they would be here if I had seen them. But this is a snapshot of how I feel on one Monday morning in January 2017. As always, it's part of the process of figuring out what I value, what the stake of cinema is moving forward as much as it is about looking just over the shoulder to take stock of what happened.

To the next year, and all its struggles. May movies continue to fill our lives with possibility.

20. Knight of Cups (dir. Terrence Malick)



Widely detested by basically everyone I know, I still think Malick is up to something grand and mysterious in his increasingly abstract, wandering movies. 

19. Elle (dir. Paul Verhoeven)



Part comedy of manners, part revenge thriller, its tone vacillates wildly, its message about empowerment is murky at best, and it's nasty to the core.

18. The Handmaiden (dir. Park Chan Wook)


This is a bonkers movie of ever-shifting allegiances and scheming, erotic and sensual and also overblown and overstuffed and maybe the best movie Park has made to date. 

17. Hail, Caesar! (dirs. Joel Coen and Ethan Coen)


In the Coens' latest, the movie studio is a giant process machine where politics and ideology are battlegrounds lurking in the corners behind extended musical numbers and failed attempts at correct pronunciation.

16. Rogue One (dir. Gareth Edwards)


Rogue One delivers on a strange promise, moving laterally through the Star Wars universe to expand its world-building and focus on the costs of those titular wars.

15. Green Room (dir. Jeremy Saulnier)


Neo Nazis holding a punk rock band hostage in their compound might be the most 2016-iest movie of 2016. 

14. Zootopia (dirs. Byron Howard, Rich Moore, and Jared Bush)

 

Its politics are far from subtle, but there's something to be said for a movie aimed at young kids about, y'know, government corruption.

13. Cemetery of Splendor (dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul)


I spent a surprisingly large amount of 2016 writing and researching about sleep, so this movie hit home in a weird way.

12. La La Land (dir. Damien Chazelle)


If loving this melancholy, expressionist ode to missed opportunities and life's forking paths is wrong, I'd rather not be right. 

11. Love & Friendship (dir. Whit Stillman)


Kate Beckinsale is superb, and Stillman has not lost his touch at getting the driest, barbiest quips out of his actors. An increasingly rare sort of comedy.

10. O.J.: Made in America (dir. Ezra Edelman)


At seven and a half hours long, this is a novel-esque, sprawling documentary that uses the troubled and troubling life of O.J. Simpson to make an argument about nothing less than 20th century America. It's monumental.

9. Nocturnal Animals (dir. Tom Ford)


Nocturnal Animals is high formalization built on a contrast between beauty and brutality, high art and pulp fiction, teetering back and forth in a game of taste-making and sin-atoning.

8. HyperNormalisastion (dir. Adam Curtis)

 

Middle-Eastern geopolitics, the rise of computational information systems, the economics that drove Trump to power--it's all woven together in Adam Curtis's latest achievement, which tries maddeningly to capture the whole context of how we ended up here.

7. Sing Street (dir. John Carney) 


"Buoyant" is almost too gentle a word. John Carney's latest explodes with the passion and possibility of making music and being creative.

6. Hell or High Water (dir. David Mackenzie)


The land is the thing in Hell or High Water, which combines all the stakes of contemporary economic debt with all the brash classicism of cop-and-robbers shoot-outs.

5. American Honey (dir. Andrea Arnold)


Arnold's rambling look at how poor kids make do in a system of seemingly endless exploitation and zero opportunity for mobility is some kind of tender epic.

4. Arrival (dir. Dennis Villeneuve)


A humanities professor saves the world in what might be one of the most Deleuzian movies ever made.

3. The Lobster (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)


In the tradition of the best sci-fi and the best satire, The Lobster feels like such a beautifully absurd refraction of the systems we develop to make sure everyone finds love, and the social (not to mention political) pressures to conform to a certain way of being in the world. 

2. Silence (dir. Martin Scorsese)


My heart is always weak for long, epic historical dramas, and Scorsese's latest achieves many of its ambitions to be one of the defining films about the moral complexities of faith. Every piece of it feels so deeply considered, designed to patiently inform every other piece.

1. Moonlight (dir. Barry Jenkins)


At the end of the day, Moonlight isn't just the best film made in 2016, it is the most important film for 2016. It is a film that begs us to see other people for their complexity, to empathize with the choices they make, to see the good in others and the masks we adopt. It's a movie about a black gay man trying to figure out what it means to be those things; to be each of them individually and all of them at once. Moonlight is also patient; its triptych coming-of-age structure is hardly innovative, but the first two chapters are really just set up for that last third, where it turns out the gorgeous cinematography was just playing a long con before becoming emotionally overwhelming. We need this movie. We need more movies like this movie.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Oscar Predix: The Long and "Short" of It


Since 2010, the Best Picture winner has not won more than four Oscars (King's Speech, Artist, and Birdman each won 4, while 12 Years and Argo won three), and when a film dominates the technical categories, it doesn't go on to win Picture (Hugo, Gravity). Indeed, Gravity's seven wins seem more like an anomaly in this current version of the Academy, where films sometimes win 5, but mostly cap out at 4 (as in last year's Birdman and Grand Budapest Hotel, or 2012's Life of Pi).

Trends matter in the Academy, and so here's what I've got:

Best Picture

The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Brooklyn
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Room
Spotlight

Will Win: The Big Short
Could Win: The Revenant
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Reasoning: This is the most exciting BP race since...maybe 2006? Depending on your point of view, this is either The Big Short's, The Revenant's, or Spotlight's to lose. Revenant won the Golden Globe, the Directors Guild, and the British Academy; Spotlight won the Writers Guild and the Screen Actors Guild; The Big Short won the Producers Guild and the Writers Guild. Historically, the Directors Guild winner has translated to the eventual Oscar winner in Directing and Picture. So, why pick The Big Short? Ever since the Oscars and the PGA switched to doing "preferential" or "weighted" ballots -- as opposed to a straight vote -- in 2009, the PGA winner has not lost the Oscar. In 2013, 12 Years a Slave and Gravity tied for the PGA and Alfonso Cuaron won the DGA, which led me to pick Gravity to win Picture and Director. Cuaron won Director, but 12 Years won Picture. The outcome was an interesting one for Oscar historians/statisticians -- it spoke, if nothing else, to a potential weakening of the DGA in the preferential ballot system.

In essence, the preferential ballot necessitates that a film be able to be #1, #2, and #3 on more ballots than any other -- it must be both loved and liked. In the old world of straight voting, I would see The Revenant winning this, as evidenced by its wide general support among branches. However, The Big Short has the capacity to be higher up on more ballots, and it's already beaten The Revenant in the only other weighted-voting contest in the season. Here's another reason to be hesitant about The Revenant: In the last three years, Picture and Director have split twice after being a historically unified ticket. If The Big Short wins, as I think it will, we're in potentially new statistical territory for the Oscars.

Best Actor

Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Matt Damon, The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio
Could Wind: Michael Fassbender?
Should Win: DiCaprio, I guess?

Reasoning: He's basically groveling for the thing at this point.

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

Will Win: Brie Larson
Could Win: Cate Blanchett
Should Win: Brie Larson

Reasoning: When you win all the other awards, you win this one too.

Best Supporting Actor

Christian Bale, The Big Short
Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Will Win: Sylvester Stallone
Could Win: Mark Rylance
Should Win: Mark Rylance

Reasoning: The Stallone win is just too much of a narrative, too much of a "gesture" for the Academy to pass up. It would be a "moment," a "full circle," a weird sort of career achievement. Mark Rylance--the best part of Bridge of Spies--probably deserves this out of this lineup, and he's won enough in the awards season that I wouldn't be shocked to see him win.

Best Supporting Actress

Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara, Carol
Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

Will Win: Alicia Vikander
Could Win: Kate Winslet
Should Win: Rooney Mara

Reasoning: Vikander won the SAG; Winslet won the Globe and the BAFTA, beating Vikander's other performance in Ex Machina. It's hard for me to say how this one will go--neither film has particularly wide support, and neither performance has really rocketed through the awards season. I could go back and forth on this one all night. SAG and Oscar have matched since 2009 -- one better than the Globes.  Flip a coin, your entire pool could easily come down to this one.

Best Original Screenplay

Bridge of Spies
Ex Machina
Inside Out
Spotlight
Straight Outta Compton

Will Win: Spotlight
Could Win: Inside Out
Should Win: Spotlight, I guess?

Reasoning: Spotlight has formed a straight path to this award. Consider it a lock.

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Big Short
Brooklyn
Carol
The Martian
Room

Will Win: The Big Short
Could Win: Room
Should Win: Carol

Reasoning: The Big Short should win this handily, especially if it's going to go on to win Best Picture.

Best Director

Adam McKay, The Big Short
George Miller, Mad Max; Fury Road
Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant
Lenny Abrahamson, Room
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight

Will Win: Alejandro G. Inarritu
Could Win: George Miller
Should Win: George Miller

Reasoning: After winning the Globe, DGA, and BAFTA, Inarritu seems like the easy pick here. If, for some reason, he doesn't, I'd be thrilled to see George Miller swoop in for his madcap desert odyssey.

Best Animated Feature

Anomalisa
Boy and the World
Inside Out
Shaun the Sheep Movie
When Marnie Was There

Will Win: Inside Out
Could Win: Anomalisa
Should Win: Inside Out

Reasoning: A pretty easy call, especially since Inside Out has a Screenplay nod and Anomalisa does not.

Best Documentary Feature

Amy
Cartel Land
The Look of Silence
What Happened, Miss Simone?
Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom

Will Win: Amy
Could Win: What Happened, Miss Simone?
Should Win: The Look of Silence

Reasoning: Oppenheimer will miss this again, as Amy has been a veritable juggernaut in comparable races.

Best Foreign Language Feature

Embrace of the Serpent
Mustang
Son of Saul
Theeb
A War

Will Win: Son of Saul
Could Win: Mustang
Should Win: N/A

Reasoning: Son of Saul has routinely won this category over the awards season and gained more domestic acclaim than the other films, which often translates to a win here.

Best Cinematography

Carol
The Hateful Eight
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Sicario

Will Win: The Revenant
Could Win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Should Win: The Revenant

Reasoning: It's hard to argue with Lubezki's dazzling natural-light long-takes in The Revenant. Even people who don't particularly like the film (hey, like me!) think it's just jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Lubezki will also make history as the first cinematographer to win this category for three years in a row (after Gravity and Birdman).

Best Costume Design

Carol
Cinderella
The Danish Girl
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant

Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Could Win: Cinderella
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Reasoning: Mad Max beat Cinderella head-to-head at the Costume Design Guild award, and while it's not the smartest  to go one-to-one between Guilds and Oscar, it seems like a fine call here. This category routinely goes to flashy costuming, which is one reason to keep an eye on Cinderella, but the vast support of Mad Max could edge it out here.

Best Film Editing

The Big Short
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Spotlight
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Will Win: The Big Short
Could Win: Mad Max: Fury road
Should Win: Mad Max; Fury Road

Reasoning: The Eddie awards have a 75% match with the Oscars over the last dozen years, and both Mad Max and Big Short won awards there this year. It seems sensible that the boisterousness of Max pushes it over the top, but The Big Short is almost frenetically edited, and its editing very much calls attention to itself in a way similar to some recent Best Editing winners. Big Short also kind of needs to win here--I don't think any movie since the 1930s has won BP with just one other award. Winning here, Screenplay, and Picture would also replicate Argo's three wins from 2012. Just saying.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

Will Win: Mad Max
Could Win: The 100 Year Old Man
Should Win: Mad Max

Reasoning: By all accounts, the aging makeup on 100 Year Old Man is just crazy good, but Mad Max is both very popular with the Academy and is very showy with its makeup.

Best Original Score

Bridge of Spies
Carol
The Hateful Eight
Sicario
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Will Win: The Hateful Eight
Could Win: Sicario
Should Win: Carol

Reasoning: Another pretty clear frontrunner should have no trouble collecting this. Hopefully QT doesn't accept on Morricone's behalf.

Best Production Design

Bridge of Spies
The Revenant
The Danish Girl
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian

Will Win: Mad Max
Could Win: The Revenant
Should Win: Mad Max

Reasoning: Max is designed within an inch of its life, but Revenant also won an award from the Art Directors Guild earlier this awards season. If it wins here, it could be setting up a wider push for Best Picture (and if it wins here, I'd expect it to nab one of the Sound awards, as well).

Best Song

Til It Happens to You, The Hunting Ground
Writing's on the Wall, Spectre
Simple Song 3, Youth
Earned It, 50 Shades of Grey
Manta Ray, Racing Extinction

Will Win: Til it Happens to You
Could Win: Writing's on the Wall
Should Win: N/A

Reasoning: Going for the Globes replay of this category. Remember, Adele was the exception that proves the rule in terms of Bond songs winning. Plus that Sam Smith song is garbage.

Best Sound Editing

The Martian
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Sicario
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Could Win: Sicario
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Reasoning: Am predicting the wide love for Max to be most apparent in the Sound and Visual Effects categories. Plus, out of all its beautiful qualities, that sound is just whoa.

Best Sound Mixing

Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Could Win: The Revenant
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Reasoning: Traditionally, musicals do very well in this category, while war/action movies do better in Sound Editing (i.e., last year's split between Whiplash and American Sniper). There's nothing ostensibly musical in these nominees, which makes it seem a bit likelier that the Mixing and Editing winners will match

Best Visual Effects

Ex Machina 
Mad Max: Fury Road
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Martian
The Revenant

Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Could Win: Ex Machina
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Reasoning: Seems like a lock.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Top 20 Films of 2015

I managed to see 80 films released in the U.S. in 2015, but I still wish I'd seen about 20 more. Putting this list together was no easy feat, and any film's absence shouldn't (necessarily) be seen as a negative. This list is, if nothing else, a compilation of movies that affected me in any number of ways. Some of them are relentlessly of 2015; some of them already feel like all-time titans.

20. Unfriended (dir. Leo Gabriadze) 



A fantastic send-up of the "hangout movie" that expertly allows technology--and the social practices of technology--to literally frame everything.


19. The End of the Tour (dir. James Ponsoldt)



It's not necessarily Segel's depiction of David Foster Wallace that makes this movie great; it's Eisenberg's careful, almost meticulous depiction of interviewing, note-taking, and story-making. It's a deceptive little movie about the nature of becoming, and the fear of becoming.


18. Chi-Raq (dir. Spike Lee)



It doesn't all work, but this is an exhausted and audacious critique, one that will try, it seems, anything to make its viewers pay attention to gun violence and systemic racism. It's begging you to see, listen, and do.


17. The Assassin (dir. Hau Hsiao-Hsien)



At times unbearably patient, the textures, colors, and compositions of this film transcend the vague notion of "painterly." Genre contemplated as art.


16. Inside Out (dirs. Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen)



"Intricately imaginative" has often been Pixar's default mode, but their vibrant animated landscapes (interior, fantastic, or otherwise) feel startlingly, bracingly new again.


15. Phoenix (dir. Christian Petzold)



Nina Hoss doesn't so much rise dramatically from the ashes as she does slowly will herself back into existence in this sort-of-double-identity drama with tinges of Hitchcock and Reed lingering about the frames. Stay for the last five minutes.


14. Hard to Be a God (dir. Aleksey German)



A grotesque and brutal movie about the suppression of culture and intelligence, it took German decades to make this movie, and yet it still feels like a damning critique of the Russian state. The more things change...


13. It Follows (dir. David Robert Mitchell)



Kids getting killed after having sex seems like old hat, but it's thrillingly explored (reinvented?) in all its old-fashioned glory (synthesizer included).


12. 45 Years (dir. Andrew Haigh)



That which was residual becomes dominant in this devastating reconceptualization of Gothic horror, where a figurative spirit upends many of the assumptions a wife has made about her husband.


11. Tangerine (dir. Sean Baker)



Tangerine is a human comedy in the fullest sense of the word. Its swooning, oversaturated camerawork--shot on an iPhone--is exhilarating, but it's the humanity that really crackles.


10. 99 Homes (dir. Ramin Bahrani)



This is the angry, ground-level melodrama about the foreclosure crisis I've been waiting years for.  This movie is practically throwing a tantrum about the perpetuation of a rigged system.


9. Carol (dir. Todd Haynes)



Formally breathtaking and emotionally internal, Haynes's latest is meant to be looked at, lovingly and intimately, for its configurations and its relationships--its humans preciously arranged in space, drawn constantly towards each other. It's a complete thought.


8. The Duke of Burgundy (dir. Peter Strickland)



The complexities of routines, compromises, changing roles, senses of identity, and performances are all put front and center in what only appears to be an homage to arty sex movies.


7. G├╝eros (dir. Alonso Ruizpalacios)



It's frankly astounding to me that this gem--alternately a coming-of-age movie, a narrative of political consciousness, a cityscape, a love story, and a movie about how rock can save you soul--has evaded more accolades (in the U.S., anyway).


6. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (dir. J.J. Abrams)



Returning with full fanfare (well, not the Fox Fanfare), the seventh episode of Star Wars pulls off a miraculous feat. It is the embodiment of childlike wonder.


5. The Look of Silence (dir. Joshua Oppenheimer)



Oppenheimer's follow-up to The Act of Killing (my #1 film of 2013) continues to interrogate and confront the ways in which power writes history, and those who commit genocide go unpunished.


4. Timbuktu (dir. Abderrahmane Sissako)



The importance of Timbuktu--which is, on its own, harrowing and devastating--only amplified following the wave of anti-Muslim sentiment that has percolated through too many pockets of American society in the last months of 2015. I don't know if I've seen a better film about the ways in which violent extremism destroys the lives of those Muslims trying to modestly live their faith.


3. Taxi (dir. Jafar Panahi)



The most surprising thing about Jafar Panahi's third non-film is how playful it is. Despite being formally banned from making movies by his government, Panahi has found the perfect literal vehicle for exploring the dynamic cross-sections of life, and the power of cinema as a socio-political critique.


2. World of Tomorrow (dir. Don Hertzfeldt)



It's only sixteen minutes long, but find me a movie from this year--okay, the last handful of years--that has more to say about time, love, loss, relationships, existence, or the whole damn human condition, while at the same time being so spectacular, poignant, and intimate in its visualization and its conception of time and space. Go ahead. I'll wait.


1. Mad Max: Fury Road (dir. George Miller)



Fury Road is the kind of movie to make your skull rattle. It is a lean, mean, wrecking ball. It rattles and crunches. It screams and bleeds. It's loud, aggressive, and more than a little out of control. And it's also poetic, graceful, astonishingly realized. It's about movement, light, color, speed. It is its own brand of kinetics and momentum--things bashing against other things over and over until the whole operation feels like it'll come crashing in on itself. And then it sticks the landing. Pure cinema.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

2015 Oscar Predictions: The BIRDMAN Rises



Best Picture

American Sniper
Birdman (or, the Unbearable Virtue of Ignorance)
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash

Will Win: Birdman
Should Win: Boyhood
Watch Out For: American Sniper

Reasoning: One doesn't win the Golden Globe, PGA, SAG, and DGA, and then lose the Oscars. Birdman is as close to a lock as this race gets. If anything's going to beat it, it'll be critics' darling Boyhood, or public phenomenon American Sniper (which would be as big an upset as the Oscars have ever had). Here's a big reason to bet against Birdman: it is not nominated for Best Film Editing. What's that, you say? You have to go back to 1980 when Ordinary People won Best Picture to find a movie that won Best Picture without being nominated for Best Film Editing. That potentially puts Boyhood or, heaven forbid, American Sniper in the driver's seat to an "upset."

Best Director

Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Alejandro G. Innaritu, Birdman (or, The Unbearable Virtue of Ignorance)
Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel

Will Win: Alejandro G. Innaritu
Should Win: Richard Linklater
Watch Out For: Richard Linklater

Reasoning: I should be happier that this could be the second year in a row a Mexican director wins this prize. Innaritu won the DGA, but Richard Linklater won the Golden Globe. Birdman is in a better position to win the evening, so it should follow here, if history holds.

Best Actor

Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton, Birdman (or, The Unbearable Virtue of Ignorance)
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

Will Win: Eddie Redmayne
Should Win: Michael Keaton
Watch Out For: Michael Keaton

Reasoning: This is the only acting category that's remotely a race, and the only one to expect any sort of upset in (Bradley Cooper is a solid No Guts, No Glory bet). Keaton and Redmayne both won Golden Globes, but Redmayne won the SAG and the BAFTA.

Best Actress

Marion Cotillard, Two Days One Night
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild

Will Win: Julianne Moore
Should Win: Marion Cotillard
Watch Out For: Reese Witherspoon

Reasoning: This is a "sorry for all those other times we didn't give you one!" Oscar. I wish I felt more excited about it.

Best Supporting Actor

Robert Duvall, The Judge
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Birdman (or, The Unbearable Virtue of Ignorance)
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

Will Win: J.K. Simmons
Should Win: J.K. Simmons
Watch Out For: Edward Norton

Reasoning: It's been a lock out of the gate.

Best Supporting Actress

Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Laura Dern, Wild
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Emma Stone, Birdman (or, The Unbearable Virtue of Ignorance)
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

Will Win: Patricia Arquette
Should Win: Patricia Arquette
Watch Out For: Emma Stone

Reasoning: It's been a lock since the season started.

Best Original Screenplay

Birdman
Boyhood
Foxcatcher
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Nightcrawler

Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should Win: Nightcrawler
Watch Out For: Birdman

Reasoning: This is a weird one, and one of the few major categories that has any sort of competition. Budapest won the WGA, but Birdman was not eligible because of various Guild rules. Birdman beat Budapest at the Globes. Budapest beat Birdman at the BAFTA. Wes Anderson's never won an Oscar, and boy, do they love Budapest.

Best Adapted Screenplay

American Sniper
The Imitation Game
Inherent Vice
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash

Will Win: The Imitation Game
Should Win: Inherent Vice
Watch Out For: American Sniper(???)

Reasoning: The road feels pretty clear for Imitation Game to win its only award here. If Sniper has a surging fan base in the Academy, or if there's enough support for Whiplash (evident by its Picture nom), either could win here.

Best Animated Feature

Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Songs of the Sea
The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Will Win: How to Train Your Dragon 2
Should Win: N/A
Watch Out For: Big Hero 6

Reasoning: With the Lego Movie out of the way, flip a coin between Dragon and Hero.

Best Documentary Feature

Citizenfour
Finding Vivian Maier
Last Days in Vietnam
The Salt of the Earth
Virunga

Will Win: Citizenfour
Should Win: N/A
Watch Out For: Virunga

Reasoning: Citizenfour has been in command of this since its release, but Virunga has had a steady surge over the voting period. Will be interesting, especially after last year's kerfuffle.

Best Foreign Film

Ida
Leviathan
Tangerines
Timbuktu
Wild Tales

Will Win: Wild Tales
Should Win: N/A
Watch Out For: Ida

Reasoning: Most folks are picking Ida here, and rightly so. But I gotta have at least one prediction that bucks the trend, and the vibrations of hype around Wild Tales have me wondering if it could be a surprise winner here.

Best Cinematography

Birdman
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Ida
Mr. Turner
Unbroken

Will Win: Birdman
Should Win: Mr. Turner
Watch Out For: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Reasoning: I feel pretty confident that Birdman will take this (the Cinematography is, largely, the story of the film's success), but thinking up a spoiler is tough: either Ida or Grand Budapest could take this one if Lubezki loses.

Best Costume Design

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Inherent Vice
Into the Woods
Maleficent
Mr. Turner

Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Watch Out For: Into the Woods

Reasoning: It's flashy, they love it. They also love musicals, if you're looking for a spoiler.

Best Film Editing

American Sniper
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Whiplash

Will Win: Boyhood
Should Win: Boyhood
Watch Out For: American Sniper

Reasoning: Much like how Cinematography is the story of Birdman, Editing is the story of Boyhood, and it's where the film breathes and works. A win feels almost too obvious. The combat stuff in American Sniper or the fierce tempo work in Whiplash could win here.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Foxcatcher
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Guardians of the Galaxy

Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should Win: Guardians of the Galaxy
Watch Out For: Guardians of the Galaxy

Reasoning: This one feels pretty self-evident.

Best Production Design

The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Interstellar
Into the Woods
Mr. Turner

Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Watch Out For: Into the Woods

Reasoning: This feels like as obvious a category as Best Supporting Actor. If anything besides Budapest wins, it will be one of the night's biggest upsets.

Best Score

The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Interstellar
Mr. Turner
The Theory of Everything

Will Win: The Theory of Everything
Should Win: Interstellar, I guess
Watch Out For: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Reasoning: It's tempting to see Dusplat winning for Budapest here, but people keep giving awards to that string-y Theory of Everything score.

Best Song

"Everything is Awesome" from The Lego Movie
"Glory" from Selma
"Grateful" from Beyond the Lights
"I'm Not Gonna Miss You" from Glen Campbell
"Lost Stars" from Begin Again

Will Win: Selma
Should Win: Selma
Watch Out For: The LEGO Movie

Reasoning: One of the other perceived "locks" of the night. If enough people are pissed about LEGO not getting the Animated Feature nom, it could surge here.

Best Sound Editing

American Sniper
Birdman
The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies
Interstellar
Unbroken

Will Win: American Sniper
Should Win: Unbroken
Watch Out For: Unbroken

Reasoning: Unbroken won the MPSE, where it was not in competition against Sniper, which is infinitely more popular in the Academy. War films do very well here.

Best Sound Mixing

American Sniper
Birdman
Interstellar
Unbroken
Whiplash

Will Win: Birdman
Should Win: Whiplash
Watch Out For: Whiplash

Reasoning: This is, for whatever reason, one of the more interesting categories of the evening. Whiplash won the BAFTA, and movies with lots of music often do well here. Birdman won the CAS. American Sniper is a war movie. As long as Interstellar doesn't win, I think I'll be okay. I'm picking the presumed Picture frontrunner to scoop a weird win here.

Best Visual Effects

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
Interstellar
X-men: Days of Future Past

Will Win: Interstellar
Should Win: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes 
Watch Out For: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Reasoning: I have no idea why people love the visuals in Interstellar.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Top 20 Films of 2014

The common refrains apply here, as always: I saw a lot of movies, but not nearly enough (I still didn’t see A Most Violent Year, Leviathan, Mommy, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and others). Making this list was hard. Don’t let anyone tell you 2014 was a weak year for movies. I wish I could have included, say, Ida, Mr. Turner, Manakamana, and We Are the Best!, among many more.

Mostly, I’ve gotten to the point where the list feels “right.” It feels reflective of the things I really loved, the things that made me think and feel, and the things that seem important and meaningful in this moment.

20. Obvious Child (dir. Gillian Robespierre)


Deft, frank, and charming. It is a true disservice to call this “the abortion comedy.” It’s infinitely better than that label.

19. Edge of Tomorrow (Live. Die. Repeat.) (dir. Doug Liman)


Repetition and difference. WWII as a sci-fi video game. Emily Blunt with a giant sword. Tom Cruise rocking that magnetic action hero swagger. It just works.

18. The One I Love (dir. Charlie McDowell)



The Best Movie About Doppelgangers in a year with a surprising amount of them.

17. Winter Sleep (dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan)


Explores the relationship between psychological and geographical topographies, but the terrain is largely interior.

16. Captain America: The Winter Solder (dirs. Anthony Russo and Joe Russo)



A parable of U.S. state surveillance about drone strikes against citizens? Suggesting the intelligence community is extending totalitarianism? Bombast aside, it’s more subversive than one expects from Marvel Studios.

15. Nightcrawler (dir. Dan Gilroy)


Come for the stuff about television news and Jake Gyllenhaal’s crazy-creepy smile, but stay for the spot-on way this movie demonstrates capitalism’s exploitation of labor.

14. Blue Ruin (dir. Jeremy Saulnier)


A nasty, intense revenge movie that takes every drop of blood very seriously. The first twenty or so minutes are virtuoso.

13. Frank (dir. Lenny Abrahamson)


I love this movie. I really do. I love how bonkers it starts, and how melancholy it gets. I love how full its heart is, and how that heart really sneaks in out of nowhere.

12. Goodbye to Language 3D (dir. Jean-Luc Godard)


Godard’s massive return to relevance feels as aesthetically daring and politically provocative as his experiments towards the end of the 1960s. 3D—that is to say, cinema’s latest technology—gives him both a new level of playfulness and a new layer of seriousness.

11. Gone Girl (dir. David Fincher)


What’s most fascinating about Gone Girl is actually what it’s not about. That is to say, this is a movie where a missing (rich) white (psychopathic) woman dominates the media and a community while markers of economic recession, homelessness, and other systemic social problems linger in the background.

10. The Babadook (dir. Jennifer Kent)


These are well-tested scares—drawing on a well of Roman Polanski and David Lynch for inspiration, among others—but Kent makes them new, at times even primally unnerving, with the help of stars Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman. Also I love Mr. Babadook.

9. Force Majeure (dir. Ruben Ostlund)


A brutally funny takedown of gender norms in contemporary culture, Force Majeure places its camera far away from the action. It’s contemplative but incisive and sparse but funny. It’s a microcosmic film that feels, at times, gigantic.

8.  The Immigrant (dir. James Gray)


An old-fashioned, sumptuous melodrama about the turn-of-the-century American dream, its golden hues and recreations of New York City are beautiful enough to make you cry (that last shot! Oh, that last shot!). Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix sink their teeth into the material. Gray exquisitely channels a kind of weepy melodrama that rarely—if ever—exists anymore.

7. Selma (dir. Ava DuVernay)


I feel about Selma much the same way I felt about Milk. It’s wonderfully crafted and powerfully acted, but the context of its release—aka, the last six months of racial politics in America—give it a profound urgency. Its images and words sting.

6. Inherent Vice (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)


PTA continues to refine his long-take aesthetic and his depiction of how power operates in various times and places (though mostly, Southern California across the twentieth century). Inherent Vice is much more than a stoner comedy or a muddled plot. It’s a modern-day Chinatown (okay, that’s being hyperbolic) in how it tracks the confusing and impenetrable ways power organizes society and attempts to obliterate the ethos of the 1960s. This is a hazy, saturated world that feels frighteningly close to evaporating.

5. Two Days, One Night (dir. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)


The Dardennes’ chronicles of working-class life reach, for me anyway, a new high. Like most of their work, this is a loose, aesthetically minimalist (that is to, realistic) film that breathes in its quiet moments. Cotillard is magnificent (isn’t she always, though?) and gives the film its empowering thrust. The world they depict is cruel, but it’s one where people are willing to fight for their well-being.

4. Under the Skin (dir. Jonathan Glazer)


Under the Skin is a visionary, haunting film. It starts as an odd meditation on being a desired woman, and broadens into more about what it even means to be human and to have a body. Like some of the very best cinema, it’s devoted to making us look at things differently—be that how we think about driving or walking through space, or how we conceive of our own bodies and what they mean for how we move through the world.

3. Foxcatcher (dir. Bennett Miller)


It’s a cold and restrained film, one that almost seems afraid of penetrating too deeply, but its themes are as old as any in American popular culture: the individual trying to succeed, money as the root of all evil, the divides between the rich and the poor. Its bizarre allusions to American history widen its foggy landscape to a deeper vein of exploitation.

2. Citizenfour (dir. Laura Poitras)


Its status as a historical document of Edward Snowden’s disclosure of information about U.S. surveillance policies alone would make this important, but Poitras and collaborator Glenn Greenwald use Citizenfour to explicate the stakes of surveillance on a global and everyday scale in an incisive and painfully clear way.

1. Boyhood (dir. Richard Linklater)


Enough ink has been spilled over the very existence of Boyhood, so I’ll just say: the real triumph of the film, for me, isn’t necessarily its 12-year production time. Rather, Boyhood restores everyday life to cinema. By that, I mean it lives and thrives in mundanities, repetitions, and routines. It is about all those tiny things that happen to us, and how those little things accumulate into something broader, richer, and more meaningful. Hitchcock once said that drama is life with the dull bits cut out. Boyhood pastes them back in, to beautiful effect.