Tag Archives: Oscar contender

La La Land

la_la_land_film

Having swept the boards at the Golden Globes and up for 14 awards at this year’s Oscars the hit musical La La Land is on a high. But will it have me singing it’s praises?

When aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) meets jazz musician Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) it’s not exactly love at first sight. But as their paths keep coming back to each other they find it hard to deny their mutual attraction. But in LA where hopes and dreams are crushed daily can they keep love and ambition alive?

Just like everyone else I seemed to have fallen under the spell of La La Land. From it’s dazzling opening number on a busy highway to it’s poignant ending it’s a fine piece of filmaking by Damien Chazelle. I loved his previous work Whiplash and La La Land shows that he’s no one hit wonder. Whether it’s turning an observatory visit into a dance among the stars or a simple solo in an audition, Chazelle balances the film perfectly.

As the two young dreamers Gosling and Stone once again show off their great on-screen chemistry, and their characters’ passion for their ambitions (and each other) shines through. While they are not professional singers and dancers they admirably throw their all into the numbers and although some may prefer pitch perfect singers I would argue their rawness adds realism and vulnerability to their performances that otherwise may have been too polished.

So why if I’m praising it so much have I not awarded the film with five stars like everyone else has? Well, while I really liked the film, and some parts I absolutely love, I’m not in love with the film like all the critics seem to be. Maybe it’s a side effect of having so much hype behind it that I was expecting it to be a modern classic whereas it’s ‘just’ a really great film. Also there were moments of cliches that really bugged me such as Sebastian realising he has an important photoshoot which just happens to be on the night of Mia’s big theatre opening. Scenes like this brought me out of the moment and irritated me no end.

So close but no cigar. However if you fancy a hark back to old school Hollywood with modern sensibilities and catchy tunes (which is better City of Dreams or Audition/The Fools Who Dream? I can’t decide) then take a shot at La La Land, and see what all the fuss is about.

Rating 4/5 – while it isn’t note perfect this bittersweet musical is still a worthy awards contender

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Spotlight

Spotlight_(film)_poster

It’s that time again, more Award-baiting films in the run up to the Oscars. Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight is one of the favourites for the win, but will it light up my life?

In 2001 Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) is hired as the new editor of The Boston Globe. One of his first moves is to have the investigation team Spotlight (Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo and Brian d’Arcy James) look into child abuse cases carried out by a priest which the church did nothing to prevent. As the Spotlight team look further into it they realise that the abuse is much more widespread and serious than they ever imagine.

Given the heavy subject matter it would have been easy for this film to have been sentimental and cliched. However Spotlight is noticable for it’s restraint. Thats not to say there isn’t the occassional impassioned speech but Spotlight is a grown up movie, more intent on telling the story and trusting it’s audience doesn’t have to have any heavy handedness or clichéd baddies to be told THIS IS BAD.

As the investigation becomes bigger the film doesn’t shy away from the fact it’s not just the church that been covering things up. Many others were either actively involved in the cover up or dismissed earlier claims for different reasons, and the Boston Globe itself is also put under scrutiny for not investigating earlier. As Stanley Tucci’s lawyer Mitchell states “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse them.” That it took an outsider to push them into investigating is also a sobering thought for the protagonists.

It would also have been easy for it’s cast to give overwrought and over the top performances, Ruffalo’s journalist Michael most particularly given the character’s quirks, but they trust in the script and the story. It is so strong they don’t have to live in heightened emotions. The film also largely stays away from the characters’ personal lives and concentrating on the meat of the story.

It may not be as epic in scale as The Revenant however I think Spotlight will stay with me longer and wish it well on Oscar night.

Rating 4/5 – a thought provoking and sobering look into investigative journalism at it’s best

 

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Room

Room

Another week, another Oscar contender. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson and written by Emma Donoghue (adapted from her own best selling book) Room has four Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actress. But is it really an award worthy film?

Jack (Jacob Tremlay) has lived in Room all his life. He spends his days with his beloved Ma (Brie Larson) and the only other person that ever comes to Room is Old Nick (Sean Bridges). Jack is content with his life in Room, but just after his fifth birthday Ma reveals that there’s a world outside Room, one they need to get back to.

I read the book Room a couple of years ago and I’m pleased to say that the film has done the book justice. Donoughue has successfully managed to recreate the world of her novel and the characters of Jack and Ma feel as real on the screen as they did on the page. Having a dark subject matter seen through the eyes of a small child is difficult to pull off, so praise must go to director Abrahamson for getting the best performance from his young actor.

As for Tremlay himself, he has the perfect mixture of childlike wonder, niavity and his relationship with Larson’s Ma breaks your heart. Considering he’s in practically every scene it’s a lot of pressure on such young shoulders but he gives an authentic performance as a child who has grown up in such extream and difficult circumstances. As for Larson, there isn’t much to say that hasn’t been said by everyone else, she’s brilliant and fully deserving of the many awards she has won already. Surely if she doesn’t win an Oscar it will be a travesty? Her Ma is full of strength, bravery but also a vunerable and slightly damaged person.

Considering I was either in tears or on the verge of tears during the entire film, room is can be difficult to watch, probably even more difficult for those who have kids, young or older. So the subject matters of abduction, rape and imprssionment will be difficult for some to watch. But if you do watch it Room is a rewarding movie that will stay with you long after you leave the cinema.

Rating 4.5/5 -an emotional and ultimately uplifting movie about human bravery and strength

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Sicario

Sicario

The Oscar race is starting, and early buzz has Sicario as an early favourite. But does the film justify the hype?

After a gruesome discovery during a kidnapping raid in Arizona FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) agrees to volunteer as part of Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) special team to get the cartel responsible. However she finds that Graver’s team does not follow by the rules and she is constantly being kept in the dark about the situation and about Matt’s mysterious partner Alejandro (Benicio del Toro).

Director Denis Villeneuve has produced a tight and tense movie full of many thrilling moments. It has a strong opening with a disturbing house of horrors in Arizona. The film has many gruesome moments throughout the film as we see the horror of the cartel in Mexico. A taut stand-off in a traffic jams also provides some thrills as does a raid in a tunnel at the film’s climax shot in night vision cameras.

Of the cast Blunt is typically strong as protagonist Kate, a relatable figure who is the audience’s eye through the morally ambiguous world. We are figuring out the real story just as she is. However the most magnetic performance comes from del Toro as the intriguing Alejandro. If the movie is awash with nominations come award season expect plenty to go his way.

My attention was gripped throughout the movie and while I liked it I didn’t love it like others have. Maybe it’s because it was raved about so much beforehand that expectations were too high? It also felt like there needed something extra at the end, an extra twist perhaps. It could be that I’m so used to morally corrupt authorities in movies that it doesn’t seem much of a surprise that Alejandro and co are not all that they seem. It probably would have been more of a twist of they were stand up good guys!

Rating 3.5/5 – exciting, thought – provoking with a spellbinding performance from del Toro

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And The Oscar Goes to…My Predictions for the Oscars 2015

Every newspaper, blog and tv show seem to be giving their opinions on tonight Oscar results. So here’s mine! Granted as with most years some of these results are bound to be a bit predictable, but you never know when someone may come along and cause an upset.

Best Picture:

American Sniper, Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma,The Theory of Everything, Whiplash

My prediction:

I’m still annoyed Nightcrawler has not been included on the list, but then considering the dark and disturbing nature of the film it was always going to be an outside shot. Whiplash would be my personal favourite, but having just seen Boyhood (review to come later this week), it’s hard to imagine anyone else walking away with the Best Picture gong.

Possible upset: Birdman could sneak in and grab the win

Best Actor:

Steve Carrell, “Foxcatcher”, Bradley Cooper, “American Sniper”, Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Imitation Game”, Michael Keaton, “Birdman”, Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything”

My prediction: Again, I’m annoyed that Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance in Nightcrawler was not recognised but out of all the above bookie’s favourite Eddie Redmayne does deserve to win on the night.

Possible upset: Michael Keaton might swoop in and snatch the gong from Redmayne’s hands.

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”

My prediction: I have only seen two of the above movies, and I loved Brits Pike and Jones performances. I would love Jones to walk away with the award but it seems to be Julianne Moore‘s year so expect her to give the winner’s speech.

Possible Upset: Moore seems like a dead cert but could Marion Cotillard surprise everyone and steal Moore’s thunder?

Best Supporting Actor:

Robert Duvall, “The Judge”, Edward Norton, “Birdman”, Ethan Hawke, “Boyhood”, Mark Ruffalo, “Foxcatcher”, J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”

My prediction: J.K Simmons. Nothing further.

Possible upset: Edward Norton was hilarious in Birdman so maybe the Academy will vote his way?

Best Supporting Actress:

Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”, Laura Dern, “Wild”, Keira Knightley, “The Imitation Game”, Emma Stone, “Birdman”, Meryl Streep, “Into the Woods”

My prediction: Patricia Arquette is the favourite and it’s easy to see why. Its unlikely anyone else is in with a shot.

Possible Upset: Could the voters decide to spread the love and give Wild’s Laura Dern an award to take home?

Best Director:

Alejando G. Inarritu, “Birdman”, Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”, Bennett Miller, “Foxcatcher”, Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, Morton Tyldum, “The Imitation Game”

My prediction: The hype has been building for a while now and Richard Linklater‘s stirling direction work in Boyhood looks set to bring home another award.

Possible upset: Alejando G. Inarritu showed off his fancy skills in Birdman and is the most likely to steal awards away from Boyhood on the night.

Not long now until the results are in and we can see if the Academy got it right this year. Let me know your predictions and opinions in the comments below.

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American Sniper (2014)

Another week, another Oscar contender. This time we have acclaimed director Clint Eastwood teaming up with Bradley Cooper in this film based on the autobiography by Chris Kyle.

American Sniper is the story of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) the deadliest marksman in U.S. military history. We follow Kyle as he goes through four tours while being hunted by the enemy snipers and the effect war has on his family back home.

This is a tense and thrilling movie throughout. The opening scene in particular had my nerves on edge as Kyle has to make a decision no one would ever want to be in. Clint Eastwood directs the movie well as Kyle is repeatedly sent back into danger. And as his reputation as the best American sniper gets bigger, so does the danger he finds himself in. You’re getting everything from the soldier’s view, where you don’t know what’s around the corner, if the people you meet are friend or foe and you only have a moment to make a call that can be life or death for you and your team.The film doesn’t feel like it’s trying to preach, instead it tries to show what combat is like in the eyes of a sniper. We’re told that killing is what he is good at. He has to kill to protect the soldiers but what toll can that take to a person?

Bradley Cooper is more known for his comedy roles like The Hangover then in serious films. Although we’ve seen him take on dramas before like Silver Linings Playbook, that was still a comedy in places. American Sniper puts Cooper in full drama mode and he puts in a great performance. I know there’s been some debate about whether he should be in the Best Actor category when many other actors got snubbed (and yes I would have preferred Jake Gyllenhaal’s disturbing performance in Nightcrawler to have gotten recognition over some of the actors who got the nod instead). However his performance here is strong and he captures his character well. Torn between his family and his duty to his country but doesn’t stray into cliché territory (just about).

Sienna Miller finally gets a role where she is not just the pretty girlfriend. Her character actually seems like she has a personality, and just about manages to stop her going into ‘nagging wife’ territory that these biopic about men seem to love painting women in.

While I was mostly engaged in this film, by the time it got to Kyle’s fourth tour I was feeling, like his wife, that it’s probably about time he goes back home and let this come to an end. For those who are looking for the film to give a wider view on the War on Terror this does not really offer debate or contemplation. This is war seen through the eyes of one man and this film makes no apologies for that.

Rating 4/5 – an exhilarating and satisfyingly tense thriller

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Whiplash (2014)

One of the dark horses in the Oscar race this year, Whiplash has been wowing critics all over, with particularly praise going to J.K. Simmons performance. But will it have the same effect on me?

Andrew (Miles Teller) is a first year student at a prestigious music school. After hearing him play one evening, conductor Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) accepts him as a drummer for his band. However Fletcher’s methods for conducting his students are unconventional to say the least and physically and emotionally abusive at worse. As Andrew strives to prove to Fletcher he’s the best drummer he has to decide whether Fletcher’s tactics work and at what cost?

It’s not often I see a movie that I can’t get out of head for days after I’ve seen it but Whiplash is one such film. Writer/Director Damien Chazelle has made a movie that could possibly become a modern classic. It is that good.

That’s not to say that Whiplash is an easy film to watch. At times Fletcher was so horrible to his students that I was covering my eyes like I do in a horror film. Whilst categorised as a drama film, I’ve seen comparisons to sports movies, and I can see the similarities. The ongoing battle between Fletcher and Andrew can feel like a boxing match, with Fletcher constantly displaying his dominance and Andrew just doing his best not to get knocked out entirely. At times the movie can be pretty funny too, there’s a lot of dark humour here. What I also liked was that the film provokes a lot of discussion and debate about the methods Fletcher uses. He seems to be of the end-justifies-the-means school of thought, but doesn’t seem to care about the repercussions of what he does to his students. And if he does happen to produce a genius from his methods does that make what he does ok? I don’t think so, but I can imagine others may see it differently.

It’s no wonder that J.K. Simmons won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor. After spending years in the background in small character roles Simmons finally gives a wider audience a chance to show what he can do. Fletcher is at times monstrous but Simmons never hams it up. The character is grounded, he feels terrifyingly real. Like the worst teacher you’ve ever had multiplied by a thousand. Yet at times we see a softer side to him. You’re never quite sure whether he is being genuine and that makes for an interesting antagonist.

While I’m glad that J.K. Simmons has been getting a lot of deserved praise it’s a shame that Miles Teller has been rather neglected this award season, however he has been nominated for the BAFTA Rising Star Award so at least he has not been completely ignored. Teller plays the part of Andrew just right. At times he is the victim and at other times a self-entitled brat that treats his girlfriend (Melissa Benoist – soon to be Supergirl in a new tv series). You can really see Teller putting everything into his performance as Andrew fights blood, sweat and tears (literally) to keep up with Fletcher’s demands.

Is it a perfect film? Maybe not. The anecdote about Charlie Parker that Fletcher uses as his reason for why he pushes his students so far has been long been discredited. Also if you prefer a film about nice, likeable people, this isn’t one of them. And if it were, it would be a far less interesting and compelling movie for it.

Rating 5/5 – a brilliant movie with two leads who spar off each other perfectely

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The Theory of Everything

The Theory of Everything has been a success critically and has recently received a Golden Globe for its leading man Eddie Redmayne. But is the film really worth all the awards and critical applause?

In 1963 young,astrophysics Cambridge University student Stephen Hawkins meets fellow student Jane Wilde at a party and fall in love. However Stephen is soon diagnosed with motor neuron disease and is told he has two years to live but Jane refuses to give up on him or their relationship. With Jane’s help Stephen not only manages to live beyond his life expectancy but become a world-renowned physicist.

The Theory of Everything is well made and directed but this film is really about the two lead performances. I was a bit dubious before how Eddie Redmayne was going to transform convincingly into Hawkins but he is brilliant in the role. It’s not only a physically demanding role as Redmayne contorts his body like Hawkins but he also excels at showing how the disease takes an emotional toll on Hawkins. After a while I forgot it was Redmayne in the role.

Taking nothing away from Redmayne but the person myself and others were raving about when we left the cinema was Felicty Jones as Jane Wilde. It could so easily have been written as another ‘wife of’ role that has been seen so many times in biopic like this -you know, the barely two-dimensional supporting/nagging wife of a brilliant man. However this film is as much about Jane as it is about Hawkings (perhaps not so surprising once you realise the film was based on Jane’s book Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen). Jones is superb, going from determined and loved up young girl to the exhausted wife of a brilliant but frustrating man. It may not be a showy role Jones simple dazzles on-screen and brings real empathy to her role.

Some people may find themselves wanting to know more about Hawking’s work and theories but I liked that the film focused on this amazing couple who achieved extraordinary things through their determination and love.

Rating 4/5 – a lovely British filmwith two wonderful leading performances from Jones and Redmayne

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And The Oscar Goes to…My Prediction for the Oscars 2014

Here we go again. After a busy award season, tonight is finally the big event: The Oscars. Last year I made my predictions of who was going to win and got 5 out of 6 correct. Will I get a perfect score this year?

So let’s have a look at this year’s contenders:

Best Picture:

American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave, The Wolf of Wall Street

Some tough competition here but for me I think it will be between Gravity and 12 Years a Slave (as much as I loved The Wolf of Wall Street I doubt a comedy will win, especially one that has the controversy this one has). I’m really torn which way the voters will go. But for me I think 12 Years a Slave packed such an emotional impact on me that I’m going to have to throw my support for this film and hopefully the Academy will feel the same. But it definitely is not a sure thing. American Hustle has a lot of support behind it so it may snatch it away from 12 Years a Slave and Gravity.

My prediction: 12 Years a Slave

Best Actor:

Christian Bale (American Hustle), Bruce Dern (Nebraska), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street), Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

I haven’t seen Nebraska so I can’t comment on Bruce Dern’s role-although I heard he was very good. The other actors were all great in their roles. Personally I would probably go for Leonardo DiCaprio or Chiwetel Ejiofor, two very different roles but both breathtakingly good. But I think the momentum is behind Matthew McConaughey, so barring a major upset he’ll be taking the award home on the night.

My Prediction: Matthew McConaughey.

Best Actress:

Amy Adams (American Hustle), Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Sandra Bullock (Gravity), Judi Dench (Philomena), Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

As much I love Amy Adams I think this will be another year she goes empty-handed. Sandra Bullock may be in with a shot at the title but from all the buzz I’ve been hearing about Blue Jasmine this is likely to be Cate Blanchett’s year.

My Prediction: Cate Blanchett

Best Supporting Actor:

Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips), Bradley Cooper (American Hustle), Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave), Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street), Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

Personally I’d like Michael Fassbender to get this award as his terrifying slave owner was mesmerizing, but I think Jared Leto has this in the bag for his portrayal as the tragic transgender Reyon

My prediction: Jared Leto

Best Supporting Actress:

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

This could be interesting. The main contenders for this award is Hollywood darling Jennifer Lawrence and new girl on the block Lupita Nyong’o. Both are deserving nominees. As much as I love Jennifer Lawrence and the ground she walks on, I’m going to put my vote behind Nyong’o-just don’t be surprised if Lawrence photobombs her.

My prediction: Lupita Nyong’o

Best Director:

American Hustle (David O. Russell), Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón), Nebraska (Alexander Payne), 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen), The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese)

As much as it pains me to think The Wolf of Wall Street may go home empty-handed I think this is again a battle between 12 Years a Slave‘s McQueen and Gravity‘s Cuaron. Usually whoever gets Best Picture gets Best Director as well so if my above prediction is right then McQueen would walk away a winner-and deservedly so. But I think what Cuaron did with Gravity was amazing, technically it’s a marvel and I think Cuaron will be awarded for that. Either way I’d be happy (and if Scorsese did somehow manage to win it from them I’d be pleased with that too).

My Prediction: Alfonso Cuaron

So those were my opinions, let me know what you think will win in the comments below, or if you’re reading this after the Oscars have been announced let me know what you think of the results.

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12 Years a Slave

Following on from the ciritcal success of Hunger and Shame, British director Steve McQueen brings to the screen an adaptation of Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoir of the same name.

Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free black man in 1841 New York. He is a successful musician and lives with his wife and children. When he’s betrayed by two men who promise him work he is sold into slavery where he remains for…well take a guess?

This is the first film I’ve seen of  Steve Mcqueen and he’s produced a powerful and emotional movie. Its fair to say that 12 Years a Slave is not an easy watch-and nor should it be. Some viewers may be put off by the violence displayed in the film, and yes it is hard to watch at times. I know in some films the violence can seem gratuitous or just there to be controversal but the violence in 12 Years a Slave is a necessary part of the story. I”m not sure how you would tell Northup’s tale -or indeed any tale about slavery and not have the subject of violence play a major part.

British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor is outstanding as Solomon. There are scenes where McQueen just keeps the camera on Ejiofor’s face and he is able to express so much pain and emotion with just a look. In some films-especially ones considered to be ‘Oscar-worthy’- no matter how well acted a performance is you’re always reminded that you’re watching a ‘performance’. Here Ejiofor transends so far into the role I was forgetting I was watching an actor-I was just seeing Solomon. Which must be one of the biggest compliment an actor can get (although I’m sure he’d rather have the Oscar than my praises 🙂  ). I’m glad Ejiofor is finally getting some recognition as he’s a talented and diverse actor-just watch him as the villian in sci-fi action film Serenity or as a drag queen in Kinky Boots.

McQueen’s lucky charm Michael Fassbender also shows why he’s one of the most in demand actors at the moment. His slave owner Epps is a vicious monster and can be hard to watch at times. Another standout is Lupita Nyong’o as one of Solomon’s fellow slaves Patsey forced to suffer so much at the hands of her master. I really hope we see more from her in the future as it’s an impressive turn from such a newcomer to the film scene.

What I also liked about this film is that it doesn’t fit easily into the usual Oscar movie of having to be an inspirational tale. Yes Northup does end up out of slavery but this was after 12 years of immense pain and torture, in which many slaves were left behind long after Solomon was freed. I’m glad McQueen doesn’t try to force in a sentimental message about the human spirit or something equally as twee. He just lets Soloman’s tale be told as simply as possible and it’s a great adaptation of one man’s story.

Rating5/5-powerful and emotional, this film deserves all the Oscar glories coming to it

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