Friday, February 28, 2014

My 2014 Oscars Predictions


I don't know. It's just weird. This was the first year I actually avoided watching some of the nominees. The Lone Ranger? Bad Grandpa? I know, I haven't seen the movies, so who am I to judge. It's just weird.

Anyway, here are my predictions for Sunday night's show:

Best Picture:

(American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, 12 Years a SlaveThe Wolf of Wall Street)

American Hustle and Gravity are nominated for 10 awards each, and 12 Years a Slave for 9. Unless they pull an Argo on us like last year, Hustle won't win the grand award. So the competition is between Gravity and 12 Years. No space movie in Oscar history has received the award for Best Picture, and if it wins, then the pain of Star Wars losing to Annie Hall will come back. Even though Entertainment Weekly has estimated that Gravity has a feeble 1% margin of chance over 12 Years at winning, and even though it's the lovelier movie, 12 Years is pure Oscar material, and is destined to win.

Should win:  Gravity

Will win:  12 Years a Slave

Best Director:

(David O. Russell for American HustleAlfonso Cuarón for Gravity, Alexander Payne for NebraskaSteve McQueen for 12 Years a SlaveMartin Scorsese for The Wolf of Wall Street.)

Not much competition here. Just watch Gravity. Only a master can pull that off.

Should win:  Alfonso Cuarón

Will win:  Alfonso Cuarón

Best Actor:

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

Okay ... so this will be the biggest moment of the night. It's all between Leo and McConaughey. Both have won Golden Globes. DiCaprio has been nominated four times, never won, and there's a huge amount of sympathy out there for him (including this blogger). It's McConaughey's first nomination ever, and he's risen from a decade of playing in junk movies. But boy ... has he risen. He's suddenly become giant, changing the entire spectrum by great roles in Killer Joe, Mud, Magic MikeDallas Buyers Club, and The Wolf of Wall Street. Leo has resorted to attracting voters' affection during the past months by giving "I never get any awards" speeches; McConaughey has gone on to take the dizzying role of a rogue cop in  TV's "True Detective". The man is just unstoppable.

Should win:  Leonardo DiCaprio

Will win:  Matthew McConaughey

Best Actress:

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

Cate Blanchett is (deservedly) this year's Oscar darling. Her turn in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine was a career event, and she will go home with the statue. But to me, I don't care how many Oscars Streep has won. She did it again with the little seen August: Osage County, and if anybody asked me (they usually don't), she should win her fourth Oscar.

Should win:  Meryl Streep

Will win:  Cate Blanchett

Best Supporting Actor:

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

Again, I wouldn't get too excited about this one. Jared Leto has been in the business for quite some time, and his transgender act in Dallas Buyers Club was far better than his other competitors.

Should win:  Jared Leto

Will win:  Jared Leto

Best Supporting Actress:

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

The night might get weird again here. Everybody says Lupita Nyong'o (in her first movie ever!) will win, and even taking into account all her merits, if we consider the (self-written) rule that the Best Supporting role winner is the one whose impact in the film rises to the level of the leading actor/actress, Julia Roberts was the only one who reached that status compared to the rest. And if you've seen August: Osage County, I hope you'll agree she did better than her turn in Erin Brockovich.

Should win:  Julia Roberts  

Will win:  Lupita Nyong'o

Best Original Screenplay:

(American HustleBlue JasmineDallas Buyers ClubHerNebraska)

Spike Jonze's Oscar is long overdue. Her all the way.

Should win:  Her

Will win:  Her

Best Adapted Screenplay:

(Before MidnightCaptain PhillipsPhilomena12 Years a SlaveThe Wolf of Wall Street)

Take a hike, Gone With the Wind. Linklater, Hawke and Delpy should get Oscars for writing the best romance trilogy ever. But it's hard to see 12 Years a Slave in the mix and not winning.

Should win:  Before Midnight

Will win:  12 Years a Slave

Best Documentary Feature Film:

(The Act of Killing, Cutie and the Boxer, Dirty Wars, The Square, 20 Feet from Stardom)

By critical acclaim, this should be a slam-dunk win for The Act of Killing. But will this year be like last year, when The Gatekeepers, the clearly deeper (political) documentary, lost to the entertaining but lesser (musical) documentary, Searching for Sugar Man? If that's the case, 20 Feet from Stardom has a chance.

Should win:  The Act of Killing

Will win:  The Act of Killing

And for predictions in other categories:

- Best Foreign Language Film:  The Great Beauty

- Best Animated Feature Film:  Frozen

- Best Animated Short Film:  Get a Horse!

- Best Documentary Short Film:  The Lady in Number 6

- Best Live Action Short Film:  That Wasn't Me

- Best Editing:  Gravity  (Just hand over all the technical awards to Gravity and call it a day.)

- Best Production Design:  The Great Gatsby

- Best Cinematography:  Gravity  

- Best Makeup:  Dallas Buyers Club

- Best Original Score:  Gravity

- Best Original Song:  Frozen  (Everybody on the planet is singing 'Let it Go".)

- Best Costume Design:  American Hustle

- Best Sound Editing:  Gravity

- Best Sound Mixing:  Gravity

- Best Visual Effects:  Gravity

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013)

Director: Justin Chadwick. Cast: Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Terry Pheto. 141 min. Rated PG-13. UK/South Africa. Biography/History.

Gandhi and Mandela were the two greatest non-violence revolutionaries of our time. The filmmakers saw the success of Gandhi (the movie), and thought they'll use the exact same formula for a biopic on Mandela - notwithstanding, movie-making has slightly evolved during the past 30 years. So we have a 2-hour-plus year-by-year life story, with only the half hour offering some insight into the great man's thought processes. Very uplifting ending, and Elba does a tremendous job (even though he looks quite different from Mandela), but the figure was so much larger than this, and more is expected from cinema.

Mo says:

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Don Jon (2013)

Director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Brie Larson. 90 min. Rated R. Comedy/Drama/Romance.

In his directorial debut, Gordon-Levitt tries to mitigate his boyish charm, and adapts a fake see-through manly gruff voice to play a porn addict, who (surprise!) realizes there's more to life than that. I don't find the subject matter funny, so I felt the whole perspective of dealing with it as a comedy was somewhat annoying. Strangely, Brie Larson is the most interesting character of the whole movie, and she rarely even says a word - a testament to her acting skills. For a much more in-depth view on the same subject, watch Oscar-nominated Steve McQueen's movie, Shame.

Mo says:

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Armstrong Lie (2013)

Director: Alex Gibney. 124 min. Rated R. Documentary.

This is what I think happened: Alex Gibney set out to make a documentary about Lance Armstrong's 2009 Tour de France comeback, and his struggle with doping accusations. But then halfway through, in January 2013 Armstrong admitted to doping on all 7 prior championships, so that messed up the documentary's entire perspective. Gibney tried to salvage the documentary by making it about the lie, but that didn't help, because now you're not sure which of the film interviews are before the guilty admission, and which are after. So Gibney is added to the long list of people Armstrong screwed over.

Mo says:

Monday, February 17, 2014

You're Next (2011)

Director: Adam Wingard. Cast: Sharni Vinson, Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen. 95 min. Rated R. Horror/Thriller.

Similar to The Strangers, this starts out as a low-budget slasher movie, with some nutcase in a mask killing off a family holed in a villa in the middle of nowhere one by one. So you think, this is not gonna end up well. But then midway, there's a very unexpected twist, which turns the movie into an extremely intense (and gory) thriller, keeping you at the edge of your seat till the very end. Due to the unimaginable violence, I wouldn't recommend this to everybody, but if you can stomach the gore, you'll be surprised.

Mo says:

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Robocop (2014)

Director: Jose Padilha. Cast: Joel Kinneman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Jackie Earle Haley, Abbie Cornish, Jay Baruchel. 108 min. Rated PG-13. Action/Crime/Sci-fi.

Considering how critics have trashed both this and the Total Recall remake, and how everybody was losing their mind over casting Daniel Craig as the new James Bond, I just think we're getting the philosophy of a good remake wrong. An admirable remake is one that both takes root from the original, and improves upon its main themes, and this Robocop does just that. Yes, it's less gory than the original (probably to capture a wider audience), but the political corruption and human vs. robot themes are deeper and more updated. And Gary Oldman is such a treasure.

PS #1: Iranians as suicide bombers? Gimme a break.

PS #2: JZ ... thanks for the recommendation!

Mo says:

Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

Director: James Wan. Cast: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey. 106 min. Rated PG-13. USA/Canada. Horror/Thriller.

The first Insidious movie was good. But director Wan makes the mistake of thinking the first movie was so good, we remembered all the minute details. So for the second installment, he builds layer upon layer on those details, resulting in total viewer confusion - to the extent that I was repeatedly checking IMDb and Wikipedia to recall the first movie's characters and events. And whatever made the first movie interesting (ghosts working through baby monitors and walkie talkies) are exploited to the fullest here, with an ending begging for a third installment. They just ruined the whole fun.

Mo says:

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Lego Movie (2014)

Director(s): Phil Lord, Christopher Miller. Cast (voices): Chris Pratt, Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Jonah Hill, Will Forte, Shaquille O'Neal, Channing Tatum, Anthony Daniels, Billy Dee Williams. 100 min. Rated PG. Animation.

It's all about the surprise. Every sign was pointing towards this being a 100-minute Lego commercial, while this is everything but. It's a dynamic supposedly stop-motion but actually digital animation, full of smart one-liners and lovely homages to every franchise under the sun, bringing a lot of sense to how the Lego universe works, providing powerful messages for kids, and probably even for adults. The closest example I can think of is Toy Story, but even that movie didn't contain the sociopolitical concepts embedded here. Forget any notion you may have about this: Watch it fresh - you'll be surprised.

PS: Thanks for the recommendation, Peter. Nice start for the year 2014.

Mo says:

The Book Thief (2013)

Director: Brian Percival. Cast: Sophie Nélisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson. 131 min. Rated PG-13. USA/Germany. Drama/War.

Young girl is adopted by German parents, and while living the horrors of Nazi Germany, develops some kind of weird fetish for books ("Is that a book in your hand? Can I touch it?"). After all the dark, gritty Holocaust movies, the weak directing and bright cinematography makes this look like a WWII lesson for kids. And there's "Death" as the narrator, whose role in the movie was lost on me (must have had a more pivotal part in the book the movie was adapted from). Only reason I saw this, was John Williams' Oscar-nominated score. Waste of acting talents.

Mo says:

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Man from Earth (2007)

Director: Richard Schenkman. Cast: David Lee Smith, Tony Todd, John Billingsley. 87 min. Drama/Sci-Fi.

College professor resigns after 10 years, and colleagues gather for a goodbye party, pressing him with the question: why the sudden leave? He reveals to them ... that he's a 14,000 year old caveman. Obviously, this is initially met with laughter and ridicule, but later with deep philosophical discussions among the small group of intellects. They can neither believe him, nor refute him. And the result is some re-thinking on your part, on matters such as history, humanity, religion, and God. By "Star Trek" and "Twilight Zone" writer Jerome Bixby, this is a movie to be watched with a group.

Mo says:

Monday, February 3, 2014

Kahaani (2012)

Director: Sujoy Ghosh. Cast: Vidya Balan, Parambrata Chatterjee, Dhritiman Chatterjee. 122 min. India. Drama/Thriller.

Two years after a major subway terrorist attack, pregnant lady arrives in Kolkata in search of her recently disappeared husband. Very well-directed and edited Hollywood-style Indian thriller, which was a sleeper hit in India. The greatest impact comes from the sudden twist at the end, but if you've seen a few movies, you'll know the twist is adapted from a somewhat notable Angelina Jolie movie, and a very notable Kevin Spacey movie. I won't say which ones.

PS: This is available for streaming on Netflix.

Mo says:

The Croods (2013)

Director(s): Kirk DeMicco, Chris Sanders. Cast (voices): Nicolas Cage, Ryan Reynolds, Emma Stone, Catherine Keener, Cloris Leachman. 98 min. Rated PG. Animation.

Neanderthal family runs from the "end of the world" to a safe haven in another part of the world (yeah, same world), teaching kids to come out of the darkness of their caves, throw away whatever their elders grew up with, and not be afraid to learn new things - almost feeling like a jab at religion. But this is all secondary. The main show, is layer after layer of computer animated wizardry, which although extremely well done, should not take the place of a good story. That, is The Croods' huge deficiency.

Mo says: