Monday, September 29, 2014

The Oscar Narrative: Post Telluride/Venice/Toronto Predictions - Best Actress

Post Telluride/Venice/Toronto Predictions
Amy Adams "Big Eyes"
Jessica Chastain "A Most Violent Year"
Julianne Moore "Still Alice"
Meryl Streep "Into the Woods"
Reese Witherspoon "Wild"

Other Contenders - Rosemund Pike "Gone Girl",  Felicity Jones "The Theory of Everything", Emily Blunt "Into the Woods", Hilary Swank "The Homesman", Shailene Woodley "The Fault in Our Stars", Jessica Chastain "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby", Marion Cotillard "Two Days, One Night", Maggie Smith "My Old Lady", Anne Hathaway "Interstellar", Helen Mirren "The Hundred-Foot Journey", Kirsten Dunst "The Two Faces of January", Mia Wasikowska "Tracks", Kristen Wiig "The Skeleton Twins", Emma Stone "Magic in the Moonlight", Gugu Mbatha-Raw "Belle", Jenny Slate "Obvious Child", Angelina Jolie "Maleficent", Juliette Binoche "Clouds of Sils Maria", Nicole Kidman "Queen of the Desert", Shirley MacLaine "Elsa & Fred", Quvenzhane Wallis "Annie"

Commentary - The pundits are right, there is not a tremendous amount of depth in this year's Best Actress race, but damn is it top heavy. I think it is so top heavy that I am leaving out two of the big fall festival breakouts. Rosemund Pike is getting rave reviews for David Fincher's Gone Girl, and could pull a Rooney Mara. Although, Mara didn't have so many titans of acting ahead of her as Pike does. Felicity Jones zoomed to the top of most lists after The Theory of Everything hit the ground running, but I am still not convinced they won't campaign her supporting, and even if they do here (maybe they recognize she has a real shot), whose to say that her co-star Eddie Redmayne doesn't dominate the conversation, and drown out her potential. Honestly though, the real reason that I am leaving both of these actresses out for the moment, is that last year's nominees were proof that the Academy likes what it likes, and last year's field were dominated by veteran Oscar-recognized actresses over some worthy upstarts. So for now I will play it safe, and to all those Jones and Pike fans, have no fear. If some of the buzzed performances fail to make their mark, they are right there to take a slot. There are two early contenders that have already cemented their status as front runners. Reese Witherspoon has not done much since her Oscar win that would be considered award worthy, but she is back with a vengeance in Wild. Jean-Marc Valle led his two stars last year to Oscar wins by adding a lot of heart to the story. It looks like there could be a repeat as apparently Witherspoon (As well as Laura Dern) are said to be fantastic. And then there is the continuing saga of Julianne Moore. She received raves for Maps to the Stars out of Cannes, only to have her Oscar hopes dashed when it was announced there would be no formal Oscar campaign. Then Toronto hit and her other film, Still Alice, quietly premiered without much fanfare leading up to it. And then it suddenly exploded. Moore was raved for her playing of a woman with Alzheimer's disease, and all of the sudden she was not only a contender once again,  but one that went from no hope to her first possible win. It has been an incredible story so far, and I have a feeling it is far from over. Another actress looking for her first overdue Oscar is Amy Adams. The first trailer for Big Eyes looks promising, in terms of her performance, and she is playing a real-life artist Margaret Keane, something we know Oscar voters eat up. Of course no Oscar race would be complete without the great Meryl Streep. She could go supporting (and Emily Blunt could end up here instead), but since Disney has marketed her as the big name on the block, I have a feeling she will go lead. And its Meryl Streep. That is pretty much all the argument you need. Besides Pike and Jones, there are some other contenders on the outside looking in. Hilary Swank, Shailene Woodley, Marion Cotillard, Anne Hathaway, Helen Mirren, Shirley MacLaine, Angeline Jolie, Maggie Smith, Quvenzhane Wallis, and Kristen Wiig all are big names with baity projects that should not be forgotten. But in the last slot, I am going with Jessica Chastain. The last time she had four projects in one year, she earned her first Oscar nomination, that time for The Help. She is now a two-time nominee, is literally everywhere, and is clearly respected among actors. I personally think her role in A Most Wanted Man could be another slam dunk for her, and another nomination.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Oscar Narrative: Post Venice/Telluride/Toronto Predictions - Best Animated Feature

Post Venice/Telluride/Toronto Predictions
Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
The Lego Movie
The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Other Contenders - The Book of Life, Song of the Sea, Pinocchio, Rio 2, The Penguins of Madagascar, Mr. Peabody and Sherman, The Canterville Ghost, Henry & Me, Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return, The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart, Postman Pat: The Movie, El Americano: The Movie, Boonie Bears, to the Rescue, The Pirate Fairy

Commentary - This race is one that is always in flux until the Academy's Animation branch determines how many eligible films there are. We've had enough the last several years for the full five slate, but a lot of contenders remain without US distribution, which could shrink the category down to 3 or 4. Now onto the race! Pixar is not going to have an entry this year, which could pave the way for one of the other major studios. Disney could win back to back with its entry Big Hero 6 which is getting a lot of praise out of production. Will it be this year's Frozen? The Boxtrolls did something stupid by premiering on the film festival roundup, but it is getting good reviews overall, and will probably do well at the box office, keeping it in the race. GKids has become a staple in this category (which is awesome by the way), and it has several possibilities this year. Song of the Sea looks great, but I am leaning more towards The Tale of Princess Kaguya, whose unique animation style (from what I can tell so far) might stick out among voters. The Book of Life looks colorful, Rio 2 and The Penguins of Madagascar could be space fillers, and Pinocchio could be a worthy remake. But I think the last two slots, and right now the race for the win, are between two early contenders that did extraordinarily well with critics and audiences. The first is The Lego Movie. It was uproariously funny, and its the first time the Lego animation was used on the big screen, which makes it a standout in terms of its animation style (don't forget in terms of the nominations it is the animators that make the choices, so style is a huge point). Right now though, I think the front runner is How to Train Your Dragon 2. The first film has the unfortunate spot of being nominated against Toy Story 3, but I do think it was well liked among voters. The second film was just as well-received, and if it ends up being a battle between this and The Lego Movie, count on the emotional heart of Dragon to win the day.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Oscar Narrative: Post Venice/Telluride/Toronto Prediction - Technical Categories

Best Cinematography
Emmanuel Lubezki "Birdman"
Roman Vasyanov "Fury"
Jeff Cronenweth "Gone Girl"
Hoyte Van Hoytema "Interstellar"
Roger Deakins "Unbroken"

Other Contenders - Bradford Young "A Most Violent Year", Oscar Faura "The Imitation Game", Greig Fraser "Foxcatcher", Tom Stern "American Sniper", Bruno Delbonnel "Big Eyes", Robert Elswit "Inherent Vice", Dion Beebe "Into the Woods", Dick Pope "Mr. Turner", Bradford Young "Selma", Rodrigo Prieto "The Homesman", Yves Belanger "Wild", Seamus McGarvey "Godzilla", Janusz Kaminski "The Judge", Benoit Delhomme "The Theory of Everything", Sean Bobbit "Kill the Messenger, Andrew Lesnie "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies"

Best Costume Design
Big Eyes
The Imitation Game
Into the Woods
The Theory Of Everything

Other Contenders - Selma, Fury, Unbroken, Inherent Vice, Mr. Turner, Exodus: Gods and Kings, Noah, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Birdman, Belle, The Homesman, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies", Foxcatcher, The Hundred-Foot Journey, Miss Julie, Jersey Boys, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, A Most Violent Year, Interstellar, Get on Up, Magic in the Moonlight

Best Film Editing
Gone Girl

Other Contenders - The Imitation Game, Fury, Selma, Birdman, American Sniper, Into the Woods, The Theory of Everything, Wild, A Most Violent Year,  Big Eyes, Mr. Turner, The Homesman, The Grand Budapest Hotel, A Most Wanted Man, Edge of Tomorrow, Get on Up, Inherent Vice

Best  Makeup and Hairstyling
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Into the Woods

Other Contenders - Guardians of the Galaxy, Maleficient, Big Eyes, Gone Girl, Unbroken, Mr. Turner, Interstellar, Fury, The Homesman, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, Exodus: Gods and Kings, Inherent Vice, Theory of Everything, Birdman, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Get on Up, American Sniper, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Noah, Snowpiercer, Selma, Godzilla, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, A Most Violent Year

Best Original Score
Steven Price "Fury"
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross "Gone Girl"
Hans Zimmer "Interstellar"
Johann Johannsson "The Theory of Everything"
Alexandre Desplat "Unbroken"

Other Contenders - Thomas Newman "The Judge", Alexandre Desplat "The Imitation Game", Danny Elfman "Big Eyes", A.R. Rahman "The Hundred-Foot Journey", Antonio Sanchez "Birdman", Rob Simonsen "Foxcatcher", John Powell "How to Train Your Dragon 2", Gustavo Santaolla "The Book of Life", Jonny Greenwood "Inherent Vice", Alexandre Desplat "The Grand Budapest Hotel", Thomas Newman "Get on Up", Marco Beltrami "The Homesman", Michael Giacchino "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes", Howard Shore "Rosewater"

Best Original Song
Will do soon in a separate post!

Best Production Design
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Hobbit:Battle of the Five Armies
The Imitation Game
Into the Woods

Other Contenders - Big Eyes, Unbroken, Maleficent, Fury, The Theory of Everything, Mr. Turner, Selma, Inherent Vice, A Most Wanted Man, The Hundred-Foot Journey, Birdman, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Homesman, Noah, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, Magic in the Moonlight, Godzilla, The Giver, Get on Up, X-Men: Days of Future Past

Best Sound Mixing
Into the Woods
Transformers: Age of Extinction

Other Contenders - The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, American Sniper, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Get on Up, Edge of Tomorrow, Godzilla, Guardians of the Galaxy, Selma, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Wild, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Snowpiercer, Begin Again, Boxtrolls, A Most Violent Year, How to Train Your Dragon 2

Best Sound Editing
The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies
Transformers: Age of Extinction

Other Contenders - American Sniper, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Get on Up, Edge of Tomorrow, Godzilla, Into the Woods, Guardians of the Galaxy, Selma, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Wild, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Snowpiercer, Begin Again, Boxtrolls, A Most Violent Year, How to Train Your Dragon 2

Best Visual Effects
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Transformers: Age of Extinction

Other Contenders - Into the Woods, Godzilla, Guardians of the Galaxy, Fury, Unbroken, Big Eyes, Edge of Tomorrow, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Noah, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Gone Girl, Exodus: Gods and Kings, Into the Storm, Snowpiercer, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, American Sniper

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Oscar Narrative: Post Venice/Telluride/Toronto Predictions - Best Supporting Actor

Post Venice/Telluride/Toronto Predictions
Johnny Depp "Into the Woods"
Edward Norton "Birdman"
Mark Ruffalo "Foxcatcher"
Tim Roth "Selma"
J.K. Simmons "Whiplash"

Other Contenders - Domhnall Gleeson "Unbroken", Robert Duvall "The Judge", Martin Sheen "Trash", Tom Wilkinson "Selma", Logan Lerman "Fury", John Goodman "The Gambler", Ethan Hawke "Boyhood", Josh Brolin "Inherent Vice", John Lithgow "Love is Strange",  Chris Pine "Into the Woods", Ansel Elgort "Men, Women & Children", Neil Patrick Harris "Gone Girl", Tyler Perry "Gone Girl", James Gandolfini "The Drop", Michael Caine "Interstellar", Matthew Goode "The Imitation Game", Miyavi "Unbroken", Casey Affleck "Interstellar", Michael Pena "Fury", Jamie Foxx "Annie", Common "Selma", Charlie Cox "The Theory of Everything", Benicio Del Toro "Inherent Vice", Dominic West "Pride", Shia LaBeouf "Fury", Garrett Hedlund "Unbroken", Finn Wittrock "Unbroken"

Commentary - This category is one of those strange ones, where are are three guys that seem out front at the moment, and then the list just drops off, with so many contenders and not really a clue who will fill that last two slots. After flirting with Oscar for years now (he should have been nominated for Juno), it looks like J.K. Simmons has a real shot at getting his first nomination. And as Whiplash continues to role on the festival circuit, and critics and the team push his veteran status, he could easily be a front runner for the win. Edward Norton joins his co-stars Michael Keaton and Emma Stone in the Oscar buzz for Birdman. He has been nominated several times, and this looks like the perfect role for him. Mark Ruffalo looks to earn his second Oscar nomination for Foxcatcher, another early Best Picture favorite that continues to build steam. His nod may depend on whether Channing Tatum goes supporting (which honestly would be smart, they have a better chance of getting two into supporting than they do into lead). Beyond these three though, there is no clear pick for the last two slots, especially considering that most of the big contenders have yet to be seen. Robert Duvall apparently struts his stuff in The Judge, but it has to hit better with critics and audiences than it did at Toronto. Domhnall Gleeson and Logan Lerman are getting the most buzz from their war-era films, but they both have large casts where any number of contenders could emerge. Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro with a Paul Thomas Anderson could have promising results. John Goodman deserves some recognition, maybe The Gambler is his ticket. Ethan Hawke could get a second nomination if Boyhood remains strong. James Gandolfini missed out for Enough Said, but maybe The Drop gets him a posthumous nomination. Tom Wilkinson playing LBJ is certain to turn some heads. Matthew Goode and Charlie Cox could benefit from the buzz for The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game. Martin Sheen is a veteran with no Oscar nods, if Trash is as beloved as most Stephen Daldry films, then he could be in the mix. Through in Chris Pine, John Lithgow, Ansel Elgort, the Gone Girl and Interstellar guys, and this race is really wide open. For me though, I am most intrigued by two performances not yet mentioned. First is Johnny Depp as the Wolf in Into the Woods. The Broadway role is juicy and after striking out several times in a row, Depp is due for a knock-out performance. I was initially going to go with Tom Wilkinson for Selma, a film I feel like could be a real hit. But then I saw that Tim Roth is going to play George Wallace, I immediately perked up. Roth is a talented actor who has not lived up to his potential. But George Wallace is the role of a lifetime, and I think if he nails it, he could be back on top.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Oscar Narrative: Post Venice/Telluride/Toronto Predictions - Best Supporting Actress

Post Venice/Telluride/Toronto Predictions
Patricia Arquette "Boyhood"
Emily Blunt "Into the Woods"
Laura Dern "Wild"
Keira Knightley "The Imitation Game"
Emma Stone "Birdman"

Other Contenders -  Anna Kendrick "Into the Woods", Carmen Ejogo "Selma", Carrie Coon "Gone Girl", Vanessa Redgrave "Foxcatcher", Viola Davis "Get On Up", Katherine Waterston "Inherent Vice", Naomi Watts "St. Vincent", Jessica Chastain "Interstellar", Octavia Spencer "Get on Up", Rene Russo "Nightcrawler", Kelly Reilly "Cavalry", Oprah Winfrey "Selma", Imelda Staunton "Pride", Melissa McCarthy "St. Vincent", Kristen Stewart "Still Alice", Dorothy Atkinson "Mr. Turner', Jessica Lange "The Gambler", Cameron Diaz "Annie", Reese Witherspoon "Inherent Vice", Robin Wright "A Most Wanted Man", Marisa Tomei "Love is Strange", Krysten Ritter "Big Eyes", Naomi Watts "Birdman", Sienna Miller "American Sniper"

Commentary - This race has changed dramatically in several months, as new contenders have emerged. For example, the Venice/Telluride/Toronto festivals produced several new front runners. Birdman is getting a lot of praise from festival goers and critics. A lot of the praise is about Michael Keaton. But its two supporting players are also getting a lot of attention for holding their own. Emma Stone has been flirting with Oscar for awhile (and honestly, while most people would probably disagree, I think she should have been nominated for her magnetic performance in Easy A), and I think that she could finally get that overdue nomination. She apparently holds her own against veterans Michael Keaton and Edward Norton, and has some "Oscar"scenes that could definitely help her cause. Laura Dern has quickly emerged from the pack, as the deceased mother of Reese Witherspoon's Wild. I didn't include her initially because I didn't know if she would have enough screen time, but you rarely find a review of Wild that doesn't mention her, alongside her co-star Reese Witherspoon. I personally thought the initial reviews of The Imitation Game were soft, but by the end of the fall festival circuit, it had emerged as one of the top Oscar contenders. Along with the buzz for the film, came a surprising amount of support for Keira Knightley. I had forgot she was even in the film from those initial reviews, but suddenly she is receiving an abundance of support. I guess if the film as a whole is a hit, then its coattails should extend to one of the most popular actresses working today and a previous nominee. I think she is a space filler right now depending on how the season goes. I am still a bit skeptical about the chances of Boyhood. I think its Oscar fate rests in the hands of the upcoming unseen contenders. If they falter, there may be a place for it. But if they don't, I think it could end up with just a few conciliatory nominations. That being said, I am so thrilled to see the continued buzz and support for Patrica Arquette. She continues to have heat behind her campaign, and if she can sustain it, I think she could be one of those nominations, no matter what happens with Best Picture. So what about the rest of them? Word is that newcomers Carrie Coon, Carmen Ejogo, and Katherine Waterston could all be breakouts in Gone Girl, Selma, and Inherent Vice. Naomi Watts and Melissa McCarthy turned heads at Toronto with St. Vincent (and Birdman for Watts), and could garner some votes, considering both are previous nominees. Jessica Chastain has so many roles this year, and her nomination could come from Christopher Nolan's Interstellar. Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer could make a comeback for Get On Up. Ingenues Krysten Ritter, Sieena Miller, Kristen Stewart, and Kelly Reilly could join veterans Oprah, Rene Russo, Marisa Tomei, Dorothy Atkinson, Jessica Lange, Vanessa Redgrave, Imelda Staunton, Reese Witherspoon, Cameron Diaz, and Robin Wright. But I think that Rob Marshall's Into the Woods may produce the final nominee. Emily Blunt's character in the play is more of a lead, but I think they will push Meryl Streep there, and then push Blunt and Anna Kendrick in supporting. In terms of screen time, it looks like Blunt could be the beneficiary, and receive her first Oscar nomination.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Oscar Narrative: Post Venice/Telluride/Toronto Predictions - Best Adapted Screenplay

Post Venice/Telluride/Toronto Predictions
Gillian Flynn "Gone Girl"
Graham Moore "The Imitation Game"
Anthony McCarten "The Theory of Everything"
Joel and Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson "Unbroken"
Nick Hornby "Wild"

Other Contenders - Paul Thomas Anderson "Inherent Vice", Richard Curtis "Trash", Jason Dean Hall "American Sniper", James Lapine "Into the Woods", Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland "Still Alice", Jason Reitman and Erin Cressida Wilson "Men, Women, & Children", Andrew Bovell "A Most Wanted Man", Jon Stewart "Rosewater", Steven Knight "The Hundred-Foot Journey", Kieran Fitzgerald, Tommy Lee Jones, and Wesley Oliver "The Homesman", Aline Brosh McKenna, Will Gluck, and Emma Thompson "Annie", William Monahan "The Gambler"

Commentary - For the second year in a row, the Adapted Screenplay category is not as deep or strong as its original counterpart, but that doesn't mean that it won't be an interesting race. First and foremost is Unbroken. When I heard that the Coen Bros had joined the process, my ears pricked up like a dog hearing a far away howl. They always bring a unique creative twist to everything they touch, and I am anxious to see how they tackle World War II. My assumption is that the results will be fantastic. We already know that two films will play well thanks to their rapturous praise out of Toronto. Both The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game have so many factors playing in their favor: great studios behind them, outstanding lead performances that carry the film (acting branch is the biggest), British vote, historical biopics. I expect them to play well across many categories, both should be locks here. Gone Girl is a big question mark, but with Gillian Flynn adapting her own script, you are guaranteed that you are getting the film that she envisioned, which is kind of neat. I think with Fincher behind the camera, this is going to be something special, and Flynn could easily be recognized for making her book as delightful to watch as it was to read. For the final slot, I think we area all underestimating a certain contender. Paul Thomas Anderson is an obvious pick, but he did miss for The Master, and word is that Inherent Vice might not appeal to Academy voters. Still Alice is getting good reviews out of Toronto, but right now the praise seems to be only about Julianne Moore. Even if Into the Woods and Annie are big hits, musicals rarely get screenplay nominations. Men, Women & Children is too controversial and has too many mixed reactions, Rosewater the same. The Hundred-Foot Journey or The Homesman could be seat fillers if some of the unseen contenders fall flat. And American Sniper is the silent contender that reminds me an awful lot of Eastwood's last Best Picture winner Million Dollar Baby, it should not be discounted. And finally, until I see some reviews, I am moving off of Stephen Daldry's Trash. I know I am breaking my own rule, but right now there are so many possibilities, and its buzz is dead. But I am not forgetting about it, and will move it right back up if I think it has a chance. But for now, I think the last slot is going to Nick Hornby's adaptation of Cheryl Strayed's best-selling memoir Wild. The film got great reviews, but I will say right now the buzz is only about Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern. But then again, Jean-Marc Vallee's last film started in a same situation with Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto and ended up hitting most of the big categories. Like Dallas Buyers Club, Wild makes you feel, it is a struggle that is human, and I think it will continue to build support, and end up making it big across the board.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Oscar Narrative: Post Venice/Telluride/Toronto Predictions - Best Original Screenplay

Post Venice/Telluride/Toronto Predictions
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo "Birdman"
Richard Linklater "Boyhood"
E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman "Foxcatcher"
JC Chandor "A Most Violent Year"
Mike Leigh "Mr. Turner"

Other Contenders - Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan "Interstellar", Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness "The Grand Budapest Hotel", Ava DuVernay and Paul Webb "Selma", David Ayer "Fury", Damien Chazelle "Whiplash", Ira Sachs "Love is Strange", Scott Alexander and Larry Karazewski "Big Eyes", Ned Benson "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them", Dan Gilroy "Nightcrawler", John Carney "Begin Again", Woody Allen "Magic in the Moonlight", Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, and Steven Baigelman "Get On Up", Theodore Melfi "St. Vincent",  Justin Simien "Dear White People", Chris Rock "Top Five", John Michael McDonagh "Cavalry", Xavier Dolan "Mommy", Oliver Assayas "Clouds of Sils Maria", Mike Binder "Black and White", Steve Zaillian, Bill Collage, and Adam Cooper "Exodus: Gods and Kings", Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, Dan Hageman, and Kevin Hageman "The Lego Movie", Mark Heyman and Craig Johnson "The Skeleton Twins"

Commentary - It is always nice to see an Original Screenplay race that is exciting, packed full of top contenders, and hard to predict. It means that Hollywood is capable of a few good ideas still left in the coffer. The first place is start is the new festival hit Birdman. The critics and fans are singing its praises, and I expect it to play extremely well across the board, including in this category, where its searing look at fame packs a punch of originality. Speaking of originality, Boyhood remains a hot topic and maintains its initial heat and buzz. I still think people are overestimating its potential. While nominations (including for Best Picture) are a real possibility now, if the rest of the contenders prove to be worthy, despite its revolutionary set up, it could be too small or not have enough big splash to survive the onslaught. All of that being said, I think the writers will definitely go to bat for it, the way they went for Linklater's films in the past including the last two entries in the Before series. Foxcatcher hit well at Cannes and continues to do well across the festival circuit. I expect it to play as well or even better than Miller's last two features, and I don't see why screenplay isn't one of its nominations. The last two slots, right now, are the most flexible. The Nolans have been nominated here before, but I am always weary of sci-fi films in the writing categories. Moonrise Kingdom made the cut, and Wes Anderson is one of the most original and creative filmmakers working today. So I am leaving The Grand Budapest Hotel as a solid backup. Selma and Fury have a lot of early support, and positive views so far out of production, both could easily play here. The smaller films are not giving up yet. Whiplash was reinvigorated after its Toronto premiere, Top Five is getting rave reviews, Cavalry could have the BAFTA support, Woody Allen is Woody Allen, St. Vincent is popular, and Begin Again and Love is Strange, are well-done romances with nice twists on a familiar genre. Tim Burton's Big Eyes could be his big Oscar breakthrough, and contenders like Mommy, The Skeleton Twins, Clouds of Sils Maria, and Exodus: Gods and Kings are on the radar as well. But I am going to stick with one film that I think will be a big hit, and one that we know is good, both from previous nominees in this category. Mike Leigh's Mr. Turner has done well on the festival circuit, and even if Timothy Spall can't muscle into that brutal Best Actor race, or Leigh into director, you can better the writers will have Leigh and the film on its mind. They love him, have nominated him constantly, and we already know the film will play well. Finally, I know a lot of pundits and bloggers are not putting A Most Violent Year on their list, but I think that JC Chandor is looking for his big Oscar breakthrough, and with the cast, and baity story line, I think this could be the film.

Monday, September 15, 2014

George Clooney to Receive 2015 Cecil B. DeMille Award

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) has announced that the winner of this year's Cecil B. DeMille Award (an award for veteran actors who have made significant contributions to film/television) is going to George Clooney. As an actor, writer, director, and producer on both television and in film, Clooney has earned two Oscars, and thirteen Golden Globe nominations for roles in ER, The Descendants, Up in the Air, Michael Clayton, Syriana, O Brother Where Art Thou?, for writing the screenplays for and directing Good Night and Good Luck and The Ides of March. While many will argue that he is over-rewarded (and others simply don't like him), it is hard to deny his veteran status, his career accomplishments, and his worthiness. For more information about Clooney and this year's Golden Globe Awards visit: The Golden Globe nominations will be announced. The 72nd Annual Golden Globes will take place on January 11, 2015 at 8pm ET.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

2014 Toronto Film Festival Award Winners

Weinstein's The Imitation Game has gained a tremendous amount of steam. It looked like it was not going to be an overall major contender, but with its win today (an award that has predicted a lot of Best Picture nominees and winners), it has flexed its Oscar muscles, has probably galvanized Harvey, and has put itself squarely in the Oscar race. Over the next week or so, I will do a predictions update post Telluride/Venice/Toronto, and my bet is the The Imitation Game will move up the rankings.

Grolsch People's Choice Award - The Imitation Game
        First Runner Up -  Learning to Drive
        Second Runner Up - St. Vincent

People's Choice Midnight Madness Award - What We Do in the Shadows
        First Runner Up - Tusk
        Second Runner Up - Big Game

People's Choice Documentary Award - Beats of the Anatov
        First Runner Up - Do I Sound Gay?
        Second Runner Up - Seymour: An Introduction

FIPRESCI Prize for Best Film in Special Presentations - Time Out of Mind

FIPRESCI Prize for Best Film in Discovery Program - May Allah Bless France!

Canada Goose Award (Best Canadian Feature) - Felix and Meira

City of Toronto Award (Best First Canadian Feature) - Bang Bang Baby

Vimeo Award for Best Canadian Short Film - The Weatherman and the Shadowboxer

NETPAC Award for Asian Film - Margarita, With a Straw

Saturday, September 13, 2014

2015 Grammy Contenders: Record of the Year

Once again, I tried to be pretty comprehensive (let's face it, a lot of these are real outside possibilities), and in general, they are listed by release date. Many of these artists have several potential contenders for one album, but we have to see how they submit, or which ones they submit, then we can start to really narrow down the list.

2015 Contenders
Miley Cyrus "Wrecking Ball"
Paul McCartney "New"
Katy Perry "Unconditionally"
Katy Perry Feat. Juicy J "Dark Horse"
Katy Perry "This is How We Do"
Eminem "Survival"
Eminem "Rap God"
Eminem feat. Rihanna "The Monster"
Lady Gaga feat. R. Kelly "Do What U Want"
Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones "Come Walk With Me"
One Direction "Story of My Life"
Britney Spears "Work Bitch"
Britney Spears "Perfume"
Beyonce "XO"
Beyonce feat. Jay-Z "Drunk in Love"
Beyonce "Pretty Hurts"
Beyonce "Partition"
Bastille "Of the Night"
Idina Menzel "Let it Go"
Bruce Springsteen "High Hopes"
Bruce Springsteen "Just Like the Fire Would"
Toni Braxton & Babyface "Where Did We Go Wrong"
Eric Church "The Outsiders"
Eric Church "Give Me Back My Hometown"
Eric Church "Cold One"
Beck "Blue Moon"
Beck "Waking Light"
St. Vincent "Birth in Reverse"
Pharrell Williams "Happy"
Pharrell Williams feat. Miley Cyrus "Come Get it Bae"
Lea Michele "Cannonball"
Lea Michele "On My Way"
Rick Ross "The Devil is a Lie"
Aloe Blacc "Wake Me Up"
Aloe Blacc "The Man"
Skrillex "Try it Out"
Karmin "Pulses"
MKTO "Classic"
Ingrid Michaelson "Girls Chase Boys"
Iggy Azalea feat. Charli XCX "Fancy"
Iggy Azalea feat. Rita Ora "Black Widow"
Hunter Hayes "Invisible"
The Black Keys "Fever"
The Black Keys "Turn Blue"
Coldplay "Magic"
Coldplay "Midnight"
Coldplay "A Sky Full of Stars"
Michael Jackson "Love Never Felt So Good"
Mariah Carey and Miguel "Beautiful"
Mariah Carey "The Art of Letting Go"
Mariah Carey "Your Mine (Eternal)"
Miranda Lambert "Automatic"
Miranda Lambert "Somethin' Bad"
Jack White "Lazaretto"
Lana Del Rey "West Coast"
Lana Del Rey "Shades of Cool"
Lana Del Rey "Ultraviolence"
Lana Del Rey "Brooklyn Baby"
Sam Smith "Stay With Me"
Ed Sheeran "Sing"
MAGIC "Rude"
Sia "Chandelier"
Ariana Grande feat. Iggy Azalea "Problem"
Ariana Grande feat. Zedd "Break Free"
Brad Paisley "River Bank"
Maroon 5 "Maps"
Meghan Trainor "All About that Bass"
Lady Antebellum "Bartender"
Blake Shelton "Neon Light"
Jessie J and Ariana Grande feat. Nicki Minaj "Bang Bang"
Taylor Swift "Shake it Off"
A Great Big World feat. Christina Aguilera "Say Something"
Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett "Anything Goes"

Friday, September 12, 2014

2015 Grammy Contenders: Album of the Year

The eligibility period for the Grammy Awards as always been weird to me, and I think most people agree. It stretches from October 1st to September 30th. Meaning all the big winter releases are not eligible until the 2016 ceremony. Yes its ridiculous, but it is the way that it is. We still have a few weeks left in the period, and September could bring us a slew of big contenders including Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett, Jennifer Hudson, Train, Lady Antebellum, Blake Shelton, and Meghan Trainor. So naturally I have included them in this extensive list of fifty Album of the Year Contenders, if they turn out to be flops, then we still have a massive list of possibilities. They are in no particular order (mostly by release date), but we do see an incredible amount of top-notch contenders, from hot new artists to music legends. For now I will do a list of contenders, and then work my way to doing some actual predictions soon!

2015 Contenders
Miley Cyrus "Bangerz"
Paul McCartney "New"
Willie Nelson "To All the Girls..."
Katy Perry "Prism"
Arcade Fire "Reflektor"
Eminem "The Marshall Mathers LP 2"
Lady Gaga "ARTPOP"
Billie Joe Armstrong & Norah Joes "Foreverly"
Beyonce "Beyonce"
Bastille "All This Bad Blood"
Bruce Springsteen "High Hopes"
Toni Braxton and Babyface "Love, Marriage, & Divorce"
Eric Church "The Outsiders"
Beck "Morning Phase"
Pharrell Williams "G.I.R.L"
Rick Ross "Mastermind"
Aloe Blacc "Lift Your Spirit"
Ingrid Michaelson "Lights Out"
Iggy Azalea "The New Classic"
Santana "Corazon"
Various Artists "Frozen Soundtrack"
The Black Keys "Turn Blue"
Dolly Parton "Blue Smoke"
Coldplay "Ghost Stories"
Michael Jackson "Xscape"
Mariah Carey "Me. I Am Mariah...The Exclusive Chanteuse"
Miranda Lambert "Platinum"
Jack White "Lazaretto"
Lana Del Rey "Ultraviolence"
Sam Smith "In the Lonely Hour"
Ed Sheeran "X"
MAGIC "Don't Kill the Magic"
Jason Mraz "Yes!"
Common "Nobody Smiling"
Ariana Grande "My Everything"
Brad Paisley "Moonshine in the Truck"
Maroon 5 "V"
Meghan Trainor "Title"
Chris Brown "X"
Tim McGraw "Sundown Heaven Town"
Kenny Chesney "The Big Revival"
Jennifer Hudson "JHUD"
Boyz II Men "Collide"
Lenny Kravitz "Strut"
Train "Bulletproof Picasso"
Lady Antebellum "747"
Blake Shelton "Bring Back the Sunshine"
Sia "1000 Forms of Fear"
St. Vincent "St. Vincent"
Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga "Cheek to Cheek"
U2 "Songs of Innocence"

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

2014 Toronto Film Festival: Fest Brings Oscar Buzz

So far, the Toronto Film Festival has not had its Birdman (Venice) or its Foxcatcher (Cannes), but that does not mean there is not plenty of Oscar buzz going around, even if its is a bit muted so far. Let's take a look at some of the contenders that have emerged from this ever-important festival.

1. Theory of Everything - The film, as we will see, will probably be one of those films that maybe doesn't make too much of a mark as a whole, but its pieces are certainly going to make an impact on the upcoming Oscar race. It could still make the Best Picture race, because it is the type of biopic that Oscar voters love, but like The Imitation Game before it, it is suffering from overall mixed reviews. Its stars however, particularly the talented Eddie Redmayne are clearly getting a lot of attention for what are apparently great performances. This Best Actor and Best Actress race are going to be tough this year, but Redmayne, and his co-star Felicity Jones could easily be in the race.

2. Men, Women, & Children - Jason Reitman had a trio of excellent films to start his career in Thank You For Smoking, Juno and Up in the Air. And Young Adult was a lot better than people gave it credit for. And then there was Labor Day, which just sucked (sorry Jason). Men, Women, & Children is being praised by some for its performances (not all of them, but most), and its timeliness. But too many others are also calling it a conservative pit of a movie that shows the fear of technology, without really tackling it head on or offering a solution. Needless to say, if the film is this divisive, it will probably not play well with voters, although a broader audience could have a different opinion.

3. St. Vincent - St. Vincent appears to be another festival film this year where the overall film pales in comparison to the performances of its stars. Melissa McCarthy returns to great reviews after Tammy, and apparently she is fantastic and holds her own against Bill Murray. But this is apparently Bill Murray's show, and he is said to have knocked it out of the park. A broad comic performance (although there is apparently a lot of drama as well) has to have the right campaign, but there is no doubt that Murray will be in this Oscar conversation, and honestly they owe him one from Lost in Translation.

4. Still Alice - After it was announced that there would be no campaign for her Maps to the Stars performance, she hits Toronto with Still Alice, which already has critics raving again. Moore is owed an Oscar, and this character, who is suffering from Alzheimer's, could really play well, much better than her other potential, and could keep her in this race.

5. Top Five - The film I am most excited about coming out of Toronto so far is Chris Rock's Top Five, which apparently has some impressive comedic cameos, a Before-series vibe, and a kick-ass cast. The film is getting rave reviews, and I hope that it is a part of the conversation both at the box-office and in the Oscar race. It looks to be funny, timely, and has enough star power to really make an impact.

6. Cake - Jennifer Aniston is one of the most talented actresses working today, yet never really gets to show her skills, beyond her finely tuned comedic touch. Every once in a while (The Good Girl and Friends With Money) she shows us that she is a truly talented dramatic actress. Once again, Cake doesn't look like it is a contender as a whole, but in a Best Actress race that could end up being thin (if some of the bigger contenders fall flat), then Aniston could gain some traction in what is apparently an emotionally and physically challenging role that she nails.

7. Nightcrawler -  Jake Gyllenhaal, despite some excellent performances, has only managed one Oscar nomination for his role in Brokeback Mountain. He comes at us again with Nightcrawler, where he, and apparently Rene Russo, dig in deep in a dark thriller. It could get the Academy's attention, or it could be swept under the rug, either way, it looks to be an interesting edition to the Fall lineup.

8. The Judge - The Judge was the big opening night number for Toronto this year, and like many of the contenders it didn't hit quite as hard as many hoped it would. Apparently it is a rousing legal drama featuring great performances from Robert Downey Jr. and especially Robert Duvall. But I think hopes were a bit higher, which may have played against it. But I think this is one that will play well with audiences, make a big box-office dent, which could propel it past less-than-stellar reviews to a potential Oscar bid.

As always, we have to see how a broader audiences and critics groups will take this films in, sometimes you can turn a campaign around despite a soft landing. As always, we'll have to wait and see...

Saturday, September 6, 2014

2014 Venice Film Festival Award Winners

The jury, led by Alexandre Desplat has announced its winners from this year's 2014 Venice Film Festival:

Golden Lion (Best Film) - A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting On Existence

Silver Lion (Best Director) - Andrei Konchalovsky "The Postman's White Night"

Grand Jury Prize - The Look of Silence

Volip Cup (Best Actor) - Adam Driver "Hungry Hearts"

Volpi Cup (Best Actress)  - Alba Rohrwacher "Hungry Hearts"

Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best New Younger Actor or Actress - Romain Paul "Le Dernier Coup de Marteau"

Best Screenplay - Rakshan Banietemad "Ghesseha"

Special Jury Prize - Sivas

Lion of the Future (Luigi de Laurentiis Award for debut film) - Court

Venice Horizons
Best Film - Court

Best Director - Naji Abu Nowar "Theeb"

Best Actor - Emir Hadzihadafizbegovic "These Are the Rules"

Best Short Film - Maryam

Venice Classics
Best Restoration - Ettore Scola "Una Giornata Particolare"

Best Documentary on Film - Animata Resistenza

Thursday, September 4, 2014

2014 Kennedy Center Honorees

On Dec. 7th, the annual Kennedy Center Honors will showcase the talents and lives of these talented individuals. The five honorees this year showcase a variety of talents across various platforms and mediums.The five honorees this year are

Tom Hanks
Lily Tomlin
Al Green
Patricia McBride

The Kennedy Center Honors is always a fun television event, and with this year's list of honorees, I expect that this year will be no different. Congratulations to all of those selected.

RIP Joan Rivers

I have had to write way too many of these posts lately, but another great has left us today. Joan Rivers, after a surgery that presented complications and eventually led to her death at the age of 81. She was a star made on The Tonight Show, who created a comedy and fashion empire. She was hilarious on stage, in movies, and on her reality show. She also became a fashion icon, known for her famous red carpets and Fashion Police where she would critique the dresses and suits of the biggest stars. In fact, one of the biggest parts of today's awards shows are the red carpets, mostly because of Joan Rivers. She brought awareness, pizzazz, and publicity to dozens of awards shows throughout the year. If we don't respect her as an icon, an entertainer, and a wonderful mother and grandmother, we as awards followers, should thank her for her awards coverage. She was a wonderful woman, who was open, honest, sometimes brutally so, and always spoke her mind. Some people criticized her for that, but you have to respect anyone who is willing to be themselves, in all their glory, no matter what. My thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends tonight. Rest in peace Joan.

The 48th Annual CMA Award Nominees

Entertainer of the Year
Luke Bryan
Miranda Lambert
Blake Shelton
George Strait
Keith Urban

Album of the Year
Luke Bryan "Crash My Party"
Keith Urban "Fuse"
Miranda Lambert "Platinum"
Dierks Bentley "Riser"
Eric Church "The Outsiders"

Female Vocalist of the Year
Miranda Lambert
Martina McBride
Kacey Musgraves
Taylor Swift
Carrie Underwood

Male Vocalist of the Year
Dierks Bentley
Luke Bryan
Eric Church
Blake Shelton
Keith Urban

Vocal Duo of the Year
Dan + Shay
Florida Georgia Line
Love & Theft
The Swon Brothers
Thompson Square

Vocal Group of the Year
Eli Young Band
Lady Antebellum
Little Big Town
The Band Perry
Zac Brown Band

New Artist of the Year
Brandy Clark
Brett Eldredge
Kip Moore
Thomas Rhett
Cole Swindell

Single of the Year
Miranda Lambert "Automatic"
Dierks Bentley "Drunk on a Plane"
Eric Church "Give Me Back My Hometown"
Tim McGraw feat. Faith Hill "Meanwhile Back at Mama's"
Blake Shelton "Mine Would Be You"

Song of the Year
Miranda Lambert "Automatic"
Kacey Musgraves "Follow Your Arrow"
Eric Church "Give Me Back My Hometown"
Lee Brice "I Don't Dance"
Dierks Bentley "I Hold On"

Video of the Year
Miranda Lambert "Automatic"
Lady Antebellum "Bartender"
Dierks Bentley "Drunk on a Plane"
Kacey Musgraves "Follow Your Arrow"
Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood "Somethin' Bad"

Musical Event of the Year
Vince Gill and Paul Franklin "Bakersfield"
Tim McGraw feat. Faith Hill "Meanwhile Back at Mama's"
Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood "Somethin' Bad"
Keith Urban feat. Miranda Lambert "We Were Us"
Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton "You Can't Make Old Friends"

Musician of the Year
Sam Bush - mandolin
Jerry Douglas - Dobro
Paul Franklin - steel guitar
Dann Huff - guitar
Mac McAnally - guitar

Monday, September 1, 2014

2014 Telluride Film Festival: Benedict Cumberbatch and Reese Witherspoon Enter Oscar Race

The Venice Film Festival continues to chug along, and now Telluride has started, and the Oscar contenders continue to roll in. Cannes hits The Homesman and Foxcatcher continue to pick up steam, and Birdman landed to rave reviews and deafening Oscar buzz. Now we have two more contenders to add to the list.

The first, and one that I suspected would do well, is Jean-Marc Vallee's Dallas Buyers Club followup Wild, based on the best-selling memoir by Cheryl Strayed. I say in the headline that Reese Witherspoon enters the Oscar race, and that is entirely true. After not making too much of a mark since her 2005 win for Walk the Line, Reese is definitely back in the type of physical and emotional role that wins people Oscars (look no further than Vallee's last two muses Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto). But Witherspoon is not the only one getting buzz. The film as a whole could really play across the board according to early reviews that suggest it is another well-made effort from the newly popular director. The film could easily get into the Best Picture race, but it is Laura Dern, a previous nominee, who is getting as much attention as Witherspoon. According to early reviews, she is fantastic in her flashback role as Witherspoon's mother (let's not talk about the ridiculousness that Dern is old enough to be Witherspoon's mother), and could play a big role in the supporting actress race.

The other major contender to hit is The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch. It, unlike Wild, has not been met with such an enthusiastic response. The reviews have not been negative, just mixed. Word is that the overall production is a bit too straight-forward, a bit stale. But there have been raves layered in with the disappointments, and those have been for Benedict Cumberbatch. His stock has been rising in recent years, last year he was featured in a plethora of Oscar-nominated films, and he recently won a surprise Emmy for his recurring role on Sherlock. Plus, he has Harvey Weinstein behind him. He will work night and day to help his star, and I would not be surprised if he ends this already fantastic year with an Oscar nomination on his resume. I would not underestimate the film as well. It has the historical/biopic factor going for it, something that is popular among audiences and Oscar voters. And you should never discount Harvey. It doesn't matter how mediocre the film is, if it fits the part, it could easily be an Oscar player across the board.

As always, I end with my little disclaimer that these are early reactions, and that this is a long race with a lot of contenders left to show their stuff. As always, we'll just have to wait and see...

Top 100 Films of the 2010's...So Far: Part V

60. Attack the Block (2011) - Attack the Block was one of those little British films that unfortunately was swept under the rug by way too many. On its surface it is a ridiculous science fiction comedy about a gang that comes under attack by aliens. Despite its small budget, it managed to have believable and worthy visual effects, while blending in a nostalgic look at past creature films with witty and winning humor. It pays
beautiful homage to past monster/sci-fi flicks, while blazing its own creative path within the genre. It is that creativity that is owed to the screenwriters who seamlessly blend genres with a burst of great character development and plotting that is original and fantastic. But Attack the Block is not just an instant science fiction classic, or a winning comedy that is, at times, laugh-out-loud hilarious. It is also a beautiful look at the problems facing youths in Great Britain (and honestly, across the globe). It is a social message film about gangs and the social inequality that is spread across Western Europe and the United States. I have read some user reviews recently, as I was thinking about this post, and a lot of them talked about how they could not sympathize with the teenagers in the film, because they were in a gang, they commit or attempt to commit a crime. I agree, these guys are not perfect and they have developed incredibly horrible habits while trying to survive on the streets. But these anonymous writers are hitting the exact point that the filmmakers were trying to make. All they see are minority thugs who belong in a cell block. They never look beyond the surface, they never see the socioeconomic inequality that drove these young men, with no upward mobility to a life of crime. These hate driven anonymous thugs (yes I mean thugs) have had easy lives, they have always had a support from teachers, and friends, and family, so that they could succeed in life. Attack the Block makes this message abundantly clear. It hides its motives behind flashy science fiction and humor, but its heart and sole purpose is to target these stereotypes and negative images with a heavy does of humanistic reality. It is these layers, these messages, combined with its sheer entertainment factor that make Attack the Block such a wonderful cinematic experience.

59. The Master (2012) - I am going to put out a small disclaimer here about Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master. I have seen it several times, and each time I keep hoping that I will be able to say that I actually like it. I don't. This is not a likable film. Anyone who tells you, "Oh, I loved The Master!" is absolutely lying to your face, and you should probably call them out on it. The Master is not a likable film, it is not an enjoyable experience, but it is one of those films that I have the utmost respect for. Paul Thomas Anderson perfectly crafts this disturbing tale of a veteran who falls in with a cult called The Cause. As he tries to escape from the horrors of the war he left behind, The Cause's mission of clearing all emotions draws him deeper and deeper into a dramatic psychotic state. Paul Thomas Anderson is a masterful screenwriter, and a taut director, all of
which are beautifully combined in The Master's deep and complicated plot. His slow burn and building tension make for an incredible release by film's end. But Anderson ended up being left behind by the time the Oscar nominations were announced. He even missed out on a screenplay nomination, which is really shocking considering the level of respect the Writer's Branch has had for him in the past (three nominations over his career). Instead, it was the Actor's Branch that came to bat for Anderson's divisive The Master. It gave three nominations to all of its stars, each of them incredibly deserved. The Master's dense and sometimes unbearable subject matter was made watchable because of the talent and screen presence of its three bankable stars. Amy Adams is incredible as always, serving as a rock here in the middle of these two men. The late Philip Seymour Hoffman gives another one of his masterful performances as the charming, yet disturbed and psychotic Lancaster Dodd. But it is Joaquin Phoenix, the film's center and lead that gives the standout performance of the bunch. His self-destructive, alcoholic, psychological destroyed character Freddie Quell will go down as one of his best performances. And it is Quell's struggle, and in many ways Phoenix's life struggles that seem to, in some ways, mirror his characters, that give the film its final punch in the gut, as if it needed any more.

58. The Tree of Life (2011) - Terrence Malick is really hit and miss for me. His first three features, Days of Heaven, Badlands, and The Thin Red Line were brilliant. The New World and To the Wonder were pretentious, plot less bores that did not deserve the time it took to make them. The Tree of Life (which many of you would probably rank higher) falls right in the middle for me. It is obviously good enough to make this list, but as I said, many people would probably put it higher. The first two thirds of The Tree of Life are
absolutely brilliant. If its third part had held up, this baby would probably be in my top ten. But let's not focus on that dreadful last part, which has caused ire from even Sean Penn, who unfortunately got stuck with that material. Let's instead focus on the parts that made this film one of the best of the last decade. The film's opening, with its brilliant visuals, and cosmic message are simply stunning, and provide the ethereal and macro setup for his microcosmic story line in the second part. And it is that second part that really shines. It is a simple story about a family in the 1950's. It is about a boy witnessing events that change his life, that take away part of the simplicity of his childhood. It is about conflicting views on life on the world, represented by his two parents, brilliantly portrayed by Jessica Chastain and Brad Pitt. The way that Malick spins his gigantic cosmic look back into the simplicity of familial struggles is the sign of a true artist. It also blends seamlessly enough that you forget that there is not much plot or dialogue. Unlike say To the Wonder, these images pull together enough for the audience to comprehend his message and his goal.  The Tree of Life earned Terrence Malick his third Oscar nomination, and his second for directing. The types of films that he makes do not normally make a dent at the Oscars. They are not mainstream or linear enough for most voters. The fact that he continues to be honored, and that the film received a Best Picture nomination is proof that Malick is the master of his craft, so much so that he can transcend his genre (it is sort of like a subgenre of film) and continue to crossover across the spectrum. It is the sign of someone who is one of the best.

57. The Act of Killing (2013) - A lot of people were visibly and audibly upset when The Act of Killing lost the Best Documentary Feature Oscar last year to the feel-good 20 Feet From Stardom. But for those of us who follow the Oscar race, let's remind ourselves that considering the brutality and almost experimental form of film making that took place, it is probably a miracle that the tamer Academy even nominated it. Sometimes we all have to remember to be grateful for small victories, and in a year of incredible documentaries, its nomination is an excellent and well-deserved reward. After attaining independence from the Dutch, the Nationalist and left-leaning ruling party was overthrown by a brutal fascist regime, who then began to conduct brutal acts of violence against their political and ethnic enemies, killing over a million people.
Director Joshua Oppenheimer took the opportunity to film some of these cold-blooded killers, many of whom still stood by their actions, and asked them to reenact these killings in any fashion that they chose. Oppenheimer will most likely stand out as one of the boldest and most brilliant documentary film makers for years to come for coming up with a concept so original, so enticing, yet at the same time so brutal and downright horrifying. The fact that many remaining factions of these killers still exist in the world today, the fact that so many of these monsters were willing to gleefully give in and reenact acts that should have left these men emotionally and psychologically scarred, only to see them have seemingly no emotional connection to their brutality, is jaw-dropping, and makes for worthy and essential cinema. The Act of Killing is not for everyone, and those that are faint of heart will find it grueling, but if you can stomach it, it is worth a view. As I put it before, it is essential cinema in this day and age, to showcase ongoing genocide and violence, to show the world atrocities that can never be rectified or reversed, but maybe someday eliminated. Documentary film has the power to change hearts, minds, and the world, and The Act of Killing will go into the canon of great ones that came before it that did just that.

56. Blue Jasmine (2013) - Woody Allen is either hot or he is cold, and unfortunately, despite two great leads, his latest Magic in the Moonlight looks to be one of his colder, and fluff efforts. Of course, if you consider the pattern, this makes sense. Of course it is also hard for any film to follow the success of his 2013 effort Blue Jasmine. Woody Allen has tackled so many different genres, and this time he takes on a retooling of a classic A Streetcar Named Desire, and most importantly, retooling the great Tennessee Williams. Only
Woody Allen would dare take this on, and probably only Woody Allen could actually pull it off. He brought a contemporary sensibility and a timeliness to the material, but kept the dialogue and pacing sharp, fast, and fun, with just the right amount of dramatic twist. Even at his age, and after writing so much material, he still can crank out a gem. While Allen's work is phenomenal, the real reason to see this piece is the work of its ensemble actors. Sally Hawkins earned her first (should have at least been second) Oscar nomination, as the caring, yet fed up sister of the fallen ritzy, glam diva. She holds her own against the titan (we'll get to her in a moment), and nails her emotional moments. Bobby Cannavale, Alec Baldwin, Louis C.K., Peter Saarsgard, Michael Stulhberg, and particularly Andrew Dice Clay all round out this talented cast creating a rich tapestry of witty and emotionally screwed-up characters. But the real center of this film is Cate Blanchett. From the first moment the film was viewed, she catapulted to the top of the Oscar heap, and remained there till the very end. Blanchett is a fine actor, who rarely misses, so it says something when all of the sudden her star is even higher in the sky. It is a true testament to the power of her performance and her character on screen. She was vulnerable, psychotic, damaged, yet still desperately trying to hold on to a life she no longer had. At moments we hated her, and at moments we felt sorry for her. It is a fully-involved performance, with a wide range of a emotions, that only an actor like Blanchett could pull it off. I don't know if they will work together again anytime soon, but here is hoping to another Blanchett/Allen combo. It will be well worth the watch.

55. Never Let Me Go (2010) - I still cannot wrap by head around the fact that Never Let Me Go was battered by critics, and never took off with members of the industry. I get that it is a quiet, dreary, and depressing film that doesn't end well. But I found there to be a mastery of mood, an impeccable cast, and an emotional impact that I felt for weeks after. Never Let Me Go is, at its core, a science fiction film, but like the book, it doesn't have aliens or fantasy elements. It is a subtle form of science fiction that focuses more on the human impact than on the technical wizardry or the high flying elements. It is the story of three childhood friends all bred for the same purpose: to eventually die and given their organs to a twin somewhere else in the
world to ensure longer lifespan. That is all these creatures are bred for. They may talk, act, and look like humans, but they are essentially real-life science experiments. These three friends go through childhood, puberty, and like all children, they continue to hope. They seek out on a journey to find whether they will be ones that will be saved, they will be the exception to the rule, and that maybe, just maybe, the powers that be, will find the human qualities they so desperately hope to emulate. Director Mark Romanek, screenwriter Alex Garland, and cinematographer Adam Kimmel (who brought a similar aesthetic to Capote) create a backdrop of grey and blue colors, of sad and melancholy that while not the brightest viewing experience, creates a perfect backdrop for a tale that slowly burns its way to a devastating conclusion. The cast also deserves a lot of credit, and it should come as no surprise that these three young actors illuminate the screen. Kiera Knightley, Carey Mulligan, and Andrew Garfield are three of the best young talents working in film today, all have already reached incredible heights in their young careers both artistically and financially, and all bring their A-game to this particular project. It takes talented actors such as these to create characters that have the power to break your heart. Never Let Me Go is not a traditional film in any way, and maybe its gloomy exterior and premise is what kept it from having widespread success.  But it is a film that we should all reconsider.

54. A Separation (2011) - We forget that behind the curtain of totalitarianism and extremism of Iran's leaders, there are real people who face real challenges on a day to day basis. In light of the media storm and building tensions between Iran and the West, I think that this was the perfect film for all to see. It reminds us that there are people who are not involved in the horrible acts of a threatening government, but real people who are trying to live their day to day lives as best as they can, even with insurmountable odds. A Separation
is one of the most human and emotional films to be released in the last several years, in any language, from any country, and its popularity and effectiveness led it to an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. A Separation is the story of a family that must choose between leaving Iran for the better, or staying behind to take care of a beloved older relative. It is a passionate, searing, and heartbreaking look at the choices we must make for ourselves and our family. Its cast of characters is balanced and developed in a way that would have made Robert Altman proud, and its plot is one that is full of surprises, full of fear and shock, but done in a subtle way that showcases the incredible talents of its writer/director Asghar Farhadi, as well as the talents of an incredible cast, many of whom are completely unknown to American audiences, yet still managed to make an incredible impact. In an era of movie stars and special effects, unknown Iranian actors having a great impact is proof of their talent and explosive performances on screen. A Separation is a drama, a legal quarry, a family struggle, but most importantly, it is a must-see film for all people across the globe. It will hit anyone who has ever cared for a loved one, who has ever had to make a difficult decision that could negatively impact their family. Basically, it hits anyone with a beating heart, and leaves you breathless as the final credits role. Take a look (or a second look, or maybe even a third) at A Separation, the results will astound you.

53. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) - The Wolf of Wall Street was one of the most divisive films of last year, and understandably so. Some called it another Scorsese classic, an wild and excellent dip into the realm of black comedy. Others found it to be grotesque, obnoxious, and excessive to the point of pure annoyance. For the record, yes The Wolf of Wall Street was grotesque, obnoxious, and excessive, and while that may have turned off many viewers and some critics, that was the exact point that the great Martin Scorsese was trying to get across. And since that was his goal, I think he knocked it out of the park. Like his obsessive film The Aviator, in The Wolf of Wall Street, Scorsese wanted his audience to become fully absorbed, and fully understand, the flawed character at its center. Jordan Belfort was, according to his and all accounts, a drugged up, boozed up, sexed up mad man whose one goal was to make as much money as
possible no matter the consequences. If that was the kind of person he was at that time, then Scorsese's film is a pitch-perfect masterpiece. It was also a nice diversion for a director whose work can be heavy at times. He made a film that, despite its incredible length, is highly engaging and entertaining, and a brilliantly dark comedy that showed that even at the age of 71, Scorsese is still an incredible visionary, and capable of still surprising his audience. But Scorsese did not act alone. Of course the great Thelma Schoonmaker deserves credit. Even though many would agree a few more days or weeks in the editing room would have created a tighter and more cohesive piece. But considering that they were both clearly rushed (according to reports out of the studio), I still think she did a hell of a job making it accessible. The cast, including a great Matthew McConaughey cameo, a breakthrough star in Margot Robbie, and the wickedly talented Jonah Hill (along with plenty of others) contributed to create an array of colorful characters. But the real triumph here is Leonardo DiCaprio. It is hard to believe that in all these years, he has only had a handful of Oscar nominations, and in each of those races, he has never managed to win one. He is one of the finest working actors today, and his manic, destructive, and brilliant performance here in The Wolf of Wall Street is only further proof on his abilities. Yes, The Wolf of Wall Street is a long, divisive, grotesque, obnoxious, and excessive film, and you should sit down and enjoy every moment of it.

52. 21 Jump Street (2012) - There are some movies that really surprise you, and in recent years, none have proved my initial opinions wrong, nor shocked me quite as much as 21 Jump Street. Let's face it, the premise sounded terrible. A barely decent 80's TV show given a comedic remake starring one funny actor, and one that, up until the recent years, was barely tolerable as an actor. No, I did not have high hopes for 21 Jump Street. But by the time I left the theater, but stomach literally hurt from laughing so much, tears had left rivulets running down my cheeks, and it was honestly the most fun I had spent in a movie theater ever. 21
Jump Street is ridiculous, but it works because it is completely aware of it. It tackles the 80's, comedy, and cop cliches head-on, and creates an indelible chemistry between its two leads. The supporting cast consisting of a straight-faced Ice Cube (who fully recognizes that he is being a terrible cliche), Dave Franco, Rob Riggle, Brie Larson, and countless others provide a rich tapestry of funny characters. And the clever script, along with fast-paced and well-timed direction and editing all work in 21 Jump Street's favor. But the real reason to watch this film, is the dynamic duo of Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill. In 2012, Hill had just received his first, and well-deserved, Oscar nomination, and was riding high on comedic hits such as Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and Funny People. So it was no surprise that he was a welcomed and successful edition to the cast. But it was Tatum that really surprised me. I personally thought he was a talent-less hack, and his choices of film roles were abysmal. But this hilarious and surprising performance (along with his great role in the still underrated Magic Mike), along with his sparkling chemistry with Hill, proved that he truly was a talent when handed the right material, and now two years later, he could be looking at his first Oscar nomination for his apparently fantastic work in Bennett Miller's upcoming Foxcatcher. Both Hill and Tatum dived into this wacky material, and embraced anything they threw at them with glee, and results were fantastic. It also spawned an incredibly funny sequel in 22 Jump Street, which added some much needed humor and quality to the summer box office, and has already become another instant comedy classic like its well-conceived predecessor.

51. Dallas Buyers Club (2013) - Dallas Buyers Club was a movie that grew on me over time. I always enjoyed it, mostly because of the stunning performances of Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, but in the back of my mind I kind of thought that the overall script and story didn't match the quality of the two leads. So I watched it again, and when I included the fact that they had less than a month to shoot, were on a shoe-string budget, and still managed to avoid some of those dreadful cliche biopic pitfalls, I truly began to appreciate the work as a whole. That is because everyone involved was involved for the good of art, involved because they felt this was an important story to tell, and it surely was. The passion that exudes from its frames is evident across the board. Its screenwriters Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, carefully constructed a script that not only allowed for excellent material for its actors, but also managed to perfectly balance the film in a way that still tugs at your heartstrings, as well as engages and entertains. And its underrated director Jean-Marc Vallee clearly had a direct and gritty vision, as well as understood the need to let his actors breathe life into their roles. So I definitely changed my mind, and in recent months have begun to really appreciate the passion, the technical feat of actually pulling it all off, and the overall product. But in
the end, I still come back to Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto. Leto was almost unrecognizable as the transgender woman who tames Matthew McConaughey, and makes him rethink his previously homophobic views, as they team up to help their community. Some of the hardest-hitting emotional points involved Leto, and it reminded us that he really is a fantastic actor, who is much better served on the silver screen than on a rock stage. But it is McConaughey that truly brought it home for me. I always knew, even when he was rolling around in crap romantic comedies, that Matthew McConaughey was a great actor. In the last several years he has lived up to the promise of his great start (A Time to Kill, Dazed and Confused), with a string of fantastic roles that show of his charm, charisma, and talented abilities. Dallas Buyers Club was his magnum opus. He lit up the screen, tackled the role head on both physically and emotionally, and completed his career renaissance with style and poise, and an Academy Award. An honor that is worthy of one of the finest actors working today, a statement I am happy I can finally, and confidently, make.