Monthly Archives: January 2016

Oscar Predictions 2016

LATEST UPDATE: 2/25/16 – Costumes, Sound (both), Short Films
Previous updates: 2/22/16, 2/10/16, 1/31/16, 1/27/16

Predictions are numbered in order of likelihood, with “(alt.)” signifying the strongest challengers. Those few races without an alternate listed are the ones with a clearly obvious frontrunner (Leo for Actor, for instance).

These are likely to change over the next several weeks. Check back often, as I will keep it updated as the various industry guilds and other precursors announce their winner.

Big Short

Best Picture
– The Big Short
2 (alt.) – The Revenant
3 – Spotlight
4 – Mad Max: Fury Road
5 – The Martian
6 – Room
7 – Bridge of Spies
8 – Brooklyn

Best Director
✔ – Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant
2 (alt.) – Adam McKay, The Big Short
3 – George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
4 – Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
5 – Lenny Abrahamson, Room

Best Actor
✔ – Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
2 – Matt Damon, The Martian
3 – Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
4 – Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
5 – Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

Best Actress
✔ – Brie Larson, Room
2 – Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
3 – Cate Blanchett, Carol
4 – Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
5 – Jennifer Lawrence, Joy

Best Supporting Actor
✔ – Sylvester Stallone, Creed
2 – Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
3 – Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
4 – Christian Bale, The Big Short
5 – Tom Hardy, The Revenant

Best Supporting Actress
✔ – Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
2 (alt.) – Rooney Mara, Carol
3 – Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs
4 – Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
5 – Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight

Best Adapted Screenplay
– The Big Short, Charles Randolph and Adam McKay
2 – Room, Emma Donoghue
3 – The Martian, Drew Goddard
4 – Brooklyn, Nick Hornby
5 – Carol, Phyllis Nagy

Best Original Screenplay
– Spotlight, Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy
2 (alt.) – Straight Outta Compton, Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus, and Andrea Berloff
3 – Inside Out, Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley, and Ronnie del Carmen
4 – Bridge of Spies, Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, and Joel Coen
5 – Ex Machina, Alex Garland

Best Animated Feature
– Inside Out
2 (alt.) – Anomalisa
3 – Shaun the Sheep Movie
4 – Boy and the World
5 – When Marnie Was There

Best Cinematography
✔ – The Revenant, Emmanuel Lubezki
2 (alt.)– Mad Max: Fury Road, John Seale
3 – Sicario, Roger Deakins
4 – The Hateful Eight, Robert Richardson
5 – Carol, Ed Lachman

Best Costume Design
– The Danish Girl, Paco Delgado
2 (alt.) – Mad Max: Fury Road, Jenny Beavan
3 – Cinderella, Sandy Powell
4 – The Revenant, Jacqueline West
5Carol, Sandy Powell

Best Film Editing
Mad Max: Fury Road, Margaret Sixel
2 (alt.) The Big Short, Hank Corwin
3 – Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey
4 – The Revenant, Stephen Mirrione
5 – Spotlight, Tom McArdle

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Mad Max: Fury Road
2 (alt.)The Revenant
3 – The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared

Best Original Score
The Hateful Eight, Ennio Morricone
2 (alt.) – Star Wars: The Force Awakens, John Williams
3 – Carol, Carter Burwell
4 – Bridge of Spies, Thomas Newman
5 – Sicario, Johann Johannsson

Best Original Song
✔ – “Til It Happens to You” from The Hunting Ground
Music and lyrics by Diane Warren and Lady Gaga
2 (alt.) “Simple Song #3” from Youth
Music and lyrics by David Lang
3 – “Writing’s on the Wall” from Spectre
Music and lyrics by Jimmy Napes and Sam Smith
4 – “Earned It” from Fifty Shades of Grey
Music and lyrics by Abel Tesfaye, Ahmad Balshe, Jason Daheala Quenneville and Stephan Moccio
5 – “Manta Ray” from Racing Extinction
Music by J. Ralph and lyrics by Antony Hegarty

Best Production Design
✔ – Mad Max: Fury Road
2 (alt.) – The Revenant
3 – The Danish Girl
4 – Bridge of Spies
5 – The Martian

Best Sound Editing
✔ – Star Wars: The Force Awakens
2 (alt.) – Mad Max: Fury Road
3 – The Revenant
4 – The Martian
5 – Sicario

Best Sound Mixing
– Star Wars: The Force Awakens
2 (alt.) – Mad Max: Fury Road
3 – The Revenant
4 – The Martian
5 – Bridge of Spies

Best Visual Effects
✔ – Mad Max: Fury Road
2 (alt.) – Star Wars: The Force Awakens
3 – The Revenant
4 – Ex Machina
5 – The Martian

Best Foreign Language Film
✔ – Son of Saul, Hungary
2 – Mustang, France
3 – Theeb, Jordan
4 – A War, Denmark
5 – Embrace of the Serpent, Colombia

Best Documentary — Feature
✔ – Amy
2 – What Happened, Miss Simone?
3 – Cartel Land
4 – The Look of Silence
5 – Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

Best Documentary — Short
✔ – Body Team 12
2 – Chau, Beyond the Lines
3 – Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah
4 – Last Day of Freedom
5 – A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness

Best Animated Short
✔ – World of Tomorrow
2 (alt.) – Sanjay’s Super Team
3 – Bear Story
4 – We Can’t Live Without Cosmos
5 – Prologue

Best Live Action Short
– Stutterer
2 – Ave Maria
3 – Shok
4 – Day One
5 – Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut)

#OscarsSoWhite, But I Still Follow the Race

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By now there’s been miles of editorial copy published on the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, and by people far more insightful or influential than myself. There’s really no substantive argument I can add to the conversation. But as a liberal progressive affirmative-action feminist tree-hugging left-wing socialist hippie who also happens to love following the Oscars… I do feel a need to explain myself.

Unless you’ve bee living on Planet Nine for a while, you probably know the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite refers to the social media outcry over the lack of diversity in the Oscars as well as the film industry as a whole. Specifically, this is the second straight year without a single person of color among all 20 acting nominations. And the Best Picture nominees, as good as many of them are, are all focused primarily on white stories or casts.

Highly acclaimed movies that focused on the experiences of black people were mostly relegated to the sidelines. Straight Outta Compton did manage a screenplay nomination, But Creed‘s only nomination was for the old white guy (Sylvester Stallone), and Beasts of No Nation was left out entirely. It still seems black stories can only garner Best Picture attention if they’re about slavery (12 Years a Slave) or civil rights (Selma, The Help) or find other ways to keep their black characters subservient to whites (Driving Miss Daisy).

And lest you think it’s just a racial issue, let me assure you it’s sexist as well. No movie about a woman has won Best Picture since Million Dollar Baby 12 years ago, and despite having 2 categories no screenplay written by a woman has won since Juno 8 years ago. And in 88 years of Oscar history only 3 women have ever been nominated for Best Director, only ONE of which won (Kathryn Bigelow).

It’s not as if the movies aren’t there. Five of my Top 10 Films of 2015 focus on female protagonists, including all of my top three. And if you add BrooklynCarol, and The Danish Girl to the list, they actually managed a decent handful of nominations, including 3/8 of this year’s Best Picture race. But chances of winning are slim, save for some of the men involved. And Costume Design. ‘Cause we all know that’s a woman’s job.

Of course a big part of the problem, at least as far as the Oscars are concerned, is the membership of the Academy (of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, or AMPAS – the group who votes on the Oscars), the vast majority of whom are male, white, and surprisingly old. People vote for stories and characters and values they can relate to. Are we really surprised that this group’s choices lack diversity when the group itself is just as monochrome?

Is it still racist or sexist, then? Well yes, of course it is, obviously. But it’s like the old offensive grandpa cliché – you’re not going to change his mind, but you don’t have to listen to him. Which is why the Academy immediately responded (though perhaps not immediately enough) with a new initiative to shake up its membership, drop the dead weight (no pun or ageism intended), and encourage  far more diversity in it recruitment.

The Academy is really just a symptom of the larger film industry, though. Of the top 25 box office earners of 2015, seven feature lead female protagonists, and only ONE focuses on black protagonists (Straight Outta Compton at #18). The unfortunate fact is circular: the public spends their money on mostly white male centric movies, because the industry produces mostly white male centric movies, because the public spends their money on… you see where this is going.

Which brings me back, finally, to explaining myself and why I’m still going to watch the Oscars and write about the race:

1. I love movies. It’s the one thing above all others I get all nerdy and annoying about. I love what the medium can do, and I love seeing what talented artists and visionaries do with it.

2. Most movies are shit. I want to see more good movies. I want spend my time and money on the kinds of quality filmmaking that I want to see move of. I want to encourage my friends and readers and everyone else to do the same. Let’s vote with our wallets.

3. Movie awards, like the Oscars, are a celebration of quality filmmaking. [record screeches…] WAIT, don’t walk away! Ok, ok… Am I saying that only good quality movies are nominated for Oscars? Or that all the best ones get trophies? Hell no, that would be stupid. And there’s endless evidence to the contrary. But regardless of what gets snubbed or improperly gilded each year, the point really is to celebrate and encourage filmmakers to take risks and aim higher and make better films.

4. Awards shows are about showcasing to the world what can and hopefully does happen when those filmmakers take risks and aim higher and make better films. Very few people watched the fantastic Winter’s Bone before it got 4 Oscar nominations in 2010, including Best Picture, Screenplay, and a brilliant but mostly unknown actress named Jennifer Lawrence. Since then she has become a straight-up silver screen ingenue, dubbed “J-Law” by the press, been nominated 4 times in 6 years, but perhaps most importantly she has become a positive role model to girls and women (and honestly the boys and everyone else too) by bringing complexity and humanity to one of the most badass film heroines of all time.

And oh yeah, I guarantee that a bunch of the die-hard fans she’s gained since then have gone back to watch her in that little indie triller from 2010. And each one of those viewers is more incentive for studios and investors to spend money to make more movies like Winter’s Bone.

5. The Oscars may not be the best film awards show, but they are by far the most visible and the most influential. The Independent Spirit Awards prove every year to be far more accurate (a subjective view), diverse, and by all accounts – since I never get to actually see them – enjoyable. But that’s the thing: nobody, outside of the industry or punditry, actually watches the other shows. If you’re going to discuss film awards and the merits or statistics thereof, it pretty much has to be framed within the Oscars.

6. And finally, you know what? I just like the Oscars. After all is said and done, it makes me happy when everything else in the news makes me anxious and depressed. Despite all the superficial glitz and glamour and meaningless celeb-stalking, in the face of a world with a shit-ton of more important things to be dealing with, this is my guilty pleasure.

And I do often feel guilty or at least a little silly about it. But I do love it, and I’m going to keep watching. So sue me.

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Top 10 Films of 2015

[Click here to see my rundown of the rest of the 2015 films.]

'Room' is a journey out of darkness, director says

  1. Room

Room is essentially two separate films. The second half (I can call it “post-escape” without giving away any more than the preview does) is a finely crafted and superbly acted family drama. But the claustrophobic first half, which never leaves the small room and thus never allows for anything longer than a medium-shot, is a truly unique experience. We see the world through Jack’s eyes. It may be tiny, but he fills it full of wonder as any 5-year-old can.


  1. Ex Machina

Great independent science fiction movies are getting harder to find. Gorgeous setting and special effects support a tight little cerebral thriller. Oscar Isaac and Domnhall Gleason are fantastic. (They show up again in another little sci-fi further up this list, but sadly don’t get to share the screen.)

Big Short

  1. The Big Short

Adam McKay – that’s right, the co-creator of Funny or Die and the man behind Anchorman and Talladega Nights – took a side step from his frat-house humor well and stunned with this insightful and bruising comedy. It’s full of risky stylistic choices. He throws so much at the screen that it sometimes feels muddled and confusing. But that’s on purpose to mirror the insanity of the situation. It’s exhilarating, current, and in a way that is all too real, deeply depressing.


  1. Trainwreck

Amy Schumer’s comedy may not be as poignant or risky as The Big Short. But it’s touching, personal and wall-to-wall hilarious. Judd Apatow brings his trademark authenticity to the comedy. Bill Hader is the heart of the movie, and John Cena and LeBron James leave you gasping for air. But this is Schumer’s movie through and through. If you like her work as a humorist – and I do – you will love this.


  1. What We Do in the Shadows

Ok, the mockumentary style has been done to death by now right? Wrong! Or right, I guess when you consider that the subject here is vampires. (Pause for groans…) I’m a sucker for this kind of deadpan humor, but once again it’s the sincerity of relationships in spite of the crazy backdrop that elevates these proceedings to cinematic gold.


  1. Spotlight

Now we reach the point where I wish all of these movies could be higher on the list, but competition gets tight. Spotlight is a fantastic procedural. The performances and filmmaking are across the board phenomenal. But it’s never showy. Everything is in support of the story. As much as you think you know about the Catholic priest scandals, think again.


  1. The Martian

Full disclosure: I’m biased by my absolute love of the book. The film could never quite equal my fascination with reading it. But Ridley Scott does the next best thing: he captures and translates the tone and feel perfectly. What makes this story so much more than “Cast Away in Space” is the light tough and the emphasis on real science. Scott’s greatest sci-fi achievements have never been accused of being “light,” so I was all the more delightfully surprised by this. So much for the argument that intellectualism and populism are mutually exclusive!

Star Wars force-awakens

  1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Amid the deafening build-up to this release, I convinced myself it was likely to be merely acceptable. It probably wouldn’t be as bad as the prequels – what could, right? But there’s no way it could live up to the originals. Well, I’m thrilled to say JJ Abrams’ new episode blew away all my expectations! It’s one thing to honor the originals and focus on the epic excitement that we all fell in love with in the first place. But he’s raised the bar by handing the reigns over to a new, more diverse generation of heroes. The new Star Wars honors the past without getting stuck in it.

Mad Max Fury Road sniper

  1. – TIE – Inside Out and Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road is a perfect work of minimalist art. Its tight circular plot is stripped of all extraneous exposition. Conversely, all of the gratuity is in supporting visuals. Elaborate practical stunts, extravagant set pieces and found-object works of art build a lived-in world that needs no extra explanation. There’s almost no dialogue besides what’s absolutely necessary. And then there’s Charlize Theron, the most badass movie heroine since Alien’s Ripley. In a cinematic landscape where action heroes – and in fact pretty much ALL heroes – are STILL, even in 2015, almost exclusively the realm of men, Furiosa fires a shot across the bow to the film industry. No, not across the bow: straight into the forehead of every Bullet Farmer with a camera.

Pixar has the best track record (even with it’s couple of duds) of any movie studio in history, with some of my favorite movies of all time. Inside Out is Pixar’s best movie to date. And it’s one of the most accomplished, nuanced, original, daring, moving cinematic achievements I’ve ever witnessed. It touches nerves so deep inside they’ve never been exposed before. I haven’t met a single person who hasn’t cried at multiple times throughout. You may leave the theater a bit shell-shocked, but it somehow leaves you a better, more complete person than you were 90 minutes before.



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The Films of 2015

It’s time for my annual ranking of all the new films of the past year… or at least the small handful I was able to squeeze into my schedule.

Once again I saw fewer movies this year than last. I write an article like this one every January, and most of the time it begins with that same disclaimer. People, being an adult sucks. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to return to the glory days of college, when I would watch a movie or two almost every night and spend entire weekends in the theater. I just checked back through some old notes: In 2005, I caught over 65 new movies. Now, ten years later, it’s less than half that.

But enough reminiscing about the past: I’m still a fan of movies, and I have a blog, and I love making lists. So here is my rundown of 2015 in film.

Tomorrow I will post my Top 10, which is almost 1/3 of my total list. With a little deductive reasoning you can probably guess some of them. But for now, I present the remaining 2/3, ranked in fairly broad categories and then listed alphabetically….



Very Good

Each of these (as well as a few of my Top 10) actually covers territory that has been fairly thoroughly examined before, but they prove that artistry and skill can breath new life into old stories.

  • Bridge of Spies
  • Carol
  • Creed
  • Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
  • Sicario

hateful 8 sam jackson final


There’s actually some really stunning work on display, but some of these are brought down by a few serious issues, while others are simply missing that special something to elevate them above the crowd. And then a couple are just empty fun.

  • Brooklyn
  • The Hateful Eight
  • The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
  • Krampus
  • Magic Mike XXL
  • Mr. Holmes
  • The Revenant


Nothing Special

Pixar and Marvel have some of the best track records out there. But all of these blockbusters were like being stuck in a traffic jam trying to leave ‘Meh’ City.

  • Ant-Man
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron
  • Everest
  • The Good Dinosaur
  • Tomorrowland



I actually had high hopes for some of these. I should have known better.

  • Hotel Transylvania 2
  • Jurassic World
  • San Andreas
  • Southpaw
  • Spectre


And finally, no list would be complete with out the disclaimer of all the movies that I wanted see but just never found the time. In descending order of length of title…

  • Straight Outta Compton
  • Shaun the Sheep Movie
  • In the Heart of the Sea
  • Beasts of No Nation
  • The Danish Girl
  • Pawn Sacifice
  • Crimson Peak
  • Concussion
  • Son of Saul
  • Steve Jobs
  • Anomalisa
  • Cinderella
  • Macbeth
  • Chappie
  • 45 Years
  • Legend
  • Trumbo
  • Youth
  • Truth
  • Amy
  • Spy
  • Joy

Crimson Peak