"Dreams feel real while we're in them. It's only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange." -Inception

Friday, February 14, 2014

Oscars Class Photo 2014

(Photo: AMPAS)
The second best thing about February also happens to be the Oscars class photo at the nominees luncheon hosted by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to fete them.  It's a day when all the nominees get together and given their official nomination certificates (and official 'Oscar Nominee' T-shirts! I'm so jealous!). I like seeing how many nominees I can name without cheating.  (LA Times has a handy interactive chart here).  I totally did better last year.  There are some famous faces missing here like Christian Bale, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence but it's nice to see the other non-famous nominees get a chance to shine.  The Oscars will be held on March 2 at the Dolby Theater.  How many nominees could you name?  

Thursday, February 13, 2014

2014 Vanity Fair Hollywood Issue

One of the best things about February is Vanity Fair's annual Hollywood issue where the creme de la creme of Hollywood pose gorgeously on the cover.  It's the 'it' cover of the year and being so close to the Oscar, it's extra prestigious if you are featured on it.  This year in its 20th edition, young Hollywood gets a turn in the spotlight as Brie Larson, Margot Robbie, Lupita Nyong'o, Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan join George Clooney and Julia Roberts as Hollywood's Class of 2014.  The cover was photographed by Annie Leibovitz.  

New Trailers: The Fault in Our Stars and Divergent!

It's a Shailene Woodley double feature with the trailers of two of her films that were released last month.   These are roles that could launch Woodley into a Jennifer Lawrence-like stratosphere.

First up is the trailer of the YA adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars written by John Green.  The book is funny, sad and deeply poignant and I'm glad the trailer reflects that tone in it.  Directed by Josh Boone, a relative newcomer, the cast features Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Laura Dern, Sam Trammell and Willem Dafoe.  Woodley actually cut her long hair to play the part of Hazel Grace Lancaster, a teenager stricken with cancer who falls in love for the first time.  And yes, while that does sound depressing, the characters in the book/film are anything but.  This is definitely on my list of films to catch up with this year.  The Fault in Our Stars releases June 2014.

Up next is another YA adaptation, this time a dystopian thriller by author Veronica Roth, the first of the best-selling trilogy in which society is divided up into five factions that showcases the best of your abilities.  But it also means that everyone looks out for themselves and there are no family loyalties.  Beatrice Prior has a difficult path ahead of her when she is shown to be a Divergent and doesn't belong in any one faction.  She must navigate her life and those of her loved ones and protect them from the plans of the leader of the Erudite, Jeanine Matthews.  The films also stars Theo James, Ansel Elgort, Zoe Kravitz, Miles Teller, Maggie Q, Tony Goldwyn, Ashley Judd and no, your eyes did not deceive you, that's actually Kate Winslet as Matthews.   Divergent will release big this March and try to steal a bit of The Hunger Games' thunder as that franchise is midway through its series and their's is just beginning.  Are you ready?

Movie Review: 12 Years a Slave

Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave is a film you can't forget once you watch it. Based on the heartbreaking memoir by Solomon Northup, a free man who detailed his arduous captivity.  His life is changed overnight after a decision to get some work with a traveling circus without the knowledge of his family. Instead he's duped, drugged and sold into slavery from the North into the South. From that point on, we the viewers are taken alongside his tortuous and difficult journey to regain his old identity and diginity. 

Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Northup, a talented violinist in his pre-slavery days who is reduced to hiding his ability to read once he is a slave. He soon realizes that his proclamations of being a free man and appealing to the humanity of the slaveowners fall on deaf ears.  He is even robbed of his name and rechristened 'Platt' as to lose all vestiges of his old self. Solomon must then survive this ordeal hoping that one day he will be free.  

But at every turn he and his fellow slaves come across people who only think if them as property or worse not even human. One mother, Eliza (played by Adepero Oduye), who's cruelly separated by her two children is told to forget them and when her sorrowful cries are still heard, she sent is sent away. Solomon himself keeps his head down and does his duty silently but there are moments when he attempts to break free of his life of drudgery. 

Unfortunately he has to attempt to do so under the watchful and paranoid eye of Edwin Epps (played menacingly by Michael Fassbender). Epps is highly religious and has a complicated relationship with his slaves. He believes he treats them well, but obviously they are at his mercy and he whips them, tortures them and abuses them at all times.  One such slave, Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o) receives the worst of his attentions.  He both is fascinated and horrified by her, a reaction that nobody including his wife (Sarah Paulson) understands.  

There are a few films that showed the ugly and harsh truths of what slavery did to America.  12 Years a Slave erases all of them with its depiction and lays them out bare.  You can't look away.  While the film is produced by Brad Pitt (who has an integral cameo in the film), the director and most of the actors aren't American.  It gives the movie a unique perspective as McQueen chooses to let the camera linger where others would have turned away.

Ejiofor is quietly magnificent as Solomon, a man who doesn't comprehend how is whole life is turned upside down.  A scene that especially stayed with me was when he finally joined in the other slaves singing "Roll, Jordan, Roll" as they buried one of their one.  It was one moment after he was brought into slavery where he allowed himself to let go and just be.  The rest of the actors including Fassbender, Nyong'o and Benedict Cumberbatch as just as great in their roles.

Eventually, though his ordeal does end and the climax of the film will leave you with a heavy heart.  While Solomon was able to escape, slavery did not end overnight.  Like 2012's Lincoln, 12 Years a Slave is a film I hope they will show to future generations on American history.  I hope this one film you all won't pass on.  

Directed by Steve McQueen, Screenplay by John Ridley; Based on the memoir by Solomon Northup; Cinematography by Sean Bobbitt; Editing by Joe Walker; Music by Hans Zimmer

Additional cast: Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano, Scoot McNairy, Taran Killiam, Garrett Dillahunt


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Movie Review: American Hustle

All last year I saw the making of/behind the scenes images of Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams and their wild, wild hair. I cannot put enough emphasis on that wild hair which defines David O. Russell's American Hustle whose cast is the main reason to go see this film.

Christian Bale is Irving Rosenfeld, a balding middle-aged man handling a wife, a mistress and an illegal business selling loans. He thinks he's managing his life just fine until FBI Agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) enters their world and turns the tables on the tables on them. Irving and his mistress Sydney (Amy Adams) who have built this business together have no choice but to entertain this ambitious agent who is looking for 'the' case that will propel his career into the big league.

The two of them sink deeper and deeper into the sting operation DiMaso has planned involving the mayor of Camden, New Jersey Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) and other members of Congress.  And then to confuse matters more, there's a also a plot involving an Arab sheikh (played by Michael Pena, who is another FBI agent impersonating a sheikh), some mobsters and an overly jealous and possessive wife (Jennifer Lawrence).

How does this all make sense? It doesn't at plenty of times in the movie but the actors make it all worthwhile as every moment onscreen, you see Bale, Adams, Cooper, Lawrence, Renner and especially Louis C.K. all committing one hundred percent to these zany characters that inhabit this universe.  Inspired by the events of the 1970s and 80s in the actual ABSCAM case, it gives these actors some great material to work with.  Case in point, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are all nominated for their work at next month's Oscars.

While the writing didn't add up for me at several places during the film, what works is Russell's deft direction of the actors, bringing out the real emotions and motives behind their actions especially in the case of Adams and Lawrence.  I also loved the film's soundtrack, its grooving disco tunes and great use of songs at key moments.  My expectations were definitely way higher before I went in for the film.  I guess it had to do with the great quality of films that got released in 2013.  But if you are a fan of either of these actors, you won't be disappointed. 

Directed by David O. Russell, Written by David O. Russell and Eric Warren Singer, Cinematography by Linus Sandgren, Editing by Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers, Alan Baumgarten, Music by Danny Elfman


Monday, February 3, 2014

Awards Roundup: WGA Awards, Annie Awards & ASC Awards

A lot of awards got handed out this weekend, screenwriters, cinematographers and technicians working in the field of animation all had their moment in the spotlight as the Writers Guild of America, the American Society of Cinematographers and the Annie Awards were all held on February 1st.  Have a look below at all winners!

The Writers Guild of America handed out their best screenplays of the past year to Her and Captain Phillips as screenwriters Spike Jonze and Billy Ray were honoured for their work on the films.  While Her is now considered the frontrunner of sorts in the original screenplay as it's been winning awards left and right, Captain Phillips isn't facing 12 Years a Slave here as it will at the Oscars.  Sarah Polley's excellent and moving documentary on her family, Stories We Tell, won Best Documentary Screenplay for its unusual storytelling.  


"Her," written by Spike Jonze (Warner Bros.)


"Captain Phillips," screenplay by Billy Ray; based on the book "A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea" by Richard Phillips with Stephan Talty (Columbia Pictures)


"Stories We Tell," written by Sarah Polley (Roadside Attractions)



The 28th annual American Society of Cinematographers honoured cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki for his absolutely stunning work on Gravity.  He beat out other nominated works of Roger Deakins in Prisoners, Bruno Delbonnel in Inside Llewyn Davis and Phedon Papamichael for Nebraska. Lubezki now becomes the overwhelming favourite to win at the Oscars on March 3rd.

Emmanuel Lubezki, ASC, AMC


It was a big night for Walt Disney Animation's Frozen at the 41st Annie Awards winning 6 awards including Best Animated Feature, Best Direction, Best Music and Best Voice Acting for Josh Gad as the voice of the loveable snowman, Olaf. Disney Animation's short featuring Mickey Mouse, Get a Horse!, also nabbed the Best Animated Short Subject. Both of these films are also nominated for an Oscar in their respective categories. Director Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises picked up the award for the Best Writing for his last feature film before retirement. In the feature film categories, DreamWorks' The Croods and Pixar's Monsters University took home awards in the technical categories as well.

Here's a list of the full feature film winners:

Best Animated Feature
Frozen – Walt Disney Animation Studios

Best Animated Short Subject
Get A Horse!
- Walt Disney Animation Studios


Animated Effects in an Animated Production
Jeff Budsberg, Andre Le Blanc, Louis Flores, Jason Mayer – The Croods – DreamWorks Animation

Character Animation in an Animated Feature Production
Jakob Jensen – The Croods – DreamWorks Animation

Character Design in an Animated Feature Production
Carter Goodrich, Takao Noguchi, Shane Prigmore – The Croods
- DreamWorks Animation

Directing in an Animated Feature Production
Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee – Frozen
- Walt Disney Animation Studios

Music in an Animated Feature Production
Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez, Christophe Beck – Frozen
- Walt Disney Animation Studios

Production Design in an Animated Feature Production
Michael Giaimo, Lisa Keene, David Womersley – Frozen
- Walt Disney Animation Studios

Storyboarding in an Animated Feature Production
Dean Kelly – Monsters University
- Pixar Animation Studios

Voice Acting in an Animated Feature Production
Josh Gad as the voice of Olaf – Frozen
 – Walt Disney Animation Studios

Writing in an Animated Feature Production
Hayao Miyazaki – The Wind Rises
- Studio Ghibli/Touchstone Pictures/The Walt Disney Studios

Editorial in an Animated Feature ProductionGreg Snyder, Gregory Amundson, Steve Bloom – Monsters University
 – Pixar Animation Studios


Winsor McCay Award - Katsuhiro Otomo, Steven Spielberg & Phil Tippett

June Foray - Alice Davis

Ub Iwerks - Dragonframe
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