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

Monday, March 3, 2014

My Oscar Picks 2014

Another year, another wonderful year for films! It has been touted as one of the competitive years where there is no clear frontrunner.  The acting categories are pretty much a lock but the rest of categories could go any way.  Read on for my picks for the 86th Academy Awards below.

Christian Bale in “American Hustle” (Sony Pictures Releasing)
Bruce Dern in “Nebraska” (Paramount)
Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Wolf of Wall Street” (Paramount)
Chiwetel Ejiofor in “12 Years a Slave” (Fox Searchlight)
Matthew McConaughey in “Dallas Buyers Club” (Focus Features)

Should win: Leonardo DiCaprio
Will win: Matthew McConaughey. As much as I want Leo to finally, finally one of these sometime in his career. McConaughey has an amazing past couple of years and his performance in Dallas Buyers Club is the culmination of his recent career choices. It would be pretty unbelievable if he wins her on his first try.

Barkhad Abdi in “Captain Phillips” (Sony Pictures Releasing)
Bradley Cooper in “American Hustle” (Sony Pictures Releasing)
Michael Fassbender in “12 Years a Slave” (Fox Searchlight)
Jonah Hill in “The Wolf of Wall Street” (Paramount)
Jared Leto in “Dallas Buyers Club” (Focus Features)

Should win: Jared Leto
Will win: Jared Leto. He looks rock solid in this category. I'd be really surprised if he loses.
Amy Adams in “American Hustle” (Sony Pictures Releasing)
Cate Blanchett in “Blue Jasmine” (Sony Pictures Classics)
Sandra Bullock in “Gravity” (Warner Bros.)
Judi Dench in “Philomena” (The Weinstein Company)
Meryl Streep in “August: Osage County” (The Weinstein Company)

Should win: Cate Blanchett
Will win: Cate Blanchett. If anyone can upset Blanchett here is Amy Adams who, on her fifth nomination, might breakthrough.

Sally Hawkins in “Blue Jasmine” (Sony Pictures Classics)
Jennifer Lawrence in “American Hustle” (Sony Pictures Releasing)
Lupita Nyong’o in “12 Years a Slave” (Fox Searchlight)
Julia Roberts in “August: Osage County” (The Weinstein Company)
June Squibb in “Nebraska” (Paramount)

Should win: Lupita Nyong'o
Will win: Lupita Nyong'o.  The category has had many surprise winners in the past and possibly some one other than Lupita Nyong'o or Jennifer Lawrence might win. But really it is between the two of them and Lawrence stands to become the youngest actress with two Oscars before she turns 24 and also win consecutive Oscars.  Can she do it?

“The Croods” (20th Century Fox)
Chris Sanders, Kirk DeMicco and Kristine Belson
“Despicable Me 2” (Universal)
Chris Renaud, Pierre Coffin and Chris Meledandri
“Ernest & Celestine” (GKIDS)
Benjamin Renner and Didier Brunner
“Frozen” (Walt Disney)
Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee and Peter Del Vecho
“The Wind Rises” (Walt Disney)
Hayao Miyazaki and Toshio Suzuki

Should win: Frozen.
Will win: Frozen. The only real competition for Disney's buzzworthy and acclaimed winter hit is Hayao Miyazaki final masterpiece, The Wind Rises.

“The Grandmaster” (The Weinstein Company) Philippe Le Sourd
“Gravity” (Warner Bros.) Emmanuel Lubezki
“Inside Llewyn Davis” (CBS Films) Bruno Delbonnel
“Nebraska” (Paramount) Phedon Papamichael
“Prisoners” (Warner Bros.) Roger A. Deakins

Should win: Roger A. Deakins.  His cinematography in Prisoners added so much texture to the mood and tone of the film.  
Will win: Emmanuel Lubezki.  His innovativeness in his work on Gravity is astounding.  

“American Hustle” (Sony Pictures Releasing) Michael Wilkinson
“The Grandmaster” (The Weinstein Company) William Chang Suk Ping
“The Great Gatsby” (Warner Bros.) Catherine Martin
“The Invisible Woman” (Sony Pictures Classics) Michael O’Connor
“12 Years a Slave” (Fox Searchlight) Patricia Norris 

Should win: The Great Gatsby
Will win: The Great Gatsby.  If The Great Gatsby wins any Oscar, it's this one.

“American Hustle” (Sony Pictures Releasing) David O. Russell
“Gravity” (Warner Bros.) Alfonso Cuarón
“Nebraska” (Paramount) Alexander Payne
“12 Years a Slave” (Fox Searchlight) Steve McQueen
“The Wolf of Wall Street” (Paramount) Martin Scorsese 

Should win: Alfonso Cuarón
Will win: Alfonso Cuarón.  I've read people predicting a possible upset by Steve McQueen in this category but I don't know, Gravity was completely his vision (he also wrote and edited the movie) so I really believe like Ang Lee last year, the most technically complicated film will be honored.

“The Act of Killing” (Drafthouse Films)
Joshua Oppenheimer and Signe Byrge Sørensen
“Cutie and the Boxer” (RADiUS-TWC)
Zachary Heinzerling and Lydia Dean Pilcher
“Dirty Wars” (IFC Films)
Richard Rowley and Jeremy Scahill
“The Square” (Netflix in association with Worldview
Entertainment and Participant Media)
Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer
“20 Feet from Stardom” (RADiUS-TWC)
Nominees to be determined 

Should win: The Act of Killing.
Will win: The Act of Killing.

Jeffrey Karoff
“Facing Fear”
Jason Cohen
“Karama Has No Walls” (Mudhouse Films)
Sara Ishaq
“The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life”
Malcolm Clarke and Nicholas Reed
“Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall”
Edgar Barens

Should win: The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life
Will win: The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life.  

“American Hustle” (Sony Pictures Releasing) Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers and Alan Baumgarten
“Captain Phillips” (Sony Pictures Releasing) Christopher Rouse
“Dallas Buyers Club” (Focus Features) John Mac McMurphy and Martin Pensa
“Gravity” (Warner Bros.) Alfonso Cuarón and Mark Sanger
“12 Years a Slave” (Fox Searchlight) Joe Walker

Should win: Gravity.  It was the perfect film, all wrapped in 90 minutes.
Will win: American Hustle. Something tells me, it's either going to be this or Captain Phillips that will win here.

“The Broken Circle Breakdown” (Tribeca Film) – Belgium
“The Great Beauty” (Janus Films) – Italy
“The Hunt” (Magnolia Pictures) – Denmark
“The Missing Picture” (Strand Releasing) – Cambodia
“Omar” (Adopt Films) – Palestine

Should win: Italy's The Great Beauty 
Will win: Italy's The Great Beauty 

“Dallas Buyers Club” (Focus Features) Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews
“Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa” (Paramount) Stephen Prouty
“The Lone Ranger” (Walt Disney) Joel Harlow and Gloria Pasqua-Casny

Should win: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa. I dissed its nomination earlier but the makeup is pretty impressive in the film.
Will win: Dallas Buyers Club. Simply because I keep reading everywhere about this $250 budget for makeup everywhere.  I want to see receipts, people!


“The Book Thief” (20th Century Fox) John Williams
“Gravity” (Warner Bros.) Steven Price
“Her” (Warner Bros.) William Butler and Owen Pallett
“Philomena” (The Weinstein Company) Alexandre Desplat
“Saving Mr. Banks” (Walt Disney) Thomas Newman

Should win: Thomas Newman for Saving Mr. Banks.  I really loved the score in the film.  
Will win: Gravity.  The music in Gravity was the third unseen character in the film.  The music evokes very strong emotions in it.

“Happy” from “Despicable Me 2” (Universal)
Music and Lyric by Pharrell Williams
“Let It Go” from “Frozen” (Walt Disney)
Music and Lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
“The Moon Song” from “Her” (Warner Bros.)
Music by Karen O Lyric by Karen O and Spike Jonze
“Ordinary Love” from “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” (The Weinstein Company)
Music by Paul Hewson, Dave Evans, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Lyric by Paul Hewson

Should win: Let It Go
Will win: Let It Go. This is the category I'm most emotionally invested in simply I want to watch an EGOT being crowned live.  I will be most upset if anyone else wins.

“American Hustle” (Sony Pictures Releasing) Production Design: Judy Becker; Set Decoration: Heather Loeffler
“Gravity” (Warner Bros.) Production Design: Andy Nicholson; Set Decoration: Rosie Goodwin and Joanne Woollard
“The Great Gatsby” (Warner Bros.) Production Design: Catherine Martin; Costume Design: Beverley Dunn
“Her” (Warner Bros.) Production Design: K.K. Barrett; Set Decoration: Gene Serdena
“12 Years a Slave” (Fox Searchlight) Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Alice Baker

Should win: Her.  I want to live in the world created by Her and its retro meets the future world. 
Will Win: The Great Gatsby. Okay, The Great Gatsby could also win its second Oscar here.  

Daniel Sousa and Dan Golden
“Get a Horse!” (Walt Disney)
Lauren MacMullan and Dorothy McKim
“Mr. Hublot”
Laurent Witz and Alexandre Espigares
Shuhei Morita
“Room on the Broom”
Max Lang and Jan Lachauer

Should win: Get a Horse!
Will win: Get a Horse! Can Disney make it a clean sweep with best animated feature and short film? I really think it has a great chance.

“Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me)” (FREAK Independent Film Agency)
Esteban Crespo
“Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just before Losing Everything)”
Xavier Legrand and Alexandre Gavras
Anders Walter and Kim Magnusson
“Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?)”
Selma Vilhunen and Kirsikka Saari
“The Voorman Problem”
Mark Gill and Baldwin Li

Should win: Helium.
Will win: Helium.  I heard the most about this film online so this becomes my default choice.

“All Is Lost” (Lionsgate & Roadside Attractions) Steve Boeddeker and Richard Hymns
“Captain Phillips” (Sony Pictures Releasing) Oliver Tarney
“Gravity” (Warner Bros.) Glenn Freemantle
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” (Warner Bros.) Brent Burge
“Lone Survivor” (Universal) Wylie Stateman

Should win: Gravity.
Will win: Gravity. I'm putting all my chips in the Gravity bag this time around with my fingers crossed. I hope this goes well.

“Captain Phillips” (Sony Pictures Releasing) Chris Burdon, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith
“Gravity” (Warner Bros.) Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead and
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” (Warner Bros.) Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges,
“Inside Llewyn Davis” (CBS Films) Skip Lievsay, Greg Orloff and Peter F. Kurland
“Lone Survivor” (Universal) Andy Koyama, Beau Borders and David Brownlow

Should win: See above.
Will win: See above

“Gravity” (Warner Bros.) Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, Dave Shirk and Neil Corbould
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” (Warner Bros.) Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton and Eric Reynolds
“Iron Man 3” (Walt Disney) Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Erik Nash and Dan Sudick
“The Lone Ranger” (Walt Disney) Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich, Edson Williams and John Frazier
“Star Trek Into Darkness” (Paramount) Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Ben Grossmann and Burt Dalton

Should and will win: Gravity is a definite lock here.

“Before Midnight” (Sony Pictures Classics) Written by Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
“Captain Phillips” (Sony Pictures Releasing) Screenplay by Billy Ray
“Philomena” (The Weinstein Company) Screenplay by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope
“12 Years a Slave” (Fox Searchlight) Screenplay by John Ridley
“The Wolf of Wall Street” (Paramount) Screenplay by Terence Winter

Should win: Before Midnight.
Will win: 12 Years a Slave.  Out of all the books in the categories, I feel 12 Years a Slave was the hardest to adapt, John Ridley has done an impressive job.

“American Hustle” (Sony Pictures Releasing) Written by Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell
“Blue Jasmine” (Sony Pictures Classics) Written by Woody Allen
“Dallas Buyers Club” (Focus Features) Written by Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack
“Her” (Warner Bros.) Written by Spike Jonze
“Nebraska” (Paramount) Written by Bob Nelson

Should win: Her.  My favourite screenplay from 2013.
Will win: American Hustle. I'm going to be devastated if Her and Spike Jonze doesn't win but something tells me that David O. Russell is not going empty handed at the 86th Oscars.  This seems the most obvious category.

“American Hustle” (Sony Pictures Releasing)
Charles Roven, Richard Suckle, Megan Ellison and Jonathan Gordon, Producers
“Captain Phillips” (Sony Pictures Releasing)
Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti and Michael De Luca, Producers
“Dallas Buyers Club” (Focus Features)
Robbie Brenner and Rachel Winter, Producers
“Gravity” (Warner Bros.)
Alfonso Cuarón and David Heyman, Producers
“Her” (Warner Bros.)
Megan Ellison, Spike Jonze and Vincent Landay, Producers
“Nebraska” (Paramount)
Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa, Producers
“Philomena” (The Weinstein Company)
Gabrielle Tana, Steve Coogan and Tracey Seaward, Producers
“12 Years a Slave” (Fox Searchlight)
Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen and Anthony Katagas, Producers
“The Wolf of Wall Street” (Paramount)
Nominees to be determined

Should win: Gravity.  It's time that a intelligent and innovative film set in space should finally win and Gravity should be that film. I don't see The Avengers: Age of Ultron ending up in the Best Picture race, do you?
Will win: 12 Years a Slave. If not Gravity, then the only other best film of 2013 has to be 12 Years a Slave.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Movie Review: The LEGO Movie

There's been an influx of sequels and franchises in animation for the past few years so it's always great to welcome the new kid of the block when it comes to original content.  The LEGO Movie, the brainchild of filmmakers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller whose Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (a delightful and puntastic sequel) released a few months ago, is made up of 100% awesomeness.  This is a fact, you can go look it up.

Based on the toy building blocks that defined most of our childhoods, the film pits the free thinkers vs. the rule followers.  All of this combined in a clever package of humour, the right amount of pop culture and a small dash of emotion makes it hard to resist.  This oft-heard tale of an ordinary hero's epic journey opens with an old man proclaiming a prophecy about the "Special" one and a piece of resistance (Yes, really!). The wise one Vitruvius is voiced by Morgan Freeman (Who else?) states that one "most interesting and special" will save the world from the Kragle and liberate the rest of the MasterBuilders.

Enter Emmet Brickowski (voiced by Chris Pratt, who's adorably clueless in the part), an ordinary construction worker who's like the rest of the citizens of Bricksburg and just longs to be a part of a group to belong to.  He has lived his whole life by the rules, doesn't question authority and is pretty much a nobody.  Until the day he runs into Wyldstyle (voiced by Elizabeth Banks) aka the girl of his dreams (we know this to be true because she is introduced in slow-motion closeup) at the construction site where he works after hours.

He is then sucked right into an adventure he would dare not dream himself as Wyldstyle believes him to be the Special and takes him to the rest of the surviving MasterBuilders and Vitruvius as they band together to take down President Business (voiced by Will Ferrell) who wants to end the world on Taco Tuesday.  The horror!  Emmet tries to fit in but it is soon obvious to everyone that he does not exhibit the skills of the chosen one.  The scene where the MasterBuilders figure out this is hilarious.  Imagine disappointing a group that includes Gandalf, Dumbledore, Superman, Wonder Woman and Abraham Lincoln!

Seriously, The LEGO Movie had me the moment I heard the prophecy by Vitruvius.  The laughs started and did not end until the movie ended.  Emmet gets his chance to shine and prove to everyone especially Wyldstyle that there is something about someone who follows the rules and she as a free thinker comes to understand where Emmet comes from.  That's a lot of deep thinking for a movie based on LEGO toys.

But that's the beauty of the film that at once is both meta and wholly original at the same time.  The supporting characters, a brooding and boastful Batman (voiced perfectly by Will Arnett), a 1980s spaceman Benny (voiced by Charlie Day) who just really wants to build a spaceship, the ever-chipper Unikitty (voiced by Alison Brie) and the conflicted good cop/bad cop (voiced by Liam Neeson) will have you in stitches.  Even the cameos by Superman (voiced by Channing Tatum) and his nemesis Green Lantern (voiced by Jonah Hill) will make you want more.

Many films based on childhood toys have tried to cash in its familiarity and make something cinematic out of it.  Some have succeeded and others have failed.  But no other movie revels in as much as The LEGO Movie does.  I have to admit, I've a bit of Emmet in me, knowing that an instruction manual is there to guide me.  I like using my imagination after all but I like have a manual in front of me as I start.

The LEGO Movie is far and above, the best movie of 2014 for me.  Others may come and win me over later on as more films release in the year.  And if the theme song "Everything is Awesome" is not firmly embedded in your brain after seeing the film, then you need to watch it again.  I know I can't wait to see it again and again.

Directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller; Screenplay by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, from a story by Dan Hageman & Kevin Hageman and Phil Lord & Christopher Miller; Cinematography by Barry Peterson and Pablo Plaisted; Editing by David Burrows & Chris McKay; Music by Mark Mothersbaugh


Movie Review: Saving Mr. Banks

John Lee Hancock's Saving Mr. Banks is more than just the story of the behind-the-scenes look at the making of Walt Disney Studios' Mary Poppins (1964).  The film also gives a personal glimpse of the woman behind the creation of literature's most famous nanny, P. L. Travers. 

By now, most of us movie buffs are aware of Julie Andrews's performance as Mary Poppins and those instantly hummable songs, 'A Spoonful of Sugar' and 'Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious', but did you know that they were so close to never have been in existence at all if Travers had her way? Walt Disney (played by all-around nice guy Tom Hanks) pursued the author for over 20 years on a promise to his daughter Diane that he would adapt the book for her.  P. L. Travers (a vulnerable Emma Thompson), despite her financial woes, is reluctant to hand over the rights to her books and characters she holds most dear to her heart. 

Through wonderful flashbacks which tell a whole another story altogether, of a young girl and her unshakable admiration of her father, the pieces start to fall into place of why Travers is so opposed to the adaptation of her book. The film is, of course, referring to Travers's own relationship with her father, a man who couldn't properly support his family and lived in his own world at times. But young Ginty (Annie Rose Buckley) views her father (Colin Farrell, in a strong supporting role) with the singular focus of one who can do no wrong. 

The highlight of the film is that one emotional scene between Disney and Travers where Walt finally appeals to Pamela not as the head of a studio but instead as a fellow creator whose ownership of a character is very personal indeed. This along with the scenes set on the lot of Walt Disney Studios especially an impromptu rendition of 'Let's Go Fly a Kite' are the best parts for film fans. 

Thomas Newman's score is a standout as are the trio of B. J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman as brothers Robert and Richard Sherman and Bradley Whitford as Don DaGradi who all worked tirelessly to make the movie.  But the film belongs to Emma Thompson who gives us a look at Travers's fears and regrets.  I didn't really buy Hanks as Disney, he wasn't onscreen too long to connect with.  However, if you have fond memories of Mary Poppins, then do give Saving Mr. Banks a try and stay tuned for the end credits where the actual audio recordings of P. L. Travers play out. She had a opinion on everything.  

Directed by John Lee Hancock; Screenplay by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith; Cinematography by John Schwartzman; Editing by Mark Rivolsi; Music by Thomas Newman

Additional cast: Paul Giamatti, Ruth Wilson, Kathy Baker, Rachel Griffiths


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