Molly’s Game – A Review

Image result for molly's gameAaron Sorkin directs Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba in Molly’s Game. For his first directorial venture, Sorkin choses the explosive story of ex-Olympic class skier Molly Bloom and her high stakes poker game which brought everyone from Hollywood’s who’s to the billionaire wall street players around the table..

 

Jessica Chastain plays Molly Bloom and the story follows her near fatal fall while skiing to when she moves to Los Angeles to take an off year before law-school. Alternating between waitressing and temping at a real-estate developer in LA Molly is invited to play hostess at an exclusive poker game. This whets her appetite for the life of high stakes poker. What follows is the meteoric rise and the subsequent dramatic fall of the “Poker Princess”. Jessica Chastain is fantastic as Molly. She seems to be the embodiment of all of Sorkin women. She is equal parts emotionally fragile and stoic, at once resentful of all the people around her and at the same time acting as a sympathetic pit-boss when her players lose big or profess love to her. There are moments when you see glimpses of Maya from Zero Dark Thirty and that is a good thing. This movie is essentially a one woman show and Jessica Chastain carries the entire movie on her lithe shoulders.

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Idris Elba plays Charlie Jaffey, Molly’s lawyer. Elba is a hot-shot newyork lawyer and a former prosecutor who reluctantly agrees to take Molly’s case. Elba while possessing a great screen presence seems to struggle while enunciating his dialogues. Elba’s delivery is not best suited for the rat-a-tat-tat dialogues of a Sorkin screenplay also known as Sorkin-isms. Unfortunately Elba makes a real mess of his screen time and is nearly unbearable.

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Sorkin is a phenomenal writer and has turned in some of my favourite screenplays both on television and cinema. The West Wing, The Newsroom, The Social Network, Moneyball and Steve Jobs. But none of these were directed by Sorkin, and that is where I think Sorkin needs to up his game. The script and screenplay seem to become overbearing with Chastain’s Molly essentially doing a voice-over for almost the entirety of the movie. While Chastain is a phenomenal actress, her voice over skills make the proceedings feel like a real drag. With a Sorkin script the build-up is lengthy and very wordy but the pay-offs are huge and eternally satisfying, here there is so much build up about the high stakes poker and the players involved but the payoff feels like a  let-down

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The big ticket item is the who’s who of Hollywood who came to play at bloom’s games and here it is an afterthought. The juiciest bits are left off the screen and the burden of carrying the story forward falls on Chastain entirely.

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Mildly entertaining due to the fantastic Jessica Chastain but almost excruciating due to Idris Elba and his inability to speak clearly Molly’s Game is a Bad Beat- a subjective term for a hand in which a player with what appear to be strong cards nevertheless loses. I expected more from Sorkin’s directorial debut.

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Oscars 2016 Predictions

I couldn’t be less enthused about Oscars this year. What with an insipid bunch of nominees, the raging racism controversy and the fact that Chris Rock is hosting this year. Bring back Seth McFarland!!! But then the realisation that it is the 3rd anniversary of the blog hit me and a friend asking where my predictions were, I guess I will give this a shot with the hope that next year there are more daring movies and nominees feature a diverse group of performers, age and race notwithstanding. So here we go ladies and gentlemen get your Oscar Fever On!!

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Best Actress in a supporting role:

Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight

Rooney Mara, Carol

Rachel McAdams, Spotlight

Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

 

This is a tough one to choose from. I loved the return of Rachel McAdams to meaningful cinema and what an understated and respectful performance she delivered in Spotlight. Rooney Mara was the only bright light for me in all the pretentiousness that enveloped Carol. But the clear battle is between Vikander and Winslet.

Who should win: Alicia Vikander, her portrayal as Gerda is stellar. Her vulnerability and poise as her husband undergoes a transformation is heart-breaking. But this is not a showy performance that Oscar seems to prefer and with the results of all the previous awards going against her, chances are she won’t win but then again Winslet is a previous winner.

Who will win: Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman is the perfect foil to Fassbender’s Steve Jobs. Winslet really makes this role her own by infusing an emotional anchor to story. Regardless of what people accuse Sorkin of I think he writes some of the best female characters around – CJ, Makenzie and Sloane and now Joanna Hoffman. I wouldn’t be terribly disappointed if she wins.

 

Best Actor in a supporting role:

Christian Bale, The Big Short

Tom Hardy, The Revenant

Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight

Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

Sylvester Stallone, Creed

 

Bale, Hardy and Ruffalo deliver very strong performances two of which could easily have been leading had it not been an ensemble drama with equally strong performances from other actors. I loved Tom Hardy as the villainous John Fitzgerald and was cheering on Glass to finish off the despicable character that Fitzgerald was – that is how good Hardy is. But this is Bale’s to lose.

Who Should/Will Win: Christian Bale is brilliant as the eccentric genius who discovers the impending housing market crash and the subsequent meltdown of the global economy in The Big Short. Christian Bale is one of the best method actors working today and the range he displays in picking the roles and the physical and physiological transformation he undergoes to become the said character is second to none. It would be a crying shame if he doesn’t win this. And it goes to Sylvester Stallone as some sort of a consolation prize.

 

Best Animated Feature:

Anomalisa

Boy and the World

Inside Out

Shaun the Sheep Movie

When Marnie Was There

 

AKA the Pixar award. And with Inside Out, Pixar has equalled the heights of technical ingenuity coupled with a strong emotional core that it did with the likes of Ratatouille, Wall-E and Up!

Who should/will win: Inside Out

 

Best Cinematography:

Carol

The Hateful Eight

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant

Sicario

 

It could be a Hat-trick for Emmanuel Lubezki this year with The Revenant following Gravity and Bridman. Lubezki is reaching Roger Deakins (who is also nominated for a record 13th time without a win) level of awesomeness when it comes to framing the most gorgeous shots that create the most immersive experience for an audience. Even if they simply put his name on the top of the playbill I would queue up to watch the movie first day first show regardless of the actor or director of the story and his work in The Revenant is better than Birdman and almost as good and in many aspects better than Gravity. But what John Seale has achieved in Mad Max Fury Road is simply superior to anything else in this category. His visuals match the madness of George Miller’s beat for beat and in fact sometimes the visuals are the ones that set the pace for this insane adrenaline fuelled caper. I get a head rush just thinking of the visuals in Mad Max and I will lose my voice swearing if they don’t give this to Seale who came out of retirement to shot this thing of beauty!

Who should win: John Seale

Who may Win: Deakins because he is always good and he is long overdue? Lubezki because he is good and a three-peat would be interesting trivia? Who knows! I want Seale to win.

 

Visual Effects:

Ex Machina

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

 

Ex Machina was excellent as was The Martian in making us believe we were seeing a real-life AI and the Martian landscape. But this one has Mad Max written all over it. The most spectacular use of Visual effects which kept the Computer generated effects to minimum by having practical stunts.

Who should/will win: Mad Max Fury Road

 

Documentary Feature:

Amy

Cartel Land

The Look of Silence

What Happened, Miss Simone?

Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

 

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to watch any of the documentary features this year. I wanted to watch Amy very badly because I loved Amy Winehouse. If I was picking based on what I wanted to watch then it would be Amy but based on the fact that Joshua Oppenheimer was nominated and didn’t win for The Act of Killing which was the companion piece to The look of Silence based on the killings in Indonesia in the 1950s and the current political mood in the western hemisphere towards Putin’s aggression, Winter on Fire could sneak in a surprise.

Who should win: Amy

Who will win: Winter on Fire

 

Foreign Language Film:

Embrace of the Serpent

Mustang

Son of Saul

Theeb

A War

 

A harrowing tale set in the holocaust concentration camp of Auschwitz telling the tale of a SonderKommando who believes that the body he was supposed to cremate is allegedly that of his son and tries everything in his power to get a proper Jewish burial for him which includes a prison riot and escape from Auschwitz seems impossible to beat. Son of Saul is my pick for the best Foreign Language Film

Who should/will win: Son of Saul

 

Sound Editing

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Sicario

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Sound Mixing

Bridge of Spies

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

 

This category continues to confuse me! When you already have a category for Best Original Score what exactly is the point of this. But taking from the analogy from last year where good sound ingredients comprise Sound Editing and the proper cooking method being Sound Mixing let’s look at this.

Who should win Sound Mixing/Editing: Mad Max : Fury Road

Who will win Sound Mixing/Editing: The Revenant

 

Original Score:

Bridge of Spies

Carol

The Hateful Eight

Sicario

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

 

I would love for Jóhann Jóhannsson to win because he deserved to win last year for the Theory of Everything and the music for Sicario is stunning. But with stalwarts like John Williams and Ennio Morricone this one is up in the air.

Who should win: Sicario Jóhann Jóhannsson.

Who will win: Star Wars: The Force Awakens John Williams./Ennio Morricone The Hateful Eight

 

Original Song:

“Earned It,” Fifty Shades of Grey

“Manta Ray,” Racing Extinction

“Simple Song #3,” Youth

“Til It Happens To You,” The Hunting Ground

“Writing’s On The Wall,” Spectre

After the performances like Skyfall by Adele, Let it go by Idna Menzel and Glory by John Legend and Common from previous years I am pretty sure this is Lady Gaga’s to take home. Until I went over the nominations I wasn’t even aware that the video that Gaga released was part of a documentary. I hope Gaga has a stellar performance in an otherwise drab Oscar ceremony. Also given the circumstances around Cosby this song is Hollywood’s way of apologising.

Who should/will win: Lady Gaga “’Til It Happens To You”

 

Film Editing:

The Big Short

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant

Spotlight

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

 

With the exception of Star Wars I have seen all 4 and loved each one with a varying degree with respect to its pacing and overall coherence of storytelling. I found The Revenant a bit too long and unnecessary in places other than to see Lubezki’s beautiful frames. Spotlight lacked a sense of urgency that a story like this needed. Mad Max and The Big Short were the most perfectly paced movies. I really cannot pick and winner between the two

Who should win: Mad Max Fury Road

Who will win: The Big Short

 

Original Screenplay:

Bridge of Spies

Ex Machina

Inside Out

Spotlight

Straight Outta Compton

 

This category was the butt of many #YoOscarsSoWhite jokes because the only movie representative of the African American culture that got nominated for anything was Straight Outta Compton for Best Original Screenplay and here too the people who were nominated were white folks. I am torn between Ex Machina and Inside Out but given that this is the Oscars I am pretty sure it is going to be Spotlight.

Who should win: Ex Machina/Inside Out

Who will win: Spotlight.

 

Adapted Screenplay:

The Big Short

Brooklyn

Carol

The Martian

Room

 

I would love nothing more than for The Big Short to win every award it is nominated for. But The Martian was pretty special too and more than anything else it was the humorous source material which many told me it was impossible to adapt.

Who should win: The Martian

Who will win: The Big Short.

 

Director:

The Big Short

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant

Room

Spotlight

 

Now this is a seriously good group of nominations and it would have been only better had Ridley Scott been included for The Martian. I really really hope that Iñárritu doesn’t win for The Revenant which while a beautiful movie is poorly edited and is more akin to Babel than Birdman. A lot of pretentious cerebral imagery and not enough story. For me it is between George Miller and Adam McKay and I would be happy if either of them won

Who should win: Adam McKay

Who will win: George Miller

 

Actress in Leading role:

Cate Blanchett, Carol

Brie Larson, Room

Jennifer Lawrence, Joy

Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years

Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

 

Cate Blanchett should not have been nominated for Carol. I love my some Queen Cate but Carol wasn’t a strong enough movie that needed to be nominated – not dismissing the importance of the story and era in which it is set but it is not a strong enough movie. Jennifer Lawrence is a fine actress but she seems to be nominated for everything she does no matter how bad the movie is. And I still hold her winning for Silver Linings Playbook over Jessica Chastain’s Maya in Zero Dark thirty against her. Brie Larson has quietly been carving out a niche for herself with a stellar performance in Short Term 12 and with Room her performance supported superbly by little Jacob Tremblay is surprisingly uplifting in a story that is anything but that. I cannot imagine anyone being able to deny Larson this win.

Who should/will win: Brie Larson

 

Actor in Leading role:

Bryan Cranston, Trumbo

Matt Damon, The Martian

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs

Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

 

Loved Eddie Redmayne and Matt Damon but they are not going to win this year. Michael Fassbender was spectacular as Steve jobs with a performance that cannot be bettered. There are going to be to future biopics on the Apple founder because Fassbender gave the defining performance that cannot be bettered. I have loved and championed Leonardo Dicaprio for a number of years and been upset when he didn’t win and with The Revenant he is almost assured the little golden man that has eluded him for so long. Does he deserve it? Definitely but I would rather that he have won for The Aviator, The Departed and Blood Diamond instead.

Who should/will win: Leonardo Dicaprio

 

Best Film

The Big Short

Bridge of Spies

Brooklyn

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Room

Spotlight

To me this is what the final shortlist of best movies looks like

The Big Short: A Satirical look at the inner mechanics of what happened with the 2008 sub-prime and banking crisis with an amazing turn by the very talented ensemble. This is a very important story not only because it tells us what happened but also because it is only a precursor of things to come because no real corrective actions were taken.

Mad Max: Fury Road: An intense, adrenaline fuelled adventure caper which masterfully married feudalism and freedom struggle without getting preachy. It has the best visuals with practical stunts which cannot be beat.

The Martian: A funny take on the sci-fi genre that makes it accessible to a larger audience. A nuanced performance by Matt Damon and one hell of a story of the triumph of the human spirit against insurmountable odds.

Spotlight: A reminder of what power and responsibility the 4th estate wields and how important it is for them to take on the system and stand up for the little guy. A sensitive portrayal of a story that could have been forgiven a certain amount of histrionics if it tried but it stays clear of it and the end result is a thought provoking movie that does not demonize a religion but questions the power it wields.

Who should win: The big short or Mad Max: Fury Road

Who will win: Spotlight

Category Should Win Will Win
Best Picture The Big Short/Mad Max : Fury Road Spotlight
Best Director Adam McKay George Miller
Best Actor Leonardo Dicaprio Leonardo Dicaprio
Best Actress Brie Larson Brie Larson
Best Supporting Actor Christian Bale Christian Bale
Best Supporting Actress Alicia Vikander Kate Winslet
Best Writing – Original Screenplay Inside Out/Ex-Machina Spotlight
Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay The Martian The Big Short
Best Animated Feature Film Inside Out Inside Out
Best Foreign Language Film Son of Saul Son of Saul
Best Documentary – Feature Amy Winter on fire
Best Documentary – Short Subject Body Team 12
Best Live Action Short Film Shok
Best Animated Short Film Sanjay’s Super Team
Best Original Score Sicario Star Wars/The Hateful Eight
Best Original Song Lady Gaga – ‘Til it happens to you Lady Gaga – ‘Til it happens to you
Best Sound Editing Mad Max : Fury Road The Revenant
Best Sound Mixing Mad Max : Fury Road The Revenant
Best Production Design Mad Max : Fury Road Mad Max : Fury Road
Best Cinematography John Seale Mad Max: Fury Road Emmanuel Lubezki The Revenant/Roger Deakins Sicario
Best Makeup and Hairstyling Mad Max : Fury Road Mad Max : Fury Road
Best Costume Design Cinderella Mad Max : Fury Road
Best Film Editing Mad Max : Fury Road The Big Short
Best Visual Effects Mad Max : Fury Road Mad Max : Fury Road

So there you have it all my predictions for Oscars 2016. Leave a comment if you agree or disagree with my picks. Let me know your thoughts on Oscars in general and who you would have rather seen nominated. You can follow me on Twitter where I will be live-tweeting during the Oscar ceremony!

The Revenant – A Review

Alejandro G Iñárritu directs Leonardo Dicaprio and Tom Hardy in the gruesome survival tale The Revenant based partly on Michael Punke’s novel by the same name. Set in the 1820s in Montana and South Dakota’s harsh winter wilderness it is the story of Dicaprio’s Hugh Glass as he leads an expedition of Fur trappers which is attacked by the Arikara tribe of Native Americans who are out to avenge a kidnapped tribeswoman.

 

Leonardo Dicaprio plays Hugh Glass an experienced hunter with knowledge of the terrain, Tom Hardy plays hot-headed hunter John Fitzgerald, Domhall Gleeson plays captain Andrew Henry and Will Poulter plays Bridger one of the two young boys on the expedition the other being Glass’s Native American son Hawk.

When the hunting party is attacked by Arikara tribesman they make a hasty retreat back to their boat with their fur pelts and escape downriver. This drives a wedge between Glass and Fitzgerald who both have different ideas on how to get to safety. The crew trust Glass especially since Captain Henry seems to trust Glass implicitly. Fitzgerald is a poisoned presence from the very beginning and his nagging and antagonising of Glass only increases after the crew abandon the boat and hide the fur pelts to travel light and come back with armed reinforcements. Fitzgerald however agrees to stay back with Bridger and Hawk to care for Glass after he is mauled by a Grizzly Bear. What follows after is a harrowing tale of how Fitzgerald’s greed compels him to kill Hawk, leave Glass for the dead and lie to Bridger about approaching Arikara tribe and beat a hasty retreat to the barrack outpost to collect the money promised to him by Captain Henry if they stayed and gave Glass a proper funeral. What follows is Glass’s incredible journey from being left for dead to returning to avenge his son’s death. Along the way he encounters obstacles that are impossible to even imagine and seeing how this is partly based on true events it just makes it even more astonishing.

Emanuel Lubezki is gunning for a hat-trick after winning in 2013 for Gravity and in 2014 for Birdman and this year with Revenant his claim couldn’t be stronger. Gravity had that 7 ½ minute opening shot where not a word was uttered and you were given the full extent of the vastness of the space, Birdman had that continuous shot winding down the different nooks and crannies of a New York theatre and The Revenant has this stunning opening sequence of Glass and company being attacked by Arikara tribesmen it is as beautiful as it is brutal and unlike Gravity and Birdman there is fast and furious action here which while adrenaline charged still does not feel fuzzy or rushed, you can almost hear the whoosh of an arrow shooting past you. Lubezki has lit the entire movie with ambient light sources like campfire and candles and using natural lighting and the effect is eerie and haunting. He has shot the unforgiving landscape in a beautiful way, the breaking of the dawn has the full spectrum of colours as your eyes traverse the screen from left to right.  Ryuichi Sakamoto who did the music for Iñárritu’s confounding Babel does the music for The Revenant along with Carsten Nicolai and they underscore Lubezki’s beautiful images with a poignant and restrained original score. At times angry and at times quiet and subtle. The only problem for me is the seemingly choppy editing at the outset where the movie stutters to a start but then the editing becomes more seamless as the story progresses. Iñárritu tries to reach for something more than what the story should be about. At its heart The Revenant is a western revenge epic but by tying in Native American elements Iñárritu tries to elevate the story and in some places he manages to by showing how the native inhabitants of North America were brutalised by British and French who tried to “civilise” them, but then at other places it just becomes a babbling mess with floating dead wives and a pyramid of cattle skulls.

Leonardo and his epic journey towards an Oscar win is perhaps the stuff of urban legends and with this one he has landed another nomination and with a relatively weak field Leo might take one home finally and it is not undeserved. With most of the movie without the ability to speak Leo’s eyes and face do most of the work. He is brilliant here but somehow not as engaging as Tom Hardy is as John Fitzgerald. There are no two ways about it Fitzgerald is a man you hate from the very beginning to the very bitter end but what Tom Hardy brings to this character is so nuanced and almost nauseating is his ability to be the worst person in every scene he is in. if Hardy doesn’t win for Best supporting actor then it will be a bigger crime than Dicaprio being denied another one (in my books Dicaprio should have won for both Blood Diamond and The Departed.)

This is a movie that requires a certain amount of patience to sit through all the harrowing experiences Glass goes through and that is primarily a fault of the editing but there are plenty of rewards to be reaped as Lubezki reaches Deakins’ level of greatness with being able to capture the American wilderness and Dicaprio and Hardy put in terrific performances. Best of the year? Probably not I would take the other Hardy pic of one man’s epic survival against all odds in Mad Max Fury Road but this is still an incredible and important cinematic experience.

 

Oscar 2014 Predictions!

Roll out the red carpet and put on your best ball gown the little golden man is rolling into the nokia center this Sunday night.Another year rolls by and the 86th annual academy awards are upon us. While there is more mindless franchise trash than the previous year, there are also several leaps made in terms of meaningful cinema with artistic and technical prowess on full display. A casual glance at the best movie category validates this assessment where we have a futuristic love story competing against a love story and a story of human triumph set against the dark days of black slavery, we have a story of personal greed and depravity set to square off against a space adventure which tests the limits of human resilience. And plus when there is Ellen DeGeneres hosting it is bound to be a party. Plus P!nk is going to perform her aerial acrobatics so you cannot miss this Oscars night (early Monday morning YAWN!!!) .

This year’s Oscar race is a little more curious than most years – there is a clear cinematic landmark in the shape of 12 years a slave but it is a movie that most people are finding hard to watch and there is a possibility that this might hurt the film’s chances at a major win. The best actresses race which is usually the most fiercely competitive field seems to have the most talented actresses this year too with Blanchet, Dench, Adams, Bullock and Streep competing and with such stellar performances it should be a more closely fought race – but it seems to not be the case and the one with the lobbying power of the Weinstein’s will win. The best actor’s race which is generally a lone horse race seems to be the one that is too close to call with a 3 way fight between DiCaprio ( long overdue), McConaughey( on a comeback) and Ejiofor ( the most demanding role of them all).
Each year I try and come up with a list of who I think should win and will win and in most cases it matches but in some it doesn’t. This year too I will take you through the categories and draw up my list of winners and on the morning of 3rd March you will either hear me fist-pumping and cheering as my favorites win or hear me hurl abuses or laugh out loud (if the undeserved ones trip on their way up to the podium – I am looking at you Lawrence)

Actress in a Supporting Role
Sally Hawkins in “Blue Jasmine”
Jennifer Lawrence in “American Hustle”
Lupita Nyong’o in “12 Years a Slave”
Julia Roberts in “August: Osage County”
June Squibb in “Nebraska”

This is one of my favorite category as usually in an ensemble cast the supporting actor’s role can easily be swapped with that of the leading actor’s and that is what makes this a very prestigious award indeed.
Who Should Win : Roberts for August: Osage County – any actor who can say “Eat Fish B*tch” to Meryl and lives to tell the tale should win the award. But jokes aside, she delivers a phenomenal performance the likes of which were only seen from her in Erin Brokovich.
Who Will Win: This is a tough one – Nyong’o or Lawrence . I don’t think Lawrence should firstly because she walked away with the leading trophy last year and also because her role in American Hustle isn’t that substantial. Nyong’o certainly was the reason why we felt as bad as we did for Solomon. Tough call indeed but I would be happy if it was either Roberts or Nyong’o

Actor in a Supporting Role

Barkhad Abdi in “Captain Phillips”
Bradley Cooper in “American Hustle”
Michael Fassbender in “12 Years a Slave”
Jonah Hill in “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Jared Leto in “Dallas Buyers Club”

Who Should/Will Win: Jared Leto if you physically transform yourself to a point where you are unrecognizable and you deliver a smashing performance you should start practicing your acceptance speech from the minute the production wraps up.

Animated Feature Film

“The Croods” Chris Sanders, Kirk DeMicco and Kristine Belson
“Despicable Me 2” Chris Renaud, Pierre Coffin and Chris Meledandri
“Ernest & Celestine” Benjamin Renner and Didier Brunner
“Frozen” Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee and Peter Del Vecho
“The Wind Rises” Hayao Miyazaki and Toshio Suzuki

This is one category that almost always baffles me with the inclusion of a French animated movie – do the laws of foreign language film not apply to this category? anywho!

Who Should/Will Win : Frozen it has everything that is the hallmark of a Disney classic – a princess, a dashing prince, talking inanimate object and a brilliant song “Let It Be”.

Cinematography

“The Grandmaster” Philippe Le Sourd
“Gravity” Emmanuel Lubezki
“Inside Llewyn Davis” Bruno Delbonnel
“Nebraska” Phedon Papamichael
“Prisoners” Roger A. Deakins

This is one aspect of filmmaking that more often than not finds a mention in my reviews because to be this is one of the most important components that makes or breaks the movie. The director’s vision is only as good as the DoP being able to translate it to the big screen. I loved Deakin’s work in prisoners and am so glad he found a nomination here but…

Who Should/Will Win : Emmanuel Lubezki the man who took us to space and tossed us around like a lone sock in a tumble dry washing machine! Gravity is a visual phenomenon and makes perfect use of every inch of the IMAX screen space.

Visual Effects

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

Who Should/Will Win : Gravity to me the beauty of the visual effect is in it being so inseparable from the main visuals that it does not feel unnatural and jarring and that was achieved by the team behind Gravity who transformed a giant sink tank into the unending blackness of the space.

Documentary Feature

“The Act of Killing”Joshua Oppenheimer and Signe Byrge Sørensen
“Cutie and the Boxer” Zachary Heinzerling and Lydia Dean Pilcher
“Dirty Wars” Richard Rowley and Jeremy Scahill
“The Square” Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer
“20 Feet from Stardom” Morgan Neville, Gil Friesen and Caitrin Rogers

Another fantastic genre in movie making that turns in some of the most amazing films – the Act of Killing is a disturbing look into the psyche of the khmer rogue leaders who perpetrated some of the most heinous crimes against humanity. 20 feet from stardom is a fantastic feature about the background singers which had me experiences many bouts of goosebumps with some of the most amazing voices ever heard but hardly recognized.

Who Should Win : Act of Killing
Who Will Win : 20 Feet from Stardom

Foreign Language Film

“The Broken Circle Breakdown” Belgium
“The Great Beauty” Italy
“The Hunt” Denmark
“The Missing Picture” Cambodia
“Omar” Palestine

The category that many a times reflects the political affiliations of the members of the academy more than the technical merit of the winner .

Who Should Win : The Hunt
Who Will Win : The Great Beauty

Sound Editing

“All Is Lost” Steve Boeddeker and Richard Hymns
“Captain Phillips” Oliver Tarney
“Gravity” Glenn Freemantle
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” Brent Burge and Chris Ward
“Lone Survivor” Wylie Stateman

Sound Mixing

“Captain Phillips” Chris Burdon, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith and Chris Munro
“Gravity” Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead and Chris Munro
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Michael Semanick and Tony Johnson
“Inside Llewyn Davis” Skip Lievsay, Greg Orloff and Peter F. Kurland
“Lone Survivor” Andy Koyama, Beau Borders and David Brownlow

The two categories that make the least amount of sense to me but still turned out to be the biggest shocker last year with tie. I think the sound editing and mixing is probably going to go to the one that sweeps the most technical awards and in that case Gravity seems like a natural choice

Who Should/Will Win : Gravity

Music (Original Score)

“The Book Thief” John Williams
“Gravity” Steven Price
“Her” William Butler and Owen Pallett
“Philomena” Alexandre Desplat
“Saving Mr. Banks” Thomas Newman

The category that has me wondering always why the academy hates Hans Zimmer – he either gets shut out of the nominations entirely or gets nominated and doesn’t win even though he deserves it. Here too he got shut out of 12 Years a Slave. However with the wonderful music by Arcade Fire I am hopeful that I will not be too disappointed.

Who Should Win : Her
Who Will Win: Gravity

Music (Original Song)

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

Idna menzel performing at the Oscars – after Adele performed last year – it’s like my dreams are coming true! Her performance of Let It Go would have to win the gold! If only she can switch into the witches outfit with green makeup and do an encore of defying gravity – now that would be PERFECT!

Who Should/Will Win : Let It Go

Film Editing

“American Hustle” Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers and Alan Baumgarten
“Captain Phillips” Christopher Rouse
“Dallas Buyers Club” John Mac McMurphy and Martin Pensa
“Gravity” Alfonso Cuarón and Mark Sanger
“12 Years a Slave” Joe Walker

This has got to be Gravity – a film so tightly cut that not one moment feels bloated or unnecessary

Who Should/Will Win: Gravity

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

“Before Midnight” Written by Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
“Captain Phillips” Screenplay by Billy Ray
“Philomena” Screenplay by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope
“12 Years a Slave” Screenplay by John Ridley
“The Wolf of Wall Street” Screenplay by Terence Winter

Who Should Win : Before Midnight show some love to the troika of Linklater, Delpy and Hawke who have worked for 18 years to come up with a trilogy that is essentially a personal journey in the lives of two amazingly written characters.
Who Will Win : 12 Years A Slave

Writing (Original Screenplay)

“American Hustle” Written by Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell
“Blue Jasmine” Written by Woody Allen
“Dallas Buyers Club” Written by Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack
“Her” Written by Spike Jonze
“Nebraska” Written by Bob Nelson

This has got to be Her – it cannot be anything else – a story so original yet so beautifully written that it feels almost commonplace , the future does not feel completely alien and love gets a whole new meaning.
Who Should/Will Win : Her

Now come the big guns!

Directing

“American Hustle” David O. Russell
“Gravity” Alfonso Cuarón
“Nebraska” Alexander Payne
“12 Years a Slave” Steve McQueen
“The Wolf of Wall Street” Martin Scorsese

It is a crying shame that Russell and Payne find a place here and Jonze is shut out of a nomination. In a perfect world Russell and Payne would get replaced by Frears and Jonze or even a Linklater for his phenomenal third movie in the Before/After series.
Who Should Win : McQueen/Cuarón
Who Will Win : Cuaron

Actress in a Leading Role

Amy Adams in “American Hustle”
Cate Blanchett in “Blue Jasmine”
Sandra Bullock in “Gravity”
Judi Dench in “Philomena”
Meryl Streep in “August: Osage County”

A 5-time nominated actress, 2 previous winners, A Dame and a goddess with 18 nominations and 3 wins – this one heck of a category to choose from. With each of the actresses turning in a stellar performance it becomes a question of who wants it the most and who has the ability to campaign the most, And more importantly than not who has the weight of the Weinsteins behind her. If anyone has seen Meryl’s performance as Violet Weston and thinks she does not deserve to win this award then that person is delusional.

Who Should Win: Meryl Streep
Who Will Win: Cate Blanchet ( I love you Cate but watch out for the steps girl)

Actor in a Leading Role

Christian Bale in “American Hustle”
Bruce Dern in “Nebraska”
Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Chiwetel Ejiofor in “12 Years a Slave”
Matthew McConaughey in “Dallas Buyers Club”

Replace Dern with Robert Redford for “All is lost” and even though I love Bale but replace him with Joaquin Phoenix for “Her” we would have the most perfect leading man’s nominee club in a long long time. But be that as it may of the 5 nominated here it is a 2 horse race between McConaughey and Ejiofor with the possibility of DiCaprio pulling an upset ( seems unlikely )

Who Should Win : Chiwetel Ejiofor – Physical transformation may be hard but getting into the psyche of Solomon Northup would’ve been harder.
Who Will Win: I am going to stick my neck out on this one and say that Ejiofor takes home the gold.

Best Picture

“American Hustle” Charles Roven, Richard Suckle, Megan Ellison and Jonathan Gordon, Producers
“Captain Phillips” Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti and Michael De Luca, Producers
“Dallas Buyers Club” Robbie Brenner and Rachel Winter, Producers
“Gravity” Alfonso Cuarón and David Heyman, Producers
“Her” Megan Ellison, Spike Jonze and Vincent Landay, Producers
“Nebraska” Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa, Producers
“Philomena” Gabrielle Tana, Steve Coogan and Tracey Seaward, Producers
“12 Years a Slave” Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen and Anthony Katagas, Producers
“The Wolf of Wall Street” Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Joey McFarland and Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Producers

My top 5
12 Years a Slave
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
Her
The Wolf of Wall Street

There is an interesting article out in the blogosphere about how many academy members are unable to bring themselves to see 12 Years a Slave because of the unrelenting nature of McQueen’s portrayal of slavery and how this might ruin its chances of winning the best picture and how Gravity might take it home instead. While I loved Gravity I do not think it is worthy of a best picture win, it is a landmark for cinema no doubt but I find it hard to believe that it can take home the big prize but then its got Clooney so stranger things have happened.

Who Should Win : 12 Years A Slave
Who Will Win: like with Ejiofor I have faith that 12 Years A Slave will win the big prize and McQueen will be vindicated for Hunger and Shame.

So there you have it! My predictions for the 86th annual academy awards

Category Should Win Will Win
Best Picture 12 Years a Slave 12 Years a Slave
Best Director McQueen/Cuaron Cuaron
Best Actor Chiwetel Ejiofor Chiwetel Ejiofor
Best Actress Meryl Streep Cate Blanchet
Best Supporting Actor Jared Leto Jared Leto
Best Supporting Actress Julia Roberts Lupita Nyong’o
Best Writing – Original Screenplay Spike Jonze Spike Jonze
Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay Before Midnight -Delpy/Linklater/Hawke 12 Years a Slave – Joe Walker
Best Animated Feature Film Frozen Frozen
Best Foreign Language Film The Hunt The Great Beauty
Best Documentary – Feature Act Of Killing 20 Feet from Stardom
Best Documentary – Short Subject (havent seen any and the will win is based on buzz) The Lady in Number 6
Best Live Action Short Film (havent seen any and the will win is based on buzz) Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything).
Best Animated Short Film Get A Horse Mr Hublot
Best Original Score Arcade Fire – Her Steven Price Gravity
Best Original Song Let it Go – Frozen Let it Go – Frozen
Best Sound Editing Gravity Gravity
Best Sound Mixing Gravity Gravity
Best Production Design The Great Gatsby The Great Gatsby
Best Cinematography Emannuel Lubezki – Gravity Emannuel Lubezki – Gravity
Best Makeup and Hairstyling Dallas Buyers Club Dallas Buyers Club
Best Costume Design The Great Gatsby 12 Years a Slave
Best Film Editing Gravity Gravity
Best Visual Effects Gravity Gravity

I will be for the first time attempting to live tweet the event so come follow me on twitter and join in on the madness! Don’t forget to let me know what you think in the comments below!

The Wolf of Wall Street – A Review

Martin Scorsese directs Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall street a story about the penny stock broker from New York who was dubbed the moniker that lends itself to the title of the file by the Forbes magazine after he got rich quick and was a subject of the FBI investigation.
The movie while winning rave reviews for Di Caprio’s brave performance of Jordan Belfort it is also generating a lot of discussion about and dividing the critics on either side of the debate whether Scorsese glorifies the debauchery and the excess and the life that Belfort led. While the argument does merit a discussion but anyone who looks at Di Caprio’s depiction of Belfort and thinks to himself I want a life like that is wrong in the head from the get go.


The story kicks off with a midget-throwing competition in the offices of Jordan Belfort and it cuts back to his origins where we are introduced to Hannah played by McConaughey who takes Jordan under his wings and shares the secrets of how to make money on the Wall Street and introduces the then greenhorn Belfort to the world of cocaine and circle jerks.
What follows from there on is the rags to riches story that seems pretty incredible and therein lies the attraction to the aspirational attributes of Belfort’s life. A penthouse suite at the trump towers, a huge yacht with its own helicopter, a white Ferrari like that from Miami Vice and the other pleasures that riches bring. Belfort is not shy to flaunt his excesses either and that is where it crosses the line over to the morally corrupt, vapid, believing his own bullshit territory.

Belfort delivers many a motivational speeches to his army of stock brokers and you see the madness to make more money than he can spend in his eyes and DiCaprio is brilliant when delivering those speeches, making you really question his sanity but while still admiring his ability to inspire those around him.


DiCaprio is assisted by Jonah Hill who plays Donnie Azoff a guy who walks up to Belfort in a diner and says show me your paycheck and I will quit my job and come work for you. It goes from there to drug addled insanity after insanity which gets Belfort tied up on an airplane to rendering him nearly dead after he over doses and wrecks his car while driving back home. His blonde trophy wife is played by Margot Robbie who is just as vapid if not more but still manages to evoke some sympathies because Belfort manages to be a bigger Ass. Kyle Chandler plays the FBI agent out to get Belfort and I wish he had been given more material to sink his teeth into.

Therein lies the problem with the movie – the pacing is a bit off – there are scenes that don’t feel honest –like the conversation Jordan has with his father after a blow out over the expenses. It feels forced and just something that the script writer Terrence Winter put in because it was there in the book written by Jordan Belfort. Some scenes feel over long and not entirely necessary – like the board meeting that Jordan is having with his friends over the choice of midgets – it goes on and on and on and serves no real purpose – we have by then already established they are all horrible human beings. There are also scenes that you wish had more time given to them like the one where Denim the FBI agent played by Chandler goes to meet Jordan on his boat.

Also another problem with the script is the lack of any explanation of what exactly was Jordan Belfort accused of. Peddling penny stock is hardly a crime, insider trading is a crime and the shenanigans that Belfort pulls on the Steve Madden deal are worthy of a SEC investigation but where he gets all the cash from is not clear. There is no explanation provided for the cash that Belfort has lying around and that he wishes to put away in the Swiss bank.

When Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio collaborate it is cinematic gold – The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island. The Wolf of Wall Street is not in the same league though. While Scorsese tries to stay as close to the story as possible the fact that Belfort is such a despicable human being who rapes and slaps his own wife is not a character you can connect with on any real level. Despite this the movie is immensely entertaining. The one reason why a lot of people are so divided over the movie could be because Belfort does not get justifiably punished for all his crimes and ends up with a resort like jail sentence and a post-jail career in motivational speaking.

This is not a perfect movie in any regards technically or story telling wise but it is finds its wings when Leonardo DiCaprio is in his element, that one scene where he is caught in a dilemma about whether or not to accept the FBI deal is a brilliant piece of acting . Watch it for Martin Scorsese tries something different yet again and does not seem to be bound any particular genre. Watch it because Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the – if not THE best actors working today.

The Great Gatsby – A Review

Baz Luhrmann returns to familiar territory of star-crossed lovers and this time the landscape shifts to 1920s New York. Reuniting with his Romeo Leonardo as The Great Gatsby Baz Luhrmann tries to breathe fresh life into this great american novel which I unfortunately have never read. The movie stars Carey Mulligan as Daisy, Tobey Maguire as Nick, Joel Edgerton as Tom, Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan Baker and an almost unrecognizable Isla Fisher as Myrtle.
Not being familiar with F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel I went in knowing only that it was set in the 1920s era of debauchery, that it was about two star crossed lovers and that it was in the voice of Nick Caraway and in this case Tobey Maguire (and that thought made me squeamish because I am not the biggest Maguire fan). But I happen to love Leonardo DiCaprio’s choice in movies and Carey Mulligan in my opinion is one of the best underrated actresses working today.
There are a lot of era-specific references with the Wall Street boom, the end of the prohibition, loose morals, the plight of the working class and the excesses of the rich. Fitzgerald’s story seems to have influenced many writers and stories to have come afterwards and since this was the first time I was seeing Gatsby I immediately thought of Don Draper when Gatsby’s roots are revealed.
Luhrmann is known for his over-the-top style when it comes to set decorations, choice of music and even the camera angles he chooses, these choices render some of the story elements coming across as jerky and incoherent. The first party which Tom whisks Nick away to is a fine example of the Luhrmann excess. Garish red interiors to a saxophone player on the fire escape to signature zooming in of the camera. The point of the scene was lost on me until the point when Maguire starts’ mouthing what I assume is the prose from the novel verbatim. While I marveled at the beauty of the prose and am compelled to pick up the novel for a read I have to dock a point from Luhrmann as it is a clear sign of weakness that he has to rely on the exact prose to convey the story.
The movie takes off after the second party with the introduction to Gatsby, with the fireworks in the background and a grand symphony to herald the on-screen reveal of DiCaprio as Gatsby. DiCaprio is an actor who doesn’t cease to surprise, he could just as easily have caved into what is Luhrmann’s over the top style and played Gatsby as the self-assured suave nouveau riche gentleman but what DiCaprio does is infuse a sense of earnestness and honesty to the character that is absolutely endearing. You see the cracks beneath the veneer and you see Gatsby second guessing and enquiring in the most earnest way if the party is to everyone’s liking but then again you are left second guessing yourself if this is a man who is so sure in his ways that this candor and modesty is an act to make the guest feel welcome. DiCaprio’s performance is enough to convey the eternal hopefulness that he lives by dreaming that Daisy will be his , it is not required for Maguire to tell us that “he is the most hopeful man I’ve ever come across”. I could sit here and extoll what a wonderful job DiCaprio does here and how he is reason enough to see the movie but then that would take up a lot more words than I intend to write for the review. Just take my word for it- he is the warmth of Jack (titanic), the paranoia of Howard(aviator) and the slightly unhinged Teddy (Shutter Island) all rolled into one fine package and he looks better than ever in a finely cut suit. And that scene at Nick’s place where Gatsby comes over for tea with Daisy is so awkward and charismatic that you are instantly on team-gatsby and willing for him to win daisy over.


Of the other cast Carey Mulligan is sufficiently coquettish and breathes life into the character of daisy which could have just as easily become a despicable character given her ambiguous overtures towards Gatsby and the eventual fateful climax. Tobey Maguire is annoying but not for all the usualy reasons I find him annoying – he is annoying because of Luhmann’s incompetencies he makes Tobey the medium through which major passages from the novel are spoon fed to the audience. Outside of that he is alright. Joel Edgerton has a caricature of a character to portray and he does so well but isn’t given a lot of room to grow. Elizabeth Debicki surprised me the most in the short amount of time she is allowed on screen as Jordan baker. Not only is she a statuesque beauty who commands screen presence like the leading ladies of the yesteryears but her almost wry confidence is very intriguing and she was the one character I wanted to know more about . Amitabh Bachchan makes a Hollywood debut that should have happened sooner considering his talent, here as the oily creepy jewish mobster Meyer Wolfsheim is effective in the very brief screen time, but sufficient to prove that he has a better accent than his daughter in law. I wish he gets a meatier role courtesy of The Great Gatsby.

With Gatsby Lurhmann’s tried to recreate the 1920s via the production design and the costumes and most of it checks all the boxes. Catherine martin is sure to be one of the names at the top of the list come award season for her work on both the costumes and production design. With Shawn Carter a.k.a. Jay Z acting as producer and also musical contributor introduces one hell of an OST that will also feature a few contenders. In my opinion the top three songs are Lana Del Ray’s “Young and beautiful”, Jack White’s “Love is blindness” and Florence Welsh’s “Over the love” . I could and have listened to LDR’s young and beautiful on a loop.


While not perfect The Great Gatsby is perfectly satisfying because of the hopeful earnestness of Leonardo DiCaprio. He is the hero you cheer for till the very end , when he looks up from the swimming pool as the phone rings hoping that it is daisy calling. Watch this great american novel come to life courtsey one of the greatest working actor today watch The Great Gatsby for Leonardo DiCaprio.