Spotlight – A Review

Todd McCarthy directs Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian D’Arcy James, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery and Stanley Tucci in Spotlight a story based on true events that led to the 2002 Boston Globe expose on systematic child abuse in church that caused a global uproar and eventually a decade later got Pope Francis to publicly apologize on behalf of the catholic church.

Spotlight is the special team of investigative journalists who work in isolation from the rest of the paper following up and priming a story before it is ready for an editorial publication. Here the team consists of Ruffalo’s Mike, McAdams’ Sasha and D’Arcy’s Matt who all report to Keaton’s Robbie. While working on a story on PD numbers they are asked by Live Schreiber’s Marty Baron the new editor of Boston Globe to follow up on a story that another reporter from Boston Globe wrote a small column on about a Boston priest who molested boys across 6 parishes over 20 years and a lawyer Garabedian played by Stanley Tucci claims he can prove that the Cardinal of the Boston Archdiocese knew about it and turned a blind eye.

From here on it opens a veritable Pandora’s Box as more victims and more abusive clergy come to the notice of the spotlight team. Through one of the victims they are put in contact with a former priest who used to work at a treatment facility where these abusive priests were sent when they were accused of such wrong doings. By his estimate he thinks that as many as 8% of all priests exhibit such abusive behavior and when cross referencing records of priests sent on sick leave of other similar euphemistic terms they uncover 87 priests who may have abused children while the Cardinal looked the other way.

For a story so important they couldn’t have chosen better actors. Ruffalo, D’Arcy and Keaton are great. Rachel McAdams makes a brilliant comeback and shows what she is capable of. Liev Schreiber underplays the editor role with a nuanced performance, there are no histrionics or loud outburst but a methodical dedication to the job at hand. The only complaint I have is with Ruffalo – while in most part earnest and believable the thing he does with his mouth when he talks in a manner that is supposed to seem like a Bostonian accent is weird. He sounds like that annoying person at the table who always speaks with his mouth full.

The editing and pacing of the movie is where this goes a bit haywire. There are no crescendos, no high points in the movie – it mostly maintains the same pace throughout and feels overlong. The story keeps shifting focus from the spotlight team writing the story, Tucci fighting the case, other auxiliary characters who appear to be shady but aren’t really bad eventually and this whole plot about Keaton pondering over why the Boston globe didn’t cover the news 20 years ago seems to allude to some complicity on the part of John Slattery which doesn’t go anywhere. There are many amazing support characters like Phil Saviano the leader of the victims organization, Patrick the junkie father of one who is garabedian’s client who agrees to be interviewed by Ruffalo, Billy Cudrup as the sleazy lawyer with a conscience Eric Macleish but they unfortunately are not the focus of the story and the procedural investigation is what takes up more of the story’s time and it is eventually what hurts the narrative.

Spotlight is a very important story that needed to be told. The acting is not bad and neither is the direction but there is something missing that makes me question whether this is really the best film of the year. Certainly one of the most important stories of our time and within a confused narrative and directionless acting there are little gems of insight like when the former priest who studied this phenomenon in abusive priests says that the vow of celibacy is one of the primary reasons for this behavior. Or when Matt played by D’Arcy goes and drops a stack of newspapers when the story breaks on the front porch of another abusive priest who lives in his neighborhood. Or how McAdam’s devout catholic grandmother asks for water half way into reading the story. Or when on the sunday when the story breaks and Robbie and Mike come to the newspaper office and there are no picketer or how the usual newspaper phone lines are not ringing but the Spotlight lines for the victims is ringing off-the-hook. It is moments like these that lift the story and make it worthwhile.

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Oscar 2015 Predictions

Scoff all you want at the irrelevance of the Oscars or any number of award ceremonies the fact remains that the Oscars are a big deal – studios spend millions of their hard earned money on “for your consideration” adverts in trade magazine in hopes that one of theirs will win the coveted golden man and they will get to use “academy award winner actor/director” in their playbill for all eternity. An “academy award winner/nominee” tag breeds instant credibility and lends weight to how interested a casual viewer would be in deciding on which movie to spend their money on.

Oscars often is an incredible platform for the culmination of a long career being honoured with a standing ovation or the start of a great one when an ingénue stumbles her way up the stairs to collect the gold piping the veterans to the finishing line. It is also one big party with plenty of pageantry and for all these reasons and more I for one always eagerly anticipate the Oscars each year even in the year that was less than spectacular movie-wise.

Last year I had an incredible 21/22 prediction of the Oscar race which would have made me a rich man if I was the betting sorts. But this year I am not so sure of putting my money because the list of nominees is a strange one and I have a feeling that a number of the deserving winners are going to be passed up I favour of those that are more closely aligned with the overall taste of the general academy members demographic  Old-White-Male.

Supporting Actress

Patricia Arquette in “Boyhood”

Laura Dern in “Wild”

Keira Knightley in “The Imitation Game”

Emma Stone in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

Meryl Streep in “Into the Woods”

Who should/Will win: This one is a vice-like lock – it is Patricia Arquette in Boyhood. It takes an incredible amount of commitment to be associated to a project for 12 years with no real payoff in sight. Patricia Arquette as the mother in this family drama about growing up is incredible in her strength, her vulnerability and her normalness. She is every mother everywhere going through everyday struggles. It takes special talent to portray a real everyday woman on screen and she does it better than anyone else. Her not winning would be a real shame because dedicated as I am to worshiping Meryl Streep (and she was incredible in Into the Woods) I want Arquette to win over Streep.

Supporting Actor

Robert Duvall in “The Judge”

Ethan Hawke in “Boyhood”

Edward Norton in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

Mark Ruffalo in “Foxcatcher”

J.K. Simmons in “Whiplash”

Who should/Will win: J.K. Simmons as the jazz teacher from hell in the incredibly taut Whiplash is a clear winner here. You will shudder at the thought of the atrocities he makes the young Milles Teller go through. The only possible upset could be in the form of Robert Duvall who the academy might want to pay their dues to before it is too late. But my money is on Simmons.

Animated Feature

“Big Hero 6” Don Hall, Chris Williams and Roy Conli

“The Boxtrolls” Anthony Stacchi, Graham Annable and Travis Knight

“How to Train Your Dragon 2” Dean DeBlois and Bonnie Arnold

“Song of the Sea” Tomm Moore and Paul Young

“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” Isao Takahata and Yoshiaki Nishimura

This is a strange one – generally there is a strong Pixar presence and despite the presence of Big Hero 6 I find it hard to believe it could realistically win the award. I loved HTTYD the first one and that was robbed of an award that went to Toy Story 3 the second one while solid didn’t have the heart that the first one did. And when Pixar and DreamWorks cannot be picked a clear winner it is usually one of the foreign studios who sneaks a win. I would still like to see HTTYD2 win as a consolation for the first feature snub.

Cinematography

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Emmanuel Lubezki

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Robert Yeoman

“Ida” Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski

“Mr. Turner” Dick Pope

“Unbroken” Roger Deakins

It is a crying shame that Hoyte Van Hoytema who manned the camera for Nolan’s Interstellar does not find a mention here. For all its faults Interstellar was visually the most incredible movie this year and he deserved not only a nomination but also a win for the incredible visuals.

Who should win: Robert Yeoman – for the incredible whimsy and energy he infused on screen to complement the story by Wes Anderson in The Grand Budapest Hotel. He has shot each of the Anderson movie with the exception of Fantastic Mr Fox and their partnership has been incredible.

Who Will Win: Emmanuel Lubezki for Birdman for those beautifully crafted shots that intertwined the different spaces back and front of the stage in the claustrophobic space of the theatre. Lubezki managed to fill the screen with dynamic visuals without ever crowding the space. And with the love that the academy seems to be having for Birdman I am pretty sure Lubezki will be going for Gold number 2 a year after he won for Gravity.

 

 

Visual Effects

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Bryan Grill and Dan Sudick

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett and Erik Winquist

“Guardians of the Galaxy” Stephane Ceretti, Nicolas Aithadi, Jonathan Fawkner and Paul Corbould

“Interstellar” Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter and Scott Fisher

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” Richard Stammers, Lou Pecora, Tim Crosbie and Cameron Waldbauer

Who Should/Will Win: Interstellar – there shouldn’t even be any discussion about this. To take what is essentially a life’s work in theoretical physics based on the concepts of worm hole, time travel and singularity among other scientific concepts and to turn it into petabytes of data based on 4-whiteboard-long equations and to turn that into stunning visuals is an incredible achievement that cannot be ignored.

Documentary Feature

“CitizenFour” Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy and Dirk Wilutzky

“Finding Vivian Maier” John Maloof and Charlie Siskel

“Last Days in Vietnam” Rory Kennedy and Keven McAlester

“The Salt of the Earth” Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and David Rosier

“Virunga” Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara

Who Should/Will Win: I loved Finding Vivian Maier and found it to be incredibly moving but in CitizenFour we have something incredible – one man’s courageous/traitorous action to expose a nation’s overreach in the name of national security and the an incredible tale showing the importance of the fourth estate of democracy – that of Journalism. CitizenFour should in all likelihood but who knows if the bureaucracy can strong arm a notoriously spineless academy.

Foreign Language Film

“Ida” Poland

“Leviathan” Russia

“Tangerines” Estonia

“Timbuktu” Mauritania

“Wild Tales” Argentina

With many acts of anti-Semitism happening around the world and the fact that it also got nominated for best cinematography bodes really well for Ida – a story of a young nun about to take her vows who discovers a terrible family secret. But I have also heard fantastic things about Leviathan as well. But seeing as how America feels politically about Russia I am willing to bet that Ida from Poland will take home the gold.

 

 

Sound Editing

“American Sniper” Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Martín Hernández and Aaron Glascock

“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” Brent Burge and Jason Canovas

“Interstellar” Richard King

“Unbroken” Becky Sullivan and Andrew DeCristofaro

Sound Mixing

“American Sniper” John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff and Walt Martin

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and Thomas Varga

“Interstellar” Gary A. Rizzo, Gregg Landaker and Mark Weingarten

“Unbroken” Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and David Lee

“Whiplash” Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley

Now up until this year these categories used to baffle me – what the hell is the difference – then upon doing some basic research I found an apt analogy sound editing is analogous to picking the right ingredients for the dish while sound mixing is the actual cooking bit. It is particularly important with most movies being released in multiple formats including IMAX where the immersive sound requirement need the cooking to be done at a different pressure. So with that being clarified what we are looking for is the movie that had the best sonic ingredients and the one that presented the best dish.

Sound Editing: Interstellar should but American Sniper most like will.

Sound Mixing: Whiplash should but Birdman most likely will.

 Original Score

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Alexandre Desplat

“The Imitation Game” Alexandre Desplat

“Interstellar” Hans Zimmer

“Mr. Turner” Gary Yershon

“The Theory of Everything” Jóhann Jóhannsson

Of all the times that Zimmer should have won he wasn’t even nominated and to think that he got nominated for Interstellar is some sort of an internal academy joke. His background score for the inter-galactic adventure was the second worst thing about the movie only to be topped by Matthew McConaughey.

Who Should Win: Johann Johannsson for Theory of everything.

Who Will Win: Alexandre Desplat probably for The Imitation Game.

Original Song

“Everything Is Awesome” from “The Lego Movie”

Music and Lyric by Shawn Patterson

“Glory” from “Selma”

Music and Lyric by John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn

“Grateful” from “Beyond the Lights”

Music and Lyric by Diane Warren

“I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from “Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me”

Music and Lyric by Glen Campbell and Julian Raymond

“Lost Stars” from “Begin Again”

Music and Lyric by Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois

After Happy and Let it go from last year this year is an abysmal showing of songs that are not necessarily that memorable. Academy might want to pay homage to a fading music legend in the form Glen Campbell or probably recognize the civil rights drama Selma which has been shut out from so many other major categories.

Film Editing

“American Sniper” Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach

“Boyhood” Sandra Adair

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Barney Pilling

“The Imitation Game” William Goldenberg

“Whiplash” Tom Cross

I would be happy for either Whiplash or Boyhood to win this – one for a tautly edited movie that does not relent the pace until the very last minute and delivers one hell of story and the other for seamlessly editing 12 years’ worth of footage without the need for subtitling which year we are in. my money though is on Boyhood.

Adapted Screenplay

“American Sniper” Written by Jason Hall

“The Imitation Game” Written by Graham Moore

“Inherent Vice” Written for the screen by Paul Thomas Anderson

“The Theory of Everything” Screenplay by Anthony McCarten

“Whiplash” Written by Damien Chazelle

After being shut out the best director category it is only justified that Damien Chazelle should win for Whiplash. Or even Anthony McCarten for the brilliantly uplifting The Theory of Everything.  But I have a Feeling Graham Moore’s sub-par adaptation will take home the little shiny man.

Original Screenplay

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo

“Boyhood” Written by Richard Linklater

“Foxcatcher” Written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Screenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness

“Nightcrawler” Written by Dan Gilroy

With the exception of Foxcatcher we have 4 exceptionally original and entertaining screenplays 2 of which are my absolute favourites. It would be a true crowning for Richard Linklater who has given us such modern masterpieces as The Before Trilogy and the most recent Boyhood. To take everyday existence and to elevate to the level of art is what cinematic excellence should be about. Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler is also absolutely brilliant in its intensity and the honesty with which the characters are written. There is no redeeming quality to be found in Gilroy’s Lou Bloom and I would love an upset win for Nightcrawler but it is unlikely to happen. More likely that Iñárritu and his team will pip Linklater to the post.

Now the playbill-worthy awards

Director

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Alejandro G. Iñárritu

“Boyhood” Richard Linklater

“Foxcatcher” Bennett Miller

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Wes Anderson

“The Imitation Game” Morten Tyldum

I love Miller’s previous works but swap him out for Theory of Everything’s Marsh or Whiplash’s Chazelle and I would be a happier man. But life isn’t fair and Linklater will probably not win but Iñárritu will. Linklater’s achievement cannot find any parallels – for a director to invest 12 years of his life and to get the same commitment from his actors to tell a simple tale of a boy coming of age is courageous to say the least. In comparison Inarritu’s masterful telling of a struggle of an actor trying to silence the demons in his head and master his craft while not entirely original is still a glorious triumph. I would like Linklater to win for all the times that he wasn’t even nominated for his Before series but I wouldn’t be too upset if Iñárritu won. But I do miss Fincher not being nominated for Gone Girl.

Actor

Steve Carell in “Foxcatcher”

Bradley Cooper in “American Sniper”

Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Imitation Game”

Michael Keaton in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

Eddie Redmayne in “The Theory of Everything”

For me it is a two-horse race between the Academy favourite Michael Keaton who fits the bill of Old-White-Male perfectly but what Eddie Redmayne achieves in Theory of Everything is incredible. Portraying living legend Stephen Hawking Redmayne manages to infuse the humour that is trademark Hawking – he does not just act like hawking he becomes hawking , gait, humour and the shrinking body and everything.

Actress

Marion Cotillard in “Two Days, One Night”

Felicity Jones in “The Theory of Everything”

Julianne Moore in “Still Alice”

Rosamund Pike in “Gone Girl”

Reese Witherspoon in “Wild”

In what is possibly the weakest assemblage of performances by a lead this category inspires very little confidence. Felicity Jones was brilliant as Hawking’s long-suffering wife but in a way her performance isn’t showy enough – it is subtle and it is perfect but Academy generally does not go for that sort of thing. Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl was brilliant but I don’t think it is meaty enough for her to score a win. I think this one will go to Julianne Moore as she plays an academician going through Alzheimer’s. Moore is always brilliant in everything she does and here backed with an emotional story it is a sure fire lock for the best actress nod.

Best Picture

“American Sniper” Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Andrew Lazar, Bradley Cooper and Peter Morgan,Producers

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Alejandro G. Iñárritu, John Lesher and James W. Skotchdopole, Producers

“Boyhood” Richard Linklater and Cathleen Sutherland, Producers

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales and Jeremy Dawson, Producers

“The Imitation Game” Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky and Teddy Schwarzman, Producers

“Selma” Christian Colson, Oprah Winfrey, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, Producers

“The Theory of Everything” Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce and Anthony McCarten, Producers

“Whiplash” Jason Blum, Helen Estabrook and David Lancaster, Producers

It is again a two horse race for me – both quality pictures just different in their scope. Inarritu’s birdman is the more Academy friendly of the two subjects as it deals with the world of blockbuster movies, actors, theatre and the pursuit of honing their craft and with a tight screenplay and cracking performances it is a worthy contender. Then there is the crowning achievement of Richard Linklater which is the critics and fan darling and the one everyone wants to win but who knows how the academy decides. There are reports that there are voices within the academy that fails to see art in what boyhood achieves as it is very realistic and very normal – the fact that it took 12 years to make and it flips the concept of epic and generational film on its head it art enough. It would be a very brave move from the academy and a validation of its relevance if Boyhood does indeed win. There is an outside chance that Harvey Weinstein sneaks in surprise with The Imitation Games which is not a bad movie by any regards but not worthy of a win. Come 22nd February and we will see.

Category Should Win Will Win
Best Picture Boyhood Birdman
Best Director Richard Linklater Alejandro Iñárritu
Best Actor Eddie Redmayne Michael Keaton
Best Actress Felicity Jones Julianne Moore
Best Supporting Actor J K Simmons J K Simmons
Best Supporting Actress Patricia Arquette Patricia Arquette
Best Writing – Original Screenplay Richard Linklater – Boyhood
Dan Gilroy – Nightcrawler
Iñárritu – Birdman
Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay Damian Chazelle -Whiplash Graham Moore – The Imitation Game
Best Animated Feature Film How to train your dragon – 2 How to train your dragon – 2
Best Foreign Language Film Leviathan Ida
Best Documentary – Feature CitizenFour CitizenFour
Best Documentary – Short Subject Joanna Joanna
Best Live Action Short Film Parvaneh Parvaneh
Best Animated Short Film The Feast The Feast
Best Original Score Johann Johansson Johann Johansson
Best Original Song Glory – Selma Glory – Selma
Best Sound Editing Interstellar American Sniper
Best Sound Mixing Whiplash Birdman
Best Production Design The Grand Budapest Hotel The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Cinematography Hoyte Van Hoytema ( not nominated)
Robert Yeoman
Emanuel Lubezki
Best Makeup and Hairstyling The Grand Budapest Hotel The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Costume Design The Grand Budapest Hotel The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Film Editing Sandra Adair – Boyhood Sandra Adair – Boyhood
Best Visual Effects Interstellar Interstellar

Let me know what you think about my picks and if you agree or disagree and what are your predictions for Film industries big night! Bring on the Oscars 2015!!!

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – A Review

Alejandro Inarritu directs Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton and Naomi Watts in Birdman or The unexpected virtue of ignorance set in the world of New York’s Broadway theatre and tells the story of a washed up actor in a Mise en abyme setting.

Riggan Thompson played by Michael Keaton is a once-famous actor known for his starring role as the Birdman-the superhero in 3 movies. Long gone are the days of box office successes and adoring masses and Riggan finds himself irrelevant and artistically unsatisfied and decides to adapt a well-known and much respected playwright’s show for Broadway which needs him to find a suitable actor to fill the playbill after the current actor is injured in an accident while on set which Riggan believes was caused by him. In walks Edward Norton’s Mike a much loved theatre darling with a raging ego and a surety in his craft which seems to threaten Riggan. What enfolds is the backstage and preview shenanigans as Riggan tries to put together a show which a part of him says will resurrect him in the world of performing arts while the other voice nags at the back of his head. The cast is supported by Naomi Watts who plays Mike’s wife/partner and Andrea Riseborough who plays Laura Riggan’s girlfriend and co-actor. Emma Stone plays Sam, Riggan’s daughter and Zack Galifianakis who plays Jake Riggan’s lawyer and backer of the show, these two play a very understated but crucial supporting role which keeps this story moving forwards.

I had a major challenge with Innaritu’s Babel and found it to be an incoherent mess with a background score that was at odds with the story telling. Here too Innaritu seems to be working at a schizophrenic pace and creates an atmosphere that is so claustrophobic that it almost becomes too much to bear but then as the story starts taking shape and things start becoming a little clearer you start to appreciate the atmosphere and the almost off-beat drum score which seems to be reflecting Riggan’s state of mind and it comes together in sync only towards the end when Riggan delivers the climax at the end of his opening night. Michael Keaton is brilliant as is Edward Norton, their back and forth and their uninhibited exhibitionist portrayal of the insecurities, the vanities and the delusions that make up an actor is what carries the film. The Birdman alter-ego sequences are a genuine suspension of belief as you question yourself what the hell is actually going on and Innaritu doesn’t dumb it down for the audience to make them realize that Riggan isn’t telekinetic but plain delusional.

There is however a problem of pacing as the initial preview pieces take way too long to establish the plot points that they need to and it takes forever for the story to pick up steam, and for a movie under 2 hours it is criminal. But this is easily overcome by the dark humor and the brilliant commentary on the state of the movies today. A number of important arguments are made in the due course of natural conversations between the characters, the most relevant ones are about the cultural genocide where everything is driven by the superhero franchises and the big weekend opening numbers and the conversation that Sam has with Riggan who seems to be holding onto a romantic’s notion of what it means to be culturally relevant and to scoff at social media without understanding the power it provides and the need for its existence. It is here that the movie really succeeds. Emanuel Lubeziski’s work behind the camera is frenetic and filled with the same anxious energy that Riggan seems to possess and it takes you in to the actor’s headspace and the way he utilizes every nook and cranny of the St. James theatre it just opens up the world that exists both front and back of the stage.

Watch this movie if you want to get an insight into what drives actors, the big stars and the burnt out ones alike. What it for an incredible and unrelenting 2nd and 3rd act where Michael Keaton, Emma Stone and Edward Norton all shine bright and luminous. Michael Keaton just moved to the top of my list of actors who should take home the gold on 22nd February.