What’s awesome and what sucked at Oscars 2015

February 24, 2015 in Best Of, Entertainment, Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

NPH

Another year, another Oscars.

As with the last two years, I had a blast consulting for Taiwan’s TV broadcast team, who continue to awe me with their superhuman skills and awesomeness. Last year was a breeze with Ellen hosting, but we knew things would be tougher this year with Neil Patrick Harris doing his extravagant song and dance numbers. As it turned out, it wasn’t too bad, with the majority of the event going according to script.

Anyway, here’s what I thought was awesome about this year’s Oscars and what I thought sucked about it.

Awesome: My predictions

birdman-1024

I correctly predicted the winners of 15 categories:

-Best Picture (Birdman)
-Best Actress (Julianne Moore)
-Best Director (Alejandro González Iñárritu)
-Best Supporting Actor (JK Simmons)
-Best Supporting Actress (Patricia Arquette)
-Original Screenplay (Birdman)
-Animated Feature (Big Hero 6)
-Original Score (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
-Original Song (Selma)
-Documentary Feature (CitizenFour)
-Production Design (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
-Visual Effects (Interstellar)
-Sound Editing (American Sniper)
-Sound Mixing (Whiplash)
-Makeup and Hair (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

Even more awesome than getting these right is that in two categories the film I thought should win rather will win actually took home the gong:

-Best Actor (Eddie Redmayne) — I thought Michael Keaton had it in the bag, and judging from Batman’s reaction (and aggressive gum-chewing) it appeared he thought he had it in the bag too
– Adapted Screenplay (The Imitation Game) — I thought they’d give it to Whiplash, to be honest

My misses turned out to be:
-Editing (Whiplash)
-Cinematography (Birdman)
-Costume Design (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
-Animated Short (Feast)
-Documentary Short (Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1)
-Foreign Language Film (Ida).

In hindsight I should have gotten at least a couple of the first three right (the others were just wild guesses) but stupidly thought the Academy was going to give us some surprises.

Sucked: Boyhood not winning Best Picture or Best Director

I picked Birdman for both, but it doesn’t mean I’m not salty that Boyhood missed out on Best Picture and Best Director for Richard Linklater. Technically, Birdman is a brilliant film, but if we’re talking about the most revolutionary film, the most emotionally resonant film, the most memorable film, then Boyhood wins hands down. It’s not even close.

Damn, even that song they played every time they discussed the movie during the ceremony still gave me the chills every time.

The snub is worse than Forrest Gump beating Shawshank in 1995, or Crash’s highway robbery of Brokeback Mountain in 2006. This kind of moronic shit seems to happen every decade or so, where the Best Picture winner might be a very good film in its own right but doesn’t hold a candle to the film that should have won when you look back years later.

As for Best Director, I can see why Iñárritu won. Birdman is exceptionally directed, and in any other year I wouldn’t complain. But man, Linklater spent 12 years on this movie, and managed to turn 12 years of footage into one coherent, well-paced, and moving drama. The ambition, the foresight, the planning and the skill required to pull something like this off is unparalleled in the history of cinema, and yet Linklater somehow managed it. For me, that deserves the win.

Can’t decide if awesome or sucked: NPH as host

I can’t lie. I thought NPH was going to be the best Oscars host EVER, or at least the best since Billy Crystal. The track record was too good to ignore and his Tony’s performance was jaw-dropping.

But for whatever reason, whenever anyone hosts the Oscars they seem hamstrung by the occasion and end up producing something less than what they’re capable of. Last year Ellen was too safe. The year before, Seth McFarlane was too crass. And do I even dare mention the disaster that was Anne Hathaway (not her fault) and James Franco (all his fault)?

NPH’s opening number was solid — good supporting acts with Anna Kendrick and Jack Black plus some impressive special effects. But it felt like he was holding back.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMJVfwqvD4E

NPH’s jokes were largely deadpan, with a few eliciting chuckles but others falling flat. I think he’s the type of charming performer who does best in planned situations, because let’s face it, his improvisation could have been a lot better. The Birdman underwear stunt was a good idea, I suppose, but it generated more shocks than humour. On the whole, however, he was perfectly adequate.

I’d give NPH a solid B- on the Oscars host scale, where Billy Crystal at his best is an A+ and James Franco is an F.

Sucked: NPH’s prediction box

NPH getting Octavia Spencer to look after a glass box containing a brief case with supposed predictions he wrote several days in advance probably seemed like a good idea on paper. A bit of magic. An elaborate set up. However, the great reveal at the end — which was supposed to be NPH’s final hurrah — turned out to be a shithouse dud. Maybe he had to rush because they were running over time. Or maybe the writers couldn’t come up with anything witty backstage. But man, what a downer to end the night. He probably should have closed with another musical number if time had allowed it.

Sucked even more: reactions to NPH’s performance

Look, say NPH was unfunny and crap if you want to, but all this stuff about him being racist, insensitive and offensive is just plain dumb.  People either think too much or not enough; they jump to conclusions and make connections that aren’t really there. The complained about him “picking on” the black celebrities in the audience, such as getting David Oyelowo to read out a bad joke about the Annie remake in his exquisite British accent. They called him racist for getting Octavia Spender from the movie The Help, to “help” him look after his glass box. They said he made fun for fat people for telling her she can’t go off to get snacks.

Seriously, people! Get a hold of yourselves! They were jokes! Bad jokes, perhaps, but jokes nonetheless. Did it occur to you that he was just trying to diversify the ceremony given its highly publicized excess of white nominees? Maybe he didn’t even get a choice and was told to do so by organisers, the same people who ensured that there was an abundance of black presenters throughout the evening.

I’m telling you, the offense is misplaced. If you’re going to be offended, be offended because you expected better jokes from NPH, not because he was being insensitive.

Can’t decide if awesome or sucked: Spreading the wealth

For the first time I can remember, every single Best Picture nominee took home at least one award. And this is in an era when there are eight nominees as opposed to the old five. Maybe it’s a reflection of a world where everyone’s a winner these days.

Birdman was of course the biggest winner with four — Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay and Cinematography. The Grand Budapest Hotel was the second biggest winner as it took home a total of four gongs: three technical awards — Makeup and Hair, Costume Design, Production Design — and Original Score. Whiplash was next with three — Best Supporting Actor for JK Simmons, Editing and Sound Mixing.

The others had one each. American Sniper had Sound Editing. Eddie Redmayne took home Best Actor, the only award for The Theory of Everything. The Imitation Game got Best Adapted Screenplay. Selma got Best Original Song for Glory. And Boyhood had the deserved Best Supporting Actress for Patricia Arquette.

Everyone goes home perhaps not happy, but at least not empty handed. Even getting one of those Lego Oscar statuettes wouldn’t have been too bad.

Awesome: Everything is Awesome!

The most exciting part of the entire evening, and certainly the most scintillating performance in recent Oscars memory, has to be Everything is Awesome from The Lego Movie, as performed by Tegan and Sara and The Lonely Island. I knew the song wasn’t going to win, and they probably did as well, which is why they put in all their efforts in making the performance such an enjoyable one. And let’s face it, the movie should have not only been nominated for Best Animated Feature — it probably should have won it.

Awesome: Lady Gaga being normal and singing The Sound of Music medley

What’s going on with Lady Gaga? First she gets engaged, then she performs with Tony Bennett at the Grammy’s. And now she’s singing a Sound of Music medley at the Oscars? Has she become…conventional? Normal?

Whatever it is, she’s awesome. And her performance was awesome. She sounded like someone who could be singing in leading roles in Disney cartoons.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dSgQqSmZz6k

Sucked: John Travolta

I had a feeling they were going to do something to rectify John Travolta’s flub of Idina Menzel’s name (who has since become Adele Dazeem) at the Oscars last year. But that effort totally back fired with Travolta coming across like a total sleaze and mental case by touching Menzel’s face about four thousand times, or four thousand times too many.

Things got worse when people started pointing out what a douche he also was on the red carpet, when he grabbed Scarlett Johansson’s waist from behind and planted a big wet smooch for no apparent reason. The look she gave to the camera afterward said it all.

Awesome: Glory

Interesting that the musical performances, usually the most boring part of the Oscars, turned out to be the highlights of this year’s ceremony. Common and John Legend’s performance of Glory from Selma was a tour de force, bringing audiences to tears. David Oyelowo was captured with tears streaming all over his face. Oprah of course was crying. And for some reason even Chris Pine had a salty discharge running down his cheek. As my wife said, you never know with these great actors whether it’s genuine!

To top it off, Common and John Legend backed up the performance with one of, if not the best, speech of the night when they captured the award for Best Original Song shortly after. It was clearly prepared in advance, but it sent one of the two strongest messages of the night — the other being Patricia Arquette’s plea for gender equality.

Sucked: Nothing for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

dawn

Take a good look at this photo. It is an ape. Riding a horse. With a gun in his hand. You can’t tell me this is not the best thing ever.

And yet not a single award. It even lost out on its only nomination for Best Visual Effects to Interstellar. Disgrace.

I’m hoping the Academy is doing what it did with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, when they waited for the final film, The Return of the King, to rain down the accolades it deserves. July 2016 is when the third film in the Apes series will be released, so I guess Oscars 2017 will be the year! Bwahahahaha!

Movie Review: A Most Violent Year (2014)

February 24, 2015 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

A Most Violent Year

Now that the Oscars are over I’m going to continue my movie reviews with a huge snub. For whatever reason, the critically acclaimed A Most Violent Year was not even on any radars this Oscars season, which is strange considering it features so many critic-pleasing characteristics — a unique premise, moral quandaries, superb performances, gripping drama, crafty action, and that solemn, Oscar-bait feel of a top-class production.

Written and directed by JC Chandor (previously best known for Margin Call), A Most Violent Year is set in 1981, widely regarded as one of New York’s most violent years. Oscar Isaac (Finding Llewyn Davis, The Two Faces of January) is Abel Morales, the seemingly upright owner of a heating oil company on the verge of a major breakthrough. But when his oil trucks begin to get hijacked, making him to lose not just money but also precious reputation, Abel finds himself being painted into a corner and forced to take drastic action. At the same time, a local assistant district attorney (David Oyelowo) begins to target Abel for alleged anti-competitive practices and tax evasion.

A Most Violent Year, despite its name, is not a particularly violent movie by today’s standards. What it lacks in violence, the film makes up in tension, atmosphere and style, though the presentation is grounded firmly in reality. In an age where protagonists are typically remarkable people with otherworldly skills, experiences or attributes, Abel is portrayed as an ordinary man with real fears and emotions like you and me. Unlike typical modern crime thrillers, are no criminal masterminds in this film, no outrageous coincidences, no expert marksmen or world-class racing car drivers in getaway cars.

And yet, rather than coming across as dull, the film becomes actually more compelling because it enables us to genuinely sympathise and empathise with the characters and their predicaments. Overexposure to onscreen surrealism has made most of us numb, so it’s refreshing to be reminded that, hey, guns are scary; dealing with mafia people is scary; burglars are scary; police looking into your business — even if it’s perfectly legitimate — is scary.

None of this would have been possible, of course, without Chandor’s skilful direction and script, which prove that he is a filmmaker who has clearly studied the classic works of the genre and the techniques of the masters. Rather than loud and shaky, the action sequences are smooth, slick and suspenseful, notwithstanding the lack of explosions and rapid cuts. Rather than pretentious and dull, the silences and lingering shots actually have meaning.

The other key element is the central performance by Isaac, who is destined for stardom and will apparently appear in the next Star Wars movies. He’s a tremendous talent who deserved recognition for this controlled and charismatic performance where anger, desperation and fear are all delivered with nuance and subtlety. It’s perhaps not a stretch to say he channels a young Al Pacino’s portrayal of Michael Corleone.

All of the supporting actors are very good too, especially Jessica Chastain as Abel’s astute wife, whose father is implied as not being the most upstanding citizen. David Oyelowo, who got a whole lot of attention at the Oscars ceremony for his Selma snub, is also solid, as are Albert Brooks as Abel’s lawyer and Elyes Gabel as one of Abel’s troubled employees.

I will readily admit that it is not a film for most modern average movie-goers, who tend to expect a lot of things to happen on the screen at all times. A Most Violent Year has a deliberately measured pace I would have found slow in my youth, and it adopts a “less in more” mentality in its execution some might find dull. While it is undeniably interesting, I would not be surprised if others wonder what the fuss is all about.

This is a ultimately story about a good man trying to survive in a corrupt world, and having to make some very difficult choices and compromises along the way. Gritty and brooding, and powered by Chandor’s self-assured approach, A Most Violent Year harks back to crime classics like Goodfellas, Heat and even The Godfather. It’s of course not quite on the level of those epics, but it is still a classy, well-executed film that commands your attention and respect.

4.25 stars out of 5