2016 Movie Preview

hail caesar preview

January is hard for moviegoers who’ve already caught up with most of the late-year Oscar nominees. But while the world sees The Force Awakens again, and I watch World of Tomorrow on a loop (now available on Netflix!), let us take a look at the movies we’ll be seeing later in this great and promising year of 2016.

The Five Movies I Can’t Wait to See: 

Hail, Caesar! – I put this movie on my “Most Excited”list last year, saying I wasn’t sure it would actually come out in 2015, and here we are. The Coen Brothers’ latest will have its premiere at the Berlin Film Festival. I don’t know what to say about this one. I’m a huge Coen Brothers fan, the trailer makes it look awesome, and the cast (including Josh Brolin, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, and Channing Tatum) is full of great actors. (February 5)

Kubo and the Two Strings – Just the fact that Laika made ParaNoman, a strong contender for the best animated movie of the past ten years, is enough to get me excited for whatever they do next. The gorgeous-looking trailer I saw before The Force Awakens is only icing on the anticipation cake. (August 19)

Moana – You know I’m a Disney buff. Frozen was a mega-hit, but this is the moment of truth. The first female-led/princess animated Disney movie in a post-Frozen world. The Polynesian setting and the involvement of Ron Clements and John Musker (two of Disney’s finest) has me very excited. (November 26)

How to Talk to Girls at PartiesThis is a movie about boys trying to pick up alien girls. This is a movie that stars Nicole Kidman. This is a movie based on a Neil Gaiman short story. This will be the first movie directed by John Cameron Mitchell in six years. His debut feature, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, is one of the movies that turned me into a cinephile. I can’t wait. (Release Date TBD)

ZamaLucrecia Martel’s La Cienaga is one of the most significant and groundbreaking South American movies of the last twenty years. Eight years after her last movie, she returns with this epic literary adaptation, based on the novel of the same name by Antonio di Benedetto and produced by Pedro Almodovar, Zama is one of the largest Latin American productions ever made. Here’s hoping it’s also a great film. (Release Date TBD)

Last Year’s Movies That Will Be Released in 2016 (And I’m Most Excited For):

The WitchGood horror movies are hard to come by, and the reaction from last year’s Sundance spell out good things for this “New Englang Folk-Tale”. Plus, the trailer already looks creepy as hell. (February 26)

The Lobster – I already saw Yorgos Lanthimos’s English-language debut at the New York Film Festival, but if I’m being honest, I’m looking forward to watching it again more than I am looking forward to most films coming out this year. (March 11)

Green Room – A punk band is held hostage by a group of violent skinheads in this independent thriller. The big selling point for me here is director Jeremy Saulnier, who made my Best of 2014 list with Blue Ruin. (April 1)

A Bigger Splash – Tilda Switon. Ralph Fiennes. Dakota Johnson. I love all of them. Throw in Matthias Shoenaerts, who whatever is a fine actor, and director Luca Guadagnino, who has already proven to have a stylish and sumptuous eye in I Am LoveI’m in. (May 13)

Maggie’s Plan – One of the movies I regret not being able to catch at the New York Film Festival, Rebecca Miller’s romantic comedy stars Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke, and Julianne Moore, all great actors currently doing some of the best work of their careers. (May 20)

Movies I’m Cautiously Optimistic About:

Everybody Wants Some Richard Linklater often makes great movies. Before Midnight and Boyhood were both among my favorites of their respective years, but he also sometimes make merely ok movies. The trailer for this spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused makes me think it could go either way. (April 15) 

The BFG – If Lincoln and Bridge of Spies are any indication, Steven Spielberg is still going strong. This year will see Spielberg go back to family entertainment with an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s novel about a big friendly giant. Here’s hoping this is an E.T. and not a Hook. (July 1)

La La LandThe first (and only) image released so far makes this look like a classic Hollywood musical. I love classic Hollywood musicals. I also loved when Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone played lovers in Crazy, Stupid, Love. I’m hoping this will be great, even if I wasn’t crazy about director Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash. (July 15)

Julieta It’s always worth it to get excited about a new Pedro Almodovar movie. He’s been hit and miss recently. I’m nervous because his last movie, I’m So Excited!was one of his weakest, but even that was still pretty fun. (Release Date TBD)

The Lost City of ZJames Gray is a director best known for making social realistic dramas like Two Loversand melodramatic period pieces like The Immigrant. His next movie is an adventure about a 1925 expedition to find a lost city in the Amazon. Sounds unusual, and ambitious, and it has my attention. (Release Date TBD)

#52FilmsByWomen Somewhere (2010)

Screen shot 2016-01-23 at 1.44.37 a.m.

Read more about the 52 Films by Women project. 

Why hasn’t there been a new Sofia Coppola in three years? Yes, I know she was supposed to direct The Little Mermaid for Universal until the project fell through, and I know A Very Murray Christmas is available on Netflix, but that’s just not the same. Sure, the Bill Murray christmas special is fun, but it’s feels much more like, well, a Bill Murray special than a Sofia Coppola joint. This is all to say Somwhere made me miss Sofia Coppola.

Ever since she broke out big with Lost in Translationit’s been clear that Coppola’s interest lie in mood much more than in any kind of plot. Somewhere is the least “plotty” of her movies. The protagonist is movie star Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), who lives a decadent and unfulfilling life at the Chateau Mormont in Los Angeles. The movie opens with him driving his black ferrari on a deserted speedway. Coppola lingers on this image of a man driving his car in circles over and over again, every lap faster than the last. This seems to be the vein of Johnny’s existence. He has a set of sexy twins do an elaborate pole dance in his hotel room, and falls asleep before they’ve finished. Later, the falls asleep again, this time midway through foreplay with a woman he just met at a party.

Coppola, daughter of cinematic genius Francis, grew up in a family full of famous and successful people. Her movies -from her very first one to the last- seem to be obsessed with two subjects: fame and loneliness. Somewhere is the portrait of a man whose celebrity has rendered his existence redundant. The woman I mentioned above, the one who saw Johnny fall asleep mid-sex; he didn’t have to do anything to get in bed with her. He only introduced himself to her, then the camera cuts to him tearing up her blouse. Immediate satisfaction, that’s what Johnny’s life is about. And it’s become fairly meaningless.

The other main character of this story is Johnny’s daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning). Halfway through the film, Cleo moves in with Johnny after her mother goes through an unspecified crisis. Cleo fits in a somewhat familiar space for children of divorce, feeling as preoccupied about spending time with her parents, as she is resourceful to make her unusual existence alongside Johnny as mundane and “normal” as possible. She phones room service and asks for milk, butter, and cheese -as well as a cheese grinder- in order to cook some macaroni and cheese. At least Cleo has a future of her own ahead of her. She is a delightful ice skater, and she can grow up to do whatever she wants. Johnny seems to be trapped in this world.

Movies about middle-aged white men feeling sad can be easily dismissed. Especially those dealing with affluent people. The thing that sets Coppola’s movie apart is how uninterested she is in plot, and how committed she is to tell her story strictly through visual cues. From the very first scene of the car racing through the speedway, Coppola lingers on her images, giving the audience time and space to find Johnny’s loneliness, and what it means in the context of the movie. Almost every shot is static, and sticks around longer than one would expect. The late Harris Savides acts as cinematographer, and does an outstanding job of giving the movie a retro look that highlights the sharpness of the Southern California landscape.

The reason why these visual techniques are so effective, is because they serve Johnny as a character. This is not a movie that tries to make us feel sad about its protagonist. Somewhere, with its long immobile shots, is just trying to observe. The seeming banality of each scene, the monotony, the slacking rhythm, it is the formal representation of Johnny’s life. This might not be Coppola’s most sublime movie, but it’s her most formally disciplined exercise, and we could look back at it as a pivotal moment in her career. Tone and mood are some of the strongest tools of filmmaking, and Somewhere proves Coppola is a master of both.

Grade: 8 out of 10

#52FilmsByWomen: The Arbor (2010)

the arbor

Read more about the 52 Films by Women project. 

The Arbor is an unusual documentary-of-sorts that delighted critics and put its director, British video artist Clio Barnard, on the map as an exciting new voice. The Arbor adopts its name from the play by Anne Dunbar, a troubled woman who wrote about her experiences growing up in what seems like the bleakest working class town in Great Britain. The movie, however, is not an adaptation of the play. Or anything resembling a traditional biopic of the author. Its structure is something quite uncommon, and probably one of the big reasons the movie made such an impression.

Here’s what’s going in The Arbor as far as structure goes: the film intercuts between two main narratives. The first narrative is made up of reenactments of Dunbar’s autobiographical playwith Natalie Gavin playing the author’s fictionalized version of herself. These reenactments are performed on a sort of park square, in the middle of the neighborhood Dunbar grew up, and with the town’s current residents observing the producers in the background. The second narrative features interviews with people that knew Dunbar, most notably her daughter Lorraine. These interviews are unique in that Barnard has actors lip-synch to the original audio. Thus, we hear the voice of Lorraine Dunbar, but we see actor Majinder Virk saying the words.

This unconventional approach makes The Arbor an almost unclassifiable film. It is not interested in being a biography or a documentary, but in making connections between realities and fictions. It presents us with Dunbar’s purest expression of her own life in the form of her play, and juxtaposes it with a poetic, more symbolic version of Lorraine’s drama. As the film goes on, it becomes clear that Barnard is most interested in the relationship between these two women.

Lorraine was the product of a controversial relationship between Dunbar and a Pakistani man who never assumed the responsibilities of being a father (the relationship was controversial because Dunbar’s neighborhood was extremely racist). Dunbar was an alcoholic with a very delicate mind, and her relationship with Lorraine was tense to the point of catastrophe. Lorraine grew up immersed in drugs and self-hatred, never quite forgiving the mother who died at the young age of 29.

To say that the life story of Andrea and Lorraine is bleak would be putting it mildly. If this weren’t based on facts, one would say the story is too over-the-top to be believed. And the truth is Barnard’s stylistic approach makes the already tragic story sound even more dramatic. The second half of the film is disappointingly weak, especially compared to the first, as Barnard immerses herself deeper and deeper into Lorraine’s personal troubles and tragic stories. We see less of Dunbar’s play, and the movie comes to rely and more in narration and less in any sort of visuals.

The Arbor is an original movie, no one can take that away. But it is also a disappointing movie, as Barnard doesn’t seem to find a way to enhance Dunbar’s story through her structural ideas, or vice versa. The movie becomes more interested in personal docudrama and less in the form of its narrative. I feel a little heartless saying this, but Barnard’s possible exploration of big ideas such as the role of art and autobiography in intergenerational relationships seemed more interesting to me than the particulars of Andrea and Lorraine’s stories.

Grade: 6 out of 10

#52FilmsByWomen: Madeinusa (2006)

madeinusa

Introduction: 

2016 has gone off to a busy start. Among the many things that occupied my mind were the possibilities of a New Year’s Resolution that could be tied up to this blog. Along the years, I’ve used this Blog to pursue different passion projects, some of which I completed successfully, and others that were slowly abandoned (even though I still plan to complete some of them at some point!). I decided to set myself a goal for this year, and sticking to it.

This new project was inspired both by Marya E. Gates’s A Year with Women, and by the big number of people on Letterboxd who’ve set themselves the goal to watch 52 films directed by women in 2016 (one for each week of the year). I think this is a relatively modest goal, and one that I will do my best to achieve. And so, I begin this project by looking at my very own home country, with a review -the first of 52- of Claudia Llosa’s Madeinusa. 

Review: 

Saying that the country of Peru is not known for its cinema would be an understatement. Although there’s been some big commercial successes in the last couple years, the Peruvian film industry could only be described as piss-poor. This was certainly the case in 2006, when Claudia Llosa made her directorial debut with a little film called Madeinusa. Back then, I was a fourteen year-old who had grown up being in love with movies and was just starting to fall in love with cinemaMadeinusa had a very modest impact in the world of international cinema, but it made big waves in Peru.

The following statement might be clouded with the subjectivity of a fourteen year-old’s memory, but as far as I can remember, Madeinusa was the first Peruvian movie I remember being described as a good -even great- film. For some unlikely reason, I didn’t get around to seeing the movie at the time. Still, the cultural impact of Llosa’s first movie was felt. Three years later, Llosa’s second movie, The Milk of Sorrowwon the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and became the first Peruvian movie to ever get nominated for the Foreign Language Film Oscar. Llosa remains the highest profile Peruvian director working today.

Catching up with Madeinusa ten years later, it’s easy to see what Peruvian critics got so excited about. Llosa has an undoubtedly sharp directorial eye. With the help of cinematographer Raúl Pérez Ureta, Llosa creates some very striking images, even if the quality of the film itself betrays the movie’s low budget. She is particularly interested in playing with what is -and isn’t- inside the frame. The movie’s most memorable visual is a shot in which we first see a character claiming she cannot help the movie’s protagonist. Toward the end of the shot, the focus shifts within the frame, revealing an object that makes clear the woman had been lying. Not the most sophisticated tool, perhaps, but the sign of a strong interest in visual storytelling nonetheless.

Claudia Llosa is a talented director. Her talents as a writer, on the other hand, aren’t nearly as promising. I wrote about this when I reviewed Llosa’s English-language debut Aloft earlier this year, but it bears repeating: the director has a tendency to write incredibly opaque, almost impenetrable characters. Madeinusa is named after one of its two protagonists. Madeinusa (Magaly Solier) is a teenage girl who lives in a remote town in the Peruvian highlands. Salvador (Carlos de la Torre) is a city man who works for a mining company, but finds himself in Madeinusa’s village when overflowing rivers block the road he was traveling through.

Salvador has the bad luck of finding himself in this town just in time for “Holy Time”. According to the villagers’ belief, this is the time when “God is dead” -the time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday- meaning he can’t see, and thus, all sins are allowed. Kind of like The Purgeto put it in more vulgar terms. Anyway, the villagers aren’t happy about a foreigner’s presence during their “Holy Time”. Tensions rise as Salvador refuses to abide by their restrictive rules -he is basically locked in a room-, and young Madeinusa starts to show peculiar interest in him.

Neither Madeinusa nor Salvador are particularly well-defined characters. Llosa is clearly more interested in Madeinusa, quite expertly using visuals to tell us about the character, especially in the film’s first half. As the story moves along, however, dramatic momentum pushes away the kind of moments that let us glimpse into Madeinusa’s already opaque mind. Her actions in the second half of the film are only understandable as machinations of the plot, and not as actions derived from an evolving character.

Salvador’s personality is even less defined. Llosa is stronger with images than she is with actors, and Carlos de la Torre’s honestly terrible performance doesn’t help to make Salvador anything other than a cypher. His relationship to Madeinusa is impenetrable. Having these two characters at the center is a strong blow for a movie whose screenplay is already full of unnatural phrasing (for some reason Llosa uses future tense when the present continuous is much more natural in Spanish) and dialogue so rough it belongs only in the first draft of a script. The movie’s biggest weakness is that these characters relate to each other as ideas on a script and not characters on a screen.

That being said, the movie’s structure is actually quite interesting. The movie evolves into basically three different movies, all of them somewhat familiar. One is the coming-of-age story of a young woman with an oppressive family whose ambitions are bigger than her tiny village. The second, is the story of a man whose stumbling into a Twin Peaks-like town turns into quite a nightmare. The third, quite interestingly, is an ethnographic portrayal of a picturesque and bizarre community. This third identity is the one that generates the most interesting passages, but also the one that feels the most “problematic”, especially as it relates to the arcs of the two main characters.

The many quirky rituals that accompany the community’s “Holy Time”, although never supernatural, are presented with a nod toward the magical realism genre that has become synonym with Latin American literature. For example, Madeinusa believes finding a dead rat brings you luck, and thus, sprays her house with rat poison every evening in hopes of finding an unlucky rodent when she wakes up in the morning. Llosa’s depiction comes with an outsider perspective. She seems to be straddling the line between finding these rituals as endearing, but also as grotesque. They seem to be either residues of a simpler, more innocent life, or dark customs product of perverted desires. They never just are.

I would be very interested in seeing Llosa direct a screenplay that she didn’t write. The Milk of Sorrow is a much stronger film, but even that one signals a filmmaker whose directorial techniques aren’t quite enough to communicate the fuzzy symbolism of her writing.

Grade: 5 out of 10

Nominees for the 88th Annual Academy Awards

leo revenant

Predicting who will get nominated at the Oscars is all fun and games until someone gets hurt. It’s particularly hurtful when one happens to have better taste in movies than the Academy. Anyway, let’s get on with it…

Best Picture

  • The Big Short
  • Bridge of Spies
  • Brooklyn
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant 
  • Room
  • Spotlight 

Honestly, I pity the Academy. Imagine having a masterpiece right there in front of you in the form of Carol, and deciding that it isn’t as good a movie as The Revenant? I mean, talk about the Emperor’s new clothes… Just to keep my sanity I’m going to pretend the Academy recognized Carol‘s quality put it above any kind of degrading dog race. In other news, The Revenant is nominated in 12 categories -more than any other movie this year- proving that God does not exist.
How did I do in my predictions: 7 out of 8
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Spotlight

Best Director

  • Adam McKay (The Big Short)
  • George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road)
  • Alejandro G. Iñarritu (The Revenant)
  • Lenny Abrahamson (Room)
  • Tom McCarthy (Spotlight)

George Miller really saves this category from being a total dud, and this is coming from someone who really likes McCarthy’s subdued direction of Spotlight. Anyway, those are the only two nominees that actually deserve to be here. Needless to say, my heart weeps for Todd Haynes.
How I did in my predictions: 3 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: God save me, I think it might be Iñárritu again

Best Actor

  • Bryan Cranston (Trumbo)
  • Matt Damon (The Martian)
  • Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)
  • Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs)
  • Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)

Dakota Johnson’s Razzie-nominated performance in Fifty Shades of Grey is better than all of these nominated peformances.* It’s not two years in a row that Best Actor is the worst category at the Oscars. All this talk about women not being able to find good roles becomes especially infuriating when we reward men for doing mediocre work. Where the hell is Michael B. Jordan? He would’ve classed up this joint.
*I haven’t seen Trumbo, but I’m assured it’s not a real movie.
How I did in my predictions: 5 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who WIll Win: Leonardo DiCaprio

Best Actress

  • Cate Blanchett (Carol)
  • Brie Larson (Room)
  • Jennifer Lawrence (Joy)
  • Charlotte Rampling (45 Years)
  • Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)

Now that I’ve gotten a lot of complaining out of my system, I must say this is a pretty solid list of nominees. I know some people will be upset about Jennifer Lawrence, and I’m not a huge fan of her either, but she does give a pretty great performance in Joy. Also, Charlotte Rampling managed to get nominated!
How I did in my predictions: 4 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Brie Larson

Best Supporting Actor

  • Christian Bale (The Big Short)
  • Tom Hardy (The Revenant)
  • Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight)
  • Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies)
  • Sylvester Stallone (Creed)

This list is pretty close to what I predicted, with the groundswell of support for The Revenant pushing Tom Hardy over Idris Elba. Speaking of which, this is the second year in a row that all 20 acting nominees are white. Yup, #OscarSoWhite is alive and kicking the year of Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson (Creed), Teyonah Parris (Chiraq), and Jada Pinkett-Smith (Magic Mike XXL).
How I did in my predictions: 4 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Sylvester Stallone

Best Supporting Actress

  • Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight)
  • Rooney Mara (Carol)
  • Rachel McAdams (Spotlight)
  • Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)
  • Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)

There was a lot of controversy this year about studios wanting Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander to compete in this category when they are clearly the leads in their film. The Golden Globes nominated them in the Lead category and everything. Well, now we see it’s all for naught. They both get nominated here, and Supporting Actress remains the most unpredictable category of the year.
How I did in my predictions: 3.5 out of 5 (had Alicia Vikander getting in for Ex Machina)
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Alicia Vikander?

Best Original Screenplay

  • Bridge of Spies (Matt Charman, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen)
  • Ex Machina (Alex Garland)
  • Inside Out (Josh Cooley, Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve)
  • Spotlight (Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer)
  • Straight Outta Compton (Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff)

I am so happy that Quentin Tarantino’s grotesquely overlong screenplay for The Hateful Eight didn’t get nominated. This is actually a pretty solid list. I guess this means I’ll have to see Straight Outta Compton? What a strange nominated, by the way, if getting nominated only for Screenplay.
How I did in my predictions: 4 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Spotlight 

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • The Big Short (Adam McKay, Charles Randolph)
  • Brooklyn (Nick Hornby)
  • Carol (Phyllis Nagy)
  • The Martian (Drew Goddard)
  • Room (Emma Donoghue)

I breathe a deep sigh of relief knowing Carol at least got nominated here. Interesting that Aaron Sorkin’s work in Steve Jobs didn’t get nominated just a couple days after he won the Golden Globe. Can’t say I’m surprised, that movie didn’t have as much support as any of these five.
How I did in my predictions: 4 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: The Big Short 

Best Animated Feature

  • Anomalisa
  • Boy and the World 
  • Inside Out
  • Shaun the Sheep Movie 
  • When Marnie Was There 

I had this feeling The Peanuts Movie would be snubbed and I was right. I also had this feeling Brazilian independent Boy and the World would get a surprise nomination, but wasn’t bold enough to actually predict it. Also, shout-out to commenter Smilingdsgirl, who saw When Marnie Was There‘s nomination coming when I totally didn’t.
How I did in my predictions: 3 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Inside Out 

Best Cinematography

  • Carol (Ed Lachman)
  • The Hateful Eight (Robert Richardson)
  • Mad Max: Fury Road (John Seale)
  • The Revenant (Emmanuel Lubezki)
  • Sicario (Roger Deakins)

A solid batch of nominees, I guess. This is the second time Robert Richardson gets a surprise nomination for a Quentin Tarantino movie. The Academy really loves him. Here’s hoping Ed Lachman somehow manages to win this award and it’s not Emmanuel Lubezki for a third time in a row.
How I did in my predictions: 4 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: The Revenant

Best Costume Design

  • Carol (Sandy Powell)
  • Cinderella (Sandy Powell)
  • The Danish Girl (Paco Delgado)
  • Mad Max: Fury Road (Jenny Beavan)
  • The Revenant (Jacqueline West)

Like I said, The Revenant got 12 nominations. I know, it’s ridiculous. This isn’t even the worst of it, considering Jacqueline West’s fur-work is quite on point. I’m particularly happy about Mad Max: Fury Road and its iconic post-apocalyptic designs getting a nomination. Of course, Carol should win this in a heartbeat.
How I did in my predictions: 3 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Carol 

Best Documentary Feature

  • Amy
  • Cartel Land 
  • The Look of Silence
  • What Happenes, Miss Simone?
  • Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom 

Netflix got two nominations in this category for What Happened, Miss Simone? and Winter on Fire. The other three nominees were the expected ones.
How I did in my predictions: 3 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Amy 

Best Film Editing

  • The Big Short (Hank Corwin)
  • Mad Max: Fury Road (Margaret Sixel)
  • The Revenant (Stephen Mirrione)
  • Spotlight (Tom McArdle)
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Maryann Brandon, Mary Jo Markey)

The moment during the announcement when Star Wars got nominated for Editing made me think it could get in for Best Picture. Alas, it didn’t happen. It’s a deserving nomination nonetheless. I’m also really happy Spotlight managed to get in, it means it could actually prevent The Revenant from winning Best Picture
How I did in my predictions: 4 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road 

Best Foreign Film

  • Embrace of the Serpent (Colombia)
  • Mustang (France)
  • Son of Saul (Hungary)
  • Theeb (Jordan)
  • A War (Denmark)

A little surprised German entry Labyrinth of Lies didn’t get nominated considering it was about the Holocaust. I hear good things about Embrace of the Serpent, and Mustang is pretty good. That’s all I have to say.
How I did in my predictions: 3 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Son of Saul 

Best Makeup and Hair

  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The 100 Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared 
  • The Revenant

Why is this the only category with three nominees? It makes no sense. Everything else gets five nominees, and it’s not like every movie doesn’t use makeup and hairstyling. I mean, there are five original song nominees for God’s sake! Also, that is a pretty cool title for a movie, 100 Year-Old Man. 
How I did in my predictions: 
2 out of 3
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: The Revenant 

Best Original Score

  • Bridge of Spies (Thomas Newman)
  • Carol (Carter Burwell)
  • The Hateful Eight (Ennio Morricone)
  • Sicario (Johann Johansson)
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens (John Williams)

Hooray for Carter Burwell, who finally gets an Oscar nomination after multiple decades of extraordinary work! This is indeed one of the happiest nominations this year. I’m keeping my fingers crossed he’ll manage to win.
How I did in my predictions: 3 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: The Hateful Eight 

Best Original Song

  • “Earned It” (Fifty Shades of Grey)
  • “Til It Happens To You” (The Hunting Ground)
  • “Manta Ray” (Racing Extinction)
  • “Writing’s On the Wall” (Spectre)
  • “Simple Song #3” (Youth)

Oh my God, can we please get rid of this category already? This is where middlebrow documentaries go to die, apparently. Also, I actually don’t mind that Sam Smith song. And also, I kind of love that Fifty Shades of Grey is an Oscar nominee.
How I did in my predictions: 2 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Spectre?

Best Production Design

  • Bridge of Spies (Adam Stockhausen)
  • The Danish Girl (Eve Stewart)
  • The Martian (Arthur Max)
  • Mad Max: Fury Road (Colin Gibson)
  • The Revenant (Jack Fisk)

This is where things start to get really ridiculous. The Revenant takes place almost exclusively outdoors. That’s the whole point of the movie! I can’t believe it got nominated while Judy Becker’s amazingly detailed work in Carol got left out.
How I did in my predictions: 3 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road 

Best Sound Mixing

  • Bridge of Spies 
  • Mad Max: Fury Road  
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I did pretty well here. My only fault was thinking Straight Outta Compton would get in because of all the music and stuff.
How I did in my predictions: 4 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road 

Best Sound Editing

  • Mad Max: Fury Road 
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant
  • Sicario
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens 

This, along with Lead Actor, are the only categories I predicted right this year.
How I did in my predictions: 5 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road 

Best Visual Effects

  • Ex Machina 
  • Mad Max: Fury Road 
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant 
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens 

This category looks classier than it usually does. You usually get a Reel Steel or Jurassic World in here. Not this year. This year you get the fucking Revenant. That being said, the visual effects work in all these movies is relatively subtle and really well done. This is a fine set of nominees.
How I did in my predictions: 3 out of 5
Current Prediction of Who Will Win: Star Wars

Best Animated Short

  • Bear Story
  • Prologue
  • Sanjay’s Super Team
  • We Can’t Live Without Cosmos
  • World of Tomorrow 

WORLD OF TOMORROW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

2015 Oscar Nominations Prediction Spectacular!

spotlight

You know how this works. I predict, I make a fool of myself. Let’s get to it…

Best Picture

  • The Big Short 
  • Bridge of Spies
  • Carol
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant
  • Spotlight

There’s going to be anywhere from 5 to 10 nominations, although people who are really into statistics have consistently said that it’s nearly impossible -given Oscar’s tabulation system- to actually have ten nominees. Anyway, the above seven are the ones I think are safe. And then…
If there are eight nominees: add Brooklyn
If there are nine nominees: add Room
If there are ten nominees: add Straight Outta Compton

Best Director

  • The Big Short (Adam McKay)
  • Bridge of Spies (Steven Spielberg)
  • The Martian (Ridley Scott)
  • The Revenant (Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu)
  • Spotlight (Tom McCarthy)

This category is going to be a bloodbath. No one really knows who’s on top, and there are as many as seven directors who seem likely to get in. There is only room for five, of course. I’m preparing for the worst, assuming both George Miller and Todd Haynes -by far the two most deserving contenders in this category- won’t make the list. I don’t want to get my hopes up just for them to be crushed.

Best Lead Actor

  • Bryan Cranston (Trumbo)
  • Matt Damon (The Martian)
  • Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)
  • Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs)
  • Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)

This is one of the easiest categories to predict this year, which is a shame, because voters seem to have settled for mediocrity. None of these performances is better than Michael B. Jordan’s star-making turn in Creed, or Tom Hanks’s channeling of Jimmy Stewart’s righteous legacy in Bridge of Spies. Here’s hoping either one of them manages a surprise appearance on Thursday.

Best Lead Actress

  • Cate Blanchett (Carol)
  • Brie Larson (Room)
  • Charlotte Rampling (45 Years)
  • Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)
  • Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)

The question that is making everybody’s brain hurt is whether Alicia Vikander and Rooney Mara will be nominated in lead, in supporting, or not get nominated at all. Since Vikander has two roles in contention, I’m going to assume she gets nominated in both categories (more on that later). As for Mara, I could easily see her making an appearance here, but I can’t bring myself to predict her. Although a nomination for critical darling Charlotte Rampling might be an even more foolish thing to predict.

Best Supporting Actor

  • Christian Bale (The Big Short)
  • Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation)
  • Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight)
  • Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies)
  • Sylvester Stallone (Creed)

This category is a big head-scratcher. Stallone was once perceived as the front-runner to win, then he didn’t get nominated anywhere but at the Golden Globes. The Big Short and Spotlight seem to be the front-runners for Best Picture, so I’m inclined to include an acting nominee from each one. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Benicio Del Toro or Room‘s Jacob Tremblay end up nominated.

Best Supporting Actress

  • Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight)
  • Rooney Mara (Carol)
  • Helen Mirren (Trumbo)
  • Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina)
  • Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)

The whole Mara and Vikander thing has left this category looking very unsteady. I’ll just try to do my best even if that means predicting Helen Mirren…

Best Original Screenplay

  • Bridge of Spies (Matt Charman, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen)
  • Ex Machina (Alex Garland)
  • The Hateful Eight (Quentin Tarantino)
  • Inside Out (Josh Cooley, Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve)
  • Spotlight (Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer)

This seems like a pretty obvious list to me. I do fear Ex Machina could be too “genre” for the Academy, in which case it could get replaced with Straight Outta Compton or Sicario. 

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • The Big Short (Adam McKay, Charles Randolph)
  • Brooklyn (Nick Hornby)
  • Carol (Phyllis Nagy)
  • Room (Emma Donoghue)
  • Steve Jobs (Aaron Sorkin)

This seems like a solid prediction until you realize I’ve let The Martian out. I’m thinking it is snubbed for having the least “prestigious” source material. But then again, I might be underestimating it. I could see practically any of these five film (except maybe The Big Short) falling out to make room for it. I would be afraid of The Revenant getting nominated, too, if the movie didn’t have so little dialogue.

Best Animated Feature

  • Anomalisa
  • Kahlil’s Gibrain’s The Prophet  
  • Inside Out
  • The Good Dinosaur
  • Shaun the Sheep Movie 

This what I’m thinking: I’m thinking The Peanuts Movie is met with some of the bias that kept The Simpsons Movie and The Lego Movie from getting nominated. And I’m thinking that The Prophet, an omnibus film with segments directed by some of the biggest names in international animation, will take its spot.

Best Cinematography

  • Bridge of Spies (Janusz Kaminski)
  • Carol (Ed Lachman)
  • Mad Max: Fury Road (John Seale)
  • The Revenant (Emmanuel Lubezki)
  • Sicario (Roger Deakins)

It has to mean something if the American Society of Cinematographers and the British Academy agree 100% on their nominees for Best Cinematography, right? Although the last time they had the same five nominees (in 2012), Les Miserables ended up being snubbed in favor of Django Unchained. Tarantino and cinematographer Robert Richardson are back in the race this year, so I wouldn’t be surprised if The Hateful Eight snuck in here.

Best Costume Design

  • Brooklyn (Odile Dicks-Mireaux)
  • Carol (Sandy Powell)
  • Cinderella (Sandy Powell)
  • Crimson Peak (Kate Hawley)
  • The Danish Girl (Paco Delgado)

The Costume Design Branch often marches by the tune of their drum, and this mix of Best Picture contenders, British period dramas, and fairy tale confections seems to me like the kind of thing they love to reward. Crimson Peak is the riskiest of these predictions, but then again, its flamboyant designs are the kind of thing that gets nominated here all the time.

Best Documentary Feature

  • Amy
  • Cartel Land 
  • Listen to Me Marlon 
  • The Look of Silence
  • Meru  

Outside of Amy and Look of Silence, which have been gathering awards all year long, these predictions are pure uninformed guesswork. The Academy had a shortlist of 15 films. I picked three I had heard people talk about liking.

Best Film Editing

  • The Big Short (Hank Corwin)
  • Mad Max: Fury Road (Margaret Sixel)
  • The Martian (Pietro Scalia)
  • The Revenant (Stephen Mirrione)
  • Spotlight (Tom McArdle)

Best Picture front-runners with lots of action in them usually get nominated here. The fact that The Big Short‘s many montages make its editing very apparent should help it secure a nomination here, too. For the final spot, I’m clinging on to Spotlight‘s flawless assembly, even though something flashier like Bridge of Spies or Sicario could easily take its spot.

Best Foreign Film

  • The Brand New Testament (Belgium)
  • Embrace of the Serpent (Colombia)
  • Labyrinth of Lies (Germany)
  • Mustang (France)
  • Son of Saul (Hungary)

Nine movies remain in this race. Most of them, I haven’t seen, so I’m mostly basing my predictions on whatever the internet can tell me these movies are about. I have seen Son of Saul and Mustang, both of which seems to be likely nominees. Labyrinth of Lies is about Nazis (always a safe bet with Oscar) and Embrace of the Serpent has good buzz and seems like this year’s artsy choice (think Dogtooth or The Missing Picture). As for the fifth nominee, I just picked something that got nominated at the Golden Globes.

Best Makeup and Hair

  • Black Mass
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Revenant

Every year, the Academy releases a list of seven finalists for this award before nominations come out, which is really helpful since the Makeup branch tends to make unexpected and bizarre choices. Of the seven movies shortlisted this year, Mad Max and Revenant seem likely on account of being Best Picture front-runners, while Johnny Depp’s horrendous look in Black Mass becomes a logical bet when you consider Hitchcock got nominated.

Best Original Score

  • Carol (Carter Burwell)
  • The Hateful Eight (Ennio Morricone)
  • Inside Out (Michael Giacchino)
  • Spotlight (Howard Shore)
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens (John Williams)

This is one of the hardest categories to predict, with the Academy’s Music Branch being notorious for doing unexpected things. John Williams always gets nominated, and Morricone is a legend, so count both of them in. Outside of those two, I really have no idea. I’m sticking with previous winners Giacchino and Shore, while I count on the great Carter Burwell to finally get his first Oscar nomination for Carol. 

Best Original Song

  • “See You Again” (Furious 7)
  • “Til It Happens To You” (The Hunting Ground)
  • “I’ll See You in My Dreams” (I’ll See You in My Dreams)
  • “Cold One” (Ricki and the Flash)
  • “Simple Song #3” (Youth)

This category needs to go. The Academy’s list of eligible songs if just depressing. Some of them are good songs, yes, but there is simply no way to justify songwriting as a vital part of contemporary filmmaking that needs to be rewarded with awards, especially when other essential disciplines like Casting and Stunts don’t have their own categories. As for my predictions, I just threw in a couple songs that got nominated at the Golden Globes and mixed them up with some actually good tunes from I’ll See You in My Dreams and Ricki and the Flash.

Best Production Design

  • Bridge of Spies (Adam Stockhausen)
  • Carol (Judy Becker)
  • The Danish Girl (Eve Stewart)
  • Mad Max: Fury Road (Colin Gibson)
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Rick Carter, Darren Gilford)

A healthy mix of Best Picture contenders, British costume drama, and fantasy/science fiction extravaganzas. I have this feeling that The Martian will get nominated, but I don’t know at the expense of which film that could happen.

Best Sound Mixing

  • Mad Max: Fury Road  
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  • Straight Outta Compton

The Sound categories tend to be tricky to predict. These predictions are based on the fact that this category is usually a mix of Best Picture contenders with flashy sound effects, huge blockbusters, and a movie with lots of music in it.

Best Sound Editing

  • Mad Max: Fury Road 
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant
  • Sicario
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens 

This category is usually made up of four of the Sound Mixing nominees (it’s usually the musical nominee that gets left out). The fifth nominee can be something a little bit unexpected. Drive and All is Lost were nominees here in the past. For some reason I’m thinking Sicario shares certain similarities with those movies.

Best Visual Effects

  • Ant Man    
  • Mad Max: Fury Road 
  • The Martian
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens 
  • The Walk 

There are ten finalists in this category. Mad Max and The Martian are likely Best Picture nominees so they’re safe. Star Wars is the biggest movie in God knows how long, so it is also safe. It’s hard to guess what voters will find impressive beyond those three, but I expect them to make some unexpected picks.

Better Than the Oscars: The Coco Awards for the Best of 2015

carolcocoawards

I do a lot of complaining about what does and does not get nominated at the Oscars, so I always make some time each year to put my money where my mouth is and answer the age old question of “well, if you’re going to complain so much, what would you nominate, huh?”. I also love making lists and writing about my opinions in definitive terms. So, here they are, the movies I would vote for if I had an Oscar ballot:

Best Picture

Carol
This is supposed to be a mock Oscar Ballot, and so, I’ve decided to abide by the Academy’s eligibility rules. By now, you must know that my favorite movie of the year is Don Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow, which by nature of being a 15-minute animated short wouldn’t be allowed a nomination in any category outside Animated Short. Ridiculous, I know, but the rules are the rules. Not that I mind giving the Best Picture prize to the magnificent Carol, one of the most amazing love stories ever put on film.

Finalists:

Curious to know what my favorite movies of the year are? Why, I have a Top Ten of the year just waiting to be read!

Best Director

Todd Haynes (Carol)
Michael Mann said that the role of the director is tone management. I am not the biggest fans of Mann’s films, but when he’s right he’s right. When he’s at his best, Todd Haynes is one of the few contemporary directors that not only manages tone, but commands it. An image, a color, a cut, a sound cue, it is all in service of a vision. Everything is deliberate. Everything serves the movie. Carol is Todd Haynes at his best.

Finalists:

  • Roy Andersson (A Pigeon Sat on a Branch): For closing his existential trilogy with rigorous discipline and exploding comedy.
  • Noah Baumbach (Mistress America): For being open and determined to work with Gerwig’s vision, and for the technical brilliance of that Connecticut sequence.
  • George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road): For finding what commercial cinema needed the most, and delivering it with a shot to the heart.
  • Christian Petzold (Phoenix): For an extraordinary tone that balances the pulp of melodrama and the darkness of a post-Holocaust world.

Best Lead Actress

Cate Blanchett in Carol
I’ve never been able to love a Cate Blanchett performance. I admire the technical proficiency of her Bob Dylan, and really enjoy the wit of her Katharine Hepburn, but she’s always a little too distant. A little too immersed in playing the part, and not so much in being the part. Her Carol Aird is the best performance of her career. The actor’s trademark theatricality is essential to Carol’s life as the most glamorous lesbian woman of the fifties. What makes it even more special is that Blanchett is willing to break through the theatricality and get into something totally raw.

Finalists:

  • Greta Gerwig (Mistress America): For an impeccable comedic performance, and for digging beyond parody into the very essence of her screen persona.
  • Nina Hoss (Phoenix): For anchoring the balance of the movie’s melodrama in a weary and expressive face.
  • Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey): For elevating the movie she’s in with one of the smartest performances of the year. 
  • Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road): For crafting the best action hero of the year, and a uniquely feminine hero at that.
  • Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina): For playing man as she plays machine, and for not disappointing a movie that builds its mysteries around her.

Best Lead Actor

Oscar Isaac in Ex Machina
Is there any question, two years after his soulful breakthrough performance as the eternally miserable Llewyn Davis, that Oscar Isaac is the best actor of his generation? His biggest asset might be the oozing charm that allows him to play so many different and unexpected beats without losing our attention. In Ex Machina, he plays a megalomaniac tech guru as the coolest of relaxed bros. He is a genius casually bathing in his greatness, a recluse who knows how to interact with people. Isaac does wonders playing the darker intensions that hide underneath the character’s skin, but it’s his portrayal of this man as the ultimate “cool guy” that’s most extraordinary.

Finalists:

  • Tom Hanks (Bridge of Spies): For not resting in his search for the essence of star performance. ’tis the age of peak Hanks.
  • Tom Hardy (Mad Max: Fury Road): For the best silent action performance since Buster Keaton, a grunt is worth a thousand words.
  • Michael B. Jordan (Creed): For being the charismatic essence of superstardom, for rising up to a cinematic legacy.
  • Channing Tatum (Magic Mike XXL): For not worrying about naysayers and letting the dancing and charisma speak for themselves.    

Best Supporting Actress

Andie MacDowell and Jada Pinkett-Smith in Magic Mike XXL
I hate ties, but there certain moments in which one simply can’t choose. Even though they don’t share a single scene, my mind can’t separate these ladies, and the fact that their presence represents what is so magical about this mike. MacDowell’s southern wife would be a mockery in any other movie, here she is the recipient of joy. And Jada, well, she’s just the emcee that streamlines and embodies the movie’s core of female satisfaction. Just that.  

Finalists:

  • Rebecca Ferguson (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation): For coming out of nowhere and stealing the show with a flawless action performance.
  • Julianne Moore (Maps to the Stars): For getting down and dirty, and for committing to the grossness that this movie so badly needed.
  • Sarah Paulson (Carol): For navigating the details of the relationships of a character we rarely see on screen.  
  • Tessa Thompson (Creed): For taking the “girlfriend” role and bringing the casual pathos of real emotion.

Best Supporting Actor

Richard Jenkins in Bone Tomahawk
Jenkins is so good at bringing unexpected depth to the pathetic, as in his masterful performance in Olive Kitteridge. He goes even further in Bone Tomahawk, perfectly walking over one of the hardest tightropes imaginable: His elderly deputy is righteous, but somewhat misguided. He is incredibly naive, and a little dumb, but also righteous and valuable under the right circumstances. Jenkins understood that his character might seem like a dumb old man, but is actually so much more.

Finalists:

  • Kyle Chandler (Carol): For finding the heart and the logic of what could be a villainous character, and being the antagonist nonetheless.
  • Sam Elliott (I’ll See You in My Dreams): For putting the charms of the bittersweet to work, making my panties drop with sincerity.  
  • Joe Manganiello (Magic Mike XXL)For commitment and hilarity, but above all, for that glorious convenience store dance.
  • Stanley Tucci (Spotlight): For being the movie’s unlikely center of poignant emotion. For that last beat that kills. 

Best Ensemble Cast

Spotlight
Critics have had a hard time singling out their favorite performance in Spotlight precisely because the power of its acting come in the ensemble’s work as a unit. It’s impossible to think about one of the performances without thinking of how they relate to each other, and outside a few key moments, I remember the reaction to every acting beat as much as the beat itself. Beyond the all-star team that carries the movie (which includes Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, and Mark Ruffalo), the movie finds trust in character actors and relative unknown to carry the most essential moments. I truly can’t remember the last time I saw film acting be this collaborative and harmonious.

Finalists:

  • About EllyFor a massive troupe of actors that stays sharp, runs around the house, and plays off each other beautifully.
  • CarolFor a cast of bit players who come in with a specific purpose and still find nuances in personality.
  • Magic Mike XXLFor a group of males that’s ready to commit, and the powerful ladies that finish the equation.
  • Mistress AmericaFor two poignant performances at the center, and the troupe of comedic weirdos that orbit around them.

Best Original Screenplay

Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig for Mistress America
Courage can be found in structure. Baumbach and Gerwig are known for independent dramedies that find poignancy between chuckles. Baumbach has been experimenting with broader styles lately, so I was delighted when Mistress America‘s second act detoured into Connecticut, and I found myself in the middle of a hilarious farce of crushed dreams and uncomfortable illusions. There are lots of people who don’t understand this movie’s manic personality. Don’t let them deceit you, Mistress America is a comedic masterpiece.

Finalists:

  • S. Craig Zahler (Bone Tomahawk): For navigating through a strange mix of genres, and for some wonderfully colorful western dialogue.
  • Alex Garland (Ex Machina): For crafting an exciting thriller with big ideas and not a trace of cheap twists.
  • Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer (Spotlight): For not missing a beat, for marching forward through complications never forgetting the focus and human toll of their story.
  • Abderrahmane Sissako, Kessen Tall (Timbuktu): For assembling a number of extraordinary vignettes into a whole much bigger than the sum of its parts.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Phyllis Nagy for Carol
I was just going on about Todd Haynes’s flawless command of tone, so it’s time to admit that he had a considerable advantage in Phyllis Nagy’s screenplay. As we all know, filmmaking is collaborative. Well, what better collaboration than getting a master of tone to direct a script whose meaning is loaded in silence and in what is unsaid and undone. Literary adaptations tend to be needlessly wordy. Nagy’s biggest accomplishment is finding the story she is telling. A story of women with a voice that can’t be heard, a love story that can’t be put into words.

Finalists:

  • Nick Hornby (Brooklyn): For a story that is dramatic without being Dramatic!, for finding the nuances of making a home out of a strange place.
  • Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl): For commitment to the character’s point of view, and the sincerity that avoids any kind of exploitation.
  • Paul King (Paddington): For delighting with a sweet and clever story where a run-of-the-mill script would’ve been expected.  
  • Christian Petzold, Harum Farocki (Phoenix): For a film of spare and lean construction, where every moment carries the weight of a whole history.

Best Foreign Language Film

Phoenix (Germany)
A German film about Holocaust? I know, it sounds boring. Been there, done that. Not this one. This is something I never thought I’d see again: a worthy, new, fresh, and truly haunting take on the subject. Christian Petzold’s movie is not about historical facts, but about how we relate to a history of horror. It its unsettling (and brilliant!) final moments, Phoenix presents us with the most heartbreaking realization about this darkest hours: the deed can never be undone.

Finalists:

  • About Elly (Iran): Asghar Farhadi’s complicated social parable about an innocent vacation gone wrong.
  • Girlhood (France): Celine Sciamma’s most moving portrayal of a young woman becoming one with herself.
  • A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (Sweden): Roy Andersson’s brutally hilarious treaty on ridiculous existentialism.
  • Timbuktu (Mauritania/Mali): Abderrahmane Sissako’s tale of a town overrun by jihadists is somehow both heartbreaking and full of life.

Best Animated Feature

World of Tomorrow (directed by Don Hertzfeldt)
Sure, at seventeen minutes this is not really a “feature”, and it makes little sense for me to play by the rules of eligibility in Best Picture and not here, but while the year had many great movies, when it comes to Animation, 2015 will forever be defined by Don Hertzfeldt’s digital masterpiece. It towers above all of this year’s animated ventures. Only two other movies provided similarly admirable pleasures, and they are my two finalists.

Finalists:

  • Inside Out (directed by Pete Docter): For a hilarious and ambitious film that boldly advocates for a girl’s right to feel.
  • Shaun the Sheep Movie (directed by Mark Burton and Richard Starzak): For the best Aardman feature, the one that has finally captured the simplicity and cleverness of their shorts.

Best Cinematography

Ed Lachman for Carol
Lachman had already photographed a fifties romance for director Todd Haynes. Far From Heaven, with its saturated colors, was essentially a riff on the visual stylings of the technicolor melodramas of Douglas Sirk. A brilliant riff, but a riff nonetheless. One of the most amazing things about Carol is that it creates a visual style of its own. Shot in 16mm film, the movie suggests the familiarity of the fifties, but looks different than any movie shot at that time. Its visuals are as hazy as a memory, halfway between an old photograph and a melancholic painting.

Finalists:

  • Mark Lee Ping Bin (The Assassin): For a luscious movie where every frame’s a painting, and what’s outside the frame is as important as what’s in it.
  • John Seale (Mad Max: Fury Road): For turning the blockbuster dial up to eleven and saturating with the flow of flawless action cinematography.
  • Steven Soderbergh (Magic Mike XXL): For using framing and color to create an inclusive movie, as when blue and red beautifully touch black skins.
  • Roger Deakins (Sicario): For continuously impressing with his command of framing and the knack to find the perfect shot at the perfect moment.

Best Production Design

Colin Gibson for Mad Max: Fury Road
Whoever came up with the flaming guitar player is the person most deserving of this award. I have to assume that was Colin Gibson. And if he didn’t come up with the idea, he at least had the decency to recognize how absolutely genius a choice it was. This all might sound like I’m joking, but I do think that guitar player perfectly encapsulates the thirteen year-old boy mentality that makes Fury Road‘s world a post-apocalyptic nightmare.

Finalists:

  • Wen-Ying Huang (The Assassin): For detailed richness, and who are we kidding, for the use of curtains!
  • Judy Becker (Carol): For the specificity of a lived-in world that suggests the fifties as both a tangible and mythical place.
  • Peter Sparrow (The Duke of Burgundy): For imagining this mansion as a coterie of all kinds of suggestive leathery erotica.
  • Mark Digby (Ex Machina): For capturing a contemporary slickness, and for alerting me of the existence of such gorgeous places.

Best Costume Design

Sandy Powell for Carol
It’s always hard for me, when judging Costume Design, to separate costumes that I like aesthetically, or that I find impressive, from costumes that are appropriate for the characters. Thank God for Sandy Powell, then, who makes my life much easier by using costumes to craft the characters’ personalities. Another thing I look for is iconic, memorable looks. All I’m saying is I will forever remember Carol’s fur coat, Therese’s checkered hat, and that pair of green-gray gloves.

Finalists:

  • Odile Dicks-Mireaux (Brooklyn): For the lovely fantasy, and for -who are we kidding?- that emerald bathing suit.
  • Jenny Beavan (Mad Max: Fury Road): For bringing the specificity and wit to the most idiosyncratic post-apocalyptic wasteland.
  • Joanna Johnston (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.): For sometimes “more is more”, especially when designing the most stylish movie of the year.
  • Amy Sow (Timbuktu): For coding the costumes as symbolic windows into the character’s minds and hearts.

Best Editing

Margaret Sixel for Mad Max: Fury Road
I know it’s getting kind of boring that I’m giving all awards to either Carol or Mad Max: Fury Road, but hey, they’re both masterpieces. And nowhere is it more apparent than in Fury Road‘s editing. Action editing, especially that which uses a shaking hand-held camera has been scrutinized for about fifteen years now. Some think it adds stylish momentum, others that it’s a way of compensating for lackluster action with chaotic impressionism. Sixel is one of the few editors who manages to get the momentum right while never sacrificing geographic clarity. That’s one of the many things that makes Fury Road one of the best action movies ever made.

Finalists:

  • Affonso Gonçalves (Carol): For consistently moving forward while remaining in a dreamy headspace, and for the timing of those flawless final moments.
  • Jennifer Lame (Mistress America): For a movie that moves at the swiftest of paces, especially in that glorious Connecticut detour.
  • Tom McArdle (Spotlight): For never stopping, from cutting to the right faces at the right time, for best serving a story.
  • Maryann Brandon, Mary Jo Markey (Star Wars: The Force Awakens): For understanding the flow of blockbuster filmmaking, and allowing the moments that turn it into myth.

Best Original Score

Carter Burwell for Carol
Some say this is a Phillip Glass rip-off, and yeah, sure, the similarities are apparent. But then again, Carter Burwell wrote the most beautiful piece of music committed to any film this year, and there is no way to argue with that. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. And the pudding are the last five minutes of Carol, when my heart started racing and I was taken to cinematic heaven.

Finalists:

  • Giong Lim (The Assassin): For using traditional Chinese sounds in unexpected ways, with a score that suggests underlying playfulness and passions.
  • Jean-Baptiste de Laubier (Girlhood): For a score that shines like a beacon of light, making a sweeping epic out of a girl’s coming of age.
  • Rick Vreeland (It Follows): For an eighties homage that goes beyond nods and becomes the movie’s one true brilliant element.
  • Judd Greenstein, Michi Wiancko (The Mend): For the clashing strings that put us in the character’s unsettling mindset.

Best Sound

Sicario
Sicario 
is a pretty good movie that is also dreadful to watch. It plays almost like a horror movie, and that’s definitely a plus. The movie’s aesthetic conceit is that being in the middle of the War on Drugs is horrifying, and no technical element is more crucial to achieve this conceit than the movie’s sound. Silence is used masterfully, equating sound with the presence of danger, and using Johann Johansen’s unsettling score to increase the tension even further.

Finalists:

  • CreedFor letting sound dominate the fighting, and making every punch land with the weight it deserves
  • Love & MercyFor screwing around with clichés, and showing us the musical nuances that govern Brian Wilson’s head.
  • Mad Max: Fury Road: For a road to hell that’s paved with roaring motors, clashing chains, screaming men, and thundering music.
  • Son of SaulFor using sound as the most effective tool in suggesting one man’s journey through absolute horror.  
  • Star Wars: The Force AwakensFor a beautiful remix of familiar sounds, crackling light-sabers, and beeping robots.

Best Makeup and Hair

Mad Max: Fury Road
I often complain that the Academy confuses “Best Makeup” with “Most Makeup”, but sometimes more is more. What is so effective about Fury Road‘s makeup is that because the movie is essentially a two hour chase sequence, it is hugely important for the audience to be able to identify the key players even when they’re moving at ninety miles an hour. A lot of this is achieved through costumes, but Furiosa’s shaved head and the black grease across her face, Immortan Joe’s luscious white mane, and Nux’s tribal skull look… These are all immediately memorable.

Finalists:

  • Bone Tomahawk: For rather boldly going to the absolute extreme with some of the most gruesome imagery of any film this year.  
  • The Man from U.N.C.L.E.For gorgeous excess, because movie stars haven’t look this good in a long while.
  • Maps to the Stars: For Julianne’s lips, Cusack’s sweat, and similar touches that make everyone look extra icky.  
  • The RevenantFor gruesome commitment, say what you will about this lifeless movie, but you’ll believe the physical struggle.

Best Visual Effects

Ex Machina
Computer-generated effects can do amazing things, but they are so rarely put to good use by contemporary filmmakers. I believe CGI works best when it doesn’t “create” a visual effect, but when it “enhances” it. Ex Machina is essentially a chamber-piece thriller about three people having conversations, except one of the three is a robot. The visual effects team’s transformation of Alicia Vikander into a robot is uncanny, and even more impressive when you consider the movie’s minuscule budget.

Finalists:

  • Ant-ManFor going small and playing up the wonder and discovery of those first shrinking sequences.
  • Chappie: For Chappie, he might be annoying, but he’s one of the most impressive creations in CG history.  
  • Mad Max: Fury RoadFor using computers to serve a vision, and enhancing a the visceral reality of crashing in the desert.
  • Star Wars: The Force AwakensFor going back to practical magic, for the Falcon’s magical flight, and because how the hell does BB8 work?