The Academy announced a shortlist of 10 films to compete for the best Visual Effects Oscar.
- The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
- Iron Man 3
- The Lone Ranger
- Pacific Rim
- Star Trek into Darkness
- Thor: The Dark World
- World War Z
Overall a strong group with nothing too quirky that gets onto this shortlist. ‘Oblivion’, ‘Elysium’, and ‘The Lone Ranger’ the three lowest box office films of the group (none grossing over 100 mil). Having not seen any of these films I’d still have to say these must be the bottom three on the list and are all long shots. Now the heavies here are: ‘Gravity’ the sure-fire Oscar winner for Visual Effects, ‘Pacific Rim’ also a lock, and ‘The Hobbit 2′ another lock for a nomination. In the middle of the pack is good genre V/FX like ‘World War Z’ is definitely a dark horse, while ‘Iron Man 3′ is an improvement on ‘Iron Man 2′ but ‘Thor: The Dark World’ might be the superhero flick in play for a nomination and ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ is even money to be nominated again.
The omissions that are definitely a surprise are ‘Man of Steel’ which I’m sure many thought it would even get nominated but I’m guessing the Academy felt it was too over the top. ‘Oz The Great and Powerful’ only feels like a slightly surprising omission at least from the shortlist.
The last week has had plenty of precursor news and attention to kick off the Oscar race. The Spirit awards kicked it off with anointing the already critic darling ’12 Years a Slave’ as the Indie film to be reckoned with. It received 7 nominations leading the pack closely followed by ‘All is Lost’ with 5 and the little film that could ‘Nebraska’ with 4.
While the NYFCC jumps ahead of NBR to be the first critics group to announce selecting the surprise winner ‘American Hustle’ but splitting to give Steve McQueen director, Robert Redford and Cate Blanchett for Lead Actor / Actress, Jennifer Lawrence for Supporting Actress in ‘American Hustle’, and going with frontrunner Jared Leto in ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ for Supporting Actor.
NBR selects their Top 10 films of the year: 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, Fruitvale Station, Inside Llewyn Davis, Lone Survivor, Nebraska, Prisoners, Saving Mr. Banks, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Wolf of Wall Street. And selecting ‘Her’ as the best film of the year and its director Spike Jonze as best director. While confirming Bruce Dern as a safe bet for Lead Actor and giving Emma Thompson love for her performance in ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ also for Lead Actress. The supporting actor / actress victor’s are somewhat of a surprise with Dern’s co-star / SNL alum Will Forte winning for Supporting Actor and recent Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer winning for Supporting Actress for ‘Fruitvale Station’. ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ for Original Screenplay and ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ for Adapted Screenplay to round out the major awards.
Director / Screenwriter: J.C Chandor
Actor: Robert Redford
The only film in a 100+ year history of international cinema to credit only one actor and one writer / director. Robert Redford plays “Our Man” in ‘All is Lost’. The film opens all we know that this is a man and he is on a boat. He wakes up to a a massive leak in his boat that is the first of a long series of events that escalate further endangering our protagonist. But his will, his brawn and his might keep him surviving.There is a long period in the film that you succumb to the tone of Chandor’s narrative (along with what the title is implying) plus Our Man’s demeanor. The last third of the film provides a glimmer of hope that not only the allusion the title is making is from the saying “when all is lost there is still hope” and seeing “Our Man” continue to push through all of these crazy obstacles that he might just make it.
The 2nd feature from filmmaker J.C Chandor who delivered one of the best debut films of the last decade with ‘Margin Call’ the Oscar nominated Indie for Best Original Screenplay. His first film cemented him as a filmmaker with a sharp wit and incredible talent for writing dialogue. Now his 2nd feature has elevated him for his directorial talents. Not discrediting the writing of the film at all but for a film that 95% is dialogue free and built on action, tension, and visual thrills. Brilliantly Chandor gives no back-story, unnecessary flashbacks, excerpts read from a journal or anything to indicate how this man got here or who he really is.
It’s hard not to rave about Robert Redford’s performance that is so powerful, effective, and inspiring. His performance is so good it makes you blur away whatever other great performances he has had in his career. A legend like Redford delivering a performance this brave so late in his career is nothing less than breathtaking. Incredibly well shot featuring a underwater director of photography as well capturing dozens of turbulent underwater shots as Redford falls in and out of the water repeatedly fighting nature. The film has a very quieting effect on you, it takes a short while to realize how absorbing and memorable a film it turns out to be. Some might be prone to compare it to last year’s ‘Life of Pi’ being a man stuck on a boat for a large percentage of the film but narratively and filmmaking style could not be any different. You can surely credit this as one of the all time great survival films but I would be hard-pressed to compare this to any other film I’ve ever seen.
Director: Jean Marc Valle
Screenwriters: Craigh Borten, Melisa Wallack
Actors: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner
It’s 1985 in Dallas, Texas Ron Woodruff ais n electrician, part time Rodeo, and full-time hustler passes out at his place and wakes up in the hospital. Doctors begin to tell him that he is HIV+, only days after his homophobic rant about the Rock Hudson headline about his AIDS diagnosis. Ron gets closed off by his equally homophobic friends who call him “pussy” this “gay” that. The medicine he smuggles out of the hospital is making him worse until he gets a tip about a doctor in Mexico. This doctor in Mexico prescribes a line of vitamins and minerals that even with Ron now having AIDS keeps him alive past the grim 30 day diagnosis he initially receives. Ron spins this into an entrepreneurial voyage creating “The Dallas Buyers Club” keeping alive hundreds of men and finding his best friend Rayon a cross-dressing HIV patient. It is scary, sad, and alarming how the United States especially and the world on a whole dropped the ball on the biggest scale possible on the greatest epidemic to hit modern society.
While the film itself may not be flawless I would be hard pressed to find anyone who had a gripe with Matthew McConaughey’s brilliant, endearing, and incredibly difficult performance. An actor who has been in the business for over twenty years was mostly known for his work in comedies like ‘Dazed and Confused’ or romantic comedies such as ‘How to Lose a guy in 10 Days’ has been carving out a name for himself as a more serious actor nabbing a Spirit Award win for ‘Magic Mike’ and getting raves for both ‘Killer Joe’ and this year’s ‘Mud’. In a year that is likely to be filled with fine male performances throughout (having not seen a few still) I doubt you will see anything better than the work McConaughey’s has put in here. In the supporting arena the same could be say for Jared Leto playing Ron’s cross-dressing business partner / new best friend. This is the transformative performance that gets Oscar votes and is completely hard to forget. In many ways Leto’s role and performances provides the heart of the film. Oscar nominations for both of these actors will be a foregone conclusion and with McConaughey’s likely win will Leto have a chance as well?
The Academy awards have announced their shortlist (or long list) of 19 films eligible for the Academy Awards. This means that five films will be nominated. In what definitely seems to be a weak year for the category. It’s hard saying that in a year that legendary film director Hayao Miyazaki releases a new and sadly final film of his glorious career which of course will be the frontrunner in the category but whispers have the bleakness and adult themes might lose it a lot of votes. A number of sequels which were mostly mediocre or solid at best such as ‘Monsters University’ or ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs’ while ‘Despicable Me 2′ might be the best of the sequel group. Disney still has ‘Frozen’ yet to come and a number of these foreign titles are wild cards as well.
The 19 films are:
“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2”
“Despicable Me 2”
“Ernest and Celestine”
“The Legend of Sarila”
“A Letter to Momo”
“Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie – Rebellion”
“Rio: 2096 A Story of Love and Fury”
“The Smurfs 2”
“The Wind Rises”
Director / Co-Writer: Abdellatif Kechiche
Co-Writer: Ghalia Lacroix
Actors: Lea Seydoux, Adele Exarchopoulos
The year’s most controversial film by a mile, this year’s Palm D’Or winner ‘Blue is the Warmest Color’ will also be one of the year’s best films and absolutely the most unforgettable film of the year. A beautiful, tender, raw coming of age story about Adele a Parisian high school girl when we first meet her. Adele barely knows who she is let alone what her sexual orientation is. We see her experiment with a boy in school whom she finds interesting until she realizes so accurately that she is far more attracted to girls. More than her sexual experiences that Kechiche captures so intensely are the life experiences and the beautiful coming of age saga this film became. Adele meets Emma about 40 minutes into the film. Emma is like an enigma she takes over the film for awhile (like she does with Adele’s life) with her catchy blue hair, her artistic sensibilities and her philosophical nature.
The mainstream press and general audiences will know this as the young lesbian film that features a prolonged 10 minute sex scene along with also nearly a half hour of on-screen sex that looks completely real to the naked eye. But it’s the deeply emotional and rich saga that Adele journeys through in this 3 hour film. Adele Exarchopoulos has one of the biggest breakout performances of the last 10 years. It’s hard to forget all the raw energy, emotion, sensuality and range she provides in carrying this masterpiece of a film. Like Marion Cotillard and Audrey Tatou before her this French import will not be forgotten a couple years after this films release and might match Marion as one of 11 French actresses nominated for an Oscar. ‘Blue is the Warmest Color’ is a true masterpiece that plays to its great little moments as much to its big 3 hour romance saga.
Director: Steve McQueen
Screenwriter: John Ridley
Actors: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Sarah Paulson, Lupita Nyong’o, Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch
The caption opening the film “Based on a true story” might intentionally understate the brutal and harrowing odyssey we are about to see a man endure. Solomon Northup (one of the most noble cinematic names of recent memory) is a free man in New York who lives a respectable and professional life. On a weekend that is wife and children are out of town Solomon gets reeled into a scheme that con men orchestrate to get freed black men sold back into slavery down south. Solomon’s odyssey begins as a slave for a man named Ford, a decent man who runs a lumbering operation. Solomon shows his worth to Ford from his engineering knowledge but that causes a riff with other men on the plantation that nearly ends with Solomon’s hanging. In the course of this Odyssey: Solomon endures 3 slave owners, 12 Years of slavery, and an endless line of brutality comes across his eyes. This is definitely a brutal film but an absolutely necessary story and depiction of American slavery. You could say if there was a spectrum for American Civil War films then ‘Gone with the Wind’ would be on one end and ’12 Years A Slave’ far on the other end. Coming a year after the Oscar-nominated (and big box office hit) ‘Django Unchained’ that dealt with the reverse of Solomon’s journey and done in a hyper-stylized graphic novel sort of way that this grim, realistic, and visceral experience that Steve McQueen provides you was the only option to make such a mammoth of a film.
There is clearly no doubt that this is the best film of the year and quite possibly one of the best films of the last six or seven years. Starting with ‘Hunger’ the Bobby Sands IRA starvation prison tale to 2011′s ‘Shame’ and culminating here with ’12 Years a Slave’ no hyperbole needed but Steve McQueen is the best film director in the world. McQueen makes every film like it would be his last and puts every fiber of his heart and soul to each film he directs. This film will be monumental for making Hollywood notice Steve McQueen for the massive talent he is. The cast he accumulates in ’12 Years’ is pretty astonishing and telling of the talent actors clearly recognize. Equally the work Chiwetel Ejiofor does here if there is any justice will win him the Oscar for Lead Actor in the coming year. A journeyman actor who has had plenty of solid roles throughout his career ranging from genre work in ‘Serenity’ to ‘American Gangster’ and the masterpiece ‘Children of Men’. You can go on and on about the ensemble cast’s performances from Lupita Nyong’o in an eye flinching breakout role as the kept slave girl who endures more in the film than any other character I can rememeber to Michael Fassbender’s nearly psychotic, deranged portrayal of the slave owner who has Solomon for the duration of his slavery. You’d be amiss to not mention Paul Dano as the despicable power hungry Tibeats or Benedict Cumberbatch as a an honorable (?) but ultimately conflicted slave owner to Brad Pitt as the Canadian carpenter who saves Solomon’s life all the way through to Sarah Paulson who might have one of the most hard to forget characters in the film. ’12 Years a Slave’ is a truly unforgettable film and the one film of 2013 that you can call a true masterpiece. The Oscar’s may or may not love this film with the only conflict being it’s brutality and visceral style but for many reasons this will be the most important film of 2013.
Director: Paul Greengrass
Screenwriter: Billy Ray
Actors: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi
A story everyone knows Captain Richard Phillips and his American cargo ship that became the first American ship to be hijacked in over 200 years. Everyone knows that and the fact it were Somali pirates but outside of that headline and gripping news story so much was in a grey zone.
Greengrass’s film and Ray’s script are so well structured that all the beats in this action-thriller are so well timed and supported that you hit all the bumpiness of this wild story while also absorbing all of the emotion and heart of it. In Ray’s script by making both of these leaders “Captain’s” bonds the men and even creates sympathy for the Somali pirate for his circumstances and his life. Along with Ray’s tight script is a stellar performance by Tom Hanks who gives his best work in over a decade and maybe only his second best screen performance to his first Oscar-winner ‘Philadelphia’. Next to Hanks’s performance is of course the much more difficult and equally harrowing work by absolute newcomer Barkhad Abdi who should be well remembered come Oscar nominations morning in Supporting Actor. A performance that is worked with such a layer never making him to villainous or even too likeable but playing it perfectly with a little of each in doses. The magic and precision editing Greengrass worked on in ‘United 93′ is duplicated here and with top-notch camera work by Oscar winner Barry Ackroyd to give ‘Captain Phillips’ one of the sharpest and starkest shot films of the year. An Oscar contender without a doubt
Director / Screenwriter: Jia Zhang-Ke
Actors: Wu Jiang, Vivian Li, Baoqiang Wang
The much buzzed about film from “China’s greatest living director” coming out of Cannes and the New York Film Festival is a little bit of a disappointment. As a Jia newbie (only ’24 City’ in my rear-view mirror) all of the festival buzz had me very curious about this film but fell short of the masterpiece many think of it as.
Four (semi-biographical) tales about lives blistered by violence and the eternal fight for individualism. ‘A Touch of Sin’ starts really fast with an amazing scene of four senseless teen hoodlums trying to hold up Zhou San (who ends up anchoring the 2nd tale of this quartet of narratives) whom ends up killing all four of them.This blends into an intro for Dahai the beginning of the film and clearly the strongest of the quartet. Dahai is a stubborn, tough-willed individualist who has a personal agenda against the local boss and town chief who have amassed all of the town’s property into large economic turnouts. Dahai is fighting against corruption, capitalism and his individualistic approach to justice makes him a memorable vigilante.
The middle tales suffer from the dynamism of Wu Jiang’s performance to open the film as Dahai and what you may call the most traditional violence arc as the vigilante. The 2nd tale of the quiet, introverted Zhou San who returns home with no one happy to see him; not his wife, son, or mother. And the 3rd tale of a sauna receptionist who is having an affair with a married man who gets trapped in a number of compromising situations. The film opens strong and ends similarly but the film ultimately feels a little too uneven for my tastes while not ignoring the beauty and mastery of some parts.
Director: Ron Howard
Screenwriter: Peter Morgan
Actors: Chris Hemsworth (James Hunt), Daniel Bruhl (Niki Lauda), Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara
One of the most surprising films of the year by far. There won’t be too many films this year to incite such a wide array of emotions and excitement. Racing films in Hollywood are rarely greenlit, they are not baseball and definitely not football in terms of popularity in this country. Excluding ‘Talladega Nights’ once every 15 or 20 years you get a legitimate racing film, there are the brilliant non-fiction entries like 2010′s ‘Senna’. And even fewer stories that garner a big-screen biopic treatment that the rivalry (or for modern viewers lets call it “frenemy”) of Niki Lauda and James Hunt demands.
The performances front and center by Daniel Bruhl mostly known to international audiences for ‘Goodbye Lenin’ and ‘The Edukators’ while Chris Hemsworth his sparring partner is most known to everyone as “Thor” in ‘Thor’ and last summer’s behemoth hit ‘The Avengers’ do a lot to advance their careers here. Firstly, Hemsworth has shown he can anchor a film in a dramatic setting (and able to convincingly portray a character not a Norse God) while Bruhl does his very best to make himself known to American audiences with his incredible work here and an actor that will surely be one of the better actors in his generation. Easily Ron Howard’s best film since 2006′s ‘Cinderella Man’ or even since his Oscar-winning ‘A Beautiful Mind’. This is Howard’s first departure from his Americana filmography and with his recent collaboration with British scribe Peter Morgan (who wrote ‘Rush’ on spec!) might be leaning his career in a different, better direction.