Category Archives: Movie Previews

The Movies of Fall 2016

small movie theater

Another summer has come and gone for Hollywood and these last couple, slow weeks of the season offers us some time to look back and examine the state of the industry as we transition into the fall.  This summer, unfortunately, is more notable for it’s failures rather than it’s successes.  Little was talked about the enormous success of films like Captain America: Civil War or Finding Dory and that’s only because we expected those movies to do well, and those expectations were met.  Instead the overall trend of this summer was a severe lack of any breakout hits.  Most of this year’s movies either were par for the course, or failed miserably.  We saw some notable flops with Disney’s Alice Through the Looking Glass, Fox’s Independence Day: Resurgence, and Paramount’s Ben-Hur, and some underperforming results from previously strong franchises like X-Men: ApocalypseJason Bourne, and Star Trek Beyond.  And then there was the brouhaha surrounding the controversial Ghostbusters remake that just left everyone sour by the end; the media, the audiences, the unfortunately chastised cast members, everybody.  Ghostbusters underwhelming box office is really emblematic of the downside of hype, where too much talk of a movie can often kill it’s chances of having a chance to develop it’s own identity and in turn it makes us the audience grow weary of a film before ever having seen it.  This summer seems to represent a growing trend towards audience apathy, where some of the more reliable pathways towards blockbuster success just don’t work anymore and audiences’ tastes have changed dramatically.  That, or they’re just so sick and tired of sequels, remakes and reboots.  It’s a concern for Hollywood that not only affects the summer, however, as the fall season carries it’s own kinds of pressures.

While not as reliant on blockbuster films, the fall is nevertheless a major season for the industry.  On one level, you have massive movies set to roll out during the Holidays, while at the same time, this is also when Hollywood positions it’s Awards season fare for the best exposure.  It’s an interesting balancing act that Hollywood must do every year; getting the right amount of hype for their tent-pole holiday films, while at the same time trying to prevent their prestige flicks from getting lost in all the shuffle, so that they’ll be remembered by Awards time next year.  We are now about to begin the Fall 2016 season, and like previous years, I will be running through all of the movies that I believe will be the must sees, the ones that have me worried, and the ones that I’m certain are worth skipping.  Of course, these are my early predictions based upon the level of marketing and hype I have seen from each film.  I’m not the best handicapper, but I try my best, and my track record is improving of late (all my summer predictions this year proved to be accurate, especially my movies to skip).  In addition, I will also be including the movie trailers for each film I discuss, so you all can witness what I’m talking about and make your own mind up whether each is worth seeing or not.  Hopefully, I will give all of you a nice overview of what to expect in the months ahead; especially if it’s a film that might be flying under your radar.  And with that, let’s take a look at the upcoming movies of the Fall of 2016.

MUST SEES:

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (DECEMBER 16)

I’m pretty sure that this is going to be a pattern for the next couple of years.  Just like last fall, my most anticipated movie for the season was the relaunch of Star Wars with the incredible The Force Awakens.  Now, releasing exactly a year later, we are getting yet another Star Wars movie that I am completely psyched for.  But, unlike The Force Awakens, which was a continuation of the main saga itself (taking place 30 years after Return of the Jedi), Rogue One marks the beginning of something very different for the franchise; and one that is incredibly exciting as well.  This is the first in what will be an endless string of spin-off movies taking place within the same Star Wars universe.  This is a great idea, because I believe that there is so  much more to explore within this franchise world, and these Star Wars Stories offer up so many possibilities.  Of course, there has to be some ties to the original series, and I like the choice of story that they made to start this off with; showing us the history of the Death Star and the rebel spies who were responsible for stealing it’s blueprints away from the Empire.  The cast for this one looks solid, including recent Oscar nominee Felicity Jones as the mysterious Jyn Erso, as well as some other notable players like Forrest Whitaker, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Mads Mikkelsen, and Ben Mendelsohn as a very flashy Imperial villain.  Also, the tease of Darth Vader making a return here alone is enough to get me excited for this.  My hope is that Rogue One shows us the limitless potential for more stories in the Star Wars universe and that each one is able to stand on it’s own outside of the main saga.  This could be the start of something very good for both Star Wars and cinema in general, but at the same time, I just hope it stands as an engaging journey on it’s own.

DOCTOR STRANGE (NOVEMBER 4)

Just as reliable right now as the Star Wars brand at the box office is Marvel’s cinematic universe.  Seemingly indestructible at this point, Marvel is still riding high after the success of the huge mash-up brawl of heroes seen in this summer’s Captain America: Civil War.  So what do they do for an encore?  They introduce a new hero into the universe, that’s what they do.  Dr. Steven Strange has been one of the most high profile characters from the comics to not yet have his own movie, and this year he finally makes his long overdue debut, played by Benedict Cumberbatch no less.  It’s surprising that Marvel would approach such a high profile actor to take on the role, given how they’ve often sought out fresher faces in the past (or ones in need of a new career path like Robert Downey Jr.).  But with the iconic cape on his back and sporting the recognizable beard, Cumberbatch looks very much like he was tailor made for the role and I’m excited to see how well he does.  Doctor Strange is a different kind of character altogether from the rest of the Marvel superheroes; working primarily in the world of supernatural, as opposed to the worlds of science and the interstellar that the other Marvel films exist in.  I think that makes this an intriguing new entry for the Marvel universe, because it offers a different shade within their spectrum of storytelling; making this instantly it’s own thing within their universe.  I like the Inception style visuals that convey the multi-dimensional magic that Strange and his peers command.  This promises to be one of this season’s most visually striking films and hopefully it still maintains that same level of fun and excitement that we’ve come to expect from Marvel at this point.  Let’s hope that this universe still has room for yet another superhero worth caring about.

MOANA (NOVEMBER 23)

Disney Animation is enjoying some of their best years right now since their Renaissance heyday of the early nineties.  Of course, Frozen (2013) stands as their juggernaut smash hit, but they’ve also seen success with Wreck-It Ralph (2012) and Big Hero 6 (2014) as well.  And earlier this year, they made a fortune off of what I consider to be their best film in this post-Renaissance period overall with Zootopia, a movie that is only getting better and more relevant since it’s Spring release.  With this track record, a lot of pressure is put on Disney’s next feature, and I think they’ve got another special one coming in the form of Moana.  This new fairy-tale set within the Polynesian culture looks like a visually stunning treat, and it has the benefit of a great team behind it.  The film is directed by John Musker and Ron Clements, two long time Disney Animation veterans with a legendary track record.  They are the ones responsible for some of the studio’s biggest hits of the past like The Little Mermaid (1989) and Aladdin (1992), as well as the valiant attempt to bring hand drawn animation back with The Princess and the Frog (2009) which sadly didn’t accomplish it’s goal.  Here, the duo attempt their first CGI animated film, and hopefully it works out for them.  The animation from the trailer looks impressive, as did the little bit of footage that I saw at last year’s D23 Expo.  Having the always entertaining Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as part of the voice cast doesn’t hurt either.  Hopefully, this continues Disney’s hot streak and gives these long time veterans another classic worthy of their legacy at the studio.

ARRIVAL (NOVEMBER 11)

Here we have one of the more intriguing new films coming this fall.  There are a number of factors that make this something that I’m eagerly waiting to watch.  One, director Denis Villeneuve’s previous film Sicario topped my list of the Best Movies of 2015, so I’m interested in seeing what he does for a follow-up.  And two, the premise of this one looks very provocative.  Sort of like a darker take on Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), this is a movie about the struggles of trying to understand recently encountered alien life and finding ways to communicate with them.  The drama from this premise seems to be drawn from the delicate balancing act that the characters must go through in order to speak with the alien race and bridge the language gap, otherwise one misstep could lead to our world’s destruction.  I like the fact that this is a film about avoiding conflicts through an exchange of knowledge and working through differences by avoiding easily triggered misunderstandings.  Like Sicario and some of Villeneuve’s previous work, this is a very visually striking movie.  The alien ships have a unique feel to them that doesn’t seem like they’ve been rehashed from other sci-fi movies.  And like Villeneuve’s other film’s, the tone feels very dark, making this look like another movie that’s going to challenge the comfort level of it’s audience, and in a good way.  With the foreboding alien ships, the threat of destruction if we don’t act correctly, and a neat sense of global scale, this looks like an Independence Day for the smart set.  In addition, it looks like another strong showpiece for actress Amy Adams, who I sometimes feel doesn’t gets enough credit for her talent as a dramatic performer.  Hopefully she’s served well by this movie.

THE FOUNDER (DECEMBER 16)

One thing that has pleased me a great deal in the last few years is the resurgence of Michael Keaton’s film career.  Having appeared in the last two Best Picture Oscar winners, the former Dark Knight is an actor once again in demand, and it’s well deserved.  My hope is that this win streak keeps on going and gives him another shot at Oscar gold.  This film may not go that far, but it still looks like an amazing showcase for Keaton’s talents.  This story about the ruthless business man who turned a small California based burger stand into a worldwide franchise called McDonald’s looks like a movie tailor-made for the actor.  Even without his involvement, this is a little known back story to one of the world’s largest corporations that I’m really intrigued to learn more about.  Michael Keaton is not unfamiliar with playing scoundrels on film, but it will be interesting to see if he can pull off the delicate balance between being both loathed and admired within the same role.  This will probably be a more performance driven film than anything, as it does look like your standard biopic fare, so it may not be on everyone’s radar.  But, as someone who’s enjoyed Michael Keaton’s work since childhood, my hope is that this becomes yet another standout role for him and continues his hot streak at the movies.  It’ll also be interesting to see if this will change our collective image of the McDonald restaurant as a whole.  Probably not, but it will be an interesting history lesson nonetheless.

MOVIES THAT HAVE ME WORRIED:

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM (NOVEMBER 18)

Consider me cautiously optimistic about this one.  Let’s face it, nothing is ever going to replicate the enormous success that was the Harry Potter series.  But, author J.K. Rowling still believes that there is more to explore in the world she has created and that’s the purpose behind Fantastic Beasts.  The question is whether or not we’ll find this new chapter as interesting as the adventures of the boy wizard.  There are some things that excite me about this film.  For the first time we are seeing what the Wizarding World is like across the pond here in America, albeit in a different time period.  This opens up new angles to explore within Ms. Rowling’s universe, and hopefully it’s as intriguing as the many years we spent around Hogwarts with Mr. Potter.  The cast for this one also looks interesting, with Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne playing the key role of Newt Scamander, a magical zoologist searching for creatures of all kinds for his research, as well as other interesting new cast members like Colin Farrell, Jon Voight, Kathrine Waterson, Ezra Miller and Ron Perlman all involved.  Rowling also marks her screenwriting debut here, which could be a blessing or a curse for this movie, depending on the result.  Rowling has never written a film script prior to this, which could be questionable, but no one knows this universe better than her, so it could prove to be alright in the end.  Also, director David Yates, who oversaw the last half of the Potter franchise, returns for this flick, so the movie is still in good hands.  This could prove underwhelming given what’s come before, but hopefully it ends up becoming a classic just like it’s predecessors.

THE BIRTH OF A NATION (OCTOBER 7)

The timing couldn’t be worse for this particular film right now.  Believe me, I am very interested in seeing this movie, and may end up liking it in the end.  But, unfortunately this is a movie that has left me and a lot of other people worried due to real life controversies plaguing those involved with the film’s making.  Telling the story of a slave revolt led by a literate slave and preacher named Nat Turner in the Antebellum South, this was a passion project for the film’s director and star Nate Parker.  It’s a little known part of American history that deserves a film to spotlight it for a new generation, especially at a time when racial tensions are on the rise, and that’s something that makes me very eager to see this film for what it is.  I also like the fact that Nate Parker takes his title from the racist silent film of the same name from D.W. Griffith, sort of turning that on it’s head as well.  The only problem now is that the movie has recently been clouded by controversy, and not for the content of it’s story.  Accusations of rape have recently resurfaced around Nate Parker, dating back to his years in college.  Whether these accusations are valid or not, it will still affect the reception of this film and that’s unfortunate.  A movie should be able to stand on it’s own, but as we’ve seen in the past, it’s hard for audiences to unload their already established views on the filmmaker in order to take their work at face value.  A lot of hope was put on this film as an Award season favorite, and now it’s uncertain whether this movie will stand out from the shadow of Nate Parker’s past.  Hopefully the work will speak for itself, but then again, time will tell.

HACKSAW RIDGE (NOVEMBER 4)

Speaking of movies trying to survive outside the dark shadow cast by it’s creator, we have this war epic made by Mel Gibson.  Gibson hasn’t directed a feature since 2006’s Apocalypto, and this also marks his first directorial effort since his now infamous career implosion, involving anti-Semitic remarks during a drunk driving arrest and his profane leaked phone calls to an ex-lover.  Of course, no one is more to blame for his troubles than Mel himself, but there are many of us out there that wishes the old Mel could find his way back and make great movies again.  This could be that movie, with an intriguing story behind it about the only conscientious objector to ever be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor after saving the lives of 75 soldiers during the Battle of Okinawa.  Pvt. Desmond Doss’ harrowing story is the right kind of inspiring, non-controversial narrative that can help gain Mel some of his audience back, but is it enough?  My worry is that this might be too conventional a movie for the once risk-taking filmmaker.  I would rather see Mel return back to the hard edge material that he had explored with films like Braveheart (1995) and Apocalypto, but then again, he’s probably not in the situation where he’s allowed to take those chances again; at least not yet.  I want to see Mel come back in a big way, and hopefully a lot wiser.  The movie does look beautiful, and Andrew Garfield looks like a good match for the role of Pvt. Doss.  Let’s hope that this is a movie that withstands the scrutiny of it’s association with it’s controversial creator.

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (SEPTEMBER 23)

Even the fall season is not exempt from Hollywood’s reliance on remakes and reboots.  Here we have a remake of the John Sturges 1960 Western original of the same name, this time directed by action movie director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day).  Now, you’re probably wondering why I don’t show as much contempt for this remake as I did for Ghostbusters.  The simple reason is because the original Magnificent Seven was itself a remake, of one of my favorite movies no less; Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954).  The fact that it’s getting remade again is less insulting to me, because it’s a story that has been done many times before, and overall was handled pretty respectfully.  But, even still, it is a remake and not an original idea, which still tempers my expectations of this project.  I do like the cast though, with Denzel Washington filling the boots worn previously by Yul Brynner in the 1960 version, and Takashi Shimura in the original Japanese classic.  I also like the presence of the ever charismatic Chris Pratt, still riding high after the success of Jurassic World (2015) and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014).  The question now is whether or not this remake has anything new to add to the storyline, or for that matter to the Western genre as a whole, which has been pretty dormant in recent years.  If it just comes off as a standard cliched Western, then it’s not going to click with audiences.  But, if it takes a familiar story and characters and experiments a little with the formula, it might make this remake worthwhile.  The Old West is in need of fresh blood, and hopefully good stories stay strong over time.

MOVIES TO SKIP:

TROLLS (NOVEMBER 4)

Oh, what happened to you Dreamworks Animation?  A couple years ago you were one of the leading forces in the world of animation, right alongside Pixar.   With hits like Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, and How to Train Your Dragon, you were pushing the medium forward and appealing to audiences of all ages.  But after a string of failures and disappointing returns on some of your marquee franchises, things have been looking grim for you.  Add to this the recent acquisition by Comcast and the departure of your founder Jeffrey Katzenberg from the company, it is now an uncertain time for you.  Sadly, the next thing coming in your future is a movie like Trolls.  This is a film that clearly looks like the product of an animation studio that has given up.  Instead of making movies that appeal to all demographics, Dreamworks is now just aiming for just younger audiences with this way too cutesy film.  Based on the brightly follicled toy line of the same name, this looks like an over-glorified, 90-minute toy commercial and nothing more.  And given the inclusion of a number of recording artists in the film, making up most of the voice cast as well, this also looks like a desperate attempt to sell a soundtrack album in addition to toys.  Dreamworks used to be above this shameless kind of audience pandering and it’s sad to see them reduced to such a state.  I hope that they can someday get back to making classics like Dragons again, because Trolls looks like a deep decent into mediocrity for a once powerful studio.

ASSASSIN’S CREED (DECEMBER 21)

Hollywood keeps making many of the same mistakes year after year, and one of those is usually their foolish attempt to try to turn a video game into a movie.  Not that I believe it can’t be done; it’s just that none of the many attempts at it has ever worked.  We are once again seeing Hollywood trying to bring a video game to life with Assassin’s Creed, a stealth adventure game from publisher Ubisoft, who are also involved in the making of this film.  I’ll give it this; the filmmakers are putting a lot of effort into this one, with a substantial budget and an all-star cast behind it.  Unfortunately, everything I’ve seen about this movie tells me that it is doomed to fail just like all the adaptations before it.  Not even the talent of Michael Fassbender can save this one.  The action looks generic, the gritty visual design looks cold and this movie also has the disadvantage of trying to replicate a game experience within a 2 hour run-time.  The reason why games like Assasssin’s Creed work is because they allow the player to move through the story at their own pace and absorb the world their characters’ exist in.  A movie can’t do that and I worry that Assassin’s Creed is going to try to do too much with too little.  The director, Justin Kurzel has some talent as a filmmaker, but he’s working in a medium that hasn’t been kind and I worry that this will be yet another cast-off sent to the heap of bad video game movies.

INFERNO (OCTOBER 28)

The appeal of this series is something that I just don’t get.  Based on Dan Brown’s collection of pulpy mystery novels, this series centered around the character Robert Langdon hit the big screen first with the maligned but profitable The DaVinci Code (2006), and continued with the less successful Angels and Demons (2009).  Both starred Tom Hanks as Langdon and were directed by Ron Howard, and neither film represented the best work from either.  The movies, like the books, think they are more clever and provocative than they really are, and in the end just end up being boring.  The DaVinci Code in particular was one of the most over-hyped movies in recent history and I still don’t see what all the fuss was about.  Angels and Demons was a tiny bit better, but was still a snoozefest overall.  Here, Hanks and Howard return for a third installment and it looks like just more of the same, which doesn’t bode well.  I highly doubt that three movies in this will be a series that finally takes hold for me.  Honestly, as far as a Tom Hanks picture worth seeing this fall, I would rather go with Sulley.  This merely feels like an obligation for the respectable actor and director, and nothing more than that.

So, there you have my outlook on the upcoming fall season.  I think that it’s pretty safe to say that this will be a season once again dominated by Star Wars hype, but I am hopeful that some surprises will be in store as well.  Of course, I only touched upon a handful of movies that will be releasing in the next few months.  Most of the films that have yet to come onto my radar just yet are some of those small indie movies that usually get their attention around Awards time, and I will hopefully try to keep up with them as best as I can.  Naturally, this season usually is a strong one for the animation medium, so I’m sure that movies  like Moana will perform well.  The same could be said about it’s competitors Trolls and Illumination’s Sing, but I doubt those will get the same kind of love from critics.  Keep in mind, these are just my initial thoughts before the season begins.  A lot of things can change over the next few months, and some of these movies can possibly exceed my expectations, or fall short of them.  If anything, I hope that this preview has been a helpful one to you my readers.  It’ll be interesting to see how your reactions to these films line up or differ from my own.  This crazy year is almost at it’s end, so let’s hope that it finishes strong at the box office and gives us some fresh entertainment that we will want to carry with us onward into the years afterward.

The Movies of Summer 2016

cinerama dome

In the 3 years that I have been writing this blog, I have yet to see a summer movie season that has felt exactly the same overall from year to year.  Some years we see ambitious roll outs from the major studios, and then other years, we see a significant roll back as the production companies decide to hold off on big gambles.  And in recent years, it has become more and more common to see blockbuster movies outside of the summer season.  2016 is no exception.  As I write this, the year has already had 3 different films with opening weekends over the $100 million mark (Deadpool, Batman v. Superman, and The Jungle Book) and Summer hasn’t even begun yet.  Couple this with 3 movies already having grossed over $300 million domestic and 2016 is beginning to look like a record breaking year.  This hot streak looks to continue into the weeks ahead, as Marvel gears up their annual summer entry, along with ambitious releases from their competitors (DC/Warner and 20th Century Fox).  Sequels and remakes of course will dominate the field again, but I’m also intrigued to see how some of this summer’s independent fare will perform.  After all, last summer also gave us movies like Ex Machina which while not a huge moneymaker, it still stood out long enough among the big boys to be awarded by year’s end.  That’s usually what makes the Summer season so compelling in the end; not the big tentpoles, but the little surprises, even when they come in huge packages like Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) or Pacific Rim (2013).

As I’ve done before every Summer Movie season, I will be sharing with you my choices for the must see attractions of the coming months, as well as the movies that have me worried and the ones that I know will stink.  While I believe my picks are sound as I write this, keep in mind, I’ve never been all that good at handicapping these things.  In years past, I predicted that Tomorrowland (2015) was going to be a great movie and that Edge of Tomorrow (2014) was going to be a terrible one.  Of course, neither prediction panned out like I thought it would.  At the same time, some of these are safe bets, and others could end up being complete surprises.  I’ll certainly be interested in seeing how this season progresses.  Can Marvel continue it’s hot streak with Captain America: Civil War? Can DC revive it’s image with Suicide Squad?  What could end up being this year’s unexpected hit, or which one will be the most notorious flop?  Time to look over the Summer of 2016 schedule and see what’s ahead.

MUST SEES:

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (MAY 6)

Let’s begin right where this Summer season launches with the next big Marvel movie release.  The Disney owned studio has dominated this weekend in recent years, with Avengers 1 and 2 opening to record-breaking numbers as well as Iron Man 3 (2013).  This year, Cap gets the prime spot, though of course he’s not alone in this third film in his standalone series.  The impressive cast includes pretty much every Avenger character we’ve seen to date, minus Thor and The Hulk, who will get their own separate movie next year.  Not only that, but this film will also mark the debut of Black Panther into the Marvel stable (played by Chadwick Boseman) as well as the triumphant re-introduction of Spider-Man into the Marvel Universe (here played by newcomer Tom Holland).  With a cast like this, you could just as well call this Avengers 2.5.  But, Avengers moniker or no , this still looks like an amazing film just based off of the trailers alone.  Really, I don’t blame Marvel for wanting to use their entire cast to the maximum even outside of the marquee Avengers franchise. The action scenes look top notch and the cast feels as comfortable in their roles as ever, especially Chris Evans as Captain America and Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man.  Certainly, in the wake of the mess that was Batman v. Superman, this will be Marvel’s example of how to do the formula right.  You could learn something from this Zack Snyder; pay close attention.  Hopefully, this won’t be a sign of overkill for the Marvel Studios and that their winning streak will continue as they push forward into their Phase 3 plan.

SUICIDE SQUAD (AUGUST 5)

Speaking of DC Comics, they have their own film for this Summer season.  After the disappointing results of Batman v. SupermanSuicide Squad has an opportunity to turn things around in this cinematic universe and they can do that with a movie that hopefully has a lot more fun with it’s premise, instead of feeling like a cynical mandate.  And I honestly feel like this movie has set the right tone needed for DC.  Under the expert hand of director David Ayer (End of WatchFurySuicide Squad feels looser and more geared towards entertainment than other DC films.  The question is whether it can stand well on it’s own, or is merely just trying too hard to copy the vibe off of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.  Honestly, if they are trying to be the DC version of Guardians, I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing.  One thing that gets me excited about this film is it’s cast of characters.  If there’s one thing that DC does have over Marvel, it is their stronger “Rogues Gallery,” and here’s a movie that focuses entirely on just them.  Will Smith appears to be a good choice for Batman villain Deadshot, and it’s certainly been a while since I’ve been excited for any Smith film.  Plus, we are finally seeing the big screen debut of Harley Quinn (played by Margot Robbie), a comic book favorite that’s long been overlooked.  Jared Leto’s new take on the Joker also looks intriguing, and I’m happy that he’s doing his own thing with the character and not just rehashing Heath Ledger’s iconic version.  Overall, my hope is that this will become the tone-setter for DC going forward.  If DC wants to get the rest of us excited for their bold plan for a cinematic universe, it better be all of that.

FINDING DORY (JUNE 17)

Before Marvel had it’s stellar run, it was Pixar Animation Studios that had the best track record in Hollywood.  They’ve experienced a few pot holes as of late, both critically (Brave) and financially (The Good Dinosaur).  But, they are also riding a wave of goodwill from their beloved Inside Out, which was a dominant force in last year’s box office.  This year, they are releasing this sequel to their 2003 blockbuster hit, Finding Nemo.  It’s been quite a gap in time for this sequel to be released 13 years later, but Pixar has made it work before.  There was an eleven year gap between Toy Story 2 (1999) and 3 (2010), and a twelve year gap between Monsters Inc. (2001) and Monsters University (2013).  One of the bonuses for this sequel however is that it’s being directed by Nemo’s original creator, Andrew Stanton.  Unlike the others, which had the reigns handed over to newer teams, Stanton is bringing back his own vision for where the story will go; one that hopefully expands on the world instead of rehashing it.  After his disappointing foray into live action with John Carter (2012) this will be a homecoming for the director and the trailer clearly shows that the trademark Pixar heart and humor is still intact.  Ellen DeGeneres is of course returning as Dory (honestly, it wouldn’t be the same without her) as well as Albert Brooks as Marlin.  New cast members voiced by Ed O’Neil, Ty Burrell and Kaitlin Olsen also look to be welcome additions.  It may have been a long time for Pixar to make a return to the sea to rediscover these characters, but hopefully the wait will have been worth it.

STAR TREK BEYOND (JULY 22)

This new entry in the rebooted Star Trek franchise should be an interesting one.  After two successful films since it relaunched, this series is now faced with having to redefine itself under new direction.  Director J.J. Abrams helped to bring the Star Trek brand up to date, but he’s been absent for the last few years, bringing that same cinematic magic to the other iconic Sci-Fi franchise, Star Wars.  In his place, Paramount Pictures tapped Fast and the Furious helmer Justin Lin to take over, which is no small order.  Abrams left big shoes to fill, and people worried that a filmmaker of Lin’s ilk might push for too much action in the series and not enough of the excellent character development that the Abram’s films were lauded for.  The stunt heavy trailer didn’t alleviate much doubt among some fans, and the Beastie Boys theme only solidified some of the worries that this movies was heading in a very non-Trek direction.  I for one feel that there’s still a lot to look forward to with this movie.  For one thing, the cast is still intact and true to character.  As long as the movie still keeps the character dynamics that have long been a part of the franchise the same, then I don’t think a little extra action would hurt the series at all.  Plus, the script for this entry is being co-penned by Simon Pegg, who’s also returning to the role of Scotty, and given his admiration for the series as a whole, I think this new direction for the series might turn out better than expected.  There may be a new Captain at the helm, but the Enterprise is still boldly heading into that final frontier the way it should be, and hopefully it will continue to do so.

X-MEN: APOCALYPSE (MAY 27)

Speaking of a franchise that has had to constantly reinvent itself, the X-Men franchise gives us their eighth entry this summer.  You would think that a long running series like this would have lost steam by this point, but X-Men is riding strong goodwill right now thanks to the success of their last film, Days of Future Past, which was not only the most critically praised entry in the series, but also the most profitable.  One thing that has helped this franchise out is the return of Bryan Singer to the director’s chair.  Having started the franchise way back with the first film in 2000, Singer made his return with Days of Future Past and has solidified his status as the best fit for the direction of this franchise.  His fourth X-Men film takes on one of the most beloved story-lines from the comic book series, and that’s the arrival of the titular heroes’ greatest threat; the god-like uber mutant known as Apocalypse.  Some fans have complained that the visual representation of the character is too much of a departure from his comic image, but I feel that the look of the character is less important than how he’s used in the final film.  Singer has done well in this franchise before, so I trust his judgment with the changes made to the costumes, as well as to the overall story.  I love the fact that he cast a quality actor like Oscar Isaac to the iconic role (having had a great 2015 appearing in both Ex Machina and Star Wars).  All of the other actors are returning as well, and hopefully their story-lines continue to bear fruit for this long running series.  It certainly appears to have the earth-shattering epic scope attached that’s befitting of the term apocalyptic.

MOVIES THAT HAVE ME WORRIED:

THE BFG (JULY 1)

Now, here we have something that on paper should sound amazing. Steven Spielberg, arguably the greatest filmmaker of his generation, taking on an adaptation of a Roald Dahl classic.  And to be honest, I’m actually very excited to see this movie regardless, because I feel like this is a movie adaptation long overdue.  The only thing is, I have a couple reservations that keeps me from being 100% enthusiastic about this.  For one thing, though Spielberg has been responsible for some of the greatest movies ever centered around children and child-like wonder, it’s been well over 25 years since he last ventured into this kind of story-telling.  And his last attempt at it was Hook (1991) which felt a little muddled and tonally confused in comparison to something like E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982).  Also, the CGI heavy visual presentation makes me worry that the film may not feel authentic in the way it should.  The BFG demands a subdued and magical tone to it’s story, and my worry is that too much CG eye candy might spoil the experience.  But, on the plus side, Spielberg is working from a script by the late Melissa Mathison, who also wrote E.T.  This will be their final collaboration so hopefully it will be a dignified swan song for the legendary screenwriter.  And despite my misgivings of CGI, I will admit the animation of the titular giant does look good (with a voice by recent Oscar winner Mark Rylance).  Hopefully after 20 years telling grown up stories, Spielberg can return to seeing the world through the eyes of a child again, and that it will be just as magical as before.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS (JUNE 3)

This is a strange direction that this franchise has taken.  A couple years back, you might remember that I added the first film to my “movies to skip” preview.  So, why am I upgrading the sequel into this year’s purgatory?  Because, judging by what I’ve seen in the trailers, this is actually one of the few cases where pandering to fan service may actually be a good thing.  The first film was rightly criticized for taking too many liberties with the premise and visual style of the Ninja Turtles, becoming more of a generic action thriller cash in than anything.  This time around, it looks like the filmmakers behind this actually were taking into account what die-hard fans of this Turtles have been asking for, and they are delivering the goods this time around.  It seems like every element from the popular animated series and toy-line that many people from my generation had grown up with has made it into the film; whether it be the van that shoots out manhole covers from the front to the inclusion of fan favorite minions Bebop and Rocksteady.  My own favorite character, Casey Jones (played by Arrow’s Stephen Amell) is also here too.  The only thing that keeps me from being too excited for this is the fact that it’s still a Michael Bay production.  But, unlike Bay’s Transformers franchise, which just treats it’s fan-base like idiots, this franchise is actually treating it’s fans more seriously and are listening to what they want, and that in the end is a step in the right direction.

JASON BOURNE (JULY 29)

It’s been a long eight year gap since we’ve seen Jason Bourne on the big screen.  The series hit a high point with it’s third film, The Bourne Ultimatum (2008), and the finale of that movie felt like a fitting final chapter in the groundbreaking action franchise’s run.  Unfortunately, Universal Pictures wanted to keep the series going, even though it’s star Matt Damon had stepped away.  The result was that we got a Jason Bourne-less sequel called The Bourne Legacy (2012), starring Jeremy Renner in the role of another spy unconnected with the title character, and the overall movie turned out to be a pointless retread of familiar ground.  Now, Matt Damon has returned to the role, but has the franchise already run out of steam to the point where even he can’t bring it back?  My hope is that there is still some juice left in this franchise to make another sequel necessary.  The return of director Paul Greengrass is a good sign, as is the addition of Tommy Lee Jones to the cast.  The only thing is that Ultimatum was such a high water mark and Legacy was such a boring disappointment that I worry that this series should be better left alone than continued.  Honestly, I don’t know if there is anything left to explore with the character.  And there is so many other Bourne clones in cinemas now, that I don’t think a new one will stand out like the original trilogy did years ago.  But, then again, I may be underestimating what Greengrass and Damon can do, and hopefully this will be one spy worth seeing again.

BEN-HUR (AUGUST 19)

Remakes are a tricky sell in Hollywood, especially when they take on beloved classics.  This summer, we are getting a modern re-telling of the classic Ben-Hur.  The original from 1959 is considered by many to be one of the crown jewels of Hollywood’s Golden Age of the 1950’s; an unmatched epic scale production that still inspires filmmakers today.  Certainly one of those inspired by the movie had to be Russian filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch) who is taking on the risky challenge of adapting this story himself.  I’ll give him this, it’s a decision that takes a lot of guts to do.  Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone can truly recapture the wonder and scope of William Wyler’s masterpiece, but it will be interesting to see someone try.  Can this movie work as a remake of the classic film?  Probably not.  Can it do an adequate job of retelling of Lew Wallace’s classic story?  Maybe.  There are some interesting visual ideas seen in the trailer; though it looks like too many other Gladiator wannabes we’ve seen over the years.  The inclusion of Morgan Freeman in the cast also has me intrigued.  Still, I’m sure that too much self-indulgent eye candy may spoil this film’s presentation, especially in the famous chariot race that was so remarkably staged in the original classic.  But, even despite this, I don’t exactly hold Ben-Hur up as this untouchable work of art, so I’m still interested in seeing if any new take on it might turn out something at least interesting.

MOVIES TO SKIP:

GHOSTBUSTERS (JULY 15)

Now here’s a remake that I have not one shred of faith in.  Let me be clear, I don’t object to the casting of female actors in the roles.  That’s an idea that absolutely could have worked if given the same amount of care as the original.  No, what I object to is the heavy handed slapstick that they’ve added.  The original Ghostbusters (1984) is a masterpiece of character driven, understated, dry witty humor that was perfectly in tune with it’s cast that included Bill Murray and the late Harold Ramis.  This remake seems to think that all they need to get a laugh is to rely on shtick and physical gags.  This is not what made Ghostbusters a classic in the first place.  The original also had the great juxtaposition of genuine scary elements mixed in with the sarcastic one-liners.  This remake almost feels restrained and lazy.  Seriously, they’re lowering themselves down to another Exorcist reference.  The overly used CGI doesn’t help either, because it only adds to the artificiality of it all.  Maybe the cast will try their hardest to be funny, but unless they get the tone right, this remake is doomed to fail.  And I hold the original up in such high regards that I feel any attempt to piggy back on it’s legacy is pretty much doomed to fail as well.  Sadly, with the talent involved, this is going to be a disaster that will hurt and I worry that this will end up tarnishing the good name of a comedy masterpiece.  No, just no.

INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE (JUNE 24)

Here we have a sequel coming to theaters after an extremely long absence; 20 years in fact, almost to the day.  Roland Emmerich’s 1996 original was a true phenomenon, breaking box office records and revolutionizing the use of CGI graphics and cinematic scale into the Summer blockbuster for it’s time.  It also spotlighted actor Will Smith, turning him into a bankable star overnight.  At the same time Independence Day was also big and dumb, but in a nice goofy way, just as long as you didn’t take it too seriously.  Unfortunately, over time Roland Emmerich has lost some of the playful goofiness of his earlier work and has now turned into a director that rehashes the same old tricks, only with less of a sense of humor attached.  His movies (like 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow) have only gotten dumber and too self-important, and sadly it looks like he’s bringing that same sense of storytelling back to the film that made him famous.  Independence Day: Resurgence just looks like all the worst Emmerich tropes all rolled up into one; wooden characters, self-important aggrandizing, and excessive CGI-assisted disaster porn, all without the knowing self-aware humor that made the original tolerable.  The absence of Will Smith is noticeable too.  Sadly, Jeff Goldblum might not be able to save this movie alone.  It’s a big bloated sequel that is perhaps a decade too late and from a director who’s clearly lost his ability to have some clever, winking fun.

ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS (MAY 27)

Disney seems determined to adapt all of their animated classics into live action and so far the results are mixed.  Some have been excellent (Cinderella), some just okay (The Jungle Book), and others have been outright terrible (Maleficent).  But certainly the one that missed the mark the most was their 2010 adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, directed by Tim Burton.  The film was a mess of tone and characterizations that felt nowhere close to the spirit of the animated classic, or even the original Lewis Carroll novel.  So, why is it getting a sequel?  Oh yeah, it made over a billion dollars worldwide, despite the poor reviews surrounding it.  Even still, this follow up doesn’t indicate to me a step in the right direction.  Instead it just looks like more of the same things that made the original so disappointing; overused CGI, an unnecessary grim tone, a poorly written script, Johnny Depp doing another weird hammy performance, and a severe lack of insight into what the story is actually about.  The only thing I did like from the original was Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen, and I’m glad to see her return here.  Also, Tim Burton is sitting this one out, with The Muppet Movie (2011) director James Bobin taking his place, which could be helpful.  But, even still, there’s not much hope I see here, even with the addition of Sasha Baron Cohen to the cast, who might be in a ham acting duel with Johnny Depp for most of the movie.

So, there are my predictions for this summer season.  Hopefully, there will be a lot to praise this year, and nothing to overall complain about.  Certainly, the over reliance on sequels during this time of year is discouraging, but when the franchises still enough mojo left in them to be worthwhile (like Captain America and X-Men), I really can’t complain.  This is still the time of year for Hollywood to flex it’s muscles, and given the already stellar start that 2016 has seen, it will be interesting to see if this summer can continue the trend.  It’s really fascinating to see the way that audiences go to the movies now, where these seasons don’t really matter as much like they used to.  A blockbuster can now find it’s audience in the dead of winter, like Deadpool managed to earlier this year.  At some point, we’ll be seeing an opening weekend north of $100 million in every month of the year at this rate.  Even still, the Summer Movie Season has it’s own special draw and hopefully we’ll have a standout on this year.  I’ll certainly be getting my fair share of entertainment as I try my best to review as many of these big releases over the next few months.  But, then again, it’s the thing that never changes for me at the movies whether I’m writing about it or not.  I hope you all find worthwhile entertainment at the movies this summer too and that this guide was helpful overall.

The 2016 Oscars – Picks and Thoughts

The Awards season has come to a close and all that’s left is the big ceremony awarding the industry’s biggest honor; The Academy Award.  Like every year, every one (including myself of course) debate over who will win and who we think will win, and often there is little consensus and often times some bitter disputes.  Regardless of who walks away with the award, we all have to agree that history will ultimately prove what’s a good movie or not and that the awards are more or less just fancy get-togethers for industry insiders to pat each other on the back and give out glorified trophies.  And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of that.  The only reason why the Oscars become a big deal is because we the public have given it the weight that it has.  Like everything else in life, we want to see every year marked by a definitive champion, whether it is in sports or in this case, culture.  The Oscars have become the industry’s barometer of the status of movie-making, and whether or not you view it as on point or out of touch depends on your own tastes in movies.  This can also lead to the Oscars becoming a hot button issue for social political issues, because of that value we put on it as a touchstone of our popular culture.  Certainly, the #OscarsSoWhite campaign generated in the last month since the nominations were announced wouldn’t be so controversial if there hasn’t been so much value put on the Awards itself by our culture.  Regardless of the validity of the controversy, it will be a perfect tee up for host Chris Rock, who I hope delivers a hilarious routine in response.  Like every year, I will share with you my picks for the awards, including who I believe will win and who I want to see win in the biggest categories.  So, let’s begin…

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Nominees: Matt Charman and Joel & Ethan Coen (Bridge of Spies); Alex Garland (Ex Machina); Pete Doctor, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley, and Ronnie del Carmen (Inside Out); Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer (Spotlight); and Jonathan Herman, Angela Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge, and Alan Wenkus (Straight Outta Compton)

Strangely enough, given the complaint of the lack of diversity in the acting categories, this year’s selection of screenplay nominations couldn’t be more diverse; at least in terms of genre types.  You have your straight forward historical drama (Bridge of Spies), an animated film (Inside Out), an in depth look at the journalistic process (Spotlight), a cerebral sci-fi experience (Ex Machina) and a biopic about rappers (Straight Outta Compton).  Overall, I think that many of these choices are deserving, and I’m pleased that the unappreciated Compton and Ex Machina made the cuts.  As of right now, the clear front runner in this category is the highly detailed and politically charged Spotlight.  While Spotlight‘s status as a Best Picture front-runner has diminished in the last couple months, due to shut outs at the Golden Globes and other early industry indicators, the momentum for awarding it’s screenplay hasn’t, especially after a Writers Guild award win.  Is it deserving of the honor.  I believe that that the work put into it, which must have been years in the making just for the research, helps to make it worthy of the award.  But, at the same time, the movie itself lacked any real drive, which keeps it from being my favorite.  It’s fascinating, yes, but the characters lacked definition and the momentum was shaky throughout.  For a screenplay that resonated more for me, I would say that Ex Machina was the standout in this category.  Straight Outta Compton and Inside Out were both entertaining in their writing too, but Ex Machina was the one that really made me think about it long after I saw it.  It’s a brilliant, understated work from accomplished writer Alex Garland.  So, Spotlight will clearly win, but Ex Machina I think will be my dark horse in this race.

Who Will Win: Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer, Spotlight

Who Should Win: Alex Garland, Ex Machina

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Nominees: Charles Randolph and Adam McKay (The Big Short); Nick Hornby (Brooklyn); Phyllis Nagy (Carol); Drew Goddard (The Martian); and Emma Donoghue (Room)

Here we find the more traditional nominees for Best Screenplay, all classical dramas, with one major exception.  Each is admirable in it’s own right.  I particularly liked Phyllis Nagy’s understated but poignant gay romance in Carol, a screenplay that could have easily sensationalized it’s subject and wisely chose not to.  I also admire Drew Goddard’s The Martian, which managed to make science interesting as well as fun, which is sadly missing in so many Hollywood films today.  Also, a lot of praise is due to Emma Donoghue for adapting her own novel in such an effective way.  But, for my favorite, I would have to go with the odd man out, and that’s Adam McKay and Charles Randolph’s The Big Short, and thankfully, this one has emerged as the clear front-runner.  What makes it a stand out is the unconventional presentation of the entire screenplay, taking a dry, heady subject like the factors that led to the Housing Market crash and making it accessible to the audience, while at the same time finding the absurdest humor in it all and being able to tell a story with compelling characters.  It’s a remarkable balancing act that the writing team should be awarded for.  Of all the nominees in this category, and out of all the movies nominated in general, I believe that this will be the one that will gain in stature long after the awards are over, and will probably turn into an important movie in the long run, just based on the way it informs us of such a chaotic time in our history and tries to move us towards seeing that it never happens again.  In addition, it would be a special subversive treat to see the man behind Anchorman and Talladega Night walk away this year with an Oscar to his name.  The Big Short is a brilliant and monumental satire and it will be absolutely deserving of it’s award.

Who Will Win: Adam McKay and Charles Randolph, The Big Short

Who Should Win: Adam McKay and Charles Randolph, The Big Short

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

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

One thing that you usually see happen at the Academy Awards is the awarding of an Oscar to a seasoned veteran after a long drought or a career completely devoid of any previous nomination.  Sometimes it’s done through an honorary award, but other times it comes in the way of a late career win for sometimes a lesser film.  It’s usually known as a “legacy win” and this year that may fall in this category as the front-runner has long been action film icon Sylvester Stallone in Creed.  Now, some people may be put off by the idea of giving Stallone an Oscar, but those same people may not have seen the movie Creed either.  I certainly wouldn’t mind if Stallone won this year; one, because Creed is an excellent movie and deserving of recognition, two, Stallone gives a touching heartfelt performance, and three, it makes for a great story that Stallone would win an Oscar late in his career for the same role that made him an icon in the first place.  Certainly, Stallone could’ve been awarded for worse, and I think an Oscar here is not only deserved, but maybe even due for the man behind Rocky Balboa.  Now, would he be my personal choice.  Sadly, there is a great field behind Stallone this year, and any other year I would say that each of them could win.  Rylance and Ruffalo are both solid in their roles, and Bale give a delightfully twisted performance in The Big Short.  But my favorite would be Tom Hardy, who really transformed himself for his role in The Revenant and delivers what I think to be the most compelling performance overall.  Also, this category is up in the air for me because my favorite performance of the year (Benicio del Toro in Sicario) wasn’t nominated.  Out of the bunch, Hardy would be my choice, but if Stallone does win, I won’t complain either.  It’s his time to be the champ.

Who Will Win: Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Who Should Win: Tom Hardy, The Revenant

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Nominees: Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight); Rooney Mara (Carol); Rachel McAdams (Spotlaight); Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl); and Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)

Out of all the acting categories in this year’s Oscars, this is the one that feels the least decided.  Many of the early awards have been split this year, with the likeliest front-runners being Kate Winslet and Alicia Vikander.  Vikander has the benefit of being seeing as the “it girl” of the year, having appeared in many high profile projects last year including Ex Machina and Guy Richie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E.  Finishing the year with the acclaimed The Danish Girl helped to garner her even more attention and the Oscars usually bestow these Supporting awards to fresh new faces like her.  On the flip side, Kate Winslet is a much beloved Hollywood veteran, having been  nominated several times and won Best Actress prior, and her performance in Steve Jobs is one of her most interesting roles yet, making her a viable front-runner too.  It’s a hard one to choose, but I think Alicia Vikander’s blockbuster year gives her a slight edge, though I would love to see Winslet win just so the under-appreciated Steve Jobs gets some recognition.  But at the same time, neither has locked this up and both could even be overcome by a surprise winner here, which any of the other nominees could end up being.  Out of that group, my surprise pick is also my favorite in the bunch, and that’s Jennifer Jason Leigh’s gonzo performance in Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight.  It’s not out of the realm of possibility; Tarantino has delivered actors to Oscar wins before.  Also, Leigh is a beloved workhorse who’s long gained respect in the industry and her performance is definitely the category’s most unusual and daring.  So, Leigh may not be the odds on favorite, but she would make the most spectacular of spoilers in this open race.

Who Will Win: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

Who Should Win: Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight

BEST ACTOR

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

If there was ever a category this year that was a lock, this would be it.  After so many years of being nominated and walking away empty handed, despite being one of the most successful actors of his generation, Leonardo DiCaprio will finally win an Oscar this year.  Sometimes people complain that actors who get snubbed for so many years and then finally win usually get it for a lesser performance in a lesser film.  I don’t think that’s this case with DiCaprio this year.  Sure, I wouldn’t call his work in The Revenant to be my absolute favorite performance of his (that would be his incredible performance in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street), but considering all the other nominees in this race, I would clearly say that he does give the best single performance of the bunch.  It becomes especially apparent that he’s deserving of the award when you learn of all the physical hurdles that he had to go through during the filming of The Revenant, and denying him an Oscar once again after all that passion and pain may be a little cruel in the end.  He’s a deserving front-runner and my own clear choice for the award overall.  Now, is there anyone in this category who could be a potential spoiler, and would they dare come up to accept in the face of the the backlash that could come from loyal DiCaprio fans everywhere.  I would say the only ones who come close would be Matt Damon for his surprisingly charming and humane performance in The Martian, and also Bryan Cranston for Trumbo, just for his beloved standing in the acting community.  But, don’t count on any spoilers.  It’s Leo’s year and it’s been a long time coming.

Who Will Win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Who Should Win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

BEST ACTRESS

Nominees: Cate Blanchett (Carol); Brie Larson (Room); Jennifer Lawrence (Joy); Charlotte Rampling (45 Years); and Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)

This is another race that appears to have been locked up already, but I wouldn’t say that it as strongly decided as DiCaprio for Best Actor.  The front-runner here is Brie Larson, who has surprise everyone so far by becoming the unexpected front-runner in a category with so many high profile names.  And, she has certainly deserved the praise since being nominated, because it’s a performance that does stand out among the rest.  Playing a kidnapping victim who has lived in isolation for many years in a locked shed in the harrowing film Room, Larson’s role could not have been easy and it’s a great achievement to see her pull it off in the film.  Her performance was also helped a lot with the support of her young co-star Jacob Tremblay, who sadly wasn’t nominated.  If she wins as she is predicted to, it will be deserved and it hopefully will elevate her status in the industry and lead to more challenging roles that will make good use of her talent.  But, is she my pick for the award.  Though I admire her performance, I would say that the one who left more of an impression on me in this category was actually Cate Blanchett in Carol.  Yeah, it seems a little unfair to choose the seasoned, multiple Oscar winner to once again be the best in the category, but that’s just a sign of how good she is.  Her performance in Carol is more heartfelt and more interesting than all the rest, and that’s a sign of someone who has a full command of their art-form.  Brie Larson may have had the most challenging role, but Blanchett had the more resonant performance, which made it stand out more for me.  Even still, a win for Larson will be well deserved and recognition for an under-appreciated film like Room that deserves more of an audience than it has received so far.

Who Will Win: Brie Larson, Room

Who Should Win: Cate Blanchett, Carol

BEST DIRECTOR

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

It’s hard to believe that of all the directors working in the industry today, that the one who’s best positioned to win the coveted Directing award two years in a row is Alejandro G. Inarritu.  But, as early indicators have piled up, that certainly seems to be the case.  Once a maverick, small scale film director of indie darlings like 21 Grams (2003) and Babel (2006), Inarritu has completely transformed himself as a filmmaker, making far more ambitious projects and delivering the best back to back set of masterpieces since Sidney Lumet made the duo of Dog Day Afternoon (1975) and Network (1976) simultaneously forty years ago.  Having won last year for Birdman (2014), Inarritu has surprisingly emerged as the front-runner again for the ambitious epic The Revenant, and his win would be only the third time in Oscar history that a director has won back to back; the last one being Joseph L. Mankiewicz for A Letter to Three Wives (1949) and All About Eve (1950).  Is it an honor he deserves.  Absolutely.  The Revenant really is a tour-de-force of direction and one of the most incredible achievements in film-making this year.  I think it helps that Inarritu’s only other credible competition from last year (Ridley Scott for The Martian) didn’t receive a nomination, which makes his road to a win less of a challenge.  The only spoiler that I could possibly see in this category is George Miller for Mad Max.  Miller, like Inarritu, showcased the highest form of film direction seen this year in his movie as well, working under equally harsh conditions, and a win for him could also be an acknowledgement of his cherished legacy.  But, I think it’s safe to say that Alejandro is going to defend his title successfully and become the unlikeliest of two-time winners in Oscar history.

Who Will Win: Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant

Who Should Win: Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant

BEST PICTURE:

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

So, of all the categories at this years Oscars, it’s surprising that the biggest one of them all is also the least predictable this year.  Unlike in years past, when one or two front-runners will have emerged at this point, we don’t have a clear favorite.  Yeah, some of the nominated movies have no chance and are more likely to pick up awards in other categories (Room and Bridge of Spies), but at least half of the nominated movies this year do have legitimate shots at winning this year.  So, how do I think this year’s race will go.  My belief is that the Oscars tend to go for the movie that has the best chance to be a multiple winner in other categories and that has usually been large epic films.  That’s why I think The Revenant will ride the coattails of the assured wins in the Best Actor and Directing categories towards collecting Best Picture.  Is it deserving of that honor.  I think so.  It was my choice for the third best movie of the year in my top ten list, and my favorite film of the year (Sicario) wasn’t nominated, so I have less of an interest in who wins this year as opposed to last year when my favorite (Birdman) was nominated and won.  Unfortunately, I can’t say it’s my absolute pick for the award, because The Martian was also nominated, and I ranked that higher than The Revenant.  Sadly, without a Directing nomination, The Martian is out of the race, but had it had a chance, I would have picked it over The Revenant.  Complaints have also been made that The Martian is too commercial and crowd-pleasing to deserve a win, which is silly because why should the ability for a movie to entertain it’s audience be considered a negative.  As it stands, out of the films that have a chance, I would favor The Revenant and I believe it will win.  Although, The Big Short winning would make an interesting finish to the night, as would a complete curve-ball if Mad Max: Fury Road snuck up and took it.  It’s an unpredictable year and it probably works out for the best that the most suspenseful race is the one that’s saved until the very end.

Who Will Win: The Revenant

Who Should Win: The Martian

So, there are my picks for this years Academy Award winners, as well as my own personal favorites.  In addition, I would also like to run down all my picks for the other awards of the night:

Best Animated Feature: Inside Out (no contest); Best Cinematography: The RevenantBest Film Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road; Best Production Design: Mad Max: Fury Road; Best Make-Up and Hairstyling: The Revenant; Best Visual Effects: Star Wars: The Force Awakens; Best Sound Mixing: The Revenant; Best Sound Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road; Best Costume Design: Cinderella; Best Original Score: The Hateful EightBest Original Song: “Writing’s on the Wall” from Spectre; Best Foreign Language Film: Son of Saul; Best Documentary Feature: Cartel LandBest Documentary Short: A Girl in the RiverBest Live Action Short: Shok; Best Animated Short: World of Tomorrow

So, those are my picks for this year’s Oscars.  Am I going to be pleased or angered by how it turns out.  Well, because my favorite movie of the year was left out, I have less of a vested interest in who wins the big award, but at the same time, I value some more than others.  And one good thing this year is that unlike the previous year I walked away liking each of the Best Picture nominees; I still don’t get why so many people fell in love with a terrible film like The Theory of Everything last year, and worse yet, that it managed to steal an Oscar away from Michael Keaton.  It was a good year for movies and I’m glad the nominations reflected that.  I just wish that they spread their net further and nominated more deserving films like CreedSicario, and Straight Outta Compton.  Maybe then they might have avoided the controversy that fell their way.  They expanded their number of nominees several years ago for the reasons of being more inclusive, so I don’t get why we were limited to seeing only 8 nominated films this year.  Regardless, I hope that the show itself is worthwhile.  They couldn’t have picked a better host for the ceremony this year than Chris Rock, and my hope is that he doesn’t hold back.  If ever there was a year for the Academy to be grilled and mocked by it’s host, this would be it, and he just might get away with it too.  In time, we’ll probably forget about all the controversy and the films themselves will carry their own legacy far beyond what the awards will actually mean for them.  For me, I just like seeing the process unfold and looking at all the new names that join the ranks of Oscar winner.  It’s why I watch in the end.

The Movies of Fall 2015

theater seating

What a difference a year makes.  In the summer of 2014, Hollywood took a milder approach to their tent-pole releases; relying less on big gambles like The Lone Ranger (2013) and Battleship (2012) and instead focusing on reliable entries like franchise sequels and genre fare.  And with the milder budgeted movies came milder box office, with only Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) exceeding expectations.  No phenomenons, but no catastrophic failures either.  That trend proved to be short lived as the summer of 2015 was a monumental season for Hollywood.  Not only did we have two record breaking box office hits this year with Jurassic World  and Avengers: Age of Ultron (both earning their way into the Top 10 box office hits of all time club), but on the opposite end of the spectrum we saw two monumental flops this season as well (Tomorrowland and Fantastic Four).  Even despite the season’s big failures, there was still a lot for the Hollywood community to be proud of.  The overall box office numbers for the season have been the highest it’s gotten in a long time; maybe even the best season ever.  Universal came out the big winners, led by the record-breaking Jurassic World, and supported by other mega-hits like Furious 7, Minions, and the Amy Schumer comedy Trainwreck.  We also saw the triumphant return of Pixar with their smash hit Inside Out, which is already high on my best of the year list.  There were also solid efforts from tried and true franchises like this year’s critically praised Mad Max: Fury Road and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.  But what I’m sure Hollywood is most excited about is that this summer proved that people are heading back to the theaters again in huge numbers, helping to drive up these huge box office returns and give the studios confidence as they move forward with what’s next.

Speaking of which, the Fall season of 2015 will be no less ambitious as Hollywood gears up for the Holiday and Awards seasons.  While most of the movies in the next few months will be of the smaller, awards bait variety, there are certainly some big budget contenders that Hollywood is gearing audiences up for; including one that is not only the most anticipated movie of the year, but probably one of the most anticipated of all time (Star Wars: The Force Awakens).   But this season doesn’t just belong to Star Wars alone, though it will be tough to beat once it’s in theaters.  We’re also seeing the conclusion of the mega-popular Hunger Games franchise, as well the continuation and possible redefining entries in long standing franchises like the new James Bond film Spectre and the new Rocky movie Creed.  There are also ambitious new movies coming from some of Hollywood’s greatest current directors, like Guillermo del Toro, Robert Zemekis, Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Ron Howard, David O. Russell, and Quentin Tarantino.  With this article, like in years past, I will be highlighting some of the most anticipated movies of this upcoming season and tell you which ones I believe will be the must sees, the ones that have me worried, and the ones that I believe are worth skipping.  Keep in mind, these are just my early predictions based solely on how I’ve responded to the hype and publicity surrounding them so far.  I have been wrong about some predictions before; in fact, one of my movies to skip last year ended up on my best of the year list (Edge of Tomorrow).  Still, I think that some of these choices are pretty obvious and it’ll be an interesting experience no matter what seeing where all the movies fall into place by season’s end.  So, let’s begin.

MUST SEES:

STAR WARS EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS (DECEMBER 18)

What else was I going to start this article with?  Yes, there are going to be many excellent movies worth seeing this fall season, some of which might even be better than this.  But no other movie this season is going to have the same hype around it.  This is the big ticket movie of Fall 2015, and possibly of the entire year, whether it delivers or not.  So far though, it has led us to believe that director J.J. Abrams is indeed delivering the goods.  The above trailer is a masterwork of marketing, hitting all the right notes and it does an excellent job of convincing us that yes, Star Wars is back.  The thing that I’m most looking forward to, however, is the fact that for the first time since 1983’s Return of the Jedi, we are going to be seeing the Star Wars franchise move forward and not backwards, at least in terms of story.  George Lucas’ flawed prequel trilogy gave us stories that we already knew and in the end never really needed to be shown.  Here, we are getting to finally see the further adventures of the iconic characters from the original trilogy, as well as see the aftermath of the fall of the Empire.  What I also like is that Abrams clearly wants us to know that his Star Wars is hearkening back to the style of the originals, with more practical effects and on-location shooting.  Thus far, all the advertisements have convinced audiences that this movie is going to do right by the name Star Wars and that it will help reinvigorate the legendary franchise.  You know anticipation for this movie is big when the trailer alone has made grown men cry.  And I don’t blame them.  This is going to be a massive hit no matter what, and my hope is that the promise of these trailers comes to fruition.  Just please don’t suck.

THE HATEFUL EIGHT (DECEMBER 25)

Quentin Tarantino has reached that rarefied air of prestige to where every time he releases a new film, it becomes an event.  And the miraculous thing about his new project is that it almost didn’t become a reality.  In late 2013, someone had leaked Taratino’s script online, which promptly led to his decision to shelve the project.  Thankfully, an outcry of fans convinced Tarantino to go ahead with filming anyway despite the leak, and I’m so grateful that he did.  I for one am eagerly anticipating this movie.  Tarantino’s last film Django Unchained topped my list of the Best Movies of 2012, and my hope is that he continues his winning streak with this one too.  Surprisingly, the versatile director has decided to stay within the Western genre, only this time sticking much closer to the genre norms than the more revisionist Django.  But, there’s no worries there since the movie looks to have the same trademark style of all of Tarantino’s movies that he’s made his own.  The movie also looks to have been made up of an ensemble cast of Tarantino all-stars, including regular players like Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Walton Goggins, and Bruce Dern.  All that’s missing is Christoph Waltz; we would’ve had the full set with him in the picture.  But, at the same time, it looks like Taratino’s cast is pretty well rounded without him.  And, to show his support for tradition film photography, Tarantino is not only shooting this movie in 70mm, but he’s also doing it in the Ultra Panavision process, which hasn’t been used in nearly 50 years.  It all makes this an absolute must see for both Taratino fans as well as for fans of cinema of all kinds.

SPECTRE (NOVEMBER 6)

Maybe not as hotly anticipated as the next Star Wars, but this is another franchise entry that still has a lot of people excited.  The Bond franchise is riding high after the success of Skyfall in 2012, and thankfully the same team behind that film (which includes director Sam Mendes and screenwriter John Logan) has returned to create this follow up.  This new Bond movie will also mark Daniel Craig’s fourth turn as 007, helping to cement his status as one of the all time greats in the role.  Few of the other actors who have played James Bond over the years other than Sean Connery can claim to have made more than one great film in the franchise.  Craig already has two (Skyfall and Casino Royale), and hopefully Spectre can live up to that level.  The movie already looks very slick and typically stylish for the franchise.  But, what has me excited about this film is the fact that it marks the full blown return of Bond’s arch nemesis to the franchise; the secret organization known as S.P.E.C.T.R.E., the title’s namesake.  And while the cast list doesn’t name the organization’s legendary leader (Blofeld) specifically, having Christoph Waltz fill the role seems only natural.  This probably explains why he’s not in The Hateful Eight, which is completely understandable.  My hope is that the promise of James Bond once again going head to head with his greatest enemy lives up to it’s potential.  Regardless, the Bond franchise has been one of the most resilient in the history of Hollywood, and the same great blend of action, suspense and humor that the Bond franchise has been known for should still make this movie a fun time for all.

THE GOOD DINOSAUR (NOVEMBER 25)

This year Pixar is doing something they’ve never done before, and that’s release two films within the same calendar year.  It may seem ambitious of them, but this sort of scheduling happened more out of circumstance rather that pre-planning.  While Inside Out moved forward without delay towards it’s Summer 2015 release date, The Good Dinosaur stalled in development, which led to a complete overhaul with a change in direction and story.  Originally set for release in the fall of last year, The Good Dinosaur was held back a year and will now get it’s release over Thanksgiving weekend.  With a troubled production like this, you would think that The Good Dinosaur is destined to struggle at the box office, but I don’t think that will be the case here.  From the look of the trailer, this movie appears to stand up to the very high Pixar standards, and could very well be one of their most visually impressive films to date.  But, the question is, did they fix the story problems that plagued it before.  Well, while attending the D23 Expo a couple weeks ago, I did manage to get a glimpse at 10 or so minutes of the movie that they screened for us.  It may not of told me what the entire movie might be like, but what I saw did engage me for the most part, and it made me eagerly anticipate seeing what else the film had in store.  I can tell already that this is going to be a visual feast, and hopefully all the story issues have been worked out, helping to make this another worthy entry in the Pixar canon.  Regardless, this movie still has the benefit of riding on all the goodwill generated by the success of Inside Out, and I’m sure it will not spoil that good run either.

THE REVENANT (DECEMBER 2015)

Here we have your typical award season fare.  And there are many reasons why I’m excited about this movie.  One, the director Alejandro G. Inarritu made my favorite film from last year, Birdman, so I’m eager to see how he follows that up.  And sure enough, he’s defying expectations by taking on a wholly unexpected and different kind of genre from what he did last.  The current Oscar champ is not wasting any time showing us his versatility as a director as he follows up his dramedy about life on the Broadway stage with a dark and foreboding thriller about survival in the American frontier.  Like Birdman, this film will of course feature some stunning cinematography, and it will be interesting to see if this movie will be stylistically a big departure from what Inarritu has done in the past.  Regardless, the trailer alone makes this one of the more interesting films being lined up for Oscar season.  I don’t know yet if this will be enough to help Inarritu win back to back Oscars come awards time, but even still it’s a movie that I still want to watch and experience.  One thing I hope is that it gives star Leonardo DiCaprio another shot at winning an Oscar.  His performance from the trailer already looks intense and it proves once again why he’s one of the greatest and most versatile actors of his generation.  Seeing him work under the direction of Alejandro G. Inarritu should be interesting, especially when he also gets to act opposite Tom Hardy in the film, which alone could provide a lot of good drama in the movie.  It may be too dark for some audiences to take, but for the rest of us, it’s exactly what we’re looking for this awards season.

MOVIES THAT HAVE ME WORRIED:

THE MARTIAN (OCTOBER 2)

On it’s own, The Martian does have a very promising premise.  Depicting the scenario of a lone astronaut left stranded on the planet Mars after he’s left for dead by his fellow astronauts and needing to find a way to survive for years on an inhospitable terrain, this movie has the potential to be a very tense big screen experience.  But, there are a couple red flags that have me worried about it falling short of that promise.  For one thing, this is yet another space themed movie released very close in proximity to other like-minded movies like Gravity (2013) and Interstellar (2014).  In fact, some have noticed that this new film shares more than a couple similarities with Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, including some of the same cast, making it more difficult for this movie to distinguish itself from the others.  Matt Damon, in particular, looks like he just stepped out of that movie and into this one, only this time playing a much more likable character.  In addition, director Ridley Scott’s recent track record has been shaky as of late.  While not terrible, his directing style seems to be lacking some of the edge and originality of his earlier films, and The Martian unfortunately has to follow-up the crushing bore that was Exodus: God and Kings (2014).  That being said, the movie still looks interesting, and hopefully Ridley Scott brings his A-game to this one.  I already like the tone given off from this trailer, especially the line, “I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.”  Here’s hoping that this will be more than just another addition to a growing trend.

IN THE HEART OF THE SEA (DECEMBER 11)

Once again, we have a film here that looks great on the surface, but has raised some doubts, only this time it’s by circumstance.  This sea-based adventure film was originally slated to premiere back in March but was pushed back to December instead.  Some saw this as a good sign for the movie as it was believed that the film could potentially be good enough for awards contention and the Holiday season release would keep the movie fresh in people’s minds.  Unfortunately, it seems that in the intervening time the movie has largely been forgotten.  No new trailers have been made and you rarely see any trade ads or movie posters highlighting the upcoming release in the same way that you did earlier this year when the movie was coming out in the spring.  This leads one to wonder if delaying the movie was really such a good move after all and that maybe the move had less to do with how good it is than if it was to get the movie into a more profitable time period.  And even that might not pay off either, because it only gets a week long window before Star Wars is released.  Even still, Ron Howard’s epic still looks interesting and hopefully the shuffling around is not a sign that the movie is in trouble.  Detailing the true life story that inspired the classic novel Moby Dick could be a chilling and edge of your seat film experience, and Howard has proved to be such a versatile director that I have no doubt he can pull a film like this off with ease.  In addition, the cast is also very capable of bringing this story to life, led by current Marvel superhero stars like Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Tom Holland (the new Spiderman).  In any case, I’m just hoping that it will be worth the extra long wait.

PAN (OCTOBER 9)

This one is troubling on all sorts of levels.  For one thing, it’s another revisionist interpretation of a classic fairy tale (in this case, the story of Peter Pan) that we’ve seen overdone to diminishing returns recently at the box office; Disney’s recent Cinderella being the one exception.  In addition, I don’t see the need for a prequel to the classic J.M. Barrie story.  We don’t need to know about how Peter got to Neverland.  Part of the wonder of the original tale was the mystery behind the boy who could fly.  And thirdly, this looks like another CGI effects laden spectacle that appears to favor style over substance.  It’s pretty to look at, but the story and lines of dialogue seem far too generic.  Not to mention all the performances seem to be all over the place here, and the casting is very iffy as well.  What worries me is the fact that the boy playing Peter Pan is giving a very understated performance (based on the trailer), while all the adults playing the various Neverland characters are all hamming it up; especially Hugh Jackman as Blackbeard.  And really? Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily?  The one thing that works in the film’s favor is that it has a very good director behind it.  Joe Wright hasn’t worked on a film of this scale before, nor has he worked in the fantasy genre either, but he has proven time and again before that he is a capable and really inventive filmmaker.  I especially like the way he incorporates long tracking shots into each of his movies, like the breathtaking ones seen in Atonement (2007) and Hanna (2011).  It’ll be interesting to see if he incorporates one into Pan too, which could help to make this a more interesting film experience as a result.

STEVE JOBS (OCTOBER 9)

Biopics are hard films to pull off.  How does one encapsulate a real life person’s story into a cohesive 2 hour film.  Last year proved the different degrees that it can be pulled off; either very well (The Imitation Game) or very poorly (The Theory of Everything).  The pressure to get the story right is increased ten fold whenever your subject is a world famous and instantly recognizable cultural icon like Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, and that’s the challenge with this particular film.  On the one hand, the role of the iconic tycoon has been given to Michael Fassbender, who is more than capable of doing justice to the character.  But, Hollywood has already attempted to depict the life of Steve Jobs on the big screen before, and the end result was the disastrous Ashton Kutcher vehicle Jobs (2013).  This version unfortunately has to follow in the wake of that misfire, and it’s very much an uphill climb, with a lot of people holding up this glossier biopic to higher scrutiny.  Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle is creative enough stylistically to make this visually interesting, but it’s still uncertain whether he is the right fit for this material.  One thing for sure is that the movie is right in the wheelhouse of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who has proved mastery over adapting recent history true life stories and making them captivating on the big screen, as evidenced with The Social Network (2010) and Moneyball (2011).  Hopefully the same can happen with the story of Steve Jobs, otherwise the late icon will be saddled with two lackluster movies based on his life.

MOVIES TO SKIP:

POINT BREAK (DECEMBER 25)

I’ve already stated my displeasure with Hollywood’s increasing reliance on rebooting and remaking classic films from the past in a previous article.  Most of the time, they are remaking movies that I didn’t care much for to begin with, and then there are remakes like this one that is not only needless, but seems to be disregarding everything that made the first movie a classic in the first place, purely just to capitalize on name recognition alone.  The original, directed by future Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow, was by no means a masterpiece, but it was still a better than average action thriller of it’s time that had surprising depth of character and a complex message at it’s center about the morals of law and order.  At it’s heart, it was a story about whether or not the bad guys are truly evil in nature and if they’ve just been led to taking drastic and immoral steps as a response to an increasingly cutthroat society; essentially a dichotomy of whether freedom or order is what makes us a good person.  It was also a film that helped turn Keanu Reeves into a star, and gave Patrick Swayze one of his best roles ever.  This film looks to have none of that.  It’s like the filmmakers only wanted to replicate the amazing stunts of the original with updated modern technology and completely ignore the underlying message of the story.  It’s a showcase for extreme sports and nothing else, completely trashing the potential of the story.  That’s the feeling I’m getting from this trailer, with it’s D-list actors giving lifeless performances and it’s generic looking cinematography that instills no style whatsoever.  Please leave the classics alone.

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS (OCTOBER 23)

Speaking of another movie that completely misses the mark of what it’s trying to remake, the cult animated series from the 80’s Jem and the Holograms is making it to the big screen already under a cloud of bad buzz.  While this one doesn’t anger me as much as the Point Break remake, because I’ve never had any interest in the original cartoon, I can still understand the hatred that is being aimed at this movie adaptation.  The original series was tailor made for the medium of animation, utilizing sci-fi elements and magic as a part of the show and with the personal journey of the character Jem herself.  None of this has translated over into this movie, which from what I’ve seen in the trailer, looks just like every other cliched rise of a pop band story-line that we’ve already seen done million times before.  It’s almost like the only thing they took from the show was just the title; this could’ve been called anything else, and it would have been exactly the movie.  Putting the Jem name on this only seems like a desperate ploy to just capitalize on name recognition alone.  Because of that, the movie has already received a backlash from fans of the original series, who see this as a shameful exploitation of their beloved show.  And I don’t blame them for feeling that way either.  If one of my favorite shows from my youth was misappropriated into something that doesn’t resemble the original in any way in both style and story, I’d be super pissed too.  It’s a clear example of Hollywood ignoring what fans want and instead giving them what they think they want, which could lead to a very disastrous outcome in the end.

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: THE ROAD CHIP (DECEMBER 23)

Yeah, I know it’s pointless to complain about a movie that’s clearly aimed at little kids, but do we really need anymore of these?  The first Alvin and the Chipmunks was a pointless adaptation in the first place, so why did we need four in total.  Yeah, the first one made a lot of money, but the nostalgia for this kind of thing had clearly worn off by the time the third movie came around.  Was there anything of value left in this franchise that warranted another sequel?  Suffice to say, I’m not going to be watching this one; ever.  Not on a movie screen nor when it shows up on Netflix.  It just has no value anymore in my eyes.  Maybe some parents will find it as an acceptable diversion to keep their children entertained for an hour and a half, but there are so many other worthwhile films aimed at all audiences that would be better worth their time in the months ahead, like The Good Dinosaur, or the new Peanuts movie which looks surprisingly good despite a lot of people’s worries early on.  Hopefully, this movie marks the end of Alvin and the Chipmunks run, which has contributed very little to both the quality of cinema and also little to the legacy of it’s own brand.  The Road Chip will be nothing more than a waste of time this holiday season and will hopefully be short lived in the theaters.

So, that’s my outlook on the fall movie season, at least with regards to some of the more notable films out there.  There are many more coming out in the months ahead that I did not cover, and I’m sure that there will be quite a few that will be worth your time; or could be forgettable and disappointing.  The great thing about this season is the fact that Hollywood uses it to deliver the stuff that they know will be quality entertainment, helping to keep them fresh in our minds as the year comes to an end and the awards start to be handed out.  But, even some of the movies not up for awards will prove to be big entertainment for all.  Certainly the launch of the new Star Wars will be an event unto itself, awards or no, and plenty more blockbusters will likewise prove to be worthwhile during this season.  What interests me the most are the surprises; the little films that come out of nowhere and surprise us by not only becoming sleeper hits, but also by making their case for end of the year awards and knocking out some of the likelier contenders.  I certainly didn’t have a movie like Whiplash on my radar last year, and yet, it proved to be an end of the year treat that I was delighted to have discovered.  The fall season always has a surprise or two like that and my hope is that 2015 has some as well.  I will be reviewing some of the big films of the season in the months ahead, and it’ll be interesting to see how my end of the year list shapes up.  Regardless, I hope that my preview here has been helpful in guiding your outlook on the upcoming Fall season, and let’s hope that we all have a good time at the movies during the holidays.

The Movies of Summer 2015

City walk theater

Amazing how the summer movie season announces itself very strongly around these last few weeks of Spring.  Maybe it’s just the relatively quiet spring season, when Hollywood usually unloads all of their less interesting fare, but at the same time we’re now talking even more about the coming attractions of next season than what is currently playing.  Recent weeks have brought a lot of hype around movie trailers for next year’s Batman v. Superman, or this winter’s Star Wars Episode VII, and yet no attention is drawn in social media or the press towards movies now in theaters.  There’s no complaint from me on this, however, especially when what’s playing in theaters now is Paul Blart 2.  But, that long dry spell of Spring is almost over and the Summer season once again brings us the movies we’ve eagerly waited all year for; and in some cases decades.   Based off of the recent trend we’ve seen in Hollywood these last couple years, it’s another super hero heavy line-up once again.  Marvel dominates this summer with three separate entries, including one from their marquee Avengers franchise.  But unlike previous years, we’re going to see fewer remakes and more reboots of franchises, with some long dormant names making their returns for a whole new generation of audiences; even with some of their key players also returning.  And naturally with another big movie season about to start, it is also time for me to give all of you my thoughts and predictions on some of the big movies coming out in the months ahead.

One thing that does stick out to me already, after looking over the calander for this summer season, is just how front loaded it is.  The Summer of 2015 is going to start off strong with probably the biggest draws all coming out within the first weeks of May.  There’s no indication this year that we’ll see a situation like we had in 2014, where the summer’s biggest money-maker opened in August (Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy).  Some late summer films could surprise, but my guess is that the bigger ones will be the earliest releases this year.  Like my previous previews, I will be looking at some of the most anticipated movies this season and tell you which ones I believe will be the absolute must sees, the ones that have me worried and the ones that are worth skipping altogether.  Keep in mind, these are solely examined by how I’ve judged them based on their potential and the effectiveness of their marketing.  I’m never 100% accurate; I predicted last year that Edge of Tomorrow was going to be worth skipping, and then it ended up on my Top 10 list by year’s end.  Any of these movies could surprise.  It’s solely my own opinion, so take these perspectives as you will.  My hope is that you the reader will get a good sense about what to look forward to in the weeks ahead.  And so now, let’s start this off with the good stuff.

MUST SEES:

TOMORROWLAND (May 22)

For many people, I’m sure the Marvel films will be the ones that draws the most attention, as well as the highest grosses.  But for me, this is the movie that I’m the most excited about this summer.  Super hero movies are worth getting excited about; don’t get me wrong. But this movie just looks like something new entirely, and that I find exciting.  Deriving itself from elements of The Walt Disney Company’s long history of collaborating with some of the best and brightest in 20th century scientific research and engineering, Tomorrowland seems to be an interesting and fresh concept that we have not yet seen brought to life on the big screen. The movie obviously looks to be inspired by the section of the same name found in Disneyland parks around the world, but at the same time, it doesn’t appear to be a commercial for the theme park either.  What director Brad Bird appears to be doing with this story is use the place “Tomorrowland” as an embodiment of the power of human ingenuity and scientific wonder, basically showcasing a magical place based around the promise and potential of the future, while also using this as a setting for a captivating sci-fi adventure.  It’s very much like Alice in Wonderland (1951) meets 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and in a good way. Brad Bird also has a strong track record going, with films like The Incredibles (2004) and Mission:Impossible 4 (2011) under his belt, so my hopes are very high for this one.  Other films will be crowd-pleasers, but this could be the one that really transports the audience to another world this summer.

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (May1)

Of course you can’t talk about this summer season without talking about The Avengers.  The first film was a phenomenon when it premiered in 2012, quickly becoming one of the highest grossing films of all time.  This movie looks to do just about the same, but time will tell if it can reach the high bar set by it’s predecessor. Regardless of whether or not it reaches this goal, there’s no doubt that this will be one of the summer’s biggest movies.  What I hope more than anything is that it retains much of the entertainment value that the first movie had. This movie marks the end of Phase Two of Marvel’s master plan for its cinematic universe and the beginning of Phase Three.   So far, the big gamble has paid off incredibly well for Marvel and parent company Disney, with only one stumbling block (2013’s Iron Man 3) and a ton of increasingly great standalone features; especially last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy.  The Avengers series makes a great benchmark for each of the different phases, and my hope is that Age of Ultron continues the trend.  I have a lot of confidence in this film, because the thing that Marvel does best is to build these movies around the characters, and it makes the films all the more interesting when there’s more of them involved.  The returning team still looks solid in this trailer, but it’s the new characters that intrigue me most, including the villain Ultron; with a menacing voice supplied by James Spader.  Director Joss Whedon proved a lot of naysayers wrong with the success of the first movie, and it looks like he’s amping things up in a good way with this follow up; expanding the universe without loosing the characteristics that make it work, which is what all the best sequels should do.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION (July 31)

Back in 2011, the Mission: Impossible franchise breathed new life into a waning franchise with it’s fourth film Ghost Protocol, which is arguably the best movie in the series to date.  With that film, Mission: Impossible finally found its character, and can now distinguish itself as a franchise from all the other spy thrillers out there.  Not only that, but Ghost Protocol also brought an impressive sense of scale that had been missing in the series before, such as in the remarkable scene where franchise star Tom Cruise scales the exterior of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world’s tallest building. So, how does a sequel top an amazing scene like that; by having Cruise actually hanging onto the exterior of a plane while it takes off, of course.  That’s what excites me about this new Mission: Impossible movie; it’s using what worked in the last film and takes it to the next level.  I also love that they are retaining the same team from Ghost Protocol, while also giving more screen time to series regular Ving Rhames, who was absent for the most part the last time out.  Cruise once again looks like he’s in top form here, and the fact that he still does most of his own stunt work is mind-boggling, especially  when you see what’s coming up in this new film. Ghost Protocol’s director Brad Bird was obviously busy working on Tomorrowland while this was being made, but his replacement here is writer and director Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) who’s more than capable of handling the job. This movie also provides a great fix for audiences in the spy genre this year in between Kingsmen and the next James Bond flick.

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (May 15)

Some movies sell you on just their potential alone.  This movie however is one that caught my eye purely by how much I like this trailer. This is how you sell a movie.  The visuals mixed with the sweeping, operatic music perfectly displays the over-the-top nature that I’m sure is going to characterize this movie. The Mad Max franchise is another one of those that has sat long dormant for too long, and this movie trailer really helps to proclaim it’s return in a big way.   While Fury Road may not return the series’ original star, Mel Gibson, nor most of the original cast, it does mark the welcome return of it’s creator, Austrailian filmmaker George Miller.  And given the look of this movie from the ad, Miller intends to take the series to the next level, giving it scale unseen before.  Actor Tom Hardy is more than capable enough to fill Gibson’s shoes in the iconic role, and he seems to have good company from the supporting cast, which includes an almost unrecognizable Charlize Theron.  What I hope is that the movie lives up to this trailer.  Sometimes a film company can run the risk of selling a movie too well, and having it’s trailer be better than the movie itself.  The same risk could potentially happen here too, but my hope is that the movie will still have enough surprises in store for us. Despite what happens, I still look at this particular trailer as one of the best in recent years, and that alone helps to peak my interest in this movie.

INSIDE OUT (June 19)

One of the more reliable names during the summer season has been Pixar Studios.  For much of the last decade, their movies have not only clicked at the box office, but have been critically acclaimed as well.  However, recently the studio has succumbed to some of the pitfalls of such an extended win streak.  This has included underperforming sequels ( 2011’s Cars 2 and 2013’s Monsters University) and lackluster stories (2012’s Brave). Not only that, but tougher competition has emerged recently with animated films from other companies rising up to the high Pixar standard.  Even parent company Disney’s own animation studio has seen a resurgence with megahits like Frozen (2013).   So, at this point in time, Pixar needs something fresh and bold to help gain back some of their edge, and this movie looks like the perfect project to do just that.  Directed by Pete Doctor, who’s last film Up (2009) is considered one of Pixar’s best, delivers a unique concept here and does so with a delightful sense of humor that has become a Pixar trademark.  Embodying emotions as individuals living in our minds is a great concept, and I’m intrigued to see how the story works around this idea.  I already like the looks of the characters, and how their designs match the emotions they represent (plus, there’s no more perfect casting than comedian Lewis Black as Anger).  Pixar rarely lets us down, and hopefully Inside Out is yet another gem in their animation crown.

MOVIES THAT HAVE ME WORRIED:

JURASSIC WORLD (June 12)

For a lot of people, this is the most anticipated movie of the year.  Jurassic Park (1993) is an all time classic, and the name carries a lot of weight with it.  And from the look of the trailer, it appears that the filmmakers are definitely playing on that sense of nostalgia that audiences have for the original.  It certainly does a good job of recreating the look of the series, only with a grander scale and better CGI effects.  Also, the idea of having a park open to the public in this movie, something that Dr. John Hammond (the late great Richard Attenbourough) dreamed of in the original but couldn’t make happen, is a cool idea to explore in this sequel. The reason why I’m not as enthusiastic about this movie as other people are is because I’ve been burned by this franchise before.  No series has fallen harder in recent years than Jurassic Park has.  The original by Steven Spielberg is nearly pitch perfect and still holds up today. But, it was followed up by two really awful sequels that tarnished the series; The Lost World in 1997 and Jurassic Park III in 2001.  My hope is that Jurassic World can help restore some of the magic that this franchise once had, but nothing I’ve seen in this trailer has really convinced me of that.  Even still, I’m sure it will still be a big hit. Having Guardians of the Galaxy’s Chris Pratt in the lead certainly is a plus, and the image of him on a motorcycle flanked by raptors is pretty awesome.  But, still, I’m not getting my hopes up too high with this one.

ANT-MAN (July 17)

Marvel Studios’ track record has been incredibly strong, especially with the introduction of new characters into their cinematic universe.  You would think that the first of their Phase Three films would likewise be a welcome addition, but unfortunately Ant-Man comes to theaters this summer with a lot of doubt clouding its arrival. This is primarily due to it’s troubles in development, and not from the strength of the character himself.  During pre-production, Marvel had a falling out with the film’s original writer and director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead), who left the project over unresolvable creative differences.  Most of the time, a filmmaker shake-up doesn’t bode well for the finished film, especially when his replacement (director Peyton Reed) seems more like a hired hand rather than someone with a bold vision.  But, even with the troubles behind the camera, the one thing that could still bode well for this movie is the cast.  All of the characters are still played by Wright’s choices in casting, and it appears that they’re trying to make the best out of their roles.  I also like the way they visualize the action scenes in this trailer, making Ant-Man’s size changing powers understandable to the average viewer.   But even if it looks amazing, my worry is that too much was lost in the shuffling of filmmakers and that most people are going to end up wondering what might have been if Edgar Wright was allowed to complete his vision for the character.

FANTASTIC FOUR (August 7)

Let’s be clear, it’s not too difficult to improve upon the Fantastic Four franchise.  The 2005 original and it’s 2007 sequel Rise of the Silver Surfer are both pretty awful.  Also, rebooting the series with a new cast of actors is absolutely necessary, especially when the original Human Torch (Chris Evans) has long abandoned the series in order to don the Stars and Stripes as Captain America instead.  The one thing that keeps me from being too excited about this version, however, is that it’s a movie based on a Marvel property not made by Marvel itself.  The track record for Marvel films set outside of it’s cinematic universe has been shaky; just look at how Spider-Man imploded over at Sony.  Thankfully Fantastic Four is held by 20th Century Fox, which has treated their Marvel licensed characters with a bit more respect and care; especially with last year’s exceptional X-Men: Days of Future Past.   But, even still, the movie is going to be a tough sell, considering how poorly the franchise has been handled up to now. Also, some of the casting choices here seem a little odd (the guy who played Billy Elliott is now playing The Thing!?). Though, after watching the brilliant Whiplash from last year, I now have a lot of confidence in actor Miles Teller playing the role of Reed Richards, aka Mr. Fantastic.  Considering what’s come before, you can only go up after hitting rock bottom.

TERMINATOR: GENYSIS (July 1)

If there has ever been a franchise that has been stretched to its limits, constantly being rebooted again and again, it would be the Terminator franchise.  This new entry once again tackles the concept of using time travel to stop a war from happening, but this time around, the movie actually takes the series back to its roots; set during the events of the original 1984 Terminator.  This to me seems like a bad way to go with the franchise.  The best thing that a series can do is to move foward and build upon what’s been there before, which is what the 1992 sequel T2: Judgment Day did so brilliantly.   This film looks to be moving the franchise backwards by trying to reimagine the past, which to me seems to be exploiting the Terminator brand purely for nostalgia rather than building upon it’s grander vision. Also, wiping the events of the original out of the timeline just so this plot can happen seems like a bad idea. The only saving grace this sequel has overall is that it marks the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger to the series. And let’s face it, without Arnold, there would’ve been no Terminator franchise to begin with.  So, while the premise behind Terminator: Genysis seems a little dubious, it is nice to see the “Governator” live up to his promise of being back.

MOVIES TO SKIP:

PIXELS (July 24)

On the surface, this movie looks to have an interesting premise,  where video game characters are used as a weapon by an invading alien race, and the nifty visual effects seem impressive as well.  But let’s keep in mind, this is an Adam Sandler movie we’re talking about, and this ain’t Wreck-it Ralph (2012).  Even when given a bigger budget and broader premise to work with, Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions always seems to disappoint (Bedtime Stories and Click, for example).   And this trailer only tells me that we’re going to get more of the same play-it-safe sophomoric humor from Sandler and Co.  What hurts even more is that it looks like he’s dragged a quality actor like Peter Dinklege into the film as well.  Now, I shouldn’t be the one to tell Mr. Dinklege which movies he can and cannot do, but seriously Peter, you are much better than this.  Spare youself the pain and watch Game of Thrones instead to see Peter Dinklege at his best; or watch Punch Drunk Love (2002) to see Adam Sandler when he actually gives a damn.

SAN ANDREAS (May 29)

The disaster movie genre is one that seems to have exploited all the potential that it has and is no longer able to shock and amaze audiences. This appears to be the case as well with San Andreas.  Based on this trailer, I see this movie as less of a captivating story and more of a showcase for visual effects, which themselves look generic and uninteresting.  Basically San Andreas looks like leftovers from a Roland Emmerich movie, and even a full helping of Roland Emmerich can be an unsatisfying meal.  The only thing that could potentially save this film could be a charismatic performance from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but even he looks like he’s phoning it in based on what’s shown in the trailer.  The disaster genre needs fresh new ideas, and sadly San Andreas just seems to be more of the same.

POLTERGEIST (May 22)

Remakes have dominated the filmmaking landscape for several years now, and very few of them have actually been any good.  In fact, not a single one has ever managed to top it’s predecessor.  This summer, we get a remake of what is arguably one of the best and most iconic horror movies of the last 40 years.  The original Tobe Hooper directed and Steven Spielberg produced film is a classic and still holds up today, which makes this remake all the more unnecessary.  And by the look of the trailer, this remake is doing exactly what all bad horror remakes have done, which is remove all of the great creepy atmosphere from the original and replace it with cheap jump scares.  My hope is that no one buys into this cash-in of a remake and instead I hope audiences seek out the original classic, which I guarantee you is far scarier than anything that is going to appear in this version.

So, this is my look at the coming attractions for the Summer of 2015. Hopefully there will be a lot of worthwhile entertainment found in the biggest releases of the Summer and hopefully some genuine surprises as well.  But, even though there are the big tent pole releases dominating the cinemas in the weeks ahead, there’s also a good helping of counter-programming out there from independent cinema as well.  Other worthwhile upcoming movies like Cameron Crowe’s Aloha and the Ian McKellan headlined Mr. Holmes also open quietly this Summer amongst the big dogs.  No matter what, there will always be something worth watching during this summer season, because Hollywood puts so much value into these next couple months.  Naturally, the superhero genre will  dominate the box office like it has in years past, but whoever sits on the throne by season’s end is certainly up in the air.  I for one will keep up with all the big releases of the year, with reviews and perspectives coming like they do every week.   Hopefully, this preview has helped you plot out your “to watch” list for the summer and it will be interesting to see how well these movies match our expectations, good or bad.

The 2015 Oscars – Picks and Thoughts

Oscar win

It’s the Oscars once again, marking the high point of the cinematic year that was 2014.  And once again, it’s a unique year that had a lot of people talking; in particular about who wasn’t nominated.  A lot of complaints rose up this year about the racial make-up of the Oscar nominated field, and just how little to no nominations went to minority talent.  While this led to cries of racism from some in the media, I honestly don’t believe that it was a decision made by design on the Academy’s part.  It unfortunately end up as a result of poor Oscar-campaigning on behalf of actors and filmmakers of different races, as was the case with Paramount Pictures late start on campaigning for their Dr. Martin Luther King biopic, Selma.  While Selma did manage to achieve a Best Picture nomination, it was all but forgotten in all other categories, including what would have been a historic nomination for it’s director, Ava Duvernay.  But, even as this left many upset with the final field of nominees, it doesn’t mean that movies like Selma will be forgotten overall.  The Oscars are a competition based around buzz and publicity.  The movies that make the biggest splash in the marketplace or have the most publicity surrounding it will almost always be the ones that prevail.  But, as I’ve stated before, this is just a yearly acknowledgement of what Hollywood values at the moment.  Great movies will always be great, and a little golden statue is not always the greatest indicator of longevity, although there have been exceptions.  But, even still, an Oscar win carries a lot of weight with it and this year’s field is full of many worthy, and maybe one not so worthy films up for the little golden man.  What follows are my picks for the top Oscar categories, and who I think will win and who should win.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Nominees: American Sniper (Jason Hall), The Imitation Game (Graham Moore), Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson), The Theory of Everything (Anthony McCarten), and Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)

I’m going to state this right away here because it will be a running theme throughout this article; The Theory of Everything is a horrible movie and I hope that it comes up empty handed at this year’s Oscar ceremony.  Now, with that said, this is thankfully one category that it has no chance of succeeding in.  As of right now, Writer’s Guild award winner The Imitation Game seems to be going into the race as the favorite.  And despite some of the conventionality of the movie itself, I actually think that Imitation Game‘s script is still worthy enough of the award.  Writer Graham Moore filled his screenplay with enough intrigue and witty dialogue to keep us engaged, and he managed to present a nice, complex picture of an unsung hero of the Second World War.  But, is this movie also my own favorite in the category.  If I had to choose, I would give this award to Whiplash‘s Director/Writer Damien Chazelle.  Whiplash was one of the most exhilarating cinematic experiences of the year, and Chazelle’s fiery and explosive screenplay was a big part of that.  I would award it just for J.K. Simmon’s lines alone.  But, unfortunately for Chazelle, this was his first feature film, and that lack of a long body of work may end up costing him in the end.  But, I dare you to find a debut screenplay as expertly crafted as Whiplash.  A potential spoiler here could also be Jason Hall’s script for the controversial by expertly crafted American Sniper, which would also be a deserving choice.  But, in the end, expect to see Imitation Game the winner.

WHO WILL WIN: Graham Moore, The Imitation Game

WHO SHOULD WIN: Damien Chazelle, Whiplash

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Nominees: Boyhood (Richard Linklater), Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy), Foxcatcher (Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye), Birdman (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr., and Armando Bo), and The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness)

Another running theme you will find in this article is my love for the movie Birdman.  It was my pick for the best of the year and I want it to win pretty much everything that it is nominated for.  Now of course that won’t happen, but Birdman is still a strong contender in the race, and this is one category that it’s still very much a favorite it.  Even despite having been worked on by a team of writers as opposed to one singular vision, Birdman‘s script is still one of the most emotionally moving and creative of the year.  The film’s screenplay did earn a well deserved Golden Globe, but it’s loss at the WGA awards has shown that it’s not a lock either.  The WGA winner The Grand Budapest Hotel seems to be the movie with the momentum right now.  Giving the award to Wes Anderson here would probably be the consolation prize for his movie, which doesn’t look like a strong contender in any of the other races.  And Anderson has had a strong body of work for many years, so he’s long overdue for recognition from the Academy.  Though, that being said, The Grand Budapest Hotel didn’t quite grab me in the same way that Birdman did.  I liked it well enough, but I also think that it’s not among my favorite Anderson films (that would be something like Fantastic Mr. Fox or  Rushmore).  But, if he wins it here, he’s not undeserving.  I just wish that it wasn’t in competition with my favorite movie.  With all that said, I would expect this to be Wes Anderson’s year, but this could also go to Birdman if the movie has a big night.

WHO WILL WIN: Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness, The Grand Budapest Hotel

WHO SHOULD WIN: Alejandro G. Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, and Armando Bo, Birdman

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Nominees: Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher), Edward Norton (Birdman), J. K. Simmons (Whiplash), Robert Duvall (The Judge), Ethan Hawke (Boyhood)

This is by far the easiest race to call.  It’s J.K. Simmons, unquestionably.  He was the favorite going into this race pretty much from the moment his performance in Whiplash was first seen by audiences.  Thereafter, he has won every award there is.  If he doesn’t walk away a winner at this year’s Oscar ceremony, then it will be the biggest upset in the history of the awards, which I highly doubt will happen.  He is absolutely deserving of the honor as well.  Not only did he deliver what I think is the performance of the year, as the music teacher from hell in Whiplash, but he also is one of the most highly regarded character actors in the business.  He’s been a presence in Hollywood for many years, never quite headlining any particular film but still enriching any project with his workman-like approach to every role, making him one of the most reliable actors around.  His performance in Whiplash would be more than just a legacy award however, because he is indeed the standout in this category.  The only other competition he might have would be Edward Norton’s delightfully quirky turn in Birdman, but even that is a very distant second place.  The others nominated are purely riding the coattails of the selected films, while Robert Duvall is nominated here purely because he’s Robert Duvall.  This is an even money category, and I don’t expect anyone but J. K. Simmons to be up there on Oscar night.  It might be the first award given out too, given that there’s no suspense behind it.

WHO WILL WIN: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

WHO SHOULD WIN: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Nominees: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood), Meryl Streep (Into the Woods), Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game), Laura Dern (Wild), Emma Stone (Birdman)

The strange thing about the last few weeks of this race has been the deflation of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood as the awards front-runner.  It came into the race looking like the clear favorite, until it began to fall in the Guild races to Birdman.  Now, it looks to be the runner up in many of the categories that it once appeared to be running away with.  The only race that Boyhood has remained strong in throughout the whole race has been this one.  Patricia Arquette has held onto her front-runner status this whole time, and still looks to be unchallenged going into the final stretch.  And she’s not undeserving either.  Considering the nearly 12 year stretch that the movie was in production and that she was able to maintain her focus on her character throughout that whole run (better than the rest of the cast I might add) is really quite an achievement, and is worthy of recognition.  Arquette also has a solid body of work behind her, both on film and TV, so her win here is also a way of awarding her for a solid body of work in the industry.  The remainder of the category is also strong, apart from the obligatory nomination for Meryl Streep in the mediocre Into the Woods.  Emma Stone delivers the best performance of her still young career, and Keira Knightley did valiantly well with a character who could have easily been weak if not performed in the right way.  Laura Dern was the surprise here, and I think her nomination is about as far as the accolades for her performance will go.  But like J.K. Simmons in the Supporting Actor category, this is another race with a clear favorite, and one that I think deserves her place in the spotlight.

WHO WILL WIN: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

WHO SHOULD WIN: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

BEST ACTOR

Nominees: Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game), Michael Keaton (Birdman), Bradley Cooper (American Sniper), Steve Carell (Foxcatcher)

Now we come to what is probably the most contentious race this year, at least with the acting categories.  It is also the race that pits my favorite movie of the year against one of my most hated.  It shouldn’t surprise anyone that I want Michael Keaton to win this award so badly.  And yes, a part of that is because I’m a big fan of Batman, and Michael Keaton’s performance as the caped crusader is a big part of my fandom.  It’s also part of the basis of his character in Birdman, which is another reason why I love that film so much.  But, after looking at all the nominees here, I can’t help but think that Keaton’s performance was also the strongest as well.  His performance as washed-up actor Riggan Thompson is captivating and heartfelt, and also hilarious.  You also have to admire an actor who can hold his own in a film made up of long takes.  Unfortunately, as the movie’s stock has gone up in the Oscar race, Keaton’s front-runner status has fallen.  The one taking the lead now is Eddie Redmayne, for his portrayal of crippled Astro-physicist Dr. Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything.  Now, let me state that while I hate the movie itself, Redmayne’s performance is easily the best thing in it.  I just wish his performance was placed in a better, less pandering film.  What upsets me is that once again Hollywood is falling into the cliche of honoring an able bodied actor for playing a person with a disabilty (and a historical one as well) which is one of the most overused plays in the Oscar-bait textbook.  Redmayne tries, but I still didn’t see his work as groundbreaking either.  Unfortunately, it looks like it’s going to fool enough people to rob a veteran actor of his long overdue recognition.

WHO WILL WIN: Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

WHO SHOULD WIN: Michael Keaton, Birdman

BEST ACTRESS

Nominees: Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night), Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl), Reese Witherspoon (Wild), Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

This has been one of the more surprising categories of the year.  Despite having appeared in a film that has generated little to no buzz this awards season, Julianne Moore has entered this race as the clear front-runner.  Her performance in Still Alice is good, which is not surprising from the usually reliable actress, but is it really that noteworthy.  Something about this race tells me that it didn’t matter what movie Julianne Moore appeared in last year, it just seems like it’s finally her time.  This honor is more of a legacy award and less of an acknowledgement of her actual work in Still Alice, given that Julianne Moore has been a runner-up in so many other races leading up to this.  Hollywood wants to make her a part of the club of Oscar-winners, and she’s not undeserving of that either.  However, if I had to make a choice among the nominees in this category, it wouldn’t be Julianne Moore.  Instead, I would pick Rosamund Pike for her outstanding, and gutsy performance in Gone Girl, a movie that was surprisingly overlooked in most other categories this year.  Pike’s performance was a knockout, playing one of the most psychotic and devious characters I’ve seen on the big screen in a while.  Pike has usually played supporting roles up to now, but she wowed in her first lead role and pretty much ran away with the movie, seeing as how she’s the only one involved who got a nomination.  Perhaps the fact that Rosamund’s character is a little too dark for some audiences might be part of why she’s not gaining traction in this race, but even still, I wouldn’t mind seeing her spoil Julianne Moore’s seemingly unstoppable train to the top award.

WHO WILL WIN: Julianne Moore, Still Alice

WHO SHOULD WIN: Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl

BEST DIRECTOR

Nominees: Richard Linklater (Boyhood), Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game), Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman), and Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher)

Here is another too close to call race.  It’s down to two visionary, independent filmmakers who delivered us movies based around very different cinematic gimmicks.  One the one hand you have Richard Linklater, who devoted 12 years of his life to crafting Boyhood, which follows the life of a young boy as he grows up in real time over the progression of the movie.  And on the other hand, you have Alejandro Inarritu who crafted a movie made up of long takes all stitched together to make the movie look like it was all done in one long shot.  Both directors did a commendable job with these complex projects, but in the end, only one can take home the award.  For a while, it looked like Linklater was going to be the runaway favorite, having picked up numerous critics awards, and the Golden Globe.  But, when the Director’s Guild made their choice (one that usually almost always coincides with the eventual Oscar winner), the award went to Inarritu.  Now, Inarritu is the one carrying the momentum into the Oscar race, which again makes me very pleased.  Linklater is a talented filmmaker, but I quite frankly have never really gotten into his body of work.  I don’t dislike his movies; most of them are actually really good, including Boyhood.  But at the same time, his style has never wowed me as a viewer the same way Inarritu did with Birdman.  Still, Linklater’s labor of love for over a decade is still hard to ignore.  Although I see Inarritu deservedly winning out in the end, it wouldn’t upset me if Linklater came out on top either.

WHO WILL WIN: Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman

WHO SHOULD WIN: Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman

BEST PICTURE

Nominees: Boyhood, The Theory of Everything, Selma, The Imitation Game, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Birdman, American Sniper, and Whiplash

Of course we now come to the big award of the night, and once again, it has become a race that’s too close to call.  Conventional wisdom would have you believe that the sprawling, 3 hour long Boyhood would be the clear front-runner, and indeed it is still selected as a favorite in most of the polling.  But, Birdman has been coming on strong in recent weeks, and I think that it has enough to topple Boyhood.  Certainly it’s wins at the Guild awards have helped.  But even with that momentum, Boyhood is still looking like the movie to beat, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Academy splits the top awards again like they did the year prior when 12 Years a Slave won Best Picture and Alfonso Cuaron winning Director.  Overall, it basically comes down to these two competitors.  The only potential spoilers could be either the quirky The Grand Budapest Hotel or the controversial American Sniper, and I highly doubt either has the weight behind them to match up to the top two.  I, of course, want Birdman to win it all.  It would be the first time since 2006 that my favorite movie of the year takes home the top award (that being Martin Scorsese’s The Departed).  But, with a race this close it’s hard to say how it will turn out.  If I had to make a guess right now, on the eve of the awards, I would say that Inarritu’s Birdman carries the entire night, picking up the most awards on it’s way to a Best Picture win, leaving Linklater and his film as the runners up.  It’s hard to put down a movie that took 12 years to complete, but unfortunately, I felt that Boyhood was more interesting as a gimmick than it was as a movie.  Birdman was everything I wanted it to be and more, and that’s why I’m rooting for it at the Oscars this year.

WHO WILL WIN: Birdman

WHO SHOULD WIN: Birdman

So, I’ve shared my thoughts on the big categories, but I think I’ll also quickly run through who I think will win all the other awards as well (of note, these are my picks and not necessarily my favorites, as I have yet to see each and every film nominated):

Animated Feature: How to Train Your Dragon 2; Cinematography: Birdman; Costume Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel; Documentary Feature: CitizenFour; Documentary Short: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1; Film Editing: Boyhood; Foreign Language Film: Leviathan; Makeup and Hairstyling: Guardians of the Galaxy; Original Score: The Grand Budapest Hotel; Song: “Everything is Awesome” from The Lego Movie; Production Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel; Animated Short: The Bigger Picture; Live Action Short: Butter Lamp; Sound Editing: American Sniper; Sound Mixing: Birdman; Visual Effects: Guardians of the Galaxy

It should end up being an interesting ceremony in the end.  Of course, in the grand scheme of things, none of this will really matter.  The Oscars are more of a reminder of how we viewed movies in the previous year, and not about how they will age in the years to come.  Sometimes it is worthwhile to bestow an award to a movie that deserves the spotlight, especially when it’s a small movie that’s demanding to be seen, like Whiplash.  But, great movies find their audiences no matter what and some of last year’s best films were not even spotlighted in this year’s show (The Lego Movie, Gone Girl, Snowpiercer just to name a couple).  But even if it infuriates us every year, we still come back again and again and watch the Oscars religiously.  It’s a part of our culture to celebrate the movies and the Oscars are a big part of that experience.  If there’s one thing that the Academy has done right it’s to make us think that their Award matters, and in the short term it indeed can.  Small movies get that much needed boost after the awards, and most films that come away from the ceremony a winner wear that as a badge of honor.  Hopefully, this year, the awards go to the most deserving people and that the whole affair ends up being an entertaining show overall.  And once it’s all done, it will again be time to start this cycle all over again.  In the end, it gets us talking about movies and that’s what we love the most about Oscar season.

The Movies of Fall 2014

imax theater

We’ve reached the end of yet and as I predicted, Hollywood has begun to back off on some of their bigger gambles in the past in the hopes that it would help boost their returns at the box office.  And in a way, that plan succeeded.  This summer saw films that disappointed, but there was no catastrophic flop this season, such as The Lone Ranger (2013) and Battleship (2012) had been in the last previous summers.  But, with a lesser number of big gambles this summer, we also saw another unfortunate trend, and that was the lack of a runaway hit.  For the first time in years, no movie this summer crossed the $250 million dollar mark by summers end, except for Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, which just barely made that milestone in this final week.  And considering that by this point in previous summers there had been more than a couple that could reliably reach that point and more, it shows a growing concern that the summer movie season is not generating the same kind of clout that it once did.  That’s not to say that the movies that came out in the summer of 2014 were bad.  In fact, after watching most of them this summer, I actually believe this was one of the most consistently strong seasons we’ve seen in a while.  In particular, movies like X-Men: Days of Future Past, 22 Jump Street, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and especially Guardians of the Galaxy proved to be better than the average blockbuster.  It’s just unfortunate that, other than Guardians, none of their box office numbers made any of them stand out.  One could argue that tepid marketing and a disinterested viewership could be blamed.  That was certainly the case with the exceptional, but under-performing Edge of Tomorrow, a movie that I even misjudged due to it’s lackluster trailer, and it’s one that signifies exactly what went wrong for so many movies this year.

But, now that the summer season has moved behind us, we look forward to the fall months ahead.  These are the movies that could serve as potential Oscar season material, or at the very least, generate some much needed heat at the box office over the holidays.  Some of this fall’s big entries may be more indie driven than in past years, with big names like Spielberg and Scorsese noticeably absent.  We are, however, getting a new epic production from acclaimed director Christopher Nolan, whose become a reliable name when it comes to box office success.  There’s also the final chapter in the Hobbit trilogy, the next chapter in the Hunger Games saga, as well as the long delayed follow-up to Dumb and Dumber (1993).  Prestigious directors like David Fincher, Ridley Scott, Bennett Miller, and Paul Thomas Anderson are also prepping their newest films for the fall as well.  Like past previews I’ve done before, I am going to take a look at the upcoming films that will premiere in the months ahead and tell you which ones that I believe will be the must sees, which ones I have worries about, and which ones that are worth skipping.  Of course, I’m purely going on speculation with all of this, based on news of their production and how they are being marketed through their trailers.  So that being said, let’s begin looking at the movies of Fall 2014.

MUST SEES:

INTERSTELLER (NOVEMBER 7)

Of course, whenever Christopher Nolan, the director behind the Dark Knight trilogy and Inception (2010), makes a new film it’s going to be an event.  And though many of his films are grand in scope, they always seem to be grounded in a sense of realism that few other directors can replicate so effectively on the same kind of scale. With  Interstellar, Nolan is venturing off into a much different direction; delving further into the realm of sci-fi than he has ever gone before.  The movie is written by his brother Jonathan Nolan, who at one time had Steven Spielberg attached to the script, before he moved on to other projects.  Thankfully Christopher was there to pick it up and judging by the trailer above, it seems like he is really putting all of his talents as a visual storyteller behind it.  The cinematography in these short clips are particularly eye-catching.  And I’m sure that like all of Nolan’s previous movie, this one is going to push the envelope and possibly become yet another movie that sets trends in Hollywood.  Suffice to say, this is the movie I am most looking forward to this fall season.  My hope is that it is good enough to be the movie that finally earns Christopher Nolan that Best Director nomination that he’s always been denied in previous years, and maybe even be good enough to get him the award itself.  It does have the benefit of having recent Oscar-winner Matthew McConaughey as it’s lead, as well as a bunch of past award winners like Anne Hathaway and Nolan regular Michael Caine filling out the rest of the stellar cast.  If Interstellar isn’t the best film of the fall season, it will almost certainly be it’s most ambitious.

THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES (DECEMBER 17)

Another ambitious film for the fall season, this movie marks the end of a grand scale trilogy, as well as the end of one of the most ground-breaking franchises ever.  Time will tell if this is the final adaptation we will see of one of J.R.R. Tolkein’s novels, but this will almost certainly be the last one to be helmed by director Peter Jackson. While The Hobbit trilogy may not be as universally beloved as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, no one can deny that these films feel just as ambitious as their predecessors, and maybe even more so.  I for one have enjoyed every one of the films in this series, and that excitement is certainly making me look forward to this final chapter.  Though there is a lot of excitement to be had, there will also be the sad feeling knowing that this will indeed be the end to an era that has left an impact on movie-goers around the world like me.  But while the movie carries a lot of weight behind it, my hope is that it will stand well enough on it’s own apart from it’s place in the franchise.  The previous film, The Desolation of Smaug (2013) ended on quite a cliffhanger and it will be interesting to see how that carries over and leads to the ultimate conclusion; and how that will all tie into the events we’ve already seen in the Lord of the Rings.  The Hobbit has been a fun yet still engaging series of movies that I do believe compliments Rings very well, and helps to make Tolkein’s Middle Earth feel bigger and more complete.  Sometimes the final chapter is the hardest movie to make, especially when the story is this big and complex, but if Peter Jackson’s Oscar-winning The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is any indication, Jackson is hopefully saving the best for last.

BIRDMAN (December 2014)

Looking at an entirely different, but no less ambitious movie, this awards season will include this new, trippy flick from acclaimed Mexican director, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (2006’s Babel).  What I find so interesting about this premise is the way it seems to be crafted around it’s main star, Michael Keaton.  The plot is about an aging actor (Keaton) who became famous for playing a popular superhero on film, but is having trouble adjusting his career after leaving that behind; something that the one-time Batman actor probably identifies with.  The film is naturalistic like most of Inarritu’s films, but there are parts where the movie will take wild, imaginative departures into the realms of insanity that the main character is experiencing, and it all looks very fascinating.  What I find most exciting though is the casting of Michael Keaton.   To me, he was one of the best Batman’s ever on the big screen (if not the best) and seeing him use that experience as an inspiration for this character could make this a truly standout role for him.  It would be great to see this movie act as a jumping off point for a whole new phase in Keaton’s career, and help him get some awards attention.  I always felt that he has been a severely underused actor and he’s much more talented than his reputation as the Caped Crusader would have you believe.  Hopefully this is the movie that helps everyone to see that as well.  It certainly helps to have an acclaimed director like Inarritu in charge, and the movie looks like an interesting experiment for him as well.  Hopefully this is one of those indie films that lives up to it’s potential and earns the awards that it’s gearing itself up for.

BOXTROLLS (September 26)

Animated films are popular during the fall season, but rarely do you see one that is not-CGI animated nowadays.  Thanks to the Portland, Oregon based Laika studios, stop motion animation is still thriving, and that’s largely due to the fact that the animators at Laika are churning out films that are not only visually stunning, but are also clever and charming as well.  That has been true with their last two films, Coraline (2009) and ParaNorman (2012), which were both smart and fun, without ever having to make compromises to appeal to a wider audience.  The same looks to be true with their new film The Boxtrolls, which gets it premiere in a few short weeks.  Like it’s predecessors, the movie looks to be just as imaginative and clever as the others, and hopefully it continues the great track record that the company has already maintained.  I for one am happy to see any animated company take risks and try to challenge the audience’s expectations instead of pandering to them.  That’s unfortunately been the case with most animated films from the bigger studios.  Laika seems to work under the mentality that audiences will enjoy their films as long as there is substance behind the style, and that everything is done with sincerity, and not for just the cheap laugh.  Coraline and ParaNorman proved that it was possible, so hopefully Boxtrolls lives up to that same promise.

FOXCATCHER (NOVEMBER 14)

Unlike the other movies I’ve discussed, this is a movie that has already garnered attention from critics and the film festival circuit for months now.  A winner at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, Foxcatcher is considered an early favorite for the next Oscars.  Time will tell if that proves to be true, but there is no doubt that this movie is certainly one to get excited for.  What’s especially interesting about this movie though is the casting against type of Steve Carell in one of the lead roles.  Based on the notorious DuPont murders, Carell is almost unrecognizable as the manic John du Pont, the millionaire sponsor of an Olympic wrestler (played by Channing Tatum), who he ends up killing in an act of murder-suicide, which is documented in the film.  Director Bennett Miller has already had success around awards time, with Capote (2005) and Moneyball (2011) respectively, but Foxcatcher is getting the hottest buzz yet, and it looks like a film that will certainly be awards material come the end of the year; especially for Carell.  My hope is that the movie lives up to the hype and becomes the awards juggernaut that everyone is saying that it will be.  In any case, it will be interesting to see someone like Steve Carrell expand his range as an actor and succeed at it too.  And these true life stories are always fascinating to see dramatized, especially when quality talent is behind it.

MOVIES THAT HAVE ME WORRIED:

FURY (OCTOBER 17)

Now on the surface, there shouldn’t be anything about this movie that should make me worry.  It’s production values look impressive and it’s got a charismatic star in the lead with Brad Pitt.  So, why do I think this movie may end up disappointing in the end.  My worry is mainly due to the fact that there has been so many other movies that look exactly like this one (Saving Private Ryan comes to mind) and nothing about this trailer makes me believe that it will add anything new to the war movie genre.  I enjoy war films alright, but the ones that stand out to me are the movies that bring something new and interesting to the genre, and not just recycle all of the old cliches that we’ve seen before.  Another Brad Pitt WWII flick managed to do that a few years back; the Quentin Tarantino directed Inglorious Basterds (2009).  This movie, on the other hand, looks to be playing it safe, and feels more like Saving Private Ryan with tanks.  Another area of apprehension is the cast, which apart from Brad Pitt, features some fairly unappealing actors in most of the key roles (Shia LeBeouf, for example).  Of course, that may just be how the film appears in the marketing and the final product may end up being much better.  Let’s hope director David Ayer does deliver a worthy entry to the genre.

BIG HERO 6 (NOVEMBER 7)

Disney Animation is coming off one of their best years in company history, with their last film Frozen (2013) breaking all kinds of box office records.  This fall, we get their follow-up production, which also marks their first adaptation of a property owned by their sister company, Marvel Comics.  Big Hero 6 is a marked departure from the style seen in Frozen, and unfortunately that may work as a disadvantage for this film.  The fact that Frozen was such a huge success may end up overshadowing every film that comes after it, especially this one, given that it’s premiering so soon after.  The same thing brought down Disney Animation in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, as no film in that time could ever match up to the massive success of 1994’s The Lion King.  As of now, there’s nothing about Big Hero 6 that tells me that it end up being as successful as Frozen; but few other films ever will.  The best we can hope for is that Big Hero 6 will still be a charming and fun animated film.  The trailers are already doing a good job of selling the personalities of the characters, as well as the imaginative action bits.  Let’s just hope that the Disney executives expectations are not too high this time around, and that they’ll be satisfied with a box office return that’s still strong, but well below Frozen standards.

INTO THE WOODS (DECEMBER 25)

Musicals tend to be a popular choice during the holiday season, and this year brings us the first cinematic adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Tony-winning classic, Into the Woods.  Woods is all about the classic Grimm Brothers fairy tales, but with a darker and more contemporary twist.  Given that the movie is adapting an already beloved musical with a strong fan-base, you would think that there would be a lot of excitement surrounding this film.  Unfortunately, worries have already arisen about the production, leading people to believe that the film’s distributor, Disney, is watering down the darker themes of the musical to make it more appropriate for family audiences.  Also, the marketing is also doing a poor job of selling the movie as well, and leads one to believe that even Disney doesn’t have much faith in the final film.   The fact that they’re trying to sell a musical, and not once in the trailer do you see any of the all-star cast belting out a tune, is a revealing indicator of that worry.  That being said, the cast is impressively assembled (with A-listers like Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp), and award-winning director Rob Marshall has a proven history of adapting musicals successfully to the big screen (2002’s Chicago), so the final product could end up surprising and hopefully gives the classic production the translation it deserves.

DUMB AND DUMBER TO (NOVEMBER 14)

On the surface, this one looks like a movie that’s just destined to fall flat on it’s face.  Given that the previous movie was made over 20 years ago, this long delayed sequel could be seen as too little too late.  I for one am cautiously optimistic about the film.  I want to see this movie work, mainly because I still regard the original as a comedy classic, although I do know that not everyone shares that same opinion.  What makes me happy is the fact that this film returns all of the original people involved; the Farrelly Brothers along with stars Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels.  Unfortunately, none of them are anywhere near as relevant as they were since the first movie came out; with maybe the exception of Daniels.  More than likely, this film will not work out well in the end, but then again it could end up surprising us.  Jeff Daniels especially looks like he’s having a blast playing this character once again, and Jim Carrey is certainly at his best when he takes on roles like this.  Also, this film has the benefit of being a true sequel, and not a cheap cash-in like the horrible prequel film Dumb and Dumber: When Harry Met Lloyd (2003), made without Carrey and Daniels, or the Farrelly’s.  Let’s hope that this film is the sequel that was well worth the wait.

MOVIES TO SKIP:

ANNIE (DECEMBER 19)

Yet another remake of the seemingly ever present Annie musical.  This one is attempting to shake things up by casting African-American actors in the key roles of Annie and ‘Daddy’ Warbucks (Quvenzhane Wallis and Jamie Foxx respectively) which is actually an admirable and good way to go towards re-imagining the musical for a contemporary audience.  And the main stars are certainly better selected here than how this movie started out in pre-production; as a vanity piece for Will Smith and his daughter Willow.  But the fact that this musical has been done over and over again many times makes this film feel just unnecessary.  Also, like Into the Woods, this movie’s marketing is noticeably de-emphasizing the fact that it’s a musical, which could be an indicator of some of the studio’s worries.  Another warning sign seems to be the very miscast Cameron Diaz as Miss Hannigan.  She’s very much out of her league in this film, and doesn’t even come close to holding a candle up to Carol Burnett’s performance in the original 1982 film.  There are too many negatives working against this movie to make me believe that it was worth revisiting Annie again, and I doubt that this one is going to leave me surprised in the end.

EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS (DECEMBER 12)

Ridley Scott is one of the greatest visual directors of our times.  Some of his movies are definite masterpieces (Blade Runner, Alien, Gladiator), but unfortunately his recent track record has been a little shoddy.  Exodus looks like another visually stunning entry into his filmography, and some of the set-pieces definitely feel like vintage Scott.  Unfortunately, it also feels like another retread of ground he has already covered in films like Gladiator (2000) and Kingdom of Heaven (2005), and not in a good way.  Also, the awful looking transformation of actor Joel Edgerton into Pharaoh Rameses makes me worry that this movie may end up being unintentionally funny instead of awe-inspiring.  Given that the story of Moses has already been done again many times before on the big screen, my biggest worry is that Scott’s version will feel superfluous and unnecessary, which is an unfortunate fate for such a great visionary filmmaker.  That being said, Christian Bale does seem like ideal casting in the role of Moses and the film does have some beautiful production values.  Unfortunately as of now, it looks like more style than substance.

NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: SECRET OF THE TOMB (DECEMBER 19)

Now here is the very definition of a movie that serves as nothing more than a cash grab.  After two lackluster, yet inexplicably popular films prior, we are now get a third film in this series that no one seemed to be clammoring for, other than greedy studio executives.  Just watching the trailer, you can see that the film’s star, Ben Stiller, has completely lost interest in this series and is now just phoning it in.  Also, the movie seems to be relying more heavily on cheap slapstick and bodily humor than on anything clever and witty.  And what’s most unfortunate is that this will be one of the final movie roles from the late Robin Williams; thankfully it’s not the last, because I don’t think this is the kind of movie that he would’ve wanted to be his swan song.  Overall, the best I can describe this film as is that it is unnecessary, and it will probably come and go very quickly this holiday season.

So, these are the movies that stand out to me the most this holiday season.   I know that there is another Hunger Games movie scheduled this Fall, but I have to confess, I just don’t care enough about that franchise to want to write about it.  Maybe I’ll review it when it comes out, but after two previous films, I have yet to get on the bandwagon and I doubt one more film will change that.  For now, it’s the big productions this Fall that have me most excited, as well as the smaller films that are generating all the Awards season buzz.  It will be interesting to see which films stand out the most by year’s end, and which ones that may end up surprising.  I for one am eager to visit my local cinema over these next few months and hopefully this season is a standout one compared to years past.

The Movies of Summer 2014

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Start saving those movie passes now because Summer is almost upon us.  Generally seen as the biggest movie season of the year, this is the time when all the major studios gear up their big tent-pole pictures for release.  While many movies do become smash hits, recent years have shown us that the Summer is becoming increasingly competitive and now we are more likely to see big movies fail at the box office.  2013 in particular proved to be an incredibly ruthless year for big releases, leading to some of the hardest box office crashes the industry has ever seen.  Movies like Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) and Pacific Rim (2013), and Hangover Part 3 (2013) all under-performed last year, while other movies like The Long Ranger (2013), After Earth (2013), and Elysium (2013) proved to be costly failures.  Add to this the inexplicable successes of movies that people were almost certain would fail (World War Z and The Great Gatsby), and it becomes clear that the Summer movie season is becoming increasingly harder to handicap.  2014’s Summer season arrives a bit more quietly than last years slate of films, with fewer tent-pole movies of note, which may actually be a blessing for the industry.  This year, because of this cleared up schedule, there’s a better chance for movies to actually take hold at the box office and find an audience.
Of course this all depends on how well these movies are received.  I for one can see many films coming this Summer that will likely be terrible, and yet successful despite those shortcomings (I’m looking at you Transformers).  Just like last year, I will be taking a look at a few of the noteworthy movies that will be premiering in the months ahead and pick which ones that I believe are the must-sees of the season, a few which I’m interested in with a few reservations, and which ones I absolutely believe are worth skipping.  To help give some of you a frame of reference to what I’m talking about, I will include movie trailers for each of the highlighted movies.   So, without any further delay, let’s take a look at this Summer’s coming attractions.
MUST SEES:
X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (MAY 23)

The X-Men franchise has had a bumpy road over it’s now 7 movie run at the box office.  That said, the last two efforts in the series, 2011’s X-Men: First Class and 2013’s The Wolverine have both been solid efforts that both work as stand alone movies as well as continuations of the franchise, showing very clearly that the X-Men movies are now hitting their stride.  This year, what looks to be the most ambitious X-Men film to date, Days of Future Past, is making it to theaters and it is the movie I am most excited about seeing this Summer.  This is mainly due to the remarkable cast assembled for the film, including just about everyone that has appeared in an X-Men film to date. This includes series stalwart Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan returning as Charles Xavier and Magneto, as well as James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as their younger counterparts.  Add in Game of Thrones‘ Peter Dinklage as the villain and an army of the iconic Sentinel robots from the popular Marvel comics, and you’ve got a movie that looks to build upon everything that has come before it and take the series into even greater territory.  Also, recent controversies aside, it is great to see director Bryan Singer return to a series that he helped to start in the first place; a role he should have never left.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (AUGUST 1)

Speaking of Marvel Comics adaptations, 2014 also gives us the premiere of one of the publisher’s more obscure titles to the big screen.  Fans of the comics already are familiar with the Guardians of the Galaxy, and how they tie in with the larger Marvel universe that’s becoming the central focal point of the popular Avengers series, but the casual viewer does need to be sold on the concept of the story in order to make this film a success.  So the marketing behind this film deserves a lot of praise because the above trailer does an absolutely perfect job of setting up the characters and the world of this film.  I for one am sold just on the sense of humor alone.  What other trailer are you going to see the main character “flipping the bird” at the audience?  Space adventures are sometimes a hard sell these days, and while this movie may not look groundbreaking, it does look entertaining, which is exactly what audiences want from a Summer movie.  Here’s hoping that Marvel’s track record keeps going strong and helps to give a deserving series the boost that it needs.
GODZILLA (MAY 16)

It’s hard to believe that a Godzilla movie qualifies as a must see movie.  The Godzilla franchise is not exactly considered high cinematic art, and the last time Hollywood attempted to make a big budget film centered around the infamous monster, we got the ludicrous 1998 Roland Emmerich film.  This year, however, we not only have a Godzilla movie that looks ambitious, but actually looks to be treating the franchise more reverently.  Given that Guillermo del Toro proved last year that a movie centered around giant monsters could turn into a great film, it seems reasonable that a new movie centered around the King of Monsters could also be worthwhile.  The trailers so far have done an excellent job establishing this new take on the the monster, and the movie does look impressive; particularly when it comes to the scale of the destruction.  Also, Godzilla actually appears the way he should, and less like that lame T-Rex hybrid that Roland Emmerich tried to pass off.  This film also sports an impressive cast, led by heavyweights like Bryan Cranston and Ken Watanabe.  My hope is that the movie is able to live up to it’s marketing, and let the mighty Godzilla roar onto the screens once again.
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (JUNE 13)

For the first time in many years, we are not getting a movie from Pixar Studios in 2014.  Almost a staple in the Summer movie season, Pixar films are among the most consistently successful movies released every year.  So, with such a vacancy left open, it seems like a prime opportunity for other animation studios to release one of their movies without having to compete with the big boys, and the studio best set up to make a move this Summer is Pixar’s most direct competitor: Dreamworks Animation.  This is because Dreamworks is premiering a sequel to what is unquestionably their best film to date, 2010’s How to Train Your Dragon.  The sequel looks to expand the universe seen in the first film, which is what a good sequel should do, and the trailer does a good job of showing off the impressive scale and action adventure that we expect to see in a movie like this.  The first film’s entire cast looks to be returning to the series, and some of the notable new additions include Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett as the main hero’s long lost mother, as well as actors Djimon Hounsou and Game of Thrones’ Kit Harington as new adversaries.  The hope is that the sequel doesn’t waste the potential set up by it’s excellent predecessor.  It certainly benefits from ideal conditions for it’s world premiere with little competition in it’s way.
THE EXPENDABLES 3 (AUGUST 15)

Yes, I know these movies are loud and dumb.  But, that’s why I like them so much.  Sylvester Stallone has crafted the Expendables series as a love letter to 80’s action films and has filled each movie with many of his old co-stars from that era, along with every action star that has headlined a film since then.  What I like about these movies the most is that they make no qualms about what they really are; they are a showcase for action movie icons doing what they do best and that’s kicking ass and blowing stuff up.  Now that the series is on it’s third film, it’s clear that many other people like me have gone along on this ride and have loved it so far.  The first two movies are mindless fun, and it looks like the new movie is more of the same, which is very much welcomed.  In addition to the returning cast, which includes Stallone, Jason Statham, and the “Governator” Arnold Schwartzenegger, this new film adds many more action icons like Antonio Banderas, Wesley Snipes, Mel Gibson, and Dr. Jones himself, Harrison Ford, taking the place of the absent Bruce Willis.  The new cast members alone are enough to get me excited for this movie.  It’s guilty pleasure fun and I’m not ashamed to be excited about this one.
MOVIES THAT HAVE ME WORRIED:

THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN 2 (MAY 2)

The first movie released this summer is almost certainly going to be a huge hit and it looks like it’s going to be a huge crowd-pleaser.  So why am I not as excited about it as most people.  It’s mainly because it ‘s a sequel to a film that I didn’t like.  The first Amazing Spiderman was released in 2012, and rebooted the Spiderman franchise only five short years after the previous series ended; the one that starred Tobey Maguire as the web-slinger.  While I do believe that the reboot did some things right, like casting Andrew Garfield as Spiderman and focusing more on his development as a character, the end result was too lackluster and inconsistent in tone to make the reboot worth it.  Also, the film needlessly retreaded the origin story, which everyone had already seen in the previous films.  While this movie is freed up from the shackles of establishing the origin of Spiderman, it runs the unfortunate risk of trying to cram in too much too soon.  This movie has no less than 3 different villains taken from the comics; Electro (Jamie Foxx), The Rhino (Paul Giamatti) and the Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan).  Hopefully the movie gives everyone their due, otherwise it could all be a mess.  That being said, the film’s action set pieces do look exciting, and the transformation of Jamie Foxx into Electro does look impressive.  Let’s hope that this movie can outshine it’s disappointing predecessor.
MALIFICENT (MAY 30)

Disney seems to recently be in the habit of adapting some of their most beloved animated films into live action movies.  It started with 101 Dalmatians  in 1996, starring Glenn Close as Cruella de Vil.  A decade later we saw Tim Burton’s take on Alice in Wonderland (2010).  And within the next couple years, we will see adaptations of Cinderella by Kenneth Branaugh and The Jungle Book  by Jon Favreau, both from the Disney company.  This year, we get the live action treatment of Sleeping Beauty (1959), but with a twist.  This version of the tale gives the villainess, the iconic Malificent, center stage, and she is played by non other than Angelina Jolie.  The reason why I’m uncertain about this film is because the recent track record for fairy tale adaptations hasn’t been so good, at least when it comes to the quality of the movies.  Tim Burton’s Alice was critically panned, as was two recent adaptations of Snow White, made by other studios.  Audiences and critics may generally reject this movie as more of the same, and certainly the CG heavy look of the film seems rather tiresome.  The bright spot, however, is the casting of Ms. Jolie herself in the title role.  She looks perfect for the role and seems to be relishing the part in her performance.  And if there’s a Disney villain who deserves her own film, it’s the mistress of all evil.
 JUPITER ASCENDING (JULY 18)

The Wachowskis have had a rough decade.  They exploded onto the scene with the monumental The Matrix (1999), which is a certifiable classic in every way.  Since then, they followed that up with two disappointing Matrix sequels, a horrid remake of Speed Racer (2008), and the ambitious Cloud Atlas (2012), which worked better in parts than as a whole.  Having not made a profitable film since 2003’s The Matrix Reloaded, there is a lot resting on the Wachowskis’ shoulders with their new movie Jupiter Ascending.  The movie looks ambitious, and it’s nice to see the Wachowskis’ take on a sci-fi thriller that doesn’t echo The Matrix in any way.  The only question is whether their movie is original enough to convince audiences to see it.  I like the look of the movie, but the “saving the princess” plot seems a little cliched, even within science fiction.  On the plus side, the movie has Sean Bean in the cast, which is a good thing in my book.  Let’s see if he stays alive through the whole film this time.  Hopefully this one will be a turn around for the once mighty Wachowskis, because they certainly need it.
SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR (AUGUST 22)

Robert Rodriguez’s first adaptation of Frank Miller’s Sin City graffic novels was one of the most unique cinematic experiences I’ve ever had when it first premiered back in 2005, and it seems like an ideal film to follow up with a sequel.  I also thought the same thing of Rodriguez’s Machete (2010), but that was until I saw Machete Kills, one of the more disappointing sequels in recent memory.  Now, nearly a decade after the first film was released, Robert Rodriguez is making the long promised follow-up to Sin City.  The reason why I’m worried is because Rodriguez’s track record with sequels is very spotty.  For every Desperado (1995) there’s a dozen lackluster Spy Kids movies.  Hopefully the director brings his A-game to this film, because I absolutely love the first movie.  The good news is that much of the original cast returns, including heavyweights like Mickey Rourke and Bruce Willis, and newer cast members include good actors like Josh Brolin and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  Let’s hope that time hasn’t worn out Sin City’s appeal to audiences.
MOVIES TO SKIP:

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (AUGUST 8)

The vultures are already circling around this one.  Pretty much from the get go, people knew this was a bad idea, letting Michael Bay tackle a popular property like this one.  And now that we’ve seen the trailer, our worst fears seem to have been realized.  While I’m mixed on some things about this movie (I like the casting of William Fichtner as Shredder, for example), I do agree that the titular turtles just don’t look right at all.  I greatly prefer the Jim Henson crafted turtles from the cheesy but endearing original film.  Additionally, nothing good can come from the casting of Megan Fox as female lead, April O’Neil.  Right now, this movie stands as a clear example of the recent trend by Hollywood to take popular franchises from a generation ago, and water them down into shallow popcorn flicks for today’s newer audiences (i.e. Robocop).  Is this going to be the worst movie of the summer?  Who knows.  I can only say that it’s the one right now with the lowest expectations.
TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION (JUNE 27)

While we’re on the subject of Michael Bay, he also is bringing us the fourth entry in the Transformers franchise this Summer.  I will say that I did find the first film okay in it’s own right, but the series has devolved into one of the most self-indulgent and obnoxious franchises of recent memory.  These movies seem more geared towards satisfying Bay’s own tastes as a filmmaker than actually entertaining the audiences they were intended for, with it’s over-reliance on CGI mayhem and on-screen pyrotechnics in the place of actual character development.  This movie does the smart move of replacing Shia LaBeouf for the less obnoxious Mark Wahlberg, but after watching the trailer, it appears that we’re still going to be getting more of the same nonsense.  And once again, it looks like the Transformers themselves are just supporting characters in their own movie.
EDGE OF TOMORROW (JUNE 6)

This film’s biggest disadvantage is that it’s been produced at a time when many stylistically similar movies are being made; and failing.  It looks too similar to forgettable sci-fi action thrillers like Battle Los Angeles (2011), and those battle suits look a lot like the mech-armors used in Elysium (2013); and you guys know how I felt about that film.  Hell, it was only last year that we saw another post-apocalyptic movie starring Tom Cruise; the equally forgettable Oblivion (2013).  Unfortunately for this movie, it and will probably follow in the footsteps of these other failed sci-fi epics.  Tom Cruise is a good actor, and he should be broadening his choices of roles now that he’s entering middle age, but it appears he’s still attracted to action film roles at the moment, for better or worse.  The plot also seems too gimmicky to stand out either; like a mix of Halo and Groundhogs Day (1992), and not in a good way.  It could end up surprising us and be a solid action movie (like last years World War Z), but given how poorly the sci-fi action genre has been of late, it’s a tall order to accomplish.
So, there you go; my outlook on the Summer of 2014 in movies.  There will probably be a few other films that will grab my attention over these next few months, and probably even a few surprises.  That was certainly the case with last Summer’s movies, and hopefully this year will be even better.  I hope that the fact that fewer movies are coming out this year with a lot of hype is a positive thing.  Lately, too much hype has negatively affected many people’s reactions to Summer movies, so hopefully Hollywood has been taking a hint and are acting more cautiously this year.  I doubt we’ll see anything like The Lone Ranger’s big meltdown this Summer.  My hope is that the movies I’m most excited about live up to my expectations, and the ones I’m cautious about will prove my worries wrong.  At the very least, I hope that I and everyone else just has a fun time at the movies during this busy season and not end up feeling like we wasted our time and money at the cinema.

The 2014 Oscars – Picks and Thoughts

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It is upon us once again.  The Super Bowl for film nerds.  The final Shoot Out for all industry insiders.  We have finally reached the end of another Awards season, with the Academy Awards now only a week away.  Sure, the Hollywood community has been handing out acclaims and numerous statuettes for a month or so, but for some, the only thing that matters in the end is getting that little golden man named Oscar.  It’s amazing how this one award, out of all the others, has become the pinnacle prize for all things cinema.  I think that it’s mostly due to the legacy behind it.  The history of the Academy Awards is just as fascinating as anything else that has come from Hollywood.  All the careers that have been given a boost; all the backstabbing that happens behind the scenes in order to beat out the competition; and also all the “what were they thinking” winners that we’ve seen throughout the years.  2013’s Oscar nominees are interesting, because of how varied they are.  It’s been a while since I’ve seen a year where the race for the top award has been this wide open, which is a good thing, because the more suspenseful the race, the more interesting it becomes.  For this article, I thought I would go through all the nominees in the top categories and share with you who I think will win, and who I think should win, and also share some of my general thoughts overall on these races.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Nominees: Eric Warren Singer & David O. Russell (American Hustle), Woody Allen (Blue Jasmine), Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack (Dallas Buyers Club), Spike Jonze (Her) and Bob Nelson (Nebraska)
Being a writer, this and the following category are the ones that I take particular interest in, as well give a particular scrutiny towards.  What I find very weird with this year is that the choices for this and the other writing category highlight the strange standards that the Oscars use for considering a screenplay original or adapted.  In this category, we have two films that are based off of true life events (American Hustle and Dallas Buyers Club), and yet they’re considered original enough to be included in this category.  That may make the creators of the other movies upset, because their films come from completely original ideas.  I do, however, like the line-up here, and one of those questionable inclusions is indeed my own personal pick.  Bob Nelson’s Nebraska script is clever and witty, but maybe a little too low key compared to the rest.  Woody Allen already has won several times, so I think his Blue Jasmine script will also not be honored.  Dallas Buyers Club is a movie more notable for it’s performances than it’s writing, so I think the Academy will pass on it too.  Now, between American Hustle and Her, I definitely choose the one that I got more entertainment value out of, which would be American Hustle.  That being said, I believe the Academy will actually honor originality this year, so that means Spike Jonze will win.
WHO WILL WIN: Spike Jonze for Her
WHO SHOULD WIN: David O. Russell and Eric Warren Singer for American Hustle
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Nominees: Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke (Before Midnight), Billy Ray (Captain Phillips), Steve Coogan & Jeff Pope (Philomena), John Ridley (12 Years a Slave), and Terrence Winter (The Wolf of Wall Street)
This category also has the same questionable standards that it’s sister category has.  Before Midnight is considered an adapted screenplay, even though it’s not based off any source material and is merely a sequel to two other movies.  The Wolf of Wall Street also is very loosely translated from the memoir of it’s main subject, Jordan Belfort, so you could make the argument that it’s more of an original piece of work than an adapted one.  But, despite the standards that the Academy used to make their selections, we do have a set of some very interesting choices in this category.  First of all, Before Midnight is merely nominated as an acknowledgement to a critically acclaimed movie, so it has no chance of winning.  Captain Phillips is more of a directorial achievement than a writing one, and I actually found the script to that movie as it’s weakest element.  Comedian Steve Coogan showed he had a talent for writing drama with Philomena, but it’s also out of the running.  So it comes down to Wolf and 12 Years.  My own choice would be Wolf of Wall Street, again just because of the entertainment value.  But, I think the Academy was more impressed with the gritty realism of 12 Years a Slave, and I wouldn’t blame them for choosing that one either.  Some people complain about scripts that go for the heart rather than the mind, but 12 Years managed to do both perfectly.
WHO WILL WIN: John Ridley for 12 Years a Slave
WHO SHOULD WIN: Terrence Winter for The Wolf of Wall Street
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Nominees: Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips), Bradley Cooper (American Hustle), Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave) Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street) and Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)
The supporting actors category is probably the one that turned the most heads this year with some of it’s selections.  This years nominees includes a first time actor (Barkhad Abdi) two actors known more for their comedic work receiving nods for the second time (Bradley Cooper and Jonah Hill), as well as an actor who hasn’t made a movie in over six years (Jared Leto).  Also, I feel that some even better performances got shut out of this category for reasons unknown (Daniel Bruhl for Rush and Colin Farrell for Saving Mr. Banks).  But, even still, everyone nominated still did fine work here.  Looking them over, you would think that the more traditional choice of Michael Fassbender for 12 Years a Slave would be the favorite.  But ever since the nominations were announced, it has been Jared Leto who has emerged as the clear favorite.  And it’s a position that I can’t argue with.  Leto clearly put the most effort into his role, loosing a ton of weight in order to play the AIDS-stricken, transgender hustler Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club.  But the reason why it’s the standout among the others is because Leto also gave the character personality and charisma, which helps to back up the physical transformation that he made for the character.  That’s why he is the undisputed favorite in this category, and probably the safest bet at this year’s Oscars.
WHO WILL WIN: Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club
WHO SHOULD WIN: Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Nominees: Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine), Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle), Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), Julia Roberts (August: Osage County), and June Squibb (Nebraska)
Let me get this out of the way first: NOT JENNIFER LAWRENCE.  Don’t get wrong, I enjoyed her work in American Hustle.  I even thought it was better than her Oscar-winning performance in Silver Linings Playbook.  But, when compared to the other performances in this category, I think it’s really unfair to call her the odds-on favorite to win.  Jennifer Lawrence is definitely the girl of the moment, but I don’t think celebrity power alone should guarantee you an award.  Thankfully, it seems like that sentiment has taken hold in the last few weeks, and Jennifer Lawrence’s “sure thing” is now looking like a much tighter race than before.  Lupita Nyong’o’s heartbreaking performance in 12 Years a Slave is gaining a lot of traction, and she has a SAG award win to back that up.  Hopefully it’s enough to put her over the edge on Oscar night.  And although a win for Nyong’o would make me happy, I do have to say that I’m pulling for an upset for Nebraska‘s June Squibb.  84-year old June Squibb gave one of my favorite performances of the year, and was definitely the highlight of Alexander Payne’s film.  The Academy likes to honor old-timers from time to time, and while I think it’s a long shot, I would love it if they honored Ms. Squibb for her delightful work in that film.
WHO WILL WIN: Lupita Nyong’o for 12 Years a Slave
WHO SHOULD WIN: June Squibb for Nebraska
 
BEST ACTOR
Nominees: Christian Bale (American Hustle), Bruce Dern (Nebraska), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street), Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) and Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
This is one of the year’s most competitive races.  In any other year, each one of these performances who be a clear favorite, so the fact they all have to compete with one another shows just how hard a choice this category will be for most voters.  One thing that they all can take pride in is that they beat out Tom Hanks for a nomination, in one of Mr. Hanks’ better years.  One thing the nominees I’m sure are also pleased with is that they have legendary actor Bruce Dern within their midst.  Dern’s performance is touching and note-perfect in Nebraska, but unfortunately, I don’t think this will be a year where the academy honors someone for their whole body of work on top of their performance in a particular film (i.e. Henry Fonda in 1981’s On Golden Pond).  No, this year it comes down to three standout performances from Matthew McConaughey, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Chiwetel Ejiofor.  Ejiofor is unforgettable in 12 Years a Slave, and would be deserving of the award, but I think he lacks the star power to put himself over the top.  McConaughey and DiCaprio have much more goodwill built up in their favor, and I think McConaughey has the edge, considering the career-changing year he’s had.  My personal pick however would have to go to DiCaprio for Wolf Of Wall Street.  His performance in that movie was easily my favorite of the year, and the one that I think showed the most range out of everyone in this category.  It’s a clear choice for me, but a difficult one to predict this year.  And hey, if McConaughey doesn’t win Best Actor for Dallas Buyers Club, he’s pretty much guaranteed an Emmy for his work on HBO’s True Detective this fall.
WHO WILL WIN: Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club
WHO SHOULD WIN: Leonardo DiCaprio for The Wolf of Wall Street
 
BEST ACTRESS
Nominees: Amy Adams (American Hustle), Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Sandra Bullock (Gravity), Judi Dench (Philomena) and Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)
Very much the opposite of the Best Actor race, this category has a definite front runner.  Cate Blanchett has enjoyed a considerable lead in the last few months, having won every award up to this point.  And indeed, I don’t see her coming away a loser in this category at all.  But, did she indeed give the best performance out of all those nominated in this category.  While I have to say that I did enjoy her work in the film, I wouldn’t consider Cate Blanchett to be my own choice for Best Actress.  In truth, I actually like two other performances more than hers.  One was the incredibly dynamic performance put in by Amy Adams in American Hustle, who managed to shine the brightest in a movie full of Oscar-nominated performers.  The other is the very underrated work by Sandra Bullock in Gravity; you have to respect an actress who can carry a movie all on her own like she did, especially when it’s as complex as Gravity was.  If I were to pick one over the other, I would choose Amy Adams.  She’s one of the best and most versatile actors working today, and I think it is only fitting that she should be honored for her most dynamic role to date.  However, despite my hopes for an upset, it seems like nothing will stand in Cate Blanchett’s way towards a Best Actress win; not to say that she’s undeserving.  On a side note, I like Meryl Streep, but really Academy?  Do you have to nominate her for everything, even when the movie isn’t good?  I would rather see Emma Thompson sitting in her place right now at this year’s Oscars.
WHO WILL WIN: Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine
WHO SHOULD WIN: Amy Adams for American Hustle
 
BEST DIRECTOR
Nominees: David O. Russell (American Hustle), Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity), Alexander Payne (Nebraska), Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) and Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street)
The directing categories often coincide with which ever movie wins Best Picture, but not always.  Last year’s winner, Ang Lee, won for Life of Pi out of luck due to the fact that his toughest competition was not even given a nomination (Ben Affleck for Argo).  This year, there were no obvious snubs, so it makes the race a far more competitive category this time around.  Alexander Payne is the least likely to win due to his film being the most low-key, and Scorsese has already claimed this prize once before.  Russell has been on a roll lately with Hustle, as well as nods for Silver Linings Playbook (2012) and The Fighter (2010), but I think he still hasn’t found the traction needed to put himself over the top yet.  Instead, the two front-runners are directors who both would make history with a win.  If Alfonso Cuaron wins for Gravity, it’ll make him the first Latino director to win the Award.  If Steve McQueen succeeds for 12 Years a Slave, he would be the first Black director to win.  Both men are very deserving of the honor, but if I were to guess a winner, it would be Cuaron.  12 Years a Slave is an impressive piece of work, but it also is very traditionally made as well.  Gravity on the other hand pushes the limits of film-making in all sorts of ways, and clearly shows the more impressive directorial effort.  Steve McQueen showed an impressive effort with only the third film he has ever directed, and hopefully someday he will win the award outright, but this year you just can’t ignore Alfonso Cuaron’s more groundbreaking work.
WHO WILL WIN: Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity
WHO SHOULD WIN: Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity
BEST PICTURE
Nominees: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave, and The Wolf of Wall Street
Finally we come to the big award of the night; the one that the studios waste big money on every year.  Having seen all 9 nominees, I am happy to see that six of them were on my end of the year Top Ten.  While many of them are very deserving of the nomination, it is clear that some of them have a better chance than others.  As I see it now, it has become a race between two heavy hitters, with maybe one or two underdogs that could potentially upset.  The leading candidates are Gravity and 12 Years a Slave right now, and honestly at this point, I have no idea who will win.  This is made even more complicated by the fact that one of the bell-weather awards this season, the Producers Guild Awards, ended in a tie for the first time in it’s history.  This has led some to believe that the Oscar race could very well end up in a tie as well, which is a strong possibility.  If I had to make a choice, I would have to go with Gravity.  It was my favorite movie of 2013, and the last time my top movie for the year won Best Picture was in 2006, with Socrsese’s The Departed.  It wouldn’t bother me if 12 Years a Slave won the award, and an upset made by American Hustle or Wolf of Wall Street would be welcome as well.  But, I think Gravity is the movie of the year and should be honored as such.  Still, a little part of me does want to see that tie happen.  It may throw off a lot of office Oscar polls, but it would be historic nonetheless.
WHO WILL WIN: Gravity
WHO SHOULD WIN: Gravity
So, these are my choices for the winners of the 2014 Academy Awards.  I know I probably won’t be 100% right, since this is one of the more unpredictable races in recent memory.  But, I will say that for most of the nominees this year, the honors have been well deserved.  Thankfully, I managed to catch most of the top nominated movies this year, so that I’m able to make educated assessments of each award.  Some of the other categories like Best Documentary Best Animated Film were ones I couldn’t make predictions on because I haven’t seen all the nominees just yet.  I did manage to watch the Short films nominated for this year (my picks are Feral for Animated and Just Before Losing Everything for Live Action, in case you’re wondering).  Overall, regardless of whoever wins, what I do enjoy most about these awards is the legacy that it leaves behind year after year.  Every year, we see new names added to the ranks of Oscar winners, and it’s an exclusive club that anyone in the film industry would do anything to be a part of; and have.  Likewise, an Oscar-winning film carries that distinction far beyond the Awards themselves, and seeing them all together we more clearly understand the sometimes turbulent but nevertheless fascinating history of cinema.  In any case, my hope is that the March 2nd ceremony proves to be an enjoyable one overall.

The Movies of Fall 2013

 

Movietheater
With the closing of the tumultuous Summer movie season upon us this Labor Day weekend, we look ahead now to an entirely different beast that carries its own kind of significance.  Summer is when Hollywood releases their big tentpole crowd-pleasers, which usually becomes the domain of action movies and broad slapstick comedies, and while you’ll find some of those in the final quarter of the year, the fall season usually puts more of an emphasis on dramas.  This is commonly know as Oscar season, and this year is no exception with regards to the ambitious slate of Oscar-baiting films coming up.  While some certainly look intriguing and will be certain award-winners, other films come off looking like they’re trying too hard.  Like I did at the beginning of the summer season, I am going to highlight the films that I am most psyched about, which ones have me a little worried, and which ones I am sure will be a failure.
Keep in mind, these are just my opinions and I’m fully aware that I am not the best handicapper. This summer I predicted that World War Z was going to be a colossal critical and box office bomb and that The Lone Ranger was going to be a must-see success.  It’s safe to say that I missed the mark. (World War Z was actually pretty good by the way.)  And I’m sure with a serving of films as varied as in this season, it will still be hard to predict the winners from the losers.  Sometimes a complete surprise may come out of nowhere and capture everyone’s attention with little advanced hype.  The Toronto Film Festival has yet to happen, and the Venice festival begins within a couple of days, so there’s the potential of some unseen underdog coming through to become awards favorite in the weeks ahead.  My choices mainly focus on the films that already have set release dates and how I think they will both perform critically and at the box office.
Must Sees:
GRAVITY (OCTOBER 4)

Most films at this time of the year usually play it safe when it comes to the stories they tell.  You usually see a lot historical pics, biopics, and/or book adaptations because studios know that they have a better chance of reaching their audience based on the familiarity with the subject matter in the films already being present.  Director Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity stands apart from this pattern by being wholly original.  After seeing the nail-biting trailers for this movie, I can honestly say that I have never seen anything like this before, which makes it the must see movie of the season in my opinion.  Cuaron already has a reputation for having extraordinary camerawork in his films, as evidenced by the stunning tracking shots in 2006’s Children of Men, and it looks like he’s bringing the same kind of ingenuity to Gravity, only on a much grander scale.  There are several trailers already online for this film, and each one is like a stunning short movie on their own.  The film has only two credited stars, George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, and both of them look to be capable enough to stand out amid all of the flashy effects on display.  What excites me about this movie is that it has the potential to be a one-of-a-kind experience, which is something that I want every movie to be.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (NOVEMBER 15)

Martin Scorsese has had a strong track record as of late, even when he’s dabbling in unfamiliar territory, like the family-friendly Hugo (2011).  Here he once again is teaming up with Leonardo DiCaprio for the fifth time, but in what seems to be a more comical feature.  The last time Scorsese tried a more comical tone in one of his movies, it was the criminally underrated The King of Comedy (1983), so I have high hopes that this film will be similar in execution.  Hopefully DiCaprio is able to perform the role in this film well enough to distinguish it from the other work he has done for Mr. Scorsese, and it appears that Leo is up to that challenge.  The remainder of the cast also looks impressive, especially Matthew McConaughey in what looks like a very eccentric performance.  Most of all, I’m interested in seeing how Scorsese treats the material here.  I’m certain that it will be a largely black comedy, and of course Scorsese knows how to tackle the seedy underbelly of American culture with ease.  What I’m wondering is who the bigger scene-stealer is in the trailer; McConaughey or McConaughey’s teeth?
THE HOBBIT:  THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG (DECEMBER 13)

The unplanned second film in Peter Jackson’s fantasy trilogy will be a must see film for most people, but what has me curious is how the movie will work on it’s own.  When Peter Jackson made the controversial decision to spread his adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit over three films instead of two, it made a lot of people worried that the new film series would feel too bloated for its own good.  When the first film, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was released last Christmas season, it had a mostly positive response from both fans and critics; though there were still quite a few that believed that it was still too much movie.  I was extremely happy with the first film and I even put it in my top ten movies of 2012.  The Desolation of Smaug has the unfortunate position now of being the middle child in Jackson’s trilogy, which can be problematic given that it has no beginning or end.  I have confidence that Peter Jackson can make it work and I’m more than willing to dive right back into the world of Middle Earth once again.  On top of that, this film features the titular dragon prominently (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), and it’s a character that I have long wanted to see come to life on screen ever since I first read the book.
OLDBOY (NOVEMBER 27)

Remakes are always a difficult sell to audiences, especially when they come from a foreign source like Oldboy.  This remake is of a now classic Korean thriller from director Park Chan-wook, which gained notoriety for its brutal onscreen violence and controversial subject matter.  The film is beloved by many cine-philes, but there is the danger of some things getting lost in the translation now that the film is being Americanized.  That is why the choice of Spike Lee as the director couldn’t be more perfect.  He’s a director known for taking on challenging material, and I believe that he will treat the source film with a lot of reverence.  The trailer certainly gives a good taste of what we have in store for us, and star Josh Brolin looks like he’ll be giving an appropriately intense performance.  Whether or not it all works in the end remains to be seen, but it is a rare example of a remake worth getting excited for.
ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES (DECEMBER 20)

Not really an awards contender, but I am still anxious to see this film nontheless.  The first Anchorman (2004) was an incredibly absurd send up of local news networks that served as a launching point for Will Farrell’s career as a comedic leading man.  While sequels to classic comedies are almost always hard to pull off, Anchorman 2 looks to be hitting the right tone already based off the trailers.  The inclusion of some high profile new faces to the cast (Jim Carrey and Harrison Ford) should also help this sequel live up to the high standards of its predecessor.  Again, not awards material, but sometimes we do need a good laugh around the holidays.
Movies that have me worried:
SAVING MR. BANKS (DECEMBER 20)

This film doesn’t have me worried because of the production itself or by my own reaction to the trailer.  I’m worried mainly because I grew up a big Disney fan, and this is the first time ever that Walt Disney Pictures is making a movie about it’s own storied history.  I believe that they can pull it off, but I worry a bit that it could all go horribly wrong as well, ruining what I think could be a wonderful story-line.  What worries me most is the tone.  The film could come off as too sugarcoated to be believable, mainly due to the fact that the Disney company is dramatizing their own history in this one. If the tone doesn’t feel right, it could spoil the drama and make it feel unauthentic.  That being said, the look of the movie is spectacular and the performances feel genuine enough.  I like the fact that Tom Hanks isn’t buried under a lot of makeup in order to play Walt Disney.  From what I’ve heard, the screenplay is supposed to be very good and I hope it does deliver in the end.  Don’t be afraid to go all in with this one Disney Pictures.  It’s a story well worth getting right.
THOR: THE DARK WORLD (NOVEMBER 8)

This is another film that I am looking forward to, but with some reservations.  This is mainly due to my disappointment with this summer’s Iron Man 3, and my worry that Phase 2 of Marvel’s Avengers Initiative is loosing steam just as it’s getting started.  The film trailer looks appropriately epic in scale, but nothing has really stood out so far for me.  My worry is that the Thor sequel is going to just play it safe and give us more of the same, when it should be doing more to expand the world it has created.  I’ll hold my judgement until I see it, and I have confidence in new director Alan Taylor (Game of Thrones).  My only wish is that it avoids the pitfalls that brought down Iron Man and hopefully stands on it’s own as a worthy edition to Marvel’s collection of films.
CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (OCTOBER 11)

With this film, I like the casting, I like the style, and I like the choice in director.  But like Saving Mr. Banks, what worries me is the tone of the film.  This is a true life story that’s still very fresh in people’s minds, and the film runs the risk of trying to dramatize the story too heavily to make it feel authentic.  Paul Greengrass, the director, has a strong record of creating gritty films that put you right in the middle of the action, though with sometimes with mixed results; his style worked very well in the Bourne films, but felt very intrusive in a movie like Green Zone (2010).  Here it seems like a good fit, but it also could run the risk of overusing the shaky cam technique that Mr. Greengrass loves so much.  Hopefully the distracting camera work will be kept at a minimum so that the story can establish itself better.  Also, the film has the star magnetism of Tom Hanks in it’s favor, so that’s one thing to look forward to.
FROZEN (NOVEMBER 27)

This is an example where the trailer has become the source of my worries for a particular film.  I don’t like this trailer at all; it’s clearly aiming for the youngest demographics in the audience and no one else; and it tells us absolutely nothing about the film itself.  I’m holding my judgment on the movie until I see it, and the foreign trailers do a much better job of selling this film than the American one.  Truth be told, I still strongly prefer hand-drawn animation, but some of the pre-production artwork for this film is really beautiful and it give me hope.  It’s another fairy tale addition to the Disney canon, based off the story of “The Snow Queen,” so a lot is riding on this one.  I just wish they had highlighted the story in this trailer instead of the comical sidekick characters.  Is it an indication that Disney doesn’t have confidence in the film’s story-line as a selling point?  I’ll say this, they’re not going to get me to watch the film with a talking snowman alone.
Movies to Skip:
ENDER’S GAME (NOVEMBER 1)

I’ll admit that I have not read the books, so I can’t judge this one on an adaptation standpoint.  And I’m also going to ignore the fact that the original novel’s author is a homophobic bigot with regards to judging this film as well.  What makes me so uninterested in this movie is the fact that it feels completely unoriginal.  Looking at this trailer, I feel like I have seen this movie before and disliked it.  The director, Gavin Hood, seems to be copying his visuals from many other Science Fiction films and hasn’t bothered to put his own unique spin on it.  The performances in the trailer also feel wooden, which is surprising given the impressive cast on board; especially Harrison Ford.  The look of the alien invaders feels a bit too close to similar types like Transformers, and I don’t think it’s a good sign when your film invokes a Michael Bay aesthetic.  But, I could be wrong, given that I predicted World War Z would follow a similar fate.  Still, this movie so far has left me cold based on the way it’s being sold, and I don’t have much hope that it will surprise me.
AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (DECEMBER 25)

One of the most typical movies you will find around the end of the year is the Oscar-Bait film.  While some Oscar-baiting movies can work and achieve what they set out to do, there are others that try too hard and come up empty.  August: Osage County feels like that type of movie.  It’s got Oscar pedigree stars acting up a storm (Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts), it’s got a critically acclaimed source material (the Tony-winning play), and a tear-jerking scenario that’s meant to convince the viewer that what they’re watching is important.  But, based of this trailer, it looks to me like it’s another Hollywood film trying to hard to be emotional, and that could make everything ring very false in the final product.  Sometimes an Oscar-bait film can surprise with how well it delivers the goods, but August: Osage County feels like yet another movie that misses the mark.
47 RONIN (DECEMBER 25)

Not by any means an awards contender.  I just wanted to included this one on the list because it just looks so bad.  It’s another Crouching Tiger wannabe that’s trying too hard and relying too heavily on CGI effects in its action scenes.  I can’t see anybody really getting excited for this one; other than die-hard Keanu Reeves fans, if they’re still out there.  The trailer feels very paint-by-numbers, emphasizing the effects work over everything else, which doesn’t bode well for the effectiveness of the story-line.  I can see this film being an almost certain failure, and I highly doubt that it will surprise me at all in that regard.
So, this is my outlook of the Fall 2013 season.  Some of the films look really exciting and hopefully the upcoming slate of movies helps to make up for the really weak summer season that we had. My picks reveal how I feel about these films at this moment and it could all change in the upcoming months.  Also, I know I left out quite a few more movies worth mentioning, which just proves how competitive the end of the year is for the film industry.  Hopefully, there will be a few surprises coming our way in the months ahead.