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…


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.

Top Ten Performances Ignored by the Oscars

broken oscar

The Academy Awards has come under fire many times for feeling out of touch with the movie going public, but this year has been particularly brutal for the presenters of the prestigious Oscars.  For the second year in a row, we have all of the acting nomination slots completely filled with white performers, with no people of color represented.  Is it unfortunate?  Of course it is.  Is it representative of a racist attitude on the part of the academy?  Hardly.  The unfortunate aspect of the Academy nominating process is that they have only a tiny amount of slots to fill and sometimes many worthwhile performances will be left out.  I believe that it has more to do with what kinds of movies Hollywood is able to make each year, and few if any focus on non-white subjects, at least as far as high profile projects.  Of the movies this year that focused on a non-white subject that I felt deserved more recognition from the Academy, I would say that Creed should’ve gotten more in the way of nominations.  But, at the same time, I don’t hold it against the Academy either.  If you look at the whole history of the Academy Awards, they have only ever gotten it right a small percentage of the time.  Despite being the highest honor the industry can bestow, the Oscars have also been responsible for making some questionable choices that don’t always stand the test of time.  And some of their most questionable decisions are not their choices of nominees, but the ones they’ve left out all together, and that extends beyond the factor of race, gender and politics all together in the deciding factors.

For this article, I will highlight some of my choices for the biggest acting omissions ever at the Academy Awards.  Remember, these are my own choices for the most baffling forgotten performances, based on the strength of each role and the legacies they’ve left behind.  These are all iconic roles that have turned into legendary characters that have long stayed with us long after their initial releases, and at the same time were ignored completely by the Academy Awards.  Some of these actors did eventually win the big award (sometimes for lesser roles), but sadly a few others on this list were never even given a nomination throughout their entire career.  Before I get into the list itself, I also want to highlight some of the performances that almost made my list that the Academy also forgot to nominate, but have since become beloved:  Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo (1958), Cary Grant in North by Northwest (1959), Marilyn Monroe in Some Like it Hot (1959), Sidney Poitier in In the Heat of the Night (1967), Gene Hackman in The Conversation (1974), Rober Shaw in Jaws (1975), Laurence Fishburne in Boyz in the Hood (1991), Gary Oldman in Dracula (1992), Jim Carrey in The Truman Show (1998), and Albert Brooks in Drive (2011).  And with that, here are the Top 10 performances ignored by the Oscars.


john cazale godfather part 2


Here we have an example of a performance that got lost in the shuffle while the movie that featured it was graced with countless praise and awards.  John Cazale is considered today to be one of the greatest actors of his generation and he managed to be a featured player in many of the most beloved films of the 1970’s (Dog Day AfternoonThe Conversation, and The Deer Hunter).  But, his best remembered role is that of Fredo Corleone in the The Godfather trilogy, with Part II being the film that really put him in the spotlight.  When The Godfather Part II made it’s triumphant showing at the 1974 Oscars, nominated for 11 awards including five acting nods (3 alone in the Supporting Actor category), there was one very notable omission, and that was Cazale.  Lee Strasberg and Micahel Gazzo were both nominated for their standout but minor roles, as was eventual winner Robert DeNiro as a young Vito Corleone.  But, Cazale’s role as Fredo in the movie is the far more memorable one in the long run and has much more significance to the plot and it carries over much more from where he started in the first film.  Sadly, it seemed that the flashier newcomers overshadowed his briliant work and Cazale was the odd man left out.  Even still, he was well beloved by his peers and would continue to be given great roles in future movie.  Sadly, his life was cut short by cancer while he was working on The Deer Hunter, so he never got another shot at a nomination.  But the interesting thing about his career is that he only appeared in five films, and all five were nominated for Best Picture.  He was a good luck charm in the end for these films, even if none of that luck fell back onto him.


denzel washington american gangster


If there is something that is even worse than the Academy’s lack of foresight in their choices over the years, it’s their desperate attempts to correct their past mistakes, which can often lead to even more baffling choices.  One pattern you see in the Academy’s history is the way that they give out Oscars based on whether it’s that Actor or Filmmakers turn or not.  Often this is given out to an actor who has been overlooked for many years and has developed a groundswell of support from fans who are demanding that the Oscars finally take notice, and that leads to the eventual awarding of that said person (we are seeing this play out right now with Leonardo DiCaprio as I write this).  While the actor is without a doubt deserving of an Award for many different films, there also is the unfortunate compulsion by the Academy to jump the gun in their decision and Award the actor for a less deserving role, just as a way to quickly right the wrongs of the past.  I feel that this was the case with Denzel Washington when he won the Oscar for Best Actor for Training Day (2001).  Is he good in that movie?  Yes, but it’s far from being his best work.  It was a showy performance, and one that the Academy responds quickly to, but it’s not representative of the actor’s talent.  I felt that if the Oscars waited a couple years more, they would have found an even better performance to Award Denzel for in Ridley Scott’s American Gangster.  In this movie, Denzel shows what he’s best at and that’s a cool, measured intensity, something which he also showcased in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X (1992).  It’s one of his best roles ever, but because he already got his turn with Training Day, this role was sadly overlooked despite deserving at least a nomination.  In the end, timing became it’s biggest fault.


kirk douglas ace in the hole


It’s hard to believe that in all the 99 years that Kirk Douglas has walked this Earth (as of this writing) he has never won an Academy Award; at least not competitively (he given an honorary award).  Though nominated a couple times, the Academy sadly never gave him the Golden Boy, despite being one of the biggest stars in Hollywood.  Some of his nominations were no-brainers (1952’s The Bad and the Beautiful), but some of his omissions were pretty egregious (1960’s Spartacus).  But I think his biggest overlooked role was also his greatest overall, and that’s the one in Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole.  Ace probably fell victim to an outdated point of view on the Academy’s part, because the main character that Douglas plays in the film is no hero, and is in fact very unlikable.  Perhaps the Academy was not keen on nominating an anti-hero role like this, but as time has gone on, this kind of character is exactly what appeals to the Academy today.  The shaky morality of Kirk Douglas’ Chuck Tatum is fascinating to watch, seeing just how far the actor will go to become unlikable by the end; it was a gamble on Douglas’ part and he pulls it off extraordinarily well.  Today, you can see shades of this kind of character in Oscar Winning performances from Faye Dunaway in Network (1976) and from Kirk’s own off-spring Michael Douglas in Wall Street (1987).  Had Ace in the Hole had not been released in the less cynical, more moralistic 1950’s it might have been Kirk Douglas’ best shot at winning an Oscar.  Unfortunately, it stands as a standout performance that was too ahead of it’s time.


frank oz yoda


Apart from the Academy’s bad sense of timing, which can be accidental, there is also the valid complaint that they can be snobbish towards certain types of movies and certain types of performances.  Genre films are especially ignored by the Academy, and they tend to favor performances that are not quirky and are grounded in reality.  That’s why you see so many winning performances from actors playing real life figures as opposed to original creations, because I guess that the Academy believes that the key to acting is the art of imitation.  But, what I find particularly disheartening is when they dismiss a great performance purely because it’s a non traditional form of acting, as was the case with puppeteer and filmmaker Frank Oz’s amazing work as Yoda in Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.  Yes, Oz is performing through a puppet as opposed to himself on screen (along with his own voice), but there is talent in bringing a puppet to life and it takes a certain amount of acting skill to pull it off.  His work as Yoda is nothing short of astounding, making the Jim Henson Company created creature feel absolutely real and alive.   Not only that, one would argue that it gives one of the most lively and heartfelt performances in the movie overall.  Sadly, it was not nominated because the Academy saw the character of Yoda as a special effect, and not as a performance.  For the Academy to overlook this purely because they don’t view this as real acting is unfortunate and I’m not the only one who thinks this.  George Lucas himself appealed to the Academy to get Frank Oz a nomination for his work here, but it was sadly for not.  Even still, regardless of what the Academy thinks, Frank Oz gave a standout performance as Yoda and it’s one that remains beloved today.  Indeed, even a special effect can display real emotion, just like any other actor.


Edward G. Robinson Double Indemnity


If one were to pick out the most overlooked Actor in the history of the Academy Awards, it would be Edward G. Robinson.  The versatile actor had an astounding career that spanned five decades in Hollywood, appearing in countless movies, many of which are considered classics today, from Little Ceaser (1931) to Soylent Green (1973).  And all that amazing work resulted in zero nominations for his entire career.  Sadly, the Academy rarely awards performers who fall under the character actor category.  These are the kinds of actors who give valued support and memorable characterizations to many classic films, but rarely are the headlining star, and Robinson is often hailed as one of the greatest ever in this category.  Out of all the overlooked performances he gave over his career, the one that sticks out as particularly dubious on the Academy’s part is his role in the great noir classic Double Indemnity.  As Insurance agency manager Barton Keyes, Robinson takes command of every scene that he’s in, often outshining his costars Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck (who was nominated).  One scene towards the middle in particular, where Robinson rattles off every insurance claim category he knows without a single break in between, is a singular tour-de-force of acting, and yet no nomination.  I’m sure that this is one performance that even the Academy itself would admit they should’ve remembered.  Regardless, Edward G. Robinson is still a valued icon of Classic Hollywood.  Towards the end of his life, that value did earn him the spotlight and the Academy rightly awarded him an Honorary Award.  Sadly, he passed away in 1973 only days after learning he had been given the honor.


ingrid bergman casablanca



Casablanca is rightly considered one of the greatest movies ever made and is still a highly influential production.  It was also a situation where the Academy got the timing right, at least for most of the categories.  Though produced at a time when other movies of the same ilk were flooding the marketplace, the Academy recognized that Casablanca was far superior to the rest and rightly rewarded it with Best Picture, as well as Director to Michael Curtiz and for Best Screenplay, recognizing the film for it’s high quality film-making.  Humphrey Bogart and Claude Rains both received deserved nominations, but there was one glaring omission that year that has only grown more peculiar the longer this movie gains more legendary status, and that’s the lack of a nomination for actress Ingrid Bergman, the film’s female lead.  Though Bogart is the focus of the film, there’s no doubt that Bergman’s Ilsa is the heart, and her stunning screen presence is usually what people take away most from the movie.  Not only that, but it was a star making role for her, announcing to the world that she was a matinee idol worth raving about.  She exuded beauty, charisma, as well as strength in the key role of Ilsa and made the audience believe that she was indeed the kind of girl that the fate of world peace would hinge upon.  All of that should have earned her a nomination in a movie that was already destined for Oscar glory, but it sadly did not turn out that way.  Bergman would be redeemed with 3 Oscar wins over her long career, including one the year after for 1944’s Gaslight.  But, sadly the role she is best remembered for is also the one that the Oscars left out.  Thankfully, it’s a role that stands on it’s own without it.


andy serkis gollum


Like Frank Oz’s Yoda before him, the Academy likewise seemed to view the character of Gollum as just a special effect and not a real performance by an actor.  But that claim feels incredibly dismissive with regards to what director Peter Jackson and actor Andy Serkis accomplished with the character.  In The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Jackson and company broke new ground in the advancement of CGI animation, and no more so than in the field of motion capture animation.  Andy Serkis believed that he was initially just cast as the voice of Gollum, but he soon learned that Peter Jackson intended him to be an on set presence in every scene with the character interacting with the other actors.  Through his movements, the animation team were then able to puppeteer a digital model of the creature Gollum and the end result is an amazingly lifelike character that feels like it’s a part of the real world.  Peter Jackson loved Serkis’ work so much on set that he publicly shared the untouched footage of the actor on set, showing just how much of a real performance he gave as an actor.  It’s particularly astounding when you watch the dual personality conversation scene from The Two Towers, and just how much Andy Serkis’ facial expressions and mannerisms are faithfully transplanted into the CGI Gollum.  Sadly, the Academy didn’t seem impressed, and Andy Serkis’ breakthrough role was overlooked.  in the years since, Serkis has continued to champion the practice, playing other amazing motion-captured characters as the medium continues to be refined, like King Kong and Ceasar in the Planet of the Apes reboot, showing that this is indeed acting just like in any other form.  Gollum still remains his signature role and it’s one omission that I hope the Academy will ultimately regret passing on.


humphrey bogart treasure


A lot of the performances I’ve highlighted have resulted in the Academy either ignoring them purely out of bad timing or by unfair standards.  This particular omission is one of the more baffling because it’s the exact kind of performance that the Oscars should have gone crazy for, and yet they didn’t.  Bogart at the time of the film’s making was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood and had been honored with many accolades, including a nomination for Casablanca.  When The Treasure of Sierra Madre was released, Bogart’s performance was heralded as his best yet, and to this day it’s widely considered to be the best performance of his career.  With praise surrounding his role, and the fact that he had yet to win the Award, you would think that he was due for the honor finally, or at least be considered with a nomination.  Well, when the nominations were announced, the film was recognized in the Best Picture category, as well as for Director John Huston and Supporting Actor Walter Huston (both of whom ultimately won their awards).  But shockingly Humphrey Bogart was left out.  Did the academy just forget and run out of room in the category, or was Bogart’s intense performance as the greedy and amoral Fred Dobbs too dark for their tastes.  It’s hard to know why, but it’s odd today to see what is widely considered to be one of the greatest performances in movie history be completely ignored by Hollywood’s highest honor.  Bogart thankfully won a deserved Oscar a couple years later for The African Queen (1951), but it’s an honor that he shouldn’t have had to wait so long for.


bill murray groundhogs


One actor who’s developed a ground swell of support from fans who want to see him win an Oscar has been Bill Murray.  The Saturday Night Live alum and beloved comedic actor did finally gain a nod for his work in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation (2003), but I believe that fans’ (myself included) desire to see him win the Award stems more from this movie than anything else.  Groundhog Day has rightly become a beloved classic of both comedy and fantasy, and at it’s center is a remarkably nuanced performance from Murray himself.  Yes, the movie does play upon his comedic talent, but it goes even deeper than that, taking Murray’s acting abilities into some dark and sometimes personal places.  Murray’s Phil Connors is a very Capra-esque hero, someone who becomes a better person when he learns to think less in his own interests and more about those around him, and Bill Murray brings that out perfectly.  It’s a deeper characterization that doesn’t really fit in with most other categories that the Academy usually goes crazy for, which might have explained why it was overlooked at the time.  That and the fact that the movie was released early in the calendar year and comedic performances tended to be devalued by the Academy.  But, in the years since, people have recognized that Murray’s work in the film is not only Oscar-worthy, but might be one of the best performances of that era in film history.  It certainly has made many of his fans vocal about their desire to see him eventually win an Award.  Hopefully a role will come along in the years ahead that finally answers their prayers.  Regardless, Bill Murray’s work in Groundhog Day is certainly one of the best overlooked by the Oscars.


Anthony Perkins Psycho


Of all the performances that the Oscars have overlooked that I’ve highlighted, I would say that this is the most perplexing.  Some of the previous ones had other factors that caused them to be ignored, but Anthony Perkins’ omission was just out of plain ignorance.  Here you have a breakthrough, nuanced performance in what would become one of Hollywood’s most iconic characters in a classic movie from one of the industry’s most filmmakers.  Sadly, Perkins was left out of a nomination that he would almost certainly had run away with.  This was unfortunately a trend with Hitchcock films, with both Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant both being overlooked by the Academy for their career best work in Vertigo and North by Northwest respectively.  But as great as they were, none were as memorable as Norman Bates; one of the most fascinating villainous characters to ever be put on screen.  The brilliance of Perkins’ performance is the subtlety, helping to deceive the audience about what is truly going on with the character.  It’s a performance that not only stood out in the film, but would help redefine cinema as a whole.  Hitchcock’s Psycho redefined the character of a Hollywood murder mystery,as well as redefined what makes a person villainous, and with Norman Bates they showed that the good-natured boy next door could be the monster in the end.  It’s a monumental performance by the perfectly cast actor, and sadly the Oscars didn’t recognize that significance at the time.  In the years since, the Academy has been kinder to darker and more sinister performances, like Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs (1991) or Kathy Bates in Misery (1990), but they’re unfortunately opportunities that opened up as a result of this overlooked performance that made a difference.  That’s why it stands as the Academy’s most baffling omission of all time.

So, though the Oscars unfortunately must live and die by their restrictive standards that limit the nominations given out each year, it doesn’t mean that the performances left out are doomed to be forgotten forever.  The Academy Awards are really just a time capsule of how the industry reacts in the moment, and are not a reflection of how the movies will stand over time.  Some of the best movies ever made have become so without winning a single award, and some actors and filmmakers have become legends without ever holding an Oscar in their hands.  But, there are those cases where you just look at the snubs over the years and you wonder what on Earth was the Academy thinking.  Sometimes an actor’s best work is overlooked and is later made up for by awarding them for a lesser film, which is another unfortunate result of the Academy’s sometimes blind ambition to appear relevant to contemporary tastes.  But, there are other times when the industry is moving too fast for them and new types of acting roles push the boundaries of what is considered acceptably worthy in the industry, like say acting through a special effect.  The Academy sometimes tries, and can often get somethings right, like honoring African-American actors long before Civil Rights became the norm in society or honoring Tom Hanks humane performance as an AIDS stricken man in Philadelphia (1993) at a time when the disease still carried a stigma around it.  But, when you are limited to only a handful of nominations a year, some worthwhile choices are inevitably forgotten, some more egregious than others.  The only reason we take this so seriously is just because of the Oscar legacy, which if you look at the whole of film history, it shouldn’t matter all that much.  Even still, with some of these choices on this list, it would have been nice to have seen the Academy share the honors where they were deserved.

Deadpool – Review


Today’s comic book movies are pretty much defined by the different approaches that their respective studios have taken with each property.  Marvel has found success by taking a more lighter and comical route with their super hero characters (especially with Iron Man and the Guardians of the Galaxy) which fits well within the standards of the Disney Studio that owns them.  DC on the other hand has managed to bring their characters to the big screen, under the guidance of parent studio Warner Brothers, by taking a much more grittier and darker route, inspired by the direction of Christopher Nolan’s hugely successful Dark Knight Trilogy.  Despite some naysayers on both sides, the different formulas have worked pretty well for both Comic Book giants.  No one is ever going to be able to say that one is purely following the other’s formula, since they’ve both managed to carve out their own style in the cinematic realm.  But, that’s a luxury that has mostly benefited the ones that have a secure home within their own respective studios.  Unfortunately, in the aftermath of Marvel’s shaky early years in the movie industry, they had to make due by selling off the rights to their characters to many different production companies, making it impossible for them to control the creative decisions involved in the adaptations of their characters.  Thankfully, after the purchase of Marvel by Disney, the publisher has managed to gain back most of the screen rights to the characters, save for the few that still belong to one studio; Fox.  This has created an interesting little niche of Marvel Super Hero movies that are unconnected to the larger Cinematic Universe that Marvel has created; resulting in some good (X-Men: Days of Future Past) and bad (Fantastic Four) results.  And standing out even more than these is this special little oddity known as Deadpool.

Deadpool is a lot of different things that you normally wouldn’t find in a conventional Super Hero movie.  It’s irreverent, crude, amoral, full of meta humor and fourth wall breaks, and unapologetic about it. The alias of mercenary Wade Wilson, Deadpool is hyper-violent and merciless in the execution of his duties, but he conducts them with an often sophomoric and carefree sense of humor.  Not only that, but just as in the comics, Deadpool will constantly stop in the middle of the action to address the audience directly and crack a few jokes.  This makes him far and away the most irreverent Super Hero in the entire genre, and that has given him a special little niche of his own that belongs entirely to him.  Created by writer Fabian Nicieza and artist Rob Liefeld for Marvel in the early 90’s, Deadpool has long been used as a tool by the publisher to slyly mock the conventions and icons of the comic book world and get away with it.  Deadpool is the desperately needed cynical voice that helps to keep the other comic book series in check, and that’s what has made him an especially popular character among many readers.  His popularity naturally led to his appearance in other mediums, including a highlighted role in the movie X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), where he was played by Ryan Reynolds.  That movie unfortunately made the huge mistake of revamping the character and removing all the quirky aspects of him to create a muted monstrosity by film’s end, who inexplicably had his mouth sown shut.  Needless to say die hard fans were not pleased.  But, one such fan turned out to be Reynolds himself, who spent a lot of effort in the following years to re-revamp the character and do Deadpool justice on the big screen, and this new film is the result of that.

The new Deadpool movie is your standard comic book origin story, but one that’s self aware of the formula, and it takes some rather novel liberties with this kind of story.  We meet Deadpool in the middle of a planned hit where he must take out a whole convoy of armed security in order to reach his target; a diabolical scientist named Ajax (Ed Skrein).  Over the course of this hit, we flash back to Deadpool’s past life before he took up his Super Hero (or more appropriately Anti-Hero) identity.  We see Wade Wilson meet the love of his life Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), who shares his taste for the wild side, but his happy courtship hits a hurdle when he learns that he’s got an incurable cancer throughout his entire body.  Desperate to find a cure, Wade takes up an offer given to him by a mysterious organization that promises to keep him alive.  Unfortunately, he finds himself in the clutches of Ajax, who is seeking to uncover the dormant mutant genes in Wade’s DNA and turn him into a super soldier under his control.  After numerous torture treatments, Wade’s body does mutate, making him indestructible, but also heavily scarred with burns across his entire body.  After surviving the destruction of Ajax’s lab during his escape attempt, Wade seeks revenge against the man who ruined his life, and to do that he creates a masked identity for himself called Deadpool.  Back in the present day, Deadpool puts his plan into action, and finds help from his bar-tending friend Weasel (T.J. Miller) and a couple of lesser known X-Men; Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand).  But, when Ajax discovers the identity of Deadpool’s lost love Vanessa, that plan soon hits a snag.

So, is Deadpool worth seeing or not?  It really depends on what you’re looking for in the end.  If you just want a straight forward superhero or action movie, then you might be put off by the constant irreverent humor throughout.  But, if that is exactly what you’re looking for, then you won’t be disappointed.  I for one highly enjoyed this movie from beginning to end, albeit with a couple reservations.  The best way I can sum up my reaction to the film is that I thought it worked better as a comedy than as a super hero action movie.  Was the action bad?  No, but the movie clearly put more effort into the jokes than the actual staging of the action.  The action was just okay overall.  It’s comically over the top in many points, especially in the gruesome highway scene near the beginning and also one point where Deadpool decapitates one guy and then kicks the head into another guy’s head like a soccer ball, but most of the ridiculous bits seem too familiar.  Honestly, I was more impressed with the over the top silliness of the action scenes in last year’s Kingsmen: The Secret Service, and that might have been due to the creativity of it’s staging.  This movie has some creativity, but not nearly as much.  But, despite being on par as an action movie, the movies is definitely above average as a comedy.  A lot of credit goes to the writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick for packing every minute with one irreverent gag after another.  The comedy does take shots at pop culture in general, but it’s often at it’s funniest when it turns self-defacing.  I especially love the many digs at the X-Men in this movie, especially the constant running gags directed at that franchise’s star Hugh Jackman.  Also, Reynolds poking fun at his disastrous turn as the Green Lantern are also hilarious.

And the comedy is a life saver for this film, because if it wasn’t there, I honestly might not have liked this movie.  I don’t know if there was a disconnect with some larger inside gag about the super hero formula, but some of the plot motivations and tonal shifts in the film tended to not make a lot of sense; at least for me.  At times the movie abruptly shifts gears and turns serious and tense, only to break that tension again with a gag.  I don’t know if those tonal shifts were intentional or not, making the humor feel more unexpected (which at times worked) but the seismic shifts tended to be a little distracting for me and prevented this from being a purely sublime experience.  Not only that, but I felt that the movie had this overall cheap look to it.  Maybe that was intentional, and it does fit the character of the tacky and self-deprecating main hero, but it’s a punchline that I never felt the movie fully developed.  Overall, the movie just looks washed out and basic, never really taking advantage of the flashiness that we usually see in superhero movies and poking fun at it.  But, at the same time, the movie does give the gags the full attention.  Honestly, you will never see a better love-making montage than the one in this movie.  Also, despite the low rent look of the movie, the film never fails to deliver on the fourth wall breaks, which has become the character’s trademark from the comic books.  When it comes to being self aware, this movie manages to make it work and it’s where the humor really shines through.  Some of those moments even look like they are straight out of the comic book, like when Deadpool makes exaggerated gestures with his hands.  You’ll know them when you see them in the movie.  Despite the flaws, the movie does land it’s hits more often than not.

But, the primary reason this movie works overall is because of it’s main actor.  Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool is the sole reason why you should see this movie.  This was a passion project for the actor for many years and it shows.  He completely sinks into this character, relishing every moment.  This is probably the best marriage of comic book character with actor that we’ve seen since Robert Downey Jr. first stepped into the Iron Man suit, and it’s great to see Reynolds let loose as the character for once.  This movie makes a considerable effort to right the wrongs made by X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Reynolds makes that abundantly clear.  This version of the character is intended to be 100% faithful to the comic version and it’s the kind of care given to a character that you’ll only find from a performer who’s a genuine fan.  The best superhero castings have always found this to be true, and Ryan Reynolds proves that here.  But, what he also brings is his impeccable comedic timing as well, which is something that is integral to the character.  Deadpool is exactly the kind of character that embraces a sillier, irreverent side, which Reynolds wears like a glove.  He’s definitely reaching back into his Van Wilder days playing this character, and you can bet that he takes full advantage of the R-rated freedom that the studio has given him.  I especially like the points in the film when Reynolds plays around with some of Deadpool’s more childish reactions to what’s going on.  There’s a hilarious bit in the middle where Deadpool confronts Colossus and takes a few shots, leaving him with some broken limbs; a bit that reminded me a lot of the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), and it’s great.

But, Reynolds isn’t the only worthwhile actor in the film.  Really, the entire cast is excellent here.  Morena Baccarin manages to make Vanessa more than just another damsel in distress by giving her an equally twisted sense of humor that compliments Deadpool’s perfectly.  T.J. Miller is also hilarious in his brief moments on screen; his deadpan delivery bouncing off of Reynolds’ more madcap performance very effectively.  I also liked the inclusion of Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (a name that Deadpool especially goes crazy over) into the film.  They serve no other real purpose in the movie other than to connect Deadpool with the X-Men franchise, but their inclusion is still welcome.  I especially like how Colossus is characterized as the straight-laced boy scout of the group (or as Deadpool calls him, the Teacher’s Pet) because of how it contrasts Deadpool against all the other comic book heroes.  Ed Skrein is also effective as Ajax, filling out the role that the movie jokingly refers to as the stereotypical “British villain.”  He’s a suitably intimidating force in the film, but not one that feels out of place in the movie.  One of the best running gags in the film actually centers around Ajax’s real name, which Deadpool playfully mocks the whole way through.  Also, apart from the performances, there are some great parodies thrown around that make fun of other superhero movie tropes, including Deadpool getting gleeful when one of the villains makes what he calls a “super hero landing.”  Also, the movie opens with a spectacular opening credits sequence that not only mocks ones from other Comic Book movies, but all movies in general, saying that the film stars “God’s Perfect Idiot” and was directed by “Some Overpaid Hack.”  All of this of course makes this one of the genre’s funniest entries and one of the best comedies in recent years.

So, overall, I would definitely say that Deadpool is absolutely worth seeing, especially if you want to have a good laugh.  Just don’t go in expecting to see the greatest Comic Book movie ever made.  I would still say that movies like The Dark Knight (2008), The Avengers (2012), and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) still represent the high points of the genre, but you could make an argument for Deadpool as being the funniest Super Hero movie ever made.  It’s especially pleasing that Ryan Reynolds and crew managed to get the movie made the way that they wanted it; without any studio interference.  If only Fox had learned that lesson when they were making Fantastic Four last year.  Though I would like to see all of Marvel’s properties returned to it’s parent company eventually (Deadpool included), I think it was better at this time for Deadpool to be made outside of the more restrictive standards of the Disney company.  There’s no way that Disney would’ve allowed for an R-rated superhero film, especially one with the content that this one does, so it was probably for the better that Fox made this one instead.  My hope is that when Disney and Marvel eventually gain back their characters from Fox, that it’ll come with the proof of success depicting this character in all his filthy glory and that it will lead them to maintain that tone in the future.  Certainly, if there was a way to make Deadpool work on the big screen in his own movie, they certainly found it here.  My hope is that when they make a sequel that they improve the aesthetic look of it and work out some of the tonal issues.  For what it is, it does do a good job of bringing the character to life and it’s a well-needed piece of parody in a genre that can sometimes get a little full of itself.  And in between these two giant Comic Book companies, Marvel’s bad boy has earned an enviable place in a category all his own.

Rating: 8/10

Focus on a Franchise – The Godfather Trilogy

the godfather brando

As we enter the homestretch of Awards season, you hear a lot of complaints about how the committees in charge of selecting the winners of these selected awards tend to be a little snobbish.  We’re hearing those complaints again, only this year they are in response to the perception that the Academy is too exclusionary to non-white actors and filmmakers.  Not to delve too much into the current controversy, but there is truth into Hollywood’s sometimes narrow minded view of what’s deserving of awards and what’s not.  But, it’s not exclusive to just films that come from people of different backgrounds.  The Academy Awards have long had the reputation of excluding what you would call genre fare in favor of classier entertainment, favoring prestige over box office value.  That’s why many of the big winners over the years have tended to feel out of touch with the public perception, and many of the choices now seem perplexing in retrospect (How Green Was My Valley over Citizen KaneOrdinary People over Raging Bull, etc.).  But there are thankfully genre films that are so monumental that even the Academy can’t dismiss them and they’ve managed to cross the threshold and gain their genre the recognition it deserves.  We’ve finally seen over the years the Academy honor the Western (Unforgiven) the horror film (The Silence of the Lambs), and even fantasy (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King).  But, even more remarkable is when Hollywood can overlook the fact that some of these movies are also part of ongoing franchises, ignoring the whole name recognition and just honoring them as singular cinematic achievements.  And this is especially true for the only time that a movie and it’s sequel have ever triumphed at the Oscars; those being the first two films in The Godfather trilogy.

The Godfather trilogy is one of cinemas most beloved and unexpected franchises.  However, calling it a franchise is often disputed by some critics, who view the different movies as a singular narrative; which can be argued given that the first two movies are both sourced for the most part from the novel written by Mario Puzo.  But, despite that fact, each film in the series is unique and continues the story in it’s own distinct fashion.  And, especially with the first two, it would become of the most monumental pair of films in cinema history.  The movies were made during the renegade early years of the 1970’s, when studios were allowing for a lot more creative freedom to their filmmakers, many of whom were breaking new ground with the kinds of stories being told and the kinds of film-making styles being used.  One of the artists that emerged from that class of film-making was Francis Ford Coppola.  The Italian American director started off as a screenwriter in the industry and he ended up winning an Oscar for writing Patton (1970).  Soon after, he was given his first opportunity to direct and he chose a story that was close to his own roots as a descendant of Italian immigrants to America.  Puzo’s The Godfather was a huge best seller when it was first published, chronicling the highs and lows of the fictional Corleone crime family.  What Coppola found in the novel was this grand sweeping tale of the immigrant experience in America as well as it’s unfortunate ties to the Mafia, and as a result it becomes the quintessential story of America in itself.  In this article, I’ll be looking at all three films of the Godfather trilogy, and how each built upon this magnum opus from it’s larger than life director.

godfather part 1


Well, what can you say about The Godfather that hasn’t already been said.  It’s a classic in every possible way and rightfully has earned it’s place as one of the greatest movies ever made; if not the best.  Everything about this movie is iconic to this day: the lush and often gritty cinematography by Gordon Willis: the endlessly charismatic Oscar winning performance by Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone; the unforgettable transformation of Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone; the endlessly quotable dialogue.  Nearly everything in this movie has become ingrained into our culture and we are all the better for it.  The Godfather is a movie that illustrates the pinnacle of what film-making can do, and it came at a time when Hollywood really needed it.  During the tumultuous counterculture movement of the 60’s and 70’s, Hollywood was desperate to find an identity that was in tune with the changing times.  With The Godfather, they found a movie that spoke to the new generation while still maintaining a certain bit of old Hollywood prestige.  I think the thing that makes Coppola’s movie so brilliant is it’s earnestness.  Up until that time, Gangster pictures were often played over the top and were dismissed as purely sensational genre fluff.  The Godfather plays with the Gangster flick, and portrays that world in the most realistic sense possible.  It’s not sensationalized or glamorized.  It merely shows us what that world was really like, warts and all.  At the same time, there’s also a truthful current of the importance of family and how morality becomes relative when the law is corrupt and the criminals are more or less responsible for building up our society.  That’s the brilliance in storytelling that Coppola brought out in The Godfather.

But, what people remember most from this movie is the progression of the characters, and in particular, the evolution of young Michael Corleone.  Yeah, Brando’s Vito is the face of the franchise, but Michael is the focus and his story is the most remarkable thing about this franchise.  When we first see Michael at the wedding of his sister Connie (Talia Shire), we see an all-American boy who’s managed to escape the shady family history in order to become his own man.  But, as the film progresses, Michael is plunged back into the world of crime after a few tragedies befall his family; the first being an attempted assassination of his father, and the second being the brutal massacre of his older brother Sonny (James Caan), who was supposed to be the true heir of Vito’s empire.  Michael at first reluctantly returns to this world of organized crime, but with every step he takes, he delves deeper into what he’s capable of, becoming more ruthless and unforgiving, and by the end, he has risen to the top of this empire that he originally wanted no part of.  Coppola takes us on this character journey in a grand and passionate way.  Michael doesn’t just become a criminal, he is shaped by moments that form his character, and in him we see a reflection of what this kind of life could do to a person.  In particular, the brilliantly staged restaurant scene where Michael commits his first murder and the stunning and groundbreaking Baptism montage at the end, both showing us the pivotal shifts in Michael’s character, and both are brilliantly performed by Pacino.  All of these elements make The Godfather the monumental epic achievement that it still is today, and it greatly established Francis Ford Coppola as one of cinemas most unique voices.

godfather part 2


The Godfather would go on to be a box office success and would win multiple Oscars for Picture, Actor (Brando) and Screenplay; though strangely not for Director (Coppola lost to Cabaret‘s Bob Fosse).  Amazingly when studio Paramount asked if there was a chance to sequelize the film, Coppola actually agreed to it.  Usually a prestige film that wins multiple Oscars will be left to stand alone, but Coppola knew that there was plenty of story left in Puzo’s novel that he had to leave out in the first movie that he could still draw from.  Not only that, but thanks to the goodwill he generated from the first movie, Coppola could not only make a sequel, but he could make it bigger than ever before.  The Godfather Part II is epic in every way, and many regard it the best film in the franchise, and that’s a sentiment that I quite agree with.  It doesn’t have as many of the instantly recognizable iconic moments as the first Godfather, nor the novelty of being our introduction into this epic tale, but it makes up for it in the sheer scale and spectacle of it all.  It’s The Godfather brought to it’s full potential.  What I love best about the movie is not just the story, but the way that it’s presented.  We follow up the story of Michael Corleone where it left off, as he continues to deal with competing forces in the crime world, but that is paralleled with the story of his father Vito as a young man; played this time by then newcomer Robert DeNiro, who won a Supporting Actor Oscar for his work.  The parallel stories are both fascinating, especially when contrasted with one another; Vito’s rise clashed against Michael’s fall.

One other thing that I think is an improvement from the previous film is the way the supporting cast is integrated into the story more.  Robert Duvall’s Tom Hagen in particular gets much more screen-time, as does Diane Keaton as Michael’s long suffering wife Kay, who also manages to get the ultimate revenge on Michael in the end.  But, the true revelation in the cast is John Cazale as Fredo.  Here we see one of the most interesting developments in the Godfather saga as Michael’s elder brother betrays him behind his back and it ultimately leads to probably Michael’s most brutal act of all in this entire series when he retaliates.  Cazale perfectly captures the spitefulness and insecurity of Fredo, and makes him one of the most interesting characters in the whole story.  Newcomers Lee Strasberg and Michael Gazzo also add great support in the roles of Hyman Roth and Frankie Pentangeli, two men who become obstacles to Michael’s rise in power in different ways.  But, of course, Pacino still owns every moment he inhabits in this movie, and watching him turn Michael into an unforgiving tyrant is chilling.  Coppola also takes advantage of the larger canvas that he’s given.  The Godfather Part II utilizes it’s locations much more effectively than the modest budgeted first film did.  In particular, the period detail put into the turn of the century New York City scenes with young Vito is amazing.  The iconic rooftop scene is still a masterpiece of staging, as is the stairway assassination moment that follows it.  The Godfather Part II proved that even prestige films could spark a franchise, and both parts of the Godfather feel like a complete realization of this amazing tale.  The film would become the first ever sequel to win Best Picture at the Oscars, and Coppola would also finally be recognized as Best Director as well.

THE GODFATHER PART III, Al Pacino, 1990, © Paramount/courtesy Everett Collection, GD3 095, Photo by:


For many years thereafter, Godfather Parts I and II were seen as one of cinemas greatest achievements; a double feature narrative unlike any other.  And for many years, it was thought that the narrative that Coppola wanted to tell was open and shut; that there was nowhere else to go.  That was until Francis Ford Coppola announced that he was creating a third Godfather.  A lot of people doubted that it could be pulled off, especially considering that it had been over 15 years since Godfather Part II had been made and that those films had gained iconic status by this point.  Coppola was also going through a rough patch in his post-Apocalypse Now (1979) years, making diverse and uncharacteristically less successful choices in projects like One from the Heart (1981), Peggy Sue Got Married (1986) and Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988).  Still, he managed to convince Paramount to green-light the project and he got back most of his key players, including Pacino returning as Michael.  The film had all the right elements in play and a lot of potential behind it once it made it’s way to theaters.  Unfortunately for Coppola, all the goodwill he earned for the original two Godfathers didn’t help him much.  The film received a very mixed reception from both fans and critics, and those who hated the film were especially livid by what they had seen.  They saw the movie as a betrayal and have since labeled Part III as one of the worst sequels ever made.  But, is it really that bad?

I think one of the reasons that the response to this movie was so extreme was because of how beloved the first two were.  The iconic nature of Parts I and II set the bar extremely high, and it is impossible for any film to match it.  So, is it the worst sequel ever made? I don’t think so, but it’s nowhere near as good as the first two either.  I merely see the movie as being just okay.  It’s well made and does feel like a Godfather movie for the most part, but it’s also sadly very forgettable too.  There’s no iconic moments that I can remember and overall I feel like this was just a superfluous story not really worth telling.  Coppola’s just rehashing things that made his Godfather films memorable before, but adding nothing new to it.  Most of the hatred aimed at this movie seems to stem from Coppola’s terrible casting of his own daughter Sofia in the key role of Michael’s daughter Mary, and yes she is pretty terrible.  We would learn in the years after that Sofia Coppola would better follow in her father’s footsteps as a director and not as an actor; the response to her acting here possibly influenced that career change too.  But, as bad as Sofia is, I feel that the movie still gets some worthwhile performances overall, especially from newcomer Andy Garcia as Vincent Mancini, bastard son of Sonny Corleone, who proves to be a valuable ally over time to Michael, and possibly an heir.  Talia Shire’s Connie also returns and has her character come full circle, becoming just as ruthless as her brother.  Pacino doesn’t have as great of a role this time as the older Michael (given how Part II perfectly rounded out his character) but his performance still feels genuine, and he does manage to lay to rest Michael’s story in a convincing way.  Does The Godfather Part III betray the series as a whole.  I honestly think that seen together with it’s counterparts that it does hold up as part of the complete experience; it’s just not as strong as the rest of it.  It can be ignored if you prefer the classics, but it’s also not even remotely a betrayal of the series.  It’s just an extended epilogue, and nothing more.

So, overall the Godfather trilogy is a collection of one amazing two part story, and one polarizing final chapter.  Regardless of how well the entire experience holds up, there’s no denying that Francis Ford Coppola’s epic trilogy is one of cinema’s most monumental achievements.  It would go on to influence so much of film-making in the years to come, pushing the boundaries of what kind of stories you could tell and how much the filmmakers can get away with in terms of language and violence.  Numerous filmmakers today look to The Godfather movies as an inspiration and you can see it’s fingerprints just about everywhere.  The films of Martin Scorsese owe a lot to the success of The Godfather, and I’m sure that there wouldn’t have been as much interest in the history and influence of the mob in America reflected in movies like Goodfellas (1990) and The Departed (2006) had Coppola not popularized it first.  Popular shows like The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire also owe a lot to The Godfather as well, and in some cases even share a cast member or two (Godfather Part II supporting actor Dominic Chianese “Johnny Ola” would play the pivotal role of Junior Soprano in the hit show).  And to this day, we still quote this movie endlessly whenever we tell someone to “make an offer he can’t refuse,” or say that someone “sleeps with the fishes.”  The Godfather has held up well over the years and will continue to stand as one of cinema’s crowning jewels.  And it also proved that the Academy can sometimes overlook it’s strict standards and embrace a franchise film every now and then.  It just has to be a movie so good that it can’t be ignored anymore.