Sunday, February 26, 2017

OSCAR NIGHT 2017

 2017-Oscars-89th-Academy-Awards

Welcome, friends, Twitter followers, Instagram stalkers, my mom, and anyone else who may have stumbled upon my 12th annual LIVE, moment-by-moment, stream-of-consciousness Oscar commentary! What’s that? You thought I was retiring from this foolishness after last year? Well, yes, I did say that… but dammit, I just can’t stay away. Two-thousand and sixteen may have been a dumpster fire in most aspects of the world, but it happened to be a truly great year for movies. Between the quality of the nominees and swirling controversy of all kinds, it should be a fun and interesting night, to say the least!

Although my personal #1 movie of the year (SING STREET) was sadly overlooked, four of the nine Best Picture nominees were in my Top 10 of the year. Not only that, but in a rare alignment, I didn’t actively dislike ANY of the nominees! They’re all really good in their own rights, and in some cases, may have been the favorite in past years. This year, however, it’s pretty much a two-horse race between LA LA LAND and MOONLIGHT. I loved both movies but I’ll be on the side of the fools who dream tonight. LA LA LAND received 14 nominations and should (deservedly) win most of them -- but it would not at all surprise me to see MOONLIGHT (deservedly) snag a few, including the big prize.

On the acting side, the only 100% lock is Viola Davis for Supporting Actress. Other than that, anything can happen. I’ll be rooting for Casey Affleck for Best Actor because (personal controversy aside) his performance is by far the most potently nuanced -- but don’t count out Denzel and his over-the-top screen presence. With all due respect to the great Streep and her record-breaking 20th nomination, it looks like a close race between luminous Emma Stone and legendary Isabelle Huppert for Best Actress, but personally, I’d love to see the wonderful Ruth Negga pull off an upset. (Of course, the real best performance by an actress in 2016 -- Amy Adams in ARRIVAL -- was this year’s most egregious acting snub. Boo.) I think Supporting Actor has to go to MOONLIGHT’s Mahershala Ali, but how cool would it be to see the great Michael Shannon finally get some long overdue kudos? Best Director, too, should be a close contest between Damien Chazelle and Barry Jenkins… but man, imagine the universal outrage that would erupt if, say, Mel Gibson were to win.

Meanwhile, I would love love love to see MOANA overcome some serious competition from not one but TWO LA LA LAND tunes to win Best Song, thus securing an EGOT for Lin-Manuel Miranda -- history has its eyes on you, Academy! Disney gave us a double-dose of greatness in 2016 with MOANA and ZOOTOPIA, the latter of which appears to be the one to beat for Animated Feature -- unless Laika’s KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS pulls off a stunning upset (I hope not). TONI ERDMANN is by far the best of the Foreign Film contenders and should get the gold. Documentary Feature is a strong category full of important, must-watch films, but I gotta go with the incredible and immersive O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA. And if anyone needs some short film advice, I’ve got JOE’S VIOLIN (Documentary), PEARL (Animated), and THE WOMAN AND THE TGV (Live Action) marked on my ballot. Incidentally, it’s worth noting that for only the third time ever, I’ve seen EVERY Oscar nominee in EVERY category! So you can expect all of my insight and snark to be well-educated tonight

Of course, the socio-political commentary should be even more heated and rampant than usual. Does the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag still apply or will diversity reign? How many acceptance speeches will rail against our orange-faced, thin-skinned, tiny-handed president?? WHAT WILL MERYL STREEP SAY??? My LIVE running commentary will begin with Red Carpet Madness at 7 p.m. EST sharp, followed by the 89th Academy Awards at 8:30. I’ll be updating this blog every few minutes with my play-by-play, observations, predictions, reactions, rants, and musings. (And yes, I’ll be drinking heavily, but my drink of choice is to be determined – I’m currently leaning towards a steady diet of Manhattans but we’ll see what happens.) Feel free to bookmark this page and check back often... or keep your browser right here and click “refresh” over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. I’ll also be tweeting @BenLikesMovies, so by all means follow me there, too. ‘Til later... the Force is with me and I am one with the Force....

RED CARPET MADNESS

7:00 – Okay, gang, let’s jump right into this because I’ve been watching this stuff all day and am already one Manhattan in. So far, I’ve seen Taraji P. Henson’s banging curves and Lin-Manuel Miranda cry, so we’re off to a good start!

7:03 – Andrew Garfield is speaking about his movie, HACKSAW RIDGE, which was good and he was the best thing about it… but it could be argued that he should’ve been nominated for Scorsese’s SILENCE instead. Of course, someday, he will probably be nominated again for playing the title role in a biopic about British tennis star Andy Murray.

7:05 – Wait, John Legend is performing the LA LA LAND songs tonight? What, are Ryan and Emma too busy? Too bad. But at least Legend’s presence gives us a reason to hear Crissy Teigen potentially say something funny. And there it is! SHUT UP, MICHAEL!

7:09 – Major update from the live-blog headquarters, where my girlfriend, Kristin, and I have completed out Oscar ballots and they are wildly different ! For one thing, she picked MOONLIGHT for Best Picture, whereas I am decidedly #TeamLaLaLand. This is gonna be good, folks!

7:11 – Dev Patel is cool. But if I’m giving kudos to an actor from Lion, I gotta go with Sunny Pawar, who commanded the first half of that film (and has been commanding the red carpet) like a champ. (For what it’s worth, the second half almost lost me until the ending won me back. Solid film.)

7:13 – And now here’s everyone’s favorite Asian action hero, Matt Damon! Why is he there? Oh, he’s a producer of MANCHESTER BY THE SEA. God that movie was sad. On the right side of the screen is lovely Teresa Palmer, and now the cast of MOONLIGHT looking dapper.

7:16 – EVERYONE SHUT UP, RUTH NEGGA IS BACK ON MY TV SCREEN. She looks like a classic Hollywood photograph brought to life. She probably has little chance of winning Best Actress tonight, but this is my #1 most-wanted upset. LOVING is a wonderful film and she is wonderful in it.

7:17 – Isabelle Huppert, meanwhile, commands every camera that focuses on her. She is a legend and could easily win tonight, which would be interesting because on one hand, everyone loves her, but on the other hand, ELLE is a very divisive film.

7:23 – I just saw Janelle Monae, who looks like a magnificent statue that should be on display in a museum dedicated to Janelle Monae. Yowza. And now here’s Sting, who is cool because he named himself a verb. (He isn’t winning an Oscar tonight, but that James Foley movie is very good.)

7:24 – Isabelle Huppert is back and I pity the foolish red carpet interviewer who asks her something stupid. As of now, she is showing tremendous patience with this ridiculous American nonsense, but really, she could destroy us all at any moment.

7:30 – I appreciate Jessica Biel’s trash talk on behalf of Justin Timberlake, but let’s be real – if he wins for that bullshit TROLLS song, it would be one of the biggest potential travesties of the night.

7:33 – Holy Halle Berry’s hair! Does it have its own Twitter account yet? Pretty sure it has its own zip code. By the way, remember that time Halle Berry won an Oscar?

7:35 – Lin-Manuel and his mom are back! Lin’s favorite Oscar moment was the performance of “Under the Sea” from THE LITTLE MERMAID, which was also the year of the Billy Crystal / Jack Palance jokes, which was also the year I first really got into the Oscars! UPTOWN NEIGHBORS UNITE!

7:39 – Wait, actually, Lin-Manuel got that wrong. The Jack Palance jokes occurred in the 1992 show. He must have been mixing up THE LITTLE MERMAID and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. But that’s okay! We can still hang out in the neighborhood!

7:42 – First glimpse of Emma Stone and she looks luminous. And now here’s Octavia Spencer, who will be playing God in some upcoming Christian movie. I will not see that because I hate those Christian propaganda movies, but I do like the idea of Octavia playing God in, say, another BRUCE ALMIGHTY-type comedy.

7:45 – Viola Davis the the one and only 100% surefire lock among the acting awards. If she did not win, the world would probably implode. Meanwhile, Kirsten Dunst is here, and Kristin just pointed out that she looks like a Barbie doll. It is kind of disconcerting.

7:48 – The red carpet action is fast and furious and I can’t keep up! It doesn’t help that I’m eating Domino’s pizza with extra sauce! (Yeah, that’s right!)

7:52 – Now here’s Ryan Gosling looking extra-dapper (is his tux wool?) and making all of us dudes feel bad about ourselves. I don’t THINK he will win tonight, but it could happen in the event of complete LA LA LAND domination. Of course, even if he loses, he’s still Ryan Gosling, so he wins and we lose.

7:54 – Nice to see Casey Affleck get a haircut and trim his beard for the occasion. Look, I realize that there’s a whirlwind of controversy surrounding this guy, but the fact is that his performance is the best, most nuanced, and most heart-wrenching of all the nominated actors.

7:55 – Remember when Nicole Kidman looked like an alien for a while and it was scary? Well, she no longer looks like an alien and it’s a relief. She looks great. Maybe it took a few years for the Scientology to purge itself from her system.

7:56 – Emma Stone kind of looks like a mini Oscar, if Oscar statues had frills around the legs. Point being, Emma rules. I hope she and Ryan Gosling continue to make movies together until the day they die (ideally together in a suicide pact so one of them isn’t left alone).

8:00 – Oh, it’s 8:00. I’m actually going to sign off for a half-hour to eat more pizza and make another drink and get ready for the big show. But first, I must point out that I just spied Brie Larson and she may be winning the red carpet with her elegant black number. Holy moley. Be back soon!

89th ACADEMY AWARDS

8:30 – Aaaaaaand we’re off! And it’s Justin Timberlake kicking things off with what will surely be a rousing performance of the shitty song from TROLLS! He’s making his way through the aisles and Jeff Bridges and Charlize Theron love it! Okay, this song is catchy, I have to admit. But the movie sucked and this song better not even sniff at the possibility of winning.

8:33 – The song is still happening and everyone is having a great time. Nicole Kidman is rocking out and Justin calls out Denzel. Dev Patel’s mom is having fun, and I think I just saw Meryl Streep. Michael Shannon doesn’t really know what the hell is going on!! Hahaha! I’m gonna need a GIF of that to use regularly.

8:35 – Okay, that performance was better than the song itself. And now here’s Jimmy Kimmel, who I think should do a good job tonight. Haha, Jimmy Kimmel cannot unite us – there’s only one Braveheart in the room and he’s not going to unite us, either! And now Jimmy is going to bury the hatchet with his old nemesis, Matt Damon. This is good! Jimmy wants to say thank you to President Trump – remember last year when it seemed like the Oscars were racist?? Meanwhile, this year, black people saved NASA and white people saved Jazz… that’s progress!

8:39 – Amazon produced MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, which is a fun movie. Lots of sad nominees this year… the only happy ending is the one in the middle of MOONLIGHT! HAHAHAHA! It’s true… bleak world begets bleak movies. Jimmy is glad that homeland security let Isabelle Huppert into the show tonight. Lots of jokes about little-seen movies, including Viggo’s CAPTAIN FANTASTIC. And heeeere’s the uninspiring and overrated Meryl Streep! She has phoned it in for over 50 films -- get her out of there! And now a standing ovation for no discernible reason! GO MERYL! Jimmy Kimmel has officially killed this monologue.

8:44 – Kicking off the award portion of the evening with a montage of Supporting Actor winners, ahhh, there’s the aforementioned Jack Palance! And so many other greats I couldn’t possibly up. Alicia Vikander now walks out to “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” for some reason and here come the nominees. Mahershala Ali was amazing in MOONLIGHT and should be the favorite here. Can’t count out the Dude, who commanded the exceptional modern western, HELL OR HIGH WATER. Lucas Hedges held his own and then some in the brutal MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (side note: Kristin picked him on her ballot!). Dev Patel was great in LION but, as mentioned, was kind of overshadowed by the little kid. Michael Shannon has been one of our best actors for a long time and it would be pretty great to see him steal one here. And the Oscar goes to… MAHERSHALA ALI! Very cool and well deserved – if the three generations of the main character were the heart of MOONLIGHT, he was definitely the soul. Emotional speech. His wife just had a baby four days ago! D’awwwww.

8:55 – “Everything in Awesome” as the show comes back from commercial, and indeed, we’re off to an awesome start. Did Jeff Bridges bring his vape pen, Jimmy Kimmel wants to know? And now he’s kicking out any media outlets with the word “Times” in their names – including Medieval Times. And now here come two funny people, Kate McKinnon and Jason Bateman, to present some awards. Kate’s gonna set it up and Jason’s gonna spike it! First, Best Makeup/Hairstyling. Meh to the MAN CALLED OVE. STAR TREK is the best of these by default. SUICIDE SQUAD, also kind of meh. And the Oscar goes to SUICIDE SQUAD! Color me surprised! The D.C. fanboys and girls are going to revel in this for a long time.

9:00 – And now the achievement for Costume Design! ALLIED was a good-looking, if somewhat unmemorable, film. I really loved FANTASTIC BEASTS and it looked great. FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS, meh. JACKIE has a good shot. But I think this is going to be the first of many trophies for LA LA LAND. And the Oscar goes to… FANTASTIC BEASTS!! WOW! I seriously can’t believe it. FANTASTIC BEASTS was so good and helped ease our Election Night pain in much the same way that the first POTTER film helped ease our post-9/11 pain. Plus, the costumes were on point (or maybe the Oscar voters just missed the sight of Hogwarts scarves as much as we did). First round at the wizard speakeasy is on me after the show!

9:07 – We’re back and Jimmy points out that it’s been a great year for superheroes – Doctor Strange was nominated for Best Visual Effects AND named Director of Housing and Urban Development! nd now here come the awesome ladies of HIDDEN FIGURES looking like like they should be epic monuments atop grandiose buildings. Or something, I don’t know, just work with me here. They bring out one of the actual Hidden Figures, Katherine Johnson, and this is very cool. They are also introducing the nominees for Best Documentary Feature. FIRE AT SEA is a powerful film about refugees. I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO, about race relations. LIFE, ANIMATED is a wonderful film about an autistic kid who learns to communicate via the power of Disney animation. The seven-hour O.J. doc is incredible and speaks for itself. And 13th is powerful and must be seen. And the Oscar goes to O.J.: MADE IN THE AMERICA. That was my pick because it was just so well done but I wasn’t sure it would actually win. Man, between this and THE PEOPLE vs. O.J. SIMPSON, what a year it was for that slice of mid-‘90s history (and let’s face it – heavy nostalgia because I remember watching that shit like it was yesterday).

9:13 – Hahahaha, even Mel Gibson couldn’t deal with that O.J. joke. And now here’s the Rock, who is NOT here to sing his song from MOANA, but to introduce one of the most-anticipated moments of the show! It’s Lin-Manuel Miranda rapping an introduction for the young actress who plays MOANA and sings this excellent song! If my niece was watching the Oscars right now, she would be singing along doing an interpretative dance and it would be awesome. Please, God, let this song win tonight and secure Lin-Manuel’s EGOT (or EPGOT, if you count the Pulitzer!). On another note, I’m going to need a GIF of Auli'i Cravalho getting hit in the head with one of those blue curtain props (but kudos to her for not missing a beat – major poise!).

9:24 – The president of the Academy is here to talk about diversity and the power of art and the magic of movies. Meanwhile, the President of the United States is probably looking at his tiny hands in the mirror and trying to convince himself that they’re normal sized. And now candy is falling from the ceiling! “Next year, we should give out the awards this way,” Jimmy says. That would actually be cool. And now here’s Chris Evans and, um, someone named Sophia presenting the awards for Best Sound Editing. ARRIVAL, DEEPWATER HORIZION, HACKSAW RIDGE, LA LA LAND, and SULLY, but I think the LA LA train begins now. And the Oscar goes to ARRIVAL!! Wow… LA LA hasn’t won anything yet! I’m shocked. But if this opens the door for ARRIVAL to steal a few more, it won’t be so bad!

9:29 – Sound Mixing next ! ARRIVAL again… HACKSAW RIDGE… LA LA LAND… ROGUE ONE, hey, that’d be cool… and 13 HOURS… and the Oscar goes to HACKSAW RIDGE, holy shit!! This is amazing because (a) LA LA lost again, and (b) the sound mixer for this movie has finally won for the first time in 21 tries! Go sound mixer guy! That guy is cool but I think there’s some definite LA LA backlash rearing its head here. Fasten your seatbelts – it’s going to be a bumpy night!

9:37 – Sorry, I got sidetracked gazing upon my adorable little kitten who is snuggled up in the blankets behind me. Vince Vaughn is here and I think he’s talking about the Governor’s Awards? Yeah, he is. Frederick Wiseman is good at documentaries and Jackie Chan is good at martial arts. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to quickly pour myself another Manhattan!

9:39 – No, wait, just kidding, my drink can wait! Hattie McDaniel just popped up on the screen and I think this is a Best Supporting Actress montage. So many great moments there and now here’s Mark Rylance to present the award. He’s wearing a hat and is owning it – maybe he could play the Peddler in my long-gestating adaptation of the children’s book CAPS FOR SALE. Anyway, this category is full of strong contenders but Viola Davis is going to win so I’m not going to bother going through them all. (That said, Naomie Harris could be a sleeper threat.) Ah, I knew they were going to use that scene for Michelle Williams. And the Oscar goes to VIOLA DAVIS, Rylance says casually, because obviously. Viola is going to lay the smackdown on the world with her words right now. Pretty sure she is going to win an Emmy for this speech… powerful stuff. Go Viola!

9:54 – First of all, Jimmy Kimmel just totally stole the Viola Davis / Emmy award speech that I made a few minutes ago. FUCK YOU, KIMMEL. And now something weird is happening with a tour bus outside? I don’t know. And now Charlize Theron is talking about how much she loves THE APARTMENT. This is kind of cool. I want to know what Sunny Pawar’s favorite movie is next. Ah, and now Charlize comes out with Shirley Maclaine to complete the segment. It’s the loudest reception Shirley has had in 250,000 years! They are presenting the award for Best Foreign Film. Strong category here, starting with Denmark’s LAND OF MINE (the weakest of the bunch). A MAN CALLED OVE is good. Australia’s TANNA is a remarkable achievement. Germany’s TONI ERDMANN is amazing and there’s already a remake planned starring Kristen Wiig and Jack Nicholson. And THE SALESMAN, which is great, but I think will only win if they want to turn this into a political statement. And the Oscar goes to THE SALESMAN!! Oh shit, here we go. Asghar Farhadi is boycotting the show and a statement is being read in his stead. I have mixed feelings about this because I’d rather give the award to the actual best nominee, which is TONI ERDMANN by a long shot, but can’t argue with the huge middle finger to our orange asshole of a President.

10:02 – I missed the entire Sting segment because I was looking at my ballot, but there was a statement at the end about the power of journalism, which is important! Fun fact: I was a journalism major in college. I did not go into the heart of ISIS but I did write an article about the opening of the Greenwich Village K-Mart in 1998. Hey, it was controversial at the time! Um, let’s move on.

10:07 – This tour bus thing is stupid but it IS potentially better than the running briefcase joke that bombed for Neil Patrick Harris a few years ago. Hailee Steinfield has true grit and she is here with Gael Garcia Bernal to present Animated Short Film! These are generally solid but I really loved PEARL, which filled me with melancholic and nostalgic goodness. Can’t count out Pixar’s PIPER, though. And the Oscar goes to… PIPER. Okay, fine, it was freaking adorable.

10:10 – Gael condemns the concept of walls and now it’s time for Best Animated Feature! Disney gave us a double-dose of greatness last year and one of them will surely win. KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS could be a contender, though. And the Oscar goes to ZOOTOPIA!! I tend to lean towards MOANA, myself, but cannot argue with this one. ZOOTOPIA is great and smart and timely. The New Golden Age of Disney lives on!

10:13 – Oh God, Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan are here to present an award. Dakota is great and deserves better in this world, but Jamie needs to be swept under the rug forever after the FIFTY SHADES films are mercifully over. They are presenting Best Production Design, which may now go to FANTASTIC BEASTS following its shocking Costume Design win?? I don’t know what to think anymore… as long as PASSENGERS doesn’t win, that stinking misogynist piece of shit. And the Oscar goes to LA LA LAND!! Well, hello there stranger! First win of the night for the odds-on favorite. Will this kick-start some momentum or nah??

10:16 – Okay, so, the tour bus riders are apparently here now. They’re gonna turn the lights off, and when the tourists walk in, they’re going to turn the lights on and yell, “MAHERSHALA!” Umm, this is weird. Don’t look into Ryan Gosling’s eyes! Hahahaha, Denzel just pronounced this dude and his fiancée as husband and wife. Jennifer Aniston gave away her sunglasses. Casey Affleck is not a vagrant! Um, I kind of can’t believe this is still going on? This is kind of terrible, like, maybe one of the worst bits in Oscar history? And yet strangely compelling? Nah, seriously, let’s get back to the awards.

10:28 – We’re back with a segment of international folks talking about their favorite American movies. THE GRADUATE, E.T., ANNIE HALL, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, THE BIG LEBOWSKI, CITZEN KANE, and more are represented. “Cinema is art.” “Movies are a universal language… it’s magic and magic is universal.” This segment is so much better than the tour bus nonsense because it’s actually, y’know, about movies.

10:30 – Jyn Erso and, uh, the character played by Riz Ahmed (whose name I still can’t remember… damn ROGUE ONE and its unmemorable characters) are here to present Best Visual Effects. I picked DOCTOR STRANGE for this because that shit was trippy. I actually DON’T want Star Wars to win because the CGI Tarkin was one of the worst abominations in the history of special effects. KUBO would be an interesting choice, but the Oscar goes to THE JUNGLE BOOK! This was a solid live-action remake and it sure did look good.

10:33 – Ooh, Seth Rogen is now talking about his favorite movie and it’s BACK TO THE FUTURE, the baseline of classic cinema! Cannot argue with that. HOLY SHIT, and now Seth is coming to the stage with the Delorean and freakin’ MICHAEL J. FOX! STANDING OVATION! Maybe some of the ovation was for Seth? Hehe, nahhh. Jesus fucking Christ, Seth and Michael J. Fox are singing HAMILTON. This is amazing and I’m crying because I love MJF so much. Ah, there’s also the little matter of the award for Best Editing. I’m going for LA LA LAND here. And the Oscar goes to… HACKSAW RIDGE!?!?!? Holy shit!!! This is the first legit mega shocker of the night. Where the hell did this come from?! Could this be a sign of a potential HACKSAW sweep and the full-fledged Mel Gibson comeback?! I don’t know what to think about anything anymore.

10:39 – Hahaha, Jimmy Kimmel just interviewed Sunny Pawar about candy and THE LION KING and it was pretty funny. That kid is gonna be a star. Unfortunately, I’m still reeling from HACKSAW RIDGE’s editing award to really enjoy anything. Not that it’s a bad movie, or a badly-edited movie… I just did not expect it to win anything. Literally anything can happen from here on out, folks!

10:43 – Well, damn, Salma Hayek has still got it and she is here (with David Oyelowo) to present Best Documentary Short. As always, these are bleak bunch. My favorite (and indeed, the only not-bleak one) is JOE’S VIOLIN, about a Holocaust survivor who donates his beloved violin to a school for underprivileged girls in the Bronx. But the Oscar goes to THE WHITE HELMENTS, which is about rescuers in war-torn Syria and is very powerful and remarkable. Plus, the cinematographer could not be there because of recent travel laws, so, again, it’s a major political statement. Can’t argue with it, though.

10:47 – And now it’s Live Action Short, which is a category I am majorly invested, because I reeeeeeeally loved THE WOMAN AND THE TGV! It is wonderful, whimsical, AMELIE-esque goodness. I also loved SING, which features one of the most despicable villains of the year. But really, they’re all solid, except for SILENT NIGHTS< which was a piece of shit. And the Oscar goes to SING!! Yay! That’s awesome! It was so good and ending is absolutely exultant! Seek it out ASAP!

10:49 – Hahaha, oh no, Jimmy Kimmel is about to tweet at Donald Trump because the President hasn’t tweeted once during the show and he’s starting to get worried. “Hey @realDonaldTrump, u up?” MERYL SAYS HI. The Snowflake-in-Chief is going to love this!

10:52 – John Cho and Leslie Mann are now here to explain the geekery of film science. For example, John Cho was in STAR TREK and he filmed the movie in a studio in front of a green wall, but then he saw the movie and had to wonder if he really WAS in space?? This is good stuff. Yay geeks!

10:56 – Javier Bardem really loves THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY an he’s going to tell us all about it… friendo. And now here he is, along with the GREAT STREEP! Ohhh shit, just give her the mic and let her rip with no time limit! Ah, nah, it looks like they’re just presenting the award for Best Cinematography. I’m actually pulling for ARRIVAL here, but I’m wondering what it means if LA LA LAND doesn’t win? Could be the beginning of the end, if so… but the Oscar goes to LA LA LAND and it’s not dead yet! In fact, this could be the spark it needs to steamroll through the rest of the show. We shall see!

11:01 – Mean Tweets Oscar Edition! Hehehe, this might be good. Samuel L. Jackson has resting fart face! Are we all just ignoring the fact that Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne have the same face? Emma Stone looks like a crack whore in every role she plays! Robert de Niro IS playing grandfather roles and soon he’s going to be playing great-grandfather roles and FUCK YOU! That was a funny bit. Now back to the movie awards!

11:04 – Everybody swooooooooon because here are the perfect combo of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. I believe they are going to present the nominated songs from LA LA LAND, which will be performed by John Legend. This will be cool even though I can’t root for either of these songs against MOANA and Lin-Manuel.

11:12 – Jimmy Kimmel is happy to see Lin-Manuel Miranda in a theatre without having to pay $10,000… or in my case, $10, since my girlfriend Kristin won the HAMILTON lottery a few weeks ago! (It was one of the great experiences of my life, FYI.) That was an awkward moment with Jimmy and Lin and Lin’s mom, by the way. Jimmy Kimmel is a weird mix of being funny sometimes and horribly suck-ass other times (which is still better than Jimmy Fallon, who sucks all the time.)

11:13 – And now here’s Samuel L. Jackson talking about the merits of movie scores. The nominees are a solid bunch, including the melodramatic LION, eerie JACKIE, sci-fi PASSENGERS, joyful LA LA LAND, and haunting MOONLIGHT. I have LA LA on my ballot but this could go in any number of directions. And the Oscar goes to LA LA LAND, which I think may signify the beginning of the end for all other contenders. And now this score will be stuck in my head (again) for the foreseeable future (as it has been for the past three months).

11:16 – My favorite anime character, Scarlett Johnansson, is looking amazing and she is here to present Best Song! Oh shit! “Audition” is the best of the LA LA LAND songs. Forget about the TROLLS song. The other LA LA LAND song is the likely favorite. Forget the Sting song. And yesssssss, MOANA! And the Oscar goes to… “City of Stars” from  LA LA LAND. Arghhhhhh, such huge mixed feelings here because I love the LA LA LAND soundtrack (indeed, playing it has been my #1 request to Alexa ever since I got my Amazon Echo Dot), but I really fucking wanted Lin-Manuel to get that EGOT!! Ah well… hopefully he’ll have an original song in MARY POPPINS RETURNS.

11:20 – Ah, shit, would you believe I almost forgot about the In Memoriam segment? Jennifer Aniston presents it, Sarah Barelleis is singing a Joni Mitchell ballad, and here we go. George Kennedy, Gene Wilder, damn. “We are the dreamers of dreams.” Michael Cimino. Patty Duke, Garry Marshall, Emmanuelle Riva. Anton Yelchin, what a terrible loss, so young. Mary Tyler Moore! Prince. Kenny Baker and I’m officially crying. Curtis Hanson, damn, forgot about him. Zsa Zsa Gabor. DEBBIE REYNOLDS. CARRIE FISHER, “May the Force be with you,” and that’s it and I’m a mess. Now, who did they leave out??

11:28 – Hahahahaha, Jimmy Kimmel is now reflecting on his favorite movie, Matt Damon’s WE BOUGHT A ZOO! This is great. “The thing about Matt is that you can see how hard he’s working… it’s so effortful.” And now here’s Ben Affleck and GUEST… who you may recognize as Matt Damon. They are presenting Best Original Screenplay and there are really great ones here. HELL OR HIGH WATER, such a good modern western. A LA LA LAND win here would be a major coup. THE LOBSTER is actually the most ORIGINAL screenplay but probably has no chance. I’ve actually got MANCHESTER BY THE SEA marked on my ballot because it was just so devastating. And 20th CENTURY WOMEN, arguably the most unsung movie of 2016. And the Oscar goes to Kenneth Lonergan for MANCHESTER BY THE SEA! Wow! That’s really cool! What a powerful, excruciating, brilliant movie. Well deserved, even if it does put another brake on LA LA’s momentum!

11:33 – And now here’s Amy Adams showing some the night’s most impressive cleavage (sorry not sorry) and presenting the award for Best Adapted Screenplay. ARRIVAL is great, FENCES probably works better on the stage, HIDDEN FIGURES is great, LION is very good, but I think this one has to go to MOONLIGHT and indeed, the Oscar goes to MOONLIGHT! Yay! Very cool.

11:40 – There was a cookie bit that I couldn’t be bothered to write about, but do yourself a favor and look up the Taraji P. Henson “are you sharing?” GIFs. You’re welcome. And now here’s Halle Berry’s hair to present Best Director! Business is about to pick up. Denis Villeneuve would be an inspired choice for ARRIVAL. Mel Gibson would be an insane choice. Damien Chazelle, come on! Kenneth Lonergan and Barry Jenkins, maybe… and the Oscar goes to DAMIEN CHAZELLE for LA LA LAND! Wow! So awesome, even though, at 32, he is the youngest Best Director winner ever and I am turning 40 in a few months. Ummmmmm anyway yeah, LA LA LAND is a perfectly-directed film and I am happy dammit!

11:47 – Best Actor montage! I really like these pre-award montages. And now here’s Captain Marvel herself, Brie Larson, last year’s Best Actress winner and still the realest and the best, to present the award. I’m still pulling for Casey Affleck here – his performance is the most nuanced and devastating. Andrew Garfield commands the screen in HACKSAW RIDGE but it’s arguably his second-best performance of 2016. Ryan Gosling is just plain great in LA LA LAND, and you can never go wrong with Viggo – CAPTAIN FANTASTIC is very good but hopefully someday he’ll be nominated in a year in which he has the slightest chance to win. And then, of course, Denzel – definitely can’t count him out. And the Oscar goes to.. CASEY AFFLECK! Yes! I didn’t think it would happen because controversy, but hey, the best performance is the best performance! Such powerful work and well deserved.

11:54 – Hey, remember that time Leonardo DiCaprio won an Oscar?? It happened last year and now he’s here to present Best Actress following another great montage. Isabelle Huppert was tremendous in a very complex and controversial role. RUTH NEGGA, my sentimental favorite pick of the night, would be so amazing! Natalie Portman arguably gave her best-ever performance in JACKIE (I usually have nothing good to say about her acting so this is a big deal). Emma Stone has to be considered the odds-on favorite, and then of course there’s the great Streep, who, let’s face it, people may have voted for just so she’d be able to give a speech. And the Oscar goes to… EMMA STONE for LA LA LAND! Okay, I’ll allow it – she was luminous and wonderful and she’s giving a very humble and emotional speech and here’s to the fools who dream!

12:02 – “We’ve reached the halfway part of the show,” Jimmy Kimmel says as we pass the midnight hour. And here comes Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway to present the night’s final award! I have to say, at this point, I have no idea what’s going to win. Will it be LA LA LAND, which has picked up some momentum down the stretch? Will it be MOONLIGHT, which has scored some big wins? Will it be HACKSAW RIDGE, which has already won two more awards than expected? Maybe MANCHESTER? Or could FENCES or ARRIVAL shock the world? (Sorry, HIDDEN FIGURES, LION, and HELL OR HIGH WATER… no soup for you.) And the Oscar goes to… LA LA LAND! Ummmmmmmm… no, wait, it’s MOONLIGHT. Warren Beatty read the wrong winner! Or was given the wrong envelope or something. There was confusion and madness on the stage! This is literally the craziest thing I’ve ever seen, but indeed, MOONLIGHT is the Best Picture! I… don’t even know what to say about this but wow. Congrats, MOONLA LAND?!


Well… that was some craziness, wasn’t it? The show has been over for a while now, and like most people, I’m still trying to wrap my head around what happened. We’ve watched clips over and over again and it’s just crazy. It appears that there were TWO envelopes for Best Actress, one of which went to Emma Stone after she won, and one of which unfortunately wound up in Warren Beatty’s hands. And even though he clearly realized that something was awry, he went ahead and let Faye Dunaway read the incorrect winner. Which raises the question… why didn’t he say something?! He’s Warren Beatty! He could’ve easily stopped the proceedings and been like, “Ahem, something’s not right here,” and it would’ve been charming and heroic. Instead, Faye clearly thought he was just being a scamp, glanced at the card, read LA LA LAND, and the rest is history. That being said, it’s clearly the fault of the envelope handlers more than anyone else, and someone is getting fired. But then, even after the wrong winner was read aloud, for some reason, it took over five minutes and two and a half speeches by the LA LA LAND crew before the correction was made and MOONLIGHT was anointed Best Picture. Absolute insanity. But you know, if there have always been two envelopes floating around (per Academy policy), it’s amazing that this hasn’t happened before. It’s a recipe for disaster that has been brewing for 89 years and it finally happened! My guess is that next year, they move on to a one-envelope system. Anyway, congrats to MOONLIGHT, a truly tremendous and important film that absolutely deserves to win. It’s a shame, though, that its moment will always be overshadowed by the mishap (sorry, but it’s true – the mishap will forever be part of the trivia question).

As for the for the show as a whole… it was pretty solid. Jimmy Kimmel was very hit or miss with his jokes and bits, but fortunately, the hits and misses were just about equal. I’m happy about all four acting winners, three of which I chose correctly (Affleck, Ali and Davis; I voted for Negga but that was a silly wishful-thinking vote because I knew Stone was gonna win) and I correctly picked Director (Chazelle) and both screenplays (MANCHESTER and MOONLIGHT) on my ballot. In fact, I got 10 out of 24 categories right, which is actually quite high for me – my ballot is usually a disaster because I tend to vote with my heart and my heart has shit for brains. But this year, I guess my heart and brain were slightly more in sync than usual! There were some surprises, too, such as HACKSAW RIDGE picking up two wins, FANTASTIC BEASTS winning Costume Design, and the ARRIVAL sound editor winning for the first time after 21 nominations. No major disappointments for me – I wish Lin-Manuel could have snagged that EGOT tonight, but I’m sure his day will come. As always, I must rank my loveliest ladies of the evening, which include Brie Larson, Emma Stone, Janelle Monae, Amy Adams, Taraji P. Henson and ummmm no one else is jumping out at me at the moment. And now I’m going to call it a night and a year and maybe an Oscar live-blogging career, for real this time, because honestly, how are we ever gonna top this year’s madness? (Don’t hold me to that, though, because next year I might feel the siren call at the last minute once again. We shall see!) Goodnight, gang, and thanks for reading! ❤

Sunday, February 28, 2016

OSCAR NIGHT 2016

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Welcome, friends, loved ones, long-lost acquaintances, Twitter pals, Instagram crushes, random trolls, and anyone else who may have stumbled upon my 11th Annual LIVE, moment-by-moment, stream-of-consciousness Oscar commentary! Yes, I’ve been doing this since before the concept of live-tweeting was a twinkle in the Internet’s eye. But guess what? This is it, folks -- my final year live-blogging cinema’s biggest night. Next year, I will be watching like a normal person for the first time in over a decade. Hard to imagine and maybe a little bittersweet, I know... but here’s hoping they give us a good show tonight so we can go out with a bang!

For only the second time in my life, I’ve seen EVERY Oscar nominee in EVERY category. Go me! So you can expect all sorts of well-educated predictions and insight tonight (or something). Five of the eight Best Picture nominees were in my Top 10 of the year, but I did not love two of the current favorites for the big prize: THE REVENANT and THE BIG SHORT. My hope is that the other frontrunner, SPOTLIGHT, takes charge tonight -- but actually, I am rooting hard for the wondrous ROOM to surprise everyone and steal some major gold. On the acting side, I think Leonardo DiCaprio is a lock for Best Actor -- which is fitting, since THE REVENANT is kind of a metaphor for his long, painful quest to win an Oscar. Brie Larson also appears to be a lock for Best Actress (and rightly so), though I would not be disappointed if BROOKLYN’s brilliant Saoirse Ronan shocked everyone. Seems like Sylvester Stallone will deservedly win Supporting Actor for his great work in the otherwise-snubbed CREED, while the lovely Alicia Vikander is poised to win Supporting Actress (albeit for the wrong movie; she was good in THE DANISH GIRL but transcendent in EX MACHINA) -- however, I would be thrilled beyond belief if Kate Winslet won, thus setting up some awesome photo ops of LEO & KATE & THEIR OSCARS.

Elsewhere... my #1 movie of 2015, INSIDE OUT, should win Best Animated Feature with ease, but few things would please me more than if it also won Original Screenplay. And how about a little film called STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS? It has a slew of nominations, some of which it could possibly win (Visual Effects) and some which it surely won’t (Film Editing). But above all, I really hope the great John Williams can win Original Score for the first time in over two decades. In any other year, he’d probably be a nostalgic shoo-in -- but this year he’s up against the 87-year-old maestro Ennio Morricone, who has incredibly NEVER won before. It could go either way. Or maybe Carter Burwell’s swoon-inducing CAROL score will steal it. Speaking of which, CAROL is my pick for Cinematography, while I’d love to see Disney’s surprisingly-great live-action CINDERELLA win Costume Design. It will also be crazy to see Lady Gaga take yet another step towards an EGOT when she wins Best Song. And to think, we haven’t even gotten into the Foreign Films (SON OF SAUL, devastating Holocaust drama) and Docs (THE LOOK OF SILENCE, devastating look at the Indonesian genocide) and short films (STUTTERER, WORLD OF TOMORROW and CHAU, BEYOND THE LINES -- all kind of devastating on some level) and ahhhhhhh I’m excited!

And yes, it should be interesting to see what happens with the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, especially with Chris Rock as host. My LIVE running commentary will begin with Red Carpet Madness at 7 p.m. EST sharp, followed by the 88th Academy Awards at 8:30. I’ll be updating this blog every few minutes with my play-by-play, observations, predictions, reactions, rants, and musings. (And did I mention that I’ll be drinking heavily??) Please do bookmark this page and check back often... or keep your browser right here and click “refresh” constantly and obsessively. In fact, hey, if you’re among the five or six people who are still planning to boycott the big show, you should DEFINITELY follow along here -- you know you’re gonna wanna know what’s going on. See ya soon!

RED CARPET MADNESS

7:00 – And we’re underway for the 11th straight ridiculous year! I’m already feeling a little tipsy from this martini I’m drinking (shaken, not stirred), so it should be a fun night. This is one of the few days of the year that I regret ditching cable because it means I can’t watch the E! pre-show (sorry, Ryan and Giuliana), but I’ll be tuning into ABC for those who want to follow along. I’ve already seen Saoirse Ronan looking amazing and making me feel very old, so we’re off to a good start!

7:03 – Daisy Ridley is there, too! The Force with the red carpet. I’ve also noticed that side boob is a thing this year once again, if Saoirse and Olivia Wilde are any indication.

7:04 – By the way, this is the first time in several years that I am not watching the Oscars alone like a lonely loser. Everybody say hi to my girlfriend Kristin! (She says hi back. She’s drinking, too.)

7:05 – I’d like to hang out with Olivia Wilde and Jason Sudekis. That would be fun. And now here’s Alicia Vikander! She’s looking very good in yellow. She might just win Oscar gold tonight -- too bad it’s for the wrong movie. EX MACHINA > THE DANISH GIRL.

7:07 – Everybody be quiet, Saoirse Ronan is on screen and talking in her adorable Irish accent. I’ve noticed that Irish people tend to talk a lot (I’m specifically thinking of Glen Hansard when I’ve seen him in concert)... but it’s okay because they sound awesome.

7:09 – Haha, the dumb ABC red carpet host thought that Nick Hornby was Saoirse’s dad. That would be pretty cool, actually. I’m currently reading Hornby’s latest book, THE FUNNY GIRL, and it’s very good.

7:13 – This is live television, BRIE LARSON! Ooh, her dress is very blue and flowing. Brie is the best and makes every movie better with her mere presence. I’d also like to hang out with her, too (and Jacob Tremblay so we can talk about Star Wars).

7:15 – Not sure what’s going on with the diamond in the middle of Rooney Mara’s dress but I don’t dislike it. Rooney is cool. She looks like a living doll. She just confirmed that yes, it is easy to fall in love with Cate Blanchett, which I do not doubt because Cate is one of the world’s greatest wonders. Can’t wait to see her!

7:18 – Hehe, here’s Jacob Tremblay. This kid is hilarious. It feels pretty cool to be called “the king of awards season” and he thinks Brie has a pretty good chance to win tonight. I agree! And now he’s saying that his bedtime is 8 p.m. but he’ll be staying up late tonight. Me too, Jake... me too.

7:25 – The President of the Academy is talking about the diversity issue, which will certainly be the elephant in the room all night tonight. Can’t wait to see what Chris Rock has to say about all that. And now here’s Eddie Redmayne, who is just impossibly charming. He was very good in THE DANISH GIRL but personally, I would’ve nominated him for his over-the-top batshit-crazy performance in JUPITER ASCENDING.

7:37 – Ack, sorry for the delay -- we were ordering Indian food for dinner and it’s going to be awesome. At the moment, Matt Damon is on my screen. Matt Damon is cool and he was perfect in THE MARTIAN. Great movie.

7:38 – The biggest problem with the ABC pre-show is that there’s way too much self-fellation. There’s no reason for Jimmy Kimmel to have been on the screen for this long.

7:41 – There’s a commercial on ABC right now, but according to Twitter, I missed Margot Robbie. THIS IS NOT FAIR.

7:44 – JULIANNE MOORE IS HERE. She is an Oscar winner and a national treasure. She looks great, too. Oh, they’re talking about the new “scroll” technology that will allow winners to thank people via a TV scroll, presumably to save time during the telecast. There’s no way this will work.

7:46 – Louis Gossett, Jr. just talked about some stuff and now here’s Tina Fey looking lovely in basic purple. She has no advice to offer Chris Rock because he’s “the greatest living comedian,” but personally, I still want her to host the Oscars, and indeed, my entire life.

7:49 – Cate Blanchett doesn't even look real. She looks like a gorgeous statue of a glorious statue. Her dress is light blue and feathery and wow. I would not be disappointed if she won Best Actress out of sheer domination.

7:53 – Sylvester Stallone is here! He seems like a lock to win Best Supporting Actor, and rightly so, because he was tremendous in CREED. Plus he’s just the goddamn coolest guy on the red carpet right now.

7:55 – Lady Gaga is here looking relatively low-key. She will almost certainly win an Oscar for Best Song tonight, which will leave her just a Tony short of an EGOT. That’s wild!

7:56 – Naomi Watts is looking very sparkly tonight in her sparkly purple dress. She is here tonight as Liev Schreiber’s arm candy but that’s cool. Go SPOTLIGHT! (That is to say, go ROOM, really -- but go SPOTLIGHT over THE REVENANT.)

7:59 – This portion of my live-blog is about to end but I just have to say that Jacob Tremblay’s mom has got it going on. And now I’m gonna take a half-hour break and make myself another martini and I’ll return at 8:30 for the 88th Academy Awards! See you then!

The 88th Academy Awards

8:30 – Aaaaaaaaand we’re back! Let’s do this, friends. It’s gonna be good. Welcome to the Dolby Theatre and the Oscars! We’ve got a MARTIAN spoof to kick things off. AND IT’S BB-8. And basically a montage of this past year’s movies, good and bad. Hey, JURASSIC WORLD made the cut. “THAT’S NOT HOW THE FORCE WORKS!” Wow, TED 2? There really were a lot of good and bad movies in 2015 and they are all represented here. INSIDE OUT! MAD MAX! CREED! Rey! “You’re gonna love it.” “What?” “The world!” GO ROOM!

8:33 – Ladies and gentlemen, Chris Rock! Not gonna lie, I’m a little nervous. “I counted at least 15 black people in that montage!” Hehe, he’s going right in with the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. “How come it’s only unemployed people that tell you to quit something?” “The last thing I need is to lose another job to Kevin Hart.” Hehe... he’s right, though. Better to be there (and to watch) than the boycott.

8:36 – Ummmm wowie wow, this isn’t awkward at all! I’m not even going to touch the lynching jokes, but Chris Rock is right on. To be fair, I wasn’t invited to Rhianna’s panties, either. Will Smith jokes -- and now a “cops shooting black people” joke. We’ll be here all night folks!

8:38 – Black categories, like “Best Black Friend,” and the winner for the 18th year in a row is Wanda Sykes. Ooh boy. Is Hollywood racist? It’s a different type of racist, Chris Rock says. Hollywood is “sorority racist... we like you, Wanda, but you’re not a Kappa.” Heheh, ROCKY is a science fiction movie in which white athletes are better than black athletes! Paul Giamatti is great because he was whipping Lupita last year and crying at Eazy-E’s funeral this year! That’s range!

8:43 – “If George Clooney showed up wearing a lime green tux and swan coming out of his ass, someone would ask him, ‘Whatcha wearing’ George?’” Awesome job by Chris Rock. And now here’s an infusion of beauty and awesomeness with Emily Blunt and Charlize Theron presenting Best Original Screenplay! Apparently the order of awards presented this year represents the movie-making process. STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON is great but I felt it was more of an acting showcase than writing (plus, all the writers are white, oops). BRIDGE OF SPIES, hey, the Coen Bros. are involved. EX MACHINA is awesome and original and I would have no problem with this one. SPOTLIGHT is a taut screenplay with absolutely zero body fat. And my fav, INSIDE OUT, which is actually the most ORIGINAL film of the year (with all due respect to Herman’s Head). And the Oscar goes to... SPOTLIGHT! Okay! Hopefully this a sign of things to come, if SPOTLIGHT is going to overtake THE REVENANT tonight.

8:48 – Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling are here to present the award for Best Adapted Screenplay AND surreptitiously plug their new comedy that’s coming out this year. THE BIG SHORT is my biggest “meh” of the major nominees. Nick Hornby is one of my fav authors and BROOKLYN is amazing -- would be very happy if this wins. I also recently read Highsmith’s THE PRICE OF SALT and appreciated CAROL even more. THE MARTIAN is one of those movies that feels like it was literally shaken out of the pages of the source material. And ROOM... just wow... great book and arguably an even greater movie. This is a really tough one. And the Oscar goes to... THE BIG SHORT. FUCK. This is a worst-case scenario because it implies that this movie could have a big night. It is kind of surreal, too, that Adam McKay (ANCHORMAN, STEP BROTHERS, etc.) has an Oscar now.

8:57 – Oh boy, here’s a sketch about how difficult it is for black people to get roles in movies. Whoopi Goldberg in JOY! And Leslie Jones as the bear in THE REVENANT! Tracy Morgan: “I’M THE DANISH GIRL! THESE DANISHES ARE GOOD, GIRL!” Chris Rock in THE MARTIAN. That was pretty good. I don’t know what this Stacey Dash thing was all about. Was that her? Who is she? Anyway, Sarah Silverman is here now and saying whatever comes to her mind. “Here’s something: James Bond, not a grower OR a shower.” Oh, she’s introducing Sam Smith’s performance of this year’s crappy Bond theme. It’s seriously terrible. Worst of the nominated songs by far, and maybe the worst James Bond theme ever? I don’t know. But it’s bad.

9:06 – Hehe, Chris Rock’s favorite song is “Father Figure.” And here’s Henry Cavill and Kerry Washington to present a clip from THE MARTIAN. Such a great movie (and for the record, it IS more of a “comedy” than a “drama,” for anyone out there making Golden Globe jokes). They’re also presenting a clip from THE BIG SHORT, which is probably my least favorite of the Best Picture noms.

9:09 – Was that “The Time of My Life” from DIRTY DANCING playing as JK Simmons takes the stage? Weird. He’s presenting Best Supporting Actress, which is a tough one. Jennifer Jason Leigh is fantastic in THE HATEFUL EIGHT. Rooney Mara is wonderful in CAROL and could easily win. Oh, I almost forgot about Rachel McAdams -- she could steal one here in the event of a SPOTLIGHT sweep. Alicia Vikander is the favorite here, but as previously mentioned, it should’ve been for a different film. And now Kate! Kate Kate Kate Kate! Go Kate! Kate is the best, and easily the best part of STEVE JOBS. I hope she wins. And the Oscar goes to... ALICIA VIKANDER. No surprise there, and she does deserve the recognition for her body of work in 2015. Very heartfelt speech, though she is looking a bit too bronze (or dare I say, Oscar gold?) for my taste.

9:18 – They were definitely playing “The Power of Love” when they came back from commercial. And now here’s Cate Blanchett, who looks amazing in that feathery blue dress. She presenting the award for Costume Design, which I think has to go to CINDERELLA, which was such a beautiful film. THE DANISH GIRL was also well-dressed, and CAROL even more so. Fuck THE REVENANT, and MAD MAX, meh… and the Oscar goes to MAD MAX: FURY ROAD!?! Holy shit! Could THIS be a sign of a Mad Max steamroll? “What another lovely day!” the costume lady says. Heh. And she gets played off while making a political statement -- maybe say the important stuff at the beginning, people!

9:22 – Tina Fey and Steve Carell! They’re making jokes and “Tina has been drinking!” Hey, me too. Production Design time. BRIDGE OF SPIES and THE DANISH GIRL looked good, sure. THE MARTIAN basically recreated Mars and looked incredible in 3-D (not sure if that counts for anything). THE REVENANT, sure. MAD MAX may be the favorite here now? And the Oscar goes to.. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. Oh boy, here we go! I actually got this one right, too!

9:25 – Margot Robbie and Jared Leto are just walking around somewhere and making dirty jokes. Makeup and Hairstyling… well, I think it’s pretty clear that Mad Max is sweeping these technicals. THE 100-YEAR-OLD MAN is a fun movie but the old man makeup in BAD GRANDPA was actually better. THE REVENANT, meh, and the Oscar goes to MAD MAX: FURY ROAD once again! Yup, it’s just going to clean up in this categories. I do like that score, though, so this is not so bad.

9:29 – Benicio del Toro and Jennifer Garner are here to introduce more Best Picture nominees. THE REVENANT is a good movie, albeit a bit of slog. But as mentioned earlier, it is, in itself, kind of a metaphor for Leo’s long, painful quest to win an Oscar. And now MAD MAX... can’t really see it winning anything outside of the tech awards, but then again, you never know!

9:35 – After introducing the real Suge Knight, Chris Rock introduces Oscar nominee Rachel McAdams, and shoulda-been nominee Michael B. Jordan (that is true!). They’re presenting Cinematography. THE HATEFUL EIGHT did look good in glorious 70mm. CAROL looked like a dream. SICARIO was shot by the great Roger Deakins, who has never won. MAD MAX is crazy, and THE REVENANT is sweepingly beautiful. And the Oscar goes to EMMANUEL LUBEZKI for THE REVENANT! It’s his third win in a row, so it almost seems unfair. No denying that he’s one of the best, though I wonder what it will take for Deakins to win, dammit!

9:39 – Liev Schreiber is here with a Bollywood star whose name I do not know (but man she’s pretty). They’re presenting Film Editing. THE BIG SHORT, nah. SPOTLIGHT, yes -- this movie is taut as hell and contains zero percent body fat. THE REVENANT could’ve been edited by a further 20 minutes or so. STAR WARS, yes! MAD MAX, okay. And the Oscar goes to MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. Holy shit! This movie is going to sweep this thing RETURN OF THE KING-style, isn’t it? Color me surprised!

9:42 – Angela Bassett introduces a Black History Month Minute dedicated to JACK BLACK! Heh. That’s funny but I’m still reeling from what is looking like a likely MAD MAX sweep tonight.

9:47 – Sound Editing is next. Heh, the clips are using isolated sound effects and it’s weird. Of course, I’m rooting for THE FORCE AWAKENS here, if for no other reason than that BB-8’s warbles are already iconic And the Oscar goes to MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, which is to be expected at this point. I think these Australian sound guys just got bleeped, which is a first for tonight’s show. Sound Mixing next, which of course SHOULD go to STAR WARS but will probably go to you-know-who. And the Oscar goes to MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. This is getting crazy! Now the question is whether it can keep the momentum going as we move into the big awards.

9:54 – Nice montage of Andy Serkis’ motion capture performances, and now here’s Serkis himself to present the award for Visual Effects! For fuck’s sake, throw STAR WARS a bone, people! EX MACHINA is great. THE REVENANT is the most “meh” of these nominees. THE MARTIAN is great, but now I guess MAD MAX has to be the favorite here? And the Oscar goes to... EX MACHINA!!! How about that!!! I had STAR WARS on my ballot but I cannot argue with this -- first really big surprise of the night! Plus I believe it’s the lowest-budget film of all the nominees in this category, which makes it even sweeter.

9:58 – Jason Segel and Olivia Munn present the geeky technical awards, and I’m pretty sure Olivia just made a TERMINATOR joke. Some cool technology on display here. Go geeks!

9:59 – Aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh, Artoo, Threepio and BB-8 are on stage and Jacob Tremblay is loving it!! They talk about John Williams and it’s all hilarious. Also, I should point out that these droids are practical visual effects that were so good, they were able to come to the Oscars, dammit (I’m not bitter though). They keep plugging Minions, by the way, and I’m not sure why -- isn’t ABC owned by Disney? I’m more excited for the Woody & Buzz 20th anniversary tribute that they just mentioned.

10:05 – Uh-oh, Chris Rock is in the audience… no good can come from this. Hehe, his daughters are selling Girl Scout cookies and this is pretty funny. “Leo, you made $30 million, come on!” White people are holding up cash all over the auditorium! Hilarious. Oh, and here are the Minions to present Best Animated Short! The Minions shit is tiresome, but you know this is a tough category when the Pixar entry is the least of the bunch. BEAR STORY has everything going for it. PROLOGUE is very good. Pixar’s SANJAY SUPER TEAM is cute. WE CAN’T LOVE WITHOUT COSMOS is good but man, WORLD OF TOMORROW is a work of mad genius. And the Oscar goes to BEAR STORY. Dammit! WORLD OF TOMORROW was seriously robbed here. But really, it was probably too brilliant for the Academy to wrap its head around. Oh well. At least BEAR STORY is Chile’s first Oscar, so we can be happy about that (and it IS a good little thing).

10:10 – Woody and Buzz are here and I’m instantly verklempt. Can’t believe TOY STORY is now over 20 years old. Oh shit, they’re presenting Best Animated Feature. Lots of good stuff here. ANOMALISA, BOY AND THE WORLD, WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE, SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE and of course, INSIDE OUT… and the Oscar goes to INSIDE OUT!!! not only is it the best animated movie of the year, but it’s one of the top five best Pixar movies of all time, which means it’s one of the best movies of all time, period. Awesome.

10:14 – Kevin Hart is talking really fast and I can’t keep up. He thought he was gonna get a seat in the front row because of all the black stuff going on but he still didn’t! Ha. He’s introducing The Weeknd, who is performing the song from FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. Yes. FIFTY SHADES OF GREY is an Oscar-nominated film. This song isn’t terrible but it won’t win.

10:22 – KATE WINSLET WEARING GLASSES and Reese Witherspoon are here to present more Best Picture noms. Something something BRIDGE OF SPIES and something something SPOTLIGHT and did I mention that Kate Winslet is wearing glasses??! I surrender!!

10:24 – Chris Rock went to his favorite movie theatre in Compton to discuss the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. “Did you think about rioting and looting?” “Nah, we did that already and I didn’t get anything the first time.” Chris is trying to convince black people that these white movies are, in fact, real movies and no one believes him! Heh. This sketch is funny because it’s true.

10:28 – Patricia Arquette comes out to the tune of “The Way We Were” and I think she’s going to present Best Supporting Actor. It’s Sly’s time! Gonna fly now! Eye of the tiger! GO ROCKY! Christian Bale is good, too, but I still do not care for THE BIG SHORT. Tom Hardy is the man and steals scenes in most movies he is in, THE REVENANT included. Mark Ruffalo always kicks ass and it would not be a bad thing to see him win. Mark Rylance was great in BRIDGE OF SPIES, too. But no… STALLONE has to win. So good. And the Oscar goes to… MARK RYLANCE for BRIDGE OF SPIES?! Holy shit!! Massive upset. I don’t know what to think about anything anymore!

10:37 – Still stunned about Sly’s loss but now here’s Louis CK to present Documentary Short Subject, the only Oscar that actually means something! Hahaha! “This Oscar is going home in a Honda Civic!” “This Oscar is going to be the nicest thing they’ve ever owned in their life! It’s going to give them anxiety to keep it in their crappy apartment!” Hahahahahahahah he should host next year. Oh wait, stop laughing, all of these films are bleak as hell. I’m rooting for CHAU, BEYOND THE LINES, about a kid who was disfigured by Agent Orange. And the Oscar goes to MAD MAX, haha, no… it’s THE GIRL IN THE RIVER, which is actually what I expected to win. Should’ve gone with my gut, which is actually smarter than both my heart and my brains. Oh well. These Doc Shorts are all worth watching, by the way.

10:41 – Daisy Ridley!!!! and the Slumdog Millionaire dude are here to present Best Documentary Feature. AMY is good and has a good chance to win. But man, THE LOOK OF SILENCE is freaking incredible (as was THE ACT OF KILLING before it). Don’t count out WHAT HAPPENED, MISS SIMONE, though. And the Oscar goes to AMY! Okay! Here’s a fun fact: I saw that movie the day after I got hammered off seven vodka shots at my birthday party. Awkward.

10:49 – Wow, Chris Rock’s daughters sold $65,243 worth of Girl Scout cookies! Mostly Samoas, I’ll bet. And now here’s Whoopi Goldberg to talk about governor’s awards. Gena Rowlands won an Honorary Award, and Debbie Reynolds won the Humanitarian Award, and Spike Lee won another Honorary Award. Well, all right!

10:52 – The President of the Academy comes out to “I Will Always Love You” and I bet she’s going to talk about the Academy’s new diversity initiatives. Yup, she is. I can’t follow all of this because of the gin I’ve been drinking, but go Academy!

10:55 – Oh shit, Louis Gossett Jr. is introducing the In Memoriam segment, and like three assholes in the crowd applaud. Dave Grohl is playing “Blackbird” (why couldn’t they have gotten Paul?) and Wes Craven kicks it off. Ugh. Christopher Lee… fucking hell. This is really going to rough, isn’t it? Maureen O’Hara. Omar Sharif. ALAN RICKMAN and I’m crying. “I’M MOE GREEN. I MADE MY BONES WHILE YOU WERE GOING OUT WITH CHEERLEADERS.” Aw, James Horner. David Bowie. The writer of MONSTERS INC. died?! Fuck. Leonard Nimoy, live long and prosper, and we’re done. Sadness. Okay, who was left out??

11:02 – Update: THEY LEFT OUT ABE VIGODA. FUCKING HELL.

11:03 – Jacob Tremblay and the kid from BEASTS OF NO NATION are here to present Best Live Action Short film and it’s funny. I really like STUTTERER in this category because it is brilliant on several levels, but they’re all pretty good. EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY gave me legit anxiety, it is so intense. And the Oscar goes to STUTTERER! Huzzah! It’s so good. Interestingly, Kristin and I both interpreted it in two very different ways, both of which make complete sense -- that’s a sign of its brilliance.

11:06 – Sofia Vergara and Byung-hun Lee are now presenting Best Foreign Language Film. EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT is a wild fever dream. MUSTANG is a wonderful coming of age tale. SON OF SAUL is a brutal Holocaust drama and will surely win. THEEB and A WAR are also great in their own rights, but the Oscar goes to SON OF SAUL and rightly so. Hey, I’ve gotten two in a row right!

11:10 – VP Joe Biden is here to speak up against sexual assault and present Lady Gaga’s performance of “’Til It Happens to You” from THE HUNTING GROUND. Great song and a powerful film. There’s no way that this song won’t win and this performance is tremendous and now a legion of rape  survivors are taking the stage. Potent stuff.

11:20 – Best Original Score is next! BRIDGE OF SPIES, okay. Carter Burwell’s CAROL score makes me swooooooooon. Johan Johansson has being doing lots of great work recently and SICARIO is no exception. The legendary Morricone may be the favorite here and his HATEFUL EIGHT score is ominous as hell. But come the fuck on!!! JOHN WILLIAMS DAMMIT!!! STAR WARS!! REY’S THEME!! And the Oscar goes to ENNIO MORRICONE, who gets a hug from John Williams. Okay, okay… this is Morricone’s first-ever Oscar (aside from his honorary award a few years ago) so I can’t be TOO mad. But fucking hell, John Williams has written the soundtrack for all of our lives and someday he’s not going to be around anymore and we’re going to regret not giving him one more moment of glory!!! I guess we’ll see what happens with Episode VIII.

11:25 – Best Original Song next. Kinda f’d up that “Manta Ray” and “Simple Song #3” didn’t get a chance to show their stuff live at the big show, no? I guess because they aren’t performed by famous people. This has to be Gaga, especially after that live performance… and the Oscar goes to… SAM SMITH FOR THE BULLSHIT SONG FROM SPECTRE?!? Holy shit, what an awful, awful joke. Really disappointing.

11:29 – Olivia Wilde’s boobs and Ali G are in da house, and I don’t even care anymore after watching Gaga get so badly robbed. Oh, they’re introducing Best Picture nominees ROOM and BROOKLYN, which are my two favs of the bunch. BROOKLYN has never even been part of the conversation, which is a shame, but there’s still a chance for ROOM. GO ROOM!

11:35 – Hey, it’s J.J. Abrams to present Best Director! This could be where we see what direction the rest of the night will be headed. I’d love to see Tom McCarthy win for SPOTLIGHT, which was just an expertly crafted film, but Lenny Abrahamson for ROOM would be sweet, too. Iñarritu may need to win here in order for the THE REVENANT to gain back some momentum, but how about George Miller? And the Oscar goes to IÑARRITU for the second year in a row! Uh-oh! Looks like Mad Max’s run may be over. Heh, and Iñarritu is the first to really pay no attention to the play-off music. GET OFF THE STAGE.

11:44 – Best Actress next, presented ever so charmingly by Eddie Redmayne. Very, very strong group of contenders here. Cate Blanchett is the greatest of all time and you can’t count her out. This is probably Brie Larson’s award to lose -- holy shit, she was good. Jennifer Lawrence is probably going to get nominated every year just because, though it’s weird that I haven’t seen her once yet tonight? Whoa, there she is -- I didn’t even recognize her! Gotta give due respect to Charlotte Rampling, who is great in everything she does -- I believe this is her first Oscar nod. And Saoirse… God, so good and perfect. And the Oscar goes to BRIE LARSON!! Brie is the best cheese and now she’s the Best Actress! She is the realest and so good. She also could’ve easily been nominated for a movie called SHORT TERM 12 a few years ago. And she shouts out to Jacob Tremblay and yay! This is a legit happy moment in a show that has mostly been meh.

11:52 – One of our greatest national treasures, Julianne Moore, is here to present Best Actor! Oh shit! Our national nightmare could finally be over if Leo can pull this off! Bryan Cranston was very good in TRUMBO. (Wait, you can’t say “goddamn” at 11:53 p.m. at the Oscars?) Matt Damon was perfectly cast in THE MARTIAN -- if you read the book, I’m sure you’ll agree. LEO! Enough said -- best part (and indeed the only truly award-worthy part) of THE REVENANT. Oh yeah, I almost forgot about Fassbender and STEVE JOBS. Very good but forgettable. Eddie Redmayne, always good, but no way he’s winning two years in a row. And the Oscar goes to LEONARDO DiCAPRIO!!! FINALLY! HE’S THE KING OF THE WORLD, WOOOOOOO! Oh shit, Leo’s going off about climate change and Kate is crying in the crowd and they wouldn’t dare cut him off! “Let’s not take this planet for granted -- I do not take this night for granted!” Great speech. Go Leo!!!

11:58 – It is super late and Morgan Freeman is here to quickly name the Best Picture nominees! GO ROOM! GO BROOKLYN! Nooooo to THE BIG SHORT, but I think it’s gonna come down to REVENANT vs. MAD MAX… and the Oscar goes to SPOTLIGHT!!! YES!!! I was rooting for ROOM but I really wanted SPOTLIGHT to beat THE REVENANT! Huzzah! Such a great, taut, brilliant and important movie. This is a well-deserved win that almost makes me wish I hadn’t squandered my NYU Journalism degree (almost). And now Michael Keaton is chowing down on Girl Scout cookies and that’s a wrap! FIGHT THE POWER!


Well, that was a weird show. There were some awesome moments (Leo! Brie! INSIDE OUT!) and at least one truly shocking moment (Sam Smith?!) and then a bunch of “meh” moments, ranging from FURY ROAD cleaning up the tech awards (I mean, I like the movie a lot, but nothing for STAR WARS, booo!) to Iñarritu boringly taking home a second straight directing award. I’m happy that SPOTLIGHT won Best Picture because it is a great film -- but I think I’m even happier that THE REVENANT or THE BIG SHORT didn’t win. Really wish John Williams would’ve won because I’m afraid that was his best chance to ever win again. Chris Rock was funny and did not shy away from the controversy. Kinda kateglassesdisappointed by the lack of cheesy montages! Also, what the fuck was with leaving Abe Vigoda out of the In Memoriam segment?! (Maybe the Academy thought his death was a hoax after all.) All in all, a good-but-not-great Oscar show. And even though it may no longer be PC, my loveliest ladies of the night were probably Saoirse Ronan, Olivia Wilde, Cate Blanchett, Alicia Vikander, KATE WINSLET WEARING GLASSES, and ummm I forget who else. I only got 7 categories right on my ballot, which is pretty bad -- as always, I vote with my heart and my heart has shit for brains! (Meanwhile, Kristin got 13 right. Go Kristin!) If you made it through this nearly 6,000 word commentary (or indeed, any of my epic commentaries over the past 11 years), I salute you and love you dearly. Next year, I’ll be kicking back and relaxing and watching the show like the rest of you… unless of course I decide to pull a Brett Favre and unretire at the last minute!! (Nah… but I WILL surely continue live-tweeting, so don’t worry, my musings will still be out there in the world.) And now, we can put the cinematic year of 2015 in the books for good. Goodnight everybody! Go Leo!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Ben’s Top 10 Movies of 2015 + Year in Review

back-to-the-future-time-circuit-board

Happy New Year, gang! Yep, 2015 has come and gone, and even though we still don’t have proper hoverboards like we were promised, it was a damn good year. For one thing, 2015 marked the rare alignment of my three greatest obsessions: I went to Disney World with my family for the first time in 22 years! I watched the New York Mets battle their way into the World Series for the first time in 15 years! And then, of course, we made a triumphant return to a galaxy far, far away. Doesn’t get much better than that! But as it happens, 2015 was also an exceptional year for movies in general, loaded with scintillating sci-fi, massively entertaining blockbusters, deeply moving dramas, and much more. (Oh, and did I mention STAR WARS?!?) I went to the movies 161 times in 2015, which marks a fairly steep decline from my 2014 total of 190 (not to speak of my record-setting total of 209 in 2013). What can I tell ya -- I was busy! Or maybe I've long since peaked and am now entering my slow descent into oblivion. Either way, the overall quality of 2015 was top notch and my Top 10 list is a doozy -- maybe the finest all-around list that I've put together since I’ve started putting together such lists over a decade ago. Let's get right into it, shall we?

mad_max_fury_road_ver7_xlg10.  MAD MAX: FURY ROAD -- There were several titles vying for this spot, but in the end I went with the one that I think will be the most rewatchable. I like the original Mad Max films but have never been a huge worshiper at the altar of George Miller (though HAPPY FEET did sneak into my Top 10 a decade ago... go figure). However, in his return to the Wasteland, he takes his post-apocalyptic world-building skills to new heights. This film is a relentless chase flick that plays like a wild fever dream, filled with crazy visuals, insane set pieces and mind-boggling effects mixed with fully-realized characters and quotable dialogue (“What a lovely day!”). The fact that Max (Tom Hardy, easily stepping into Mel Gibson’s shoes) is sort of supporting character in his own movie is kind of wild in its own right -- but indeed, this story belongs to Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, an instantly-iconic warrior that raises the bar of female badassery and transforms the film into an action classic as well as a timely feminist exclamation point.

martian_xlg9. THE MARTIAN -- 2015 was a great year for sci-fi and this one may be the most purely fun and entertaining of the bunch. The story is simple: During a NASA mission gone wrong, Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) gets stranded on Mars with no communcation, a dwindling food supply, and little hope of surivival -- but thanks to his ceaseless optimism and ingenuity, he embarks on a wild plan to “science the shit” out of his situation and get back to Earth. The material feels tailor-made for both Damon and Ridley Scott, both of whom absolutely nail it. For Scott, especially, it’s his first great movie in a while following a string of stinkers, which makes me very happy. Everything from the visuals (actually worth seeing in 3D!) to the supporting cast (Jessica Chastain!) are top notch. It’s a thrilling, inspiring (please oh please, let us put a man on Mars in my lifetime), funny-as-hell sci-fi extravaganza and I loved every second of it.

spotlight_xlg8. SPOTLIGHT -- Simply put, this movie about the Boston Globe team that broke the story of the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal in the early ‘00s should go down as one of the all-time great journalism procedurals. Unobtrusively yet expertly crafted by Tom McCarthy, it is an intricately detailed, deeply engrossing (but never exploitative) story of teamwork, truth, and morality. The ensemble cast is outstanding, with Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams & Co. all working at the very tops of their games. The film moves briskly and maintains a very high level of tension even if you know how it plays out. It would not be a stretch to say that this is the best and most powerful love letter to straight-up, hardcore, old-school investigative journalism since ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN. (It almost makes me wish I’d remained in the field after graduating from NYU with a journalism degree… ah, hell, I lost my train of thought.)

room_xlg7. ROOM -- This heartrending film by Lenny Abramson features one of the year’s best performances from an actress who is quickly becoming one of the best on the planet. Everything Brie Larson does seems so effortless and natural -- regardless of whether she’s making us laugh or cry -- it’s impossible to not get caught up in her performances. In ROOM, she plays Joy, a woman who is being held prisoner in a small room along with her young son, who has spent his entire life in that room and knows nothing of the outside world. While enduring endless abuse from her captor, she must raise and educate her son while attempting to shield him from the evil that surrounds them and trying to figure out a way to escape. The chemistry between Joy and her son (Jacob Tremblay, a revelation) is remarkable and provides the foundation for a truly harrowing, spiritual, and deeply emotional movie-watching experience.

carol_xlg6. CAROL -- Anchored by two towering performances from Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara and impeccably directed by Todd Haynes, this is a film of unparalleled beauty and nuance. The story of two women who fall in love in New York in the 1950s, the film features impeccable attention to period detail, lush cinematography, and a dreamlike score, all of which put you smack dab in the midst of their forbidden romance. Indeed, dialogue is sparse by design -- after all, this is a romance that cannot be outwardly expressed -- as such, you feel every ache of desire, every subtle glance, gesture, touch and pang of heartbreak. Blanchett never ceases to amaze -- her screen presence is unmatched -- but Mara more than holds her own. Exquisite, elegant, evocative, quietly melodramatic (if that makes sense), nostalgic and bittersweet, I can’t remember the last time a movie has made me swoon so hard.

anomalisa_ver2_xlg5. ANOMALISA -- The latest existential triumph from Charlie Kaufman, a man who has his finger on the pulse of humanity’s neuroses like no other, is a brilliantly surreal yet achingly familiar exploration of loneliness and what it means to be human. And it is portrayed entirely with stop-motion puppets. It’s a simple story of a broken individual named Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) who checks into a hotel the night before he is supposed to speak at a customer service conference. Every character Michael encounters -- from the hotel desk clerk to his ex-girlfriend that he awkwardly meets for a drink at the hotel bar -- is voiced by the actor Tom Noonan, representing the banality of the world that surrounds him. But when he meets Lisa, an equally depressed soul who happens to have the voice of Jennifer Jason Leigh, they form an instant bond. From there... well, things get weird. Kaufman’s screenplay is at once soul-crushing, honest, hilarious, intellectually stimularing and downright bizarre. The puppet animation is mildly creepy yet weirdly expressive, creating a fully-realized and immersive world. It really must be seen to be believed. Charlie Kaufman is a goddamn genius and I really hope we don’t have to wait another seven years for his next project.

ex_machina_xlg4. EX MACHINA -- This certainly isn’t the first movie about the perils of artificial intelligence and it won’t be the last, but it is definitely one of the best. It sort plays like a twisted sci-fi Willy Wonka at first: A lonely computer programmer named Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a contest (or a Golden Ticket, if you will) to meet with his reclusive-billionaire-genius boss Nathan (Oscar Isaac, sporting an epic beard), who is on the verge of creating the world’s most advanced artificially intelligent humanoid, which he has named Ava. It is Caleb’s job to perform a Turing Test to determine if Ava (perfectly and unsettlingly portrayed by the lovely Alicia Vikander) passes muster. Suffice to say that she does -- and what follows is a legitimately frightening, darkly funny, eerily erotic mystery/thriller. Writer/director Alex Garland (who also wrote 28 DAYS LATER and SUNSHINE) weaves a taut, heady tale with unforgettable imagery that sticks with you long after the credits roll, and asserts himself as a sci-fi force to be reckoned with.

brooklyn3. BROOKLYN -- Directed by John Crowley, based on the book by Colm Toibin with a screenplay by Nick Hornby, this is a wonderful, wistful and wise film about life, love and the pursuit of happiness. It’s the story of an Irish lass named Eilis (portrayed with Oscar-caliber grace by the lovely & talented Saoirse Ronan) who leaves her provincial life and emigrates to Brooklyn in the 1950s. Once there, she transforms from a scared and lonely soul to a cool and confident young woman, goes to school, meets a new beau, and attempts to forge a new life for herself. The film is filled with charm and whimsy, vibrant prodution design, tremedous performances and snappy dialogue. It taps into the full spectrum of emotions with utmost sincerity as it questions what it means to feel “at home.” Ronan was a great child actress (see: ATONEMENT and HANNA, among others) but she takes her game to a whole new level and gives us one of the most remarkably expressive performances of the year. BROOKLYN is classic filmmaking at its finest and an absolute joy to behold.

star_wars_episode_vii__the_force_awakens_ver3_xlg2. STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS -- What is there to say about this movie that hasn’t already been said? I never thought we’d see the continuation of the Star Wars saga, but amazingly, Disney, J.J. Abrams & Co. took the reigns and absolutely knocked this latest installment out of the park. It fires on all cylinders, perfectly capturing the look and feel of the original trilogy and tapping deeply into our sense of nostalgia. (Indeed, while Abrams may not be the most original filmmaking mind on the planet, he IS a master at paying homage to his heroes.) It adds surprising new depth to our favorite heroes, and perhaps most importantly, introduces awesome and instantly-iconic new characters who are wonderfully realized by fantastic actors (Daisy Ridley, we will be watching your career with great interest). A few geeky nitpicks aside, there isn’t a moment in this movie that I don’t love unabashedly. I’ve seen it five times on the big screen so far and it has made me exult and cry and get goosebumps and smile gigantic goofy smiles every time. After a lifetime of devouring the original trilogy, special editions, prequels, soundtracks, radio dramas, Expanded Universe novels, animated series and more, this may be the most exciting time to be a Star Wars fan because for the first time, we literally have NO IDEA what’s coming next! And I, for one, can’t wait to find out. Only 503 days ‘til Episode VIII....

...and finally....

inside_out_xlg1. INSIDE OUT -- Yeah, that’s right, even in the Year of Star Wars, there is none higher than Pixar when they are on top of their game. And that is most certainly the case with this work of staggering genius that ranks among their most ambitious and very best. It’s the story of a young girl named Riley and the emotions that live inside her head. Things seem great for the first 11 years or so -- but when Riley’s family moves to a strange new city (San Francisco!), it throws all of her emotions into disarray and sends Joy and Sadness (voiced to perfection by Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith, respectively) on a wild journey through the deepest recesses of her mind. Directed by Pete Docter, one of the greatest minds in the Pixar brain trust, the film is a veritable smorgasbord of wonder and imagination and belly laughs and vibrant visuals that will take many viewings to fully absorb. But then it turns around and knocks you for an emotional wallop (it made me cry no fewer than three times) and offers a powerful thesis about the human condition -- namely, that Sadness is a necessary part of life and often goes hand-in-hand with Joy. I’m getting choked up right now just thinking about the cathartic final act. And the collapse of Goofball Island. And the selflessness of a character named Bing Bong. There are few things more satisfying than a true Pixar masterpiece and this is one of the best of the bunch -- and the best movie of 2015.

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Other Noteworthy Titles (in alphabetical order):

45 Years. Ant-Man. Appropriate Behavior. Bridge of Spies. Cinderella. Creed. Crimson Peak. The Danish Girl. The Diary of a Teenage Girl. Dope. The Duke of Burgundy. The End of the Tour. The Gift. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief. The Good Dinosaur. Goodnight Mommy. Grandma. The Hateful Eight (70mm Roadshow). I Am Chris Farley. It Follows. Jupiter Ascending. Jurassic World. Kingsman: Secret Service. Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck. Love & Mercy. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. Mistress America. Mr. Holmes. The Night Before. The Overnight. The Peanuts Movie. Phoenix. Presdestination. Sicario. Sisters. Slow West. Son of Saul. Spy. Straight Outta Compton. Suffragette. Tomorrowland. Trainwreck. Trumbo. When Marnie Was There. While We're Young. The Wolfpack.

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And now... the Bottom 10:

rock-the-kasbah10. ROCK THE KASBAH -- This film about a washed-up rock manager who travels to Afghanistan for reasons I don’t even remember is a painfully misguided mess in pretty much every way, but the fact that it is such an unfortunate waste of Bill Murray's presence is what really seals the deal.
9. THE DIVERGENT SERIES: INSURGENT -- This movie is bad, but I didn’t intend to include it in the Bottom 10 until I watched the trailer for the next installment (RESURGENT? DETERGENT? I don’t even know) and realized that I couldn’t remember a goddamn thing about this one. These wannabe-HUNGER GAMES dystopias are all starting to blend together and I’m starting to hate them.
8. HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2 -- No Cusack, no nostalgia, too much rehash, no real laughs... this needless sequel sux cox n dix as it utterly fails to recapture lightning in a bottle. Not terribly surprising, but still disappointing because I love the first one a lot.
7. VACATION -- Another stupid, unecessary sequel/reboot/whatever of an ‘80s classic that brings absolutely nothing new or interesting or funny to the table. Stop the madness! And please give Christina Applegate something better to do.
6. THE GALLOWS -- A horror movie that is so utterly forgettable that I simply couldn’t forget about it when compiling this list. Truth be told, I barely remember the movie at all... but its existence annoys me and I’m including it on this list out of spite.
5. SEVENTH SON -- Great actors are allowed to slum it from time to time, but man, what the heck were Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore thinking when they signed onto this lifeless mess? That said, it is way more interesting if you think of it as a BIG LEBOWSKI dream sequence....
4. TAKEN 3 -- For fuck’s sake, will people please stop taking Liam Neeson’s shit?? It is not going to end well. You’d think that watching Neeson unleash his particular set of skills would continue to offer a particular set of thrills... but no. (In fact, the pun I just made is better than the movie itself, and that’s pretty bad.)
3. PIXELS -- At this point, an Adam Sandler movie in the Bottom 10 is pretty much a given. This one had potential due to the nostalgia factor, but in actuality it is shockingly dull with an awful script and far too few laughs. A huge waste of good idea and further evidence of Sandler’s sad fall from grace.
2. MORTDECAI -- Ugh, why, Johnny Depp, why? This film is a wretched misfire on every level and such a horribly gratuitous vanity project (Depp so desperately wants it to be his PINK PANTHER that you kinda have to feel sorry for him) that for a while, it made me question whether he has EVER been good or if his entire career has been smoke poltergeist_ver2_xlgand mirrors. Fortunately, he rebounded somewhat with his performance in BLACK MASS later in the year... but that does not excuse this awful, miserable, unfunny dreck.
1. POLTERGEIST (2015) -- In the long, sad history of unnecessary remakes, this may be the most egregious and misguided of them all -- a terrible rehash that completely loses sight of what makes the original great and fails on every level. It angers, saddens, offends, and depresses me to think that some millenials probably prefer this to the original (which is arguably my favorite horror movie of all time). Further evidence that we, as a society, are failing miserably. Now let us never speak of this abomination again....

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And now...
THE YEAR IN REVIEW!

saul_fia_ver2_xlgA Few Titles That Just Missed the Top 10: As mentioned, there were several titles vying for the last spot in the Top 10, but sadly, not all of them could make the cut. First off, there’s SON OF SAUL, an intensely visceral tale about life and death in Auschwitz that you don't watch so much as feel in your gut. Filled with devastating imagery and a hellish soundscape, it is as a horrifying as it is riveting. CREED is unquestionably the best Rocky movie since the original -- a monumental, exultant triumph featuring a starmaking performance by Michael B. Jordan as well as Stallone’s best work in years. THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL is powerful, original, hilarious and honest -- arguably one of the best coming-of-age films ever made. In a perfect world, Bel Powley would get some Oscar love for her performance. SICARIO is an expertly-crafted film on every level: Denis Villeneuve is a master of tension and Emily Blunt, James Brolin and Benicio del Toro are all at their best. Plus it features masterful cinematography by Roger Deakins and a potent score by Jóhann Jóhannsson -- it's a perfect storm of greatness. Lastly, there’s PHOENIX, a post-WWII melodrama that hung onto my Top 10 for a while -- it features amazing slow-boiling intrigue and atmosphere and one of the most spellbinding endings of the year.

jurassic_world_ver2_xlgGuilty Pleasures: For a movie that was one of the biggest box offices blockbusters of all time, there sure are a lot of JURASSIC WORLD haters out there -- but screw those people, because I love it. It is fun as hell and the return of the old-school T-Rex is one of the great exultant moments in any movie of 2015. (Granted, I’m biased -- give me dinosaurs on the big screen and my inner-ten-year-old is pretty much guaranteed to enjoy it.) I was also one of the few who really liked TOMORROWLAND -- it is not perfect but I’ll take a hundred ambitious sci-fi ventures from Brad Bird over 90% of everything else out there (heck, I even bought a Tomorrowland pin for my hat when I went to Disney World!). Guillermo del Toro’s gothic romance, CRIMSON PEAK, is another movie that I expect to revisit again and often -- it a master class of atmosphere and production design surrounding a creepy, ethereal, well-acted little melodrama (plus: Jessica Chastain!).

cinderella_ver2_xlgPleasant Surprises: One of the earliest and most pleasant surprises of the year was the live-action CINDERELLA. I was skeptical, since the original is my favorite classic Disney Princess film, but the remake is vibrant, sincere, surprisingly empowering and stays true to the original -- no LOTR-style battles or attempts to de-mystify villain for a change. Lily James is a perfect Disney princess and Cate Blanchett is wonderfully evil. Easily the first truly great live-action Disney remake. Speaking of staying true to the source material, THE PEANUTS MOVIE is perfect in every way that a Peanuts movie should be. I was one of the few who did not like DJANGO UNCHAINED at all -- I found it to be a bunch of bloated, self-indulgent Quentin Tarantino nonsense -- but THE HATEFUL EIGHT is a nice return to form. As great as Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are together, their last movie (BABY MAMA) was not very good. SISTERS, however, is hilarious and much smarter and more subversive than the trailers make it out to be. I have to admit, I was entertained by TERMINATOR: GENISYS even though all signs pointed to it being a trainwreck; that said, let’s leave well enough alone now. Finally, I have to give credit where credit due: FIFTY SHADES OF GREY is not a good movie, per se, but Sam Taylor-Johnson, Dakota Johnson & Co. actually managed to take the horrendous source material and wring out some semblance of nuance and humor. Kudos!

avengers_age_of_ultron_ver12_xlgDisappointments: Admittedly, I enjoyed AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON in the moment, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized how much of a bloated mess it really is. Plus I think I’m really starting to suffer from superhero fatigue (here’s hoping CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR and BATMAN vs. SUPERMAN breathe new life into the genre). After the greatness of CATCHING FIRE and MOCKINGJAY PART 1, my expectations for THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 2 were high -- however, it cannot not stick the landing and is instead an uneven slog of a finale. SPECTRE isn’t terrible but it does make me realize that I’m suddenly as bored of Daniel Craig as James Bond as he apparently is himself. CHAPPIE is packed with ideas, however most do not work -- it falls somewhere between an interesting mess and a fascinating trainwreck, but either way, it’s a far cry from DISTRICT 9. JOY is a tonal mess and easily my least-favorite David O. Russell/Jennifer Lawrence/Bradley Cooper/Robert de Niro collaboration so far (although J-Law is really good). Finally, THE GOOD DINOSAUR is generally heartfelt and charming but probably Pixar’s most forgettable movie to date, which is almost more damning (although, INSIDE OUT does cast a wide shadow, so I’ll have to revisit it later).

predestination_ver2_xlgUnderrated: Anybody else see a little picture called PREDESTINATION, starring Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook? It’s a fantastic slice of sci-fi, full of heady themes of time, fate and identity. It deserves more love. Haven’t seen nearly enough love for LOVE & MERCY, the Brian Wilson biopic starring John Cusack and Paul Dano -- a complex, off-kilter look at a complex, off-kilter genius. I’ve actually seen a lot of backlash against ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL, which I don’t get -- it’s a well-cast, brilliantly-written and deeply moving testament to friendship & film, death & living. SLOW WEST, a western starring Michael Fassbender, is a good-looking and full of weird characters and wry humor -- it somehow feels familiar yet unique at the same time. Finally, there’s BRIDGE OF SPIES, which seems to have been mostly written off as “slight” Spielberg, but is actually really good and perfectly suited to both Spielberg’s and Hanks’s talents and sensibilities (although I think it just got a bunch of BAFTA nominations, so maybe the tide is turning).

silsOverrated: Truth be told, there weren’t many films in 2015 that were generally loved that I hated. Mostly, I just had a few quibbles here and there. For example, I liked CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA, an absorbing story of aging and identity, but all of this praise for Kristen Stewart’s performance seems a bit much. Yes, she was better than usual, but she still only has, like, one and a half facial expressions. Also, the more I think about STEVE JOBS, the more tiresome I find it to be despite great performances from Fassbender and Kate Winslet. THE BIG SHORT is another one that is pretty good overall, but all of the Oscar buzz is already making me turn against it out of spite -- it is not THAT good. Also, I remember seeing a lot of praise in the Twitterverse from people whose opinions I trust about a movie called MOMMY... but its grating performances, awkward dialogue, annoying aspect ratios and weird soundteack did not work for me at all. Sorry gang!

reybb8Chewie... we’re home: I should talk a little more about STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS and this seems like a good spot. I’m also going to issue a ****SPOILER ALERT**** so if you are one of the three people in the depths of the Amazon rainforest who haven’t yet seen the movie, you might want to jump past this section. Sometimes movies are just movies, but Star Wars is not just a movie. Whether we’re talking about the original trilogy or even the prequels, Star Wars is a way of life, every detail of which gets absorbed into my lifeblood. I’ve now seen THE FORCE AWAKENS five times and I find new things to love every time. I love Max von Sydow and wish that he would appear for a minute and a half in every movie. I love Poe’s buddy-buddy relationship with BB-8. Poe cracking wise with Kylo Ren -- “Who talks first?” Rey’s introduction and her sledding down the sand dune. Rey sitting outside the fallen AT-AT and the small smile that creeps across her lips as she tries on the dusty old X-Wing helmet. BB-8’s squeal of delight when Rey allows him to come home with her. Finn and Poe’s instant bromance -- if Episode VIII involves the two of them adventuring and poestormbantering together, it is going to be awesome. Finn and Rey’s first meeting, which awesomely subverts the “saving the princess” trope upon which the entire Star Wars saga had been built (Rey is so f’ing badass). “The garbage will do!” BB-8’s thumbs up! The triumphant return of Han and Chewie! “Yeah... I knew him. I knew Luke.” (FYI, I’m getting verklempt as I’m writing this.) Kylo Ren’s parentage revealed. Rey’s vision when she picks up Anakin & Luke’s old lightsaber, including the voices of Yoda and Obi-Wan (including new dialogue by Ewan McGregor! Please, Disney, pay him whatever it takes to reprise his role in a spinoff film). Red-armed Threepio! Han and Leia... “Same jacket.” “Naw, new jacket.” Kylo’s attempt to probe Rey’s mind only to find that she is more than a match for him. “You will remove these restraints and leave this cell with the door open.” “THAT’S NOT HOW THE FORCE WORKS!” (Best line in the movie.) “Escape now, hug later.” And then... the catwalk... “BEN!”... Han’s utter confidence in Leia’s belief that there is still good in their son... “I know what I have to do but I don't know if I have the strength to do it. Will you help me?”... and then a flash of red, Chewie’s anguished roar, Han touching his son’s cheek and falling into oblivion. Kylo Ren = irredeemable? (I think so.) Chewie nailing Kylo with the crossbow, which I can’t even fully enjoy because I’m still crying. And another wintry scene. “We’re not done yet!” The unsettling way Kylo pounds his bleeding wound. Finn holding his own. finn-kylorenKylo summoning his grandfather’s saber with the Force -- but it calls to Rey!!! Awesome duel between the battered, petulant darkness and the raw, innate light. Bye-bye, dopey, easily-destroyed superweapon... but at least Han Solo’s final resting space is a star that is presumably visible in the night sky from nearby planets. Rey and Leia’s embrace. Artoo awakens! (I’m really gonna need more Artoo and BB-8 interaction in future films.) The steps of the Jedi temple... John Williams’ swelling score, which, by the way, has been pitch-perfect throughout (Rey’s Theme is one of the best motifs in the entire saga)... a hooded figure stands alone... and he has a badass Jedi beard! Luke and Rey! Ugh, I love this movie so much and can’t wait to see it again. But for now, I’ll stop geekgasming so we can move on....  ****END SPOILERS****

marnieAnimated Goodness: Obviously the conversation here must begin with INSIDE OUT, the best movie of the year, animated or otherwise. Pixar gave us a double-dose this year with THE GOOD DINOSAUR, and while it is slight Pixar, it is still enjoyable. Oh, I almost forgot about FROZEN FEVER, the short fillm that preceded the live-action CINDERELLA! The return of Anna & Elsa & Co. is hilarious and catchy. Meanwhile, MINIONS is funny at times but wears out its welcome pretty fast -- a series of short films (a la Scrat from ICE AGE might have been preferable). On the grown-up side of the spectrum, there’s Charlie Kaufman’s brilliant ANOMALISA and Studio Ghibli’s beautiful WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE. Lastly, PADDINGTON trailers looked godawful but the movie turned out to be one of the best, funniest and most heartfelt live-action/CGI-hybrid family film adaptation of a beloved character in recent memory.

it_follows_ver2_xlgThe horror... the horror: IT FOLLOWS is a great film, dripping with a pervasive sense of dread mixed with suburban ennui, effective chills & subtext. It wears its Carpenter & Craven influences  on its sleeve and it works. GOODNIGHT MOMMY is also atmospheric and deeply unsettling -- it will keep you guessing while creeping you the fuck out. I really liked THE GIFT and its effective, slow-boiling storytelling, believable performances and twists upon twists. Joel Edgerton is the man. Meanwhile, Eli Rothy’s THE GREEN INFERNO is too silly and doesn't push the horror envelope nearly enough. Unpleasant at times, but it's no CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 3: FINAL SEQUENCE is the long-awaited conclusion to the epic trilogy -- it is terrible but does feature a batshit insane performance from Dieter Laser. THE VISIT is neither Shyamalan’s best nor worst -- a bit contrived but there's enough weird humor, effective performances and legit chills to make it work. UNFRIENDED has something to say about society/technology and the storytelling gimmick works -- it’s an effective thriller for its time and place. THE LAZARUS EFFECT is kind of like SPLICE meets LUCY, alebeit not as crazy as that implies -- still, it has an engaging cast (Olivia Wilde is a perfect specimen) and some thrills. MAGGIE is a bleak, thoughtful little zombie film featuring an understated performance by Arnold Schwarzenegger (!). I’ve already discussed THE GALLOWS -- it’s bad. Like its predecessor, THE WOMAN IN BLACK 2 is heavy on atmosphere (the WWII setting adds some thematic depth), but it's just not very scary. KRAMPUS is messy but effective holiday-comedy-horror fare featuring lots of dark humor, legit weird/creepy imagery, and a game cast. Lastly, there’s PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE GHOST DIMENSION, which I thought was supposed to be the final one? But maybe not? I don’t know. Anyway, it’s not bad, and I’m too invested in the series to stop now.

dope_ver2_xlgIndies, Foreign Films & Docs, oh my: All sorts of good stuff here. DOPE is a movie I dug a lot thanks to a powerful message and fantastic performances -- plus it’s hilarious. THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY is a moody, stylish, sensual, romantic, weird and often quite funny slice of art house erotica. KUMIKO THE TREASURE HUNTER is another great slice of weirdness from the Zellner Bros. that will make you think about FARGO in a whole new light. I’m still thinking about the ending to PHOENIX, which absolutely must be seen. WILD CANARIES is kinda fun if you enjoy hate-watching a bunch of insufferable Brooklyn hipsters and their screwball shenanigans. GIRLHOOD (not feher_isten_ver2_xlgto be confused with Linklater’s BOYHOOD) is shrouded in bleakness but offers glimmers of hope -- a powerful coming-of-age tale with a host of fantastic young performances. WHITE GOD is gripping, unsettling, emotional and bizarre fantasy and strong political allegory -- too bad dogs aren’t eligible for Oscar nominations. THE STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT offers an unsettling look at the human condition that will make you cringe and laugh awkwardly. David Cronenberg’s MAPS TO THE STARS is hilarious and filthy, imperfect but unpredictable -- Julianne Moore is brilliant but Mia Wasikowska steals the show. If the excellent APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR does for Desiree Akhavan what TINY FURNITURE did for Lena Dunham, I, for one, will be following her career with great interest. Not sure love_xlg2what (if anything) WELCOME TO ME has to say about mental illness and exhibitionist culture, but it sure is hilarious and weird; one of Kristen Wiig’s better performances. GOOD KILL is a thoughtful, potent look at drone warfare and an even better character study starring Ethan Hawke, who is just on top of his game right now. Gaspar Noe’s LOVE is self-indulgent, angsty and overly melodramatic but also visually & emotionally titillating -- 3D cumshots and all. If GOING CLEAR was a movie about a fictional religious cult, I might think it was a bit too over the top -- but man, Scientology is more fucked up than we thought we knew. THE WOLFPACK is about a group of brothers who are locked away in their Manhattan apartment, sheltered from the outside world, and entertain themselves by reenacting their favorite movies -- it is just as fascinating and bizarre as it sounds. We got a double-dose of Noah Baumbach in 2015 -- MISTRESS AMERICA and WHILE WE’RE YOUNG are both excellent and worthy additions to his filmography. I AM CHRIS FARLEY is a warm and loving celebration of the man and his unmatched comedic genius -- you will Kurt-Cobdian-Montage-of-Heck-movie-posterlaugh and you will cry. I'm sure sleep paralysis is terrifying for those who suffer from it, but THE NIGHTMARE is repetitive, not very informative and generally dull. Ethan Hawke is back again in SEYMOUR: AN INTRODUCTION, in which he waxes philosophical about life, music and everything with the great pianist Seymour Bernstein. KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK is a deep, intimate, stylish, mesmerizing look into the man's life, mind and legacy. Likewise, AMY is an incredible portrait of a talent gone too soon. Finally, while it isn’t an indie nor a foreign film nor a doc, this year in review would be woefully incomplete if I didn’t mention STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON -- granted, I’m no N.W.A. scholar but it is a truly electric, engaging and resonant biopic featuring a host of tremendous performances.

mission_impossible__rogue_nation_xlgAction Movies (Good and Bad): MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION continues the awesomeness of one of the most underrated long-running series -- Tom Cruise may be a lunatic, but when it comes to movies, he's a lunatic in the best way. KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE is a healthy slice of ultra-violent, hyper-stylized, super-entertaining, smart, funny goodness. SAN ANDREAS uses every cliche in the diaster flick handbook, but uses them well -- plus, the Rock is a perfect disaster flick hero, not just because he's badass, but because he plays it earnest like nobody's business. EVEREST is a cold, indifferent environment and the movie feels much the same way -- nice visuals, but fails to pack any real emotional punch (Expedition Everest in Disney’s Animal Kingdom is way better). ANT-MAN follows a familiar origin story template but its breezy humor, cool visuals make it a fun additin to the Marvel Cinematic Universe -- besides, Paul Rudd has always been a superhero to me. RUN ALL NIGHT is generally solid and it pits Liam Neeson against freakin’ Ed Harris! Worth watching for that alone. NO ESCAPE never feels plausible but still ramps up the tension while putting its protagonists through a surprisingly nasty wringer. A few bursts of ultra-violence cannot help THE GUNMAN overcome a convoluted plot that is not nearly as intriguing as Sean Penn thinks it is. Finally, FURIOUS SEVEN is batshit insane and arguably the best of the series, action-wise, providing a slew of dream matchups (Rock-Statham, Diesel-Statham, Rousey-Rodriguez, Walker-Jaa, maybe others) God knows where they’ll go from here -- but I’m kinda praying for a crossover with Michael Bay’s TRANSFORMERS!

trainwreckQuality Comedies: There were some good ones this year. TRAINWRECK is f’ing hilarious and Amy Schumer is a powerhouse. Like most Judd Apatow films, it's at least 20 minutes too long but didn't bother me this time -- must revisit soon and learn all the quotable lines. I mentioned SISTERS earlier and it’s worth mentioning again -- Tina & Amy for President! (Seriously, I’d vote for them in a second.) THE NIGHT BEFORE offers funny stoner holiday hijinks AND actual insight about life and friendship in your 30s. Fun cast and chemistry all around. Melissa McCarthy finally, thoroughly asserts her comedic dominance in SPY, and Rose Byrne is awesome, too. SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE is a very smart and funny rom-com with lots of insight about modern love, sex and dating. THE D TRAIN is a cringe-worthy look at the fine line between nostalgia and delusion. Sometimes funny, often dark, with an unexpected twist. Similarly, THE OVERNIGHT is very funny and raunchy and you're never quite sure where it's headed -- kudos to a great cast (Adam Scott, Taylor Schilling, Jason Schwartzman and Judith Godrèche) who was clearly game for anything. Lastly, the Old English Thespian Avengers assembled once again in THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL and I’ll be damned if I didn’t like it once again. Can they make it an epic trilogy??

hunger_games_mockingjay__part_two_ver21_xlgYoung Adult Dystopia Overload: I’ve already discussed the disappointment of THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 2 (hell, we didn’t even get to see Katniss in the red bodysuit in the poster... what a gyp). But man, the whole “young adult dystopia” genre is out of control. THE DIVERGENT SERIES: INSURGENT was terrible, as we also discussed. THE MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS is a trial indeed -- two-plus hours of repetitive nonsense that falls completely flat and ruins the goodwill generated by the surprisingly decent first installment. On the other hand, I did like a movie called PAPER TOWNS, which is based on a YA book, albeit not a dystopia. So that’s something. I dunno, maybe I’m just getting too old and crotchety for this shit.

isaacgleesonvikanderThe Year of Domhnall Gleeson... and Alicia Vikander... and Oscar Isaac: All three of these great actors were in a bunch of movies in 2015, almost all of which were excellent, and at times they even overlapped. They all starred in the incredible EX MACHINA, which you may recall from my Top 10. Isaac and Gleeson were also both in THE FORCE AWAKENS, and while Poe Dameron is the more iconic character, General Hux is intriguing in his own right. Meanwhile, Gleeson was also in BROOKLYN and THE REVENANT, rounding out of the all-time great individual years. Isaac was also apparently in a movie called MOJAVE (written and directed by William Monahan), which I didn’t see but would like to. As for Alicia Vikander, she has asserted herself as one of the finest actresses of the moment, with tremendous, scene-stealing performances in TESTAMENT OF YOUTH and THE DANISH GIRL. (She was also in THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., which I did not see -- but I’m sure she’s the best thing in it. Come to think of it, she was also in SEVENTH SON... but we’ll chalk that up to her desire to work with Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore.) All told, if these three actors keep working at anywhere close to this pace and level of quality, it bodes very well for the future of cinema.

maxresdefaultA Bad Year for Bradley Cooper: On the other hand, three-time Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper did not have such a great year at the movies. JOY is a dud and his performance is not particularly memorable. His performance in ALOHA is better, but the movie is a stagnant misfire AND came under fire for being borderline racist. Lastly, in BURNT, Cooper does what he can as a bad boy chef with a heart of gold, but the movie is a mild diversion at best. Sorry, Brad... sucks to be you. Oh, wait, no it doesn’t, because you’re still Bradley Cooper and therefore your life is still better than all of ours combined. Womp womp.

hateful_eight_ver10_xlgQuentin Tarantino vs. Alejandro González Iñárritu in the Battle of the Epic Wintry Westerns: Between Tarantino’s THE HATEFUL EIGHT and Iñárritu’s THE REVENANT, I spent over five a half hours watching epic wintry westerns last year. Both are exceptionally well-made and worth watching, but I have to give the edge to QT here. EIGHT is the very definition of a slow-boiler -- it boils and boils (and boils some more) and you feel every bit of the tension until it finally boils over in the wild final act. Great performances abound, as well as rich cinemtography and a sinister score by the great Ennio Morricone (it doesn’t hurt that I saw the 70mm Roadshow presentation, complete with overture and intermission -- everything is better with an overture!). REVENANT, meanwhile, is noteworthy primarily for Leonardo DiCaprio’s towering performance. His full immersion into a difficult role is nothing short of astoninishing; time will tell if the Academy agrees. The movie itself is visually gripping and occasionally harrowing, but ultimately the story is slight and the journey is a bit of a slog.

lucky7sLucky 7’s: Seriously, between THE FORCE AWAKENS, CREED and FURIOUS SEVEN, was 2015 the best year ever for seventh installments of popular franchises? I think so... with all due respect to 1988, the year of FRIDAY THE 13th PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD.

fourfive_years_xlgPerformances of Note: Now I’m going to run through a slew of movies that featured great performances (regardless of whether the movie itself is great). I really hope that Chartlotte Rampling snags an Oscar nod for 45 YEARS, a quietly devastating British drama about a crumbling marriage -- She conveys incredible emotion with the mere twitch of a lip or arch of a brow and it is just incredible. John Cusack managed to transcend his John Cusack-ness and capture the essence of Brian Wilson in LOVE &  MERCY. We’ve already talked about Alicia Vikander several times , but her performances in EX MACHINA, THE DANISH GIRL and A TESTAMENT OF YOUTH are worth mentioning again. I enjoyed the existential musings of THE END OF THE TOUR and Jason Segel’s performance as David Foster Wallace is a big reason why (maybe someday I’ll even crack open INFINITE JEST). Michael Caine is fantastic as an aging suffragette_ver3_xlgmaestro in Paolo Sorrentino’s well-crafted and aesthetically pleasing YOUTH. Will Smith had a solid year with engaging performances in two very different movies, CONCUSSION and FOCUS. Meryl Streep does her Meryl Streep thing in RICKI AND THE FLASH and it’s as entertaining as you’d except. Carey Mulligan is one of the great young actresses working today and she gives commanding performances in both FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD and SUFFRAGETTE. TRUMBO is a good movie about the movies and Bryan Cranston is very good in the movie. I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS is a lovely little film about aging and living, featuring great chemistry between Blythe Danner and Sam Elliott. SOUTHPAW is a by-the-numbers boxing drama but Jake Gyllenhaal sells it with every ounce of his being. Kristen Wiig is great in the aforementioned WELCOME TO ME; she also does good work in THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL and a little thing called NASTY BABY (she also pops up in THE MARTIAN -- heck of a danny_collins_xlgyear for Kristen!). Tobey Maguire is great as Bobby Fischer in PAWN SACRIFICE, which is at once an effective character study of a mad genius, a solid Cold War period piece, and an intense sports movie (about chess!). Al Pacino has that old-school glimmer in his eye in not one but two under-the-radar gems: First, DANNY COLLINS, a cheesy but sincere, funny and hugely enjoyable story of an aging rock star who tries to turn his life around after discovering a letter written to him by John Lennon years earlier. Also, MANGLEHORN, a dreamy, melancholy film about life and regret starring Pacino as an eccentric, curmudgeonly cat dad (aka me in 35 years, probably). Speaking of curmudgeons, Harrison Ford made a pit-stop on his way back to the Star Wars galaxy and stole the show from Blake Lively in THE AGE OF ADELINE. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see Ian McKellan sneak into the Oscar race for jupiter_ascending_ver3_xlghis performance as an aged Sherlock Holmes in the excellent MR. HOLMES. Tom Hardy pulls double-duty as gangster twins in the otherwise messy, mediocre LEGEND. FREEHELD manages to tug on all the right heartstrings thanks in no small part to Julianne Moore & Ellen Page. And finally, there’s Eddie Redmayne -- no, I’m not referring to his likely-to-be-Oscar-nominated transgender performance in THE DANISH GIRL, but for his wild, over-the-top villain in the Wachowskis’ batshit bizarre sci-fi spectacle, JUPITER ASCENDING, a glorious mess of a movie whose primary influences appear to be late ‘70s/early ‘80s Star Wars ripoffs and Disney Princess films -- trust me on this one!

victor_frankenstein_xlgA Bunch of Movies You Would’ve Thought I’d Have Seen But Nope: One reason why I saw 29 fewer movies in 2015 than I did the year before is because I cut down a bunch of crap and sequels and bullshit. It’s true! I actually showed some restraint! Here is a brief list of movies I DIDN’T see on the big screen, off the top of my head. I actually felt bad not seeing VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN becaiuse I like to support Daniel Radcliffe’s post-Potter career, but this just looked like shite. Had no interest in GET HARD. Can’t stand Seth MacFarlane so TED 2 was never gonna happen. Even George Lucas’ involvement couldn’t get me to see STRANGE MAGIC. Had no interest in HOT PURSUIT. Fool me once, shame on you -- fool me twice, shame on me -- hence, I skipped INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 3. Ditto for SINISTER 2. I’ll probably watch THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. eventually because of Alicia Vikander but I am not in any particular rush. I actually really wanted to see THE WALK but never got around to it. PAN looked like an unnecessary debacle -- I doubt I’ll even bother to watch it at home. THE LAST WITCH macbeth_ver6_xlgHUNTER, um, no. I heard so many awful things about JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS that I was tempted to see it for the sake of Bottom 10 completion... but I think I made the right choice in the end. Couldn’t drag myself to see Brad and Angelina work out their marital issues or whatever the hell happens in BY THE SEA. Had no interest in LOVE THE COOPERS and you couldn’t pay me to see the POINT BREAK remake (I don’t even really care about the original). Come to think about it, the only 2015 that I didn’t see that I really wanted to see was MACBETH starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard -- this one, I will definitely get to ASAP. As for the rest, I have no regrets! Quality over quantity in 2015 and beyond!


And that, my friends, is that. Thoughts? Questions? Criticisms? Cyber-bullying? A lightsaber through the heart? (Oops, is that a spoiler?) Hey, I can take it!