Oscar Predictions (87th Academy Awards)

February 19, 2015

oscars-logo

Here we go folks! It’s that time of the year again when everyone makes their predictions and then posts it online. I’m no exception, and though I always tried to stay clear from the “Will Win, Should Win” format, I’m finally caving in and will structure my post in that format. So let’s get started!

Best Picture

– American Sniper
– Birdman
– Boyhood
– The Grand Budapest Hotel
– The Imitation Game
– Selma
– The Theory of Everything
– Whiplash

Will Win: Birdman

Like I wrote in my previous Oscar post, Birdman definitely has the support from Hollywood. It won the important SAG, DGA, and PGA awards, making it a practical lock to win Best Picture. So why are so many people confused and voting for Boyhood? Well, there is simply A LOT of love for the movie (rightfully so, it was my favorite film of the year), but I think people are letting their personal feelings cloud the logical choice. Yes, Boyhood won the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs, but neither of them are voted by the same people who vote for the Oscars. And look at some of the most recent Best Picture winners: The Artist and Argo. What do those films plus Birdman have in common? The film industry plays a part in the plot. Look for Hollywood to pat themselves on the back, once again, and vote for Birdman.

Should Win: Boyhood

I absolutely loved this movie, though I’m not exactly sure why. Sure, it can be considered a gimmick with how it took 12 years to make this film and we actually witness a young boy grow up. But in a film-making perspective, think about how difficult that must’ve been. The ability that Linklater showed to be patient, adapt to every situation, write and re-write the screenplay to match the times, keep all of the actors consistent, etc. Boyhood is the result of a mastermind after a lot of hard work for over a decade. I sure hope it wins.

Best Director

– Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel
– Alejandro González Iñárritu – Birdman
– Richard Linklater – Boyhood
– Bennett Miller – Foxcatcher
– Morten Tyldum – The Imitation Game

Will Win/Should Win: Richard Linklater

To continue what I was saying above, this film is a masterpiece. It’s a film that was universally loved, critically acclaimed, and most importantly it’s a film that everyone can relate to. The brilliance of the film is how there’s something that everyone can take from it, no matter who you are or how you were brought up. Everyone likes this movie for a different reason, and that feat alone is outstanding. Finally, it’s easily the most memorable film of the year. It’s the one film that film buffs will be talking about for years to come. The man behind Boyhood will be awarded for that.

Best Actor

– Steve Carell – Foxcatcher
– Bradley Cooper – American Sniper
– Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game
– Michael Keaton – Birdman
– Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything

Will Win/Should Win: Eddie Redmayne

This is a battle between Redmayne and Keaton, and it’s an extremely close one, but I’m picking Redmayne for a few reasons. First, he won the SAG award, which practically makes him a guarantee winner at the Oscars. In addition to that, Redmayne had the flashy performance, the one that actually wowed audiences by playing Stephen Hawking. Keaton, on the other hand, gave a spectacular performance but you can argue he was over-powered by Ed Norton and Emma Stone, two characters who were much more aggressive and extreme in Birdman. Keaton was the man who kept Birdman together and if he wins it will be well-deserved. But Redmayne hit a grand slam with his portrayal of Hawking.

Best Actress

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

Will Win: Julianne Moore

It’s clear that Moore is going to walk home with the Best Actress Oscar on Sunday night. Some are saying that this is more of a career achievement Oscar rather than one that she specifically deserves because of her performance in Still Alice. Nonetheless, there is no one who has a chance to steal the award from her.

Should Win: Felicity Jones

While Redmayne is receiving all the attention and awards success, I feel that Jones should be right there besides him at every ceremony. Sure, playing Stephen Hawking is going to catch everyone’s eye, but only those who have seen the film can understand how important Felicity Jones was to the success of The Theory of Everything. Without her performance as Jane, nothing works for Redmayne as Hawking. You can even argue that Jane is the true main character of the film, the real force behind almost every scene. She was able to give Jane the strength and understanding to represent a smart and independent woman, something not so common in Hollywood. Felicity Jones would get my vote, hands down.

Best Supporting Actor

– Robert Duvall – The Judge
– Ethan Hawke – Boyhood
– Edward Norton – Birdman
– Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher
– J. K. Simmons – Whiplash

Will Win/Should Win: J.K. Simmons

If J.K. Simmons didn’t frighten the hell out of you in Whiplash, then there’s something wrong with you. Simmons gives a ground-breaking performance and completely owns every scene he’s in. It’s also important to note that this category usually goes to the more “showy” performances. Some very showy past winners include: Christian Bale in The Fighter, Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, and Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club. I think Simmons would fit right in with this group, don’t you?

Best Supporting Actress

– Patricia Arquette – Boyhood
– Laura Dern – Wild
– Keira Knightley – The Imitation Game
– Emma Stone – Birdman
– Meryl Streep – Into the Woods

Will Win/Should Win: Patricia Arquette

What can I say about Arquette in Boyhood? She runs the whole show, to the point where I’m somewhat scratching my head to why she’s in the Supporting Actress category. If Boyhood is about Mason, then Arquette’s Olivia is with him every step of the way as he grows up. But you can even argue that Olivia is the main character of the film, the one person trying to keep everything together as their lives become tangled up with different people and different situations. On top of all that, she does one hell of a job. I can’t imagine many mothers not being able to relate to what she goes through during Boyhood. In my opinion, she’s the heart and soul in the most memorable film of 2014.

Best Original Screenplay

– Birdman – Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. and Armando Bo
– Boyhood – Richard Linklater
– Foxcatcher – E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman
– The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness
– Nightcrawler – Dan Gilroy

Will Win/Should Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson has written and directed a number of very interesting films, and if there is something that makes them all in common it would be that they’re all unique. The Grand Budapest Hotel is no exception. The world that Anderson creates and draws you in right from the beginning of the film is a brilliant gift that he has. The process in which the story is told, which is a story within a story, is carefully penned and executed to perfection. And for all of the characters, it’s almost too easy for them to jump out and make an impact on the film because of how colorful they were all written. This is the best screenplay of the year and Anderson and Guinness will be rewarded.

Best Adapted Screenplay

– American Sniper – Jason Hall from American Sniper by Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice
– The Imitation Game – Graham Moore from Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges
– Inherent Vice – Paul Thomas Anderson from Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon
– The Theory of Everything – Anthony McCarten from Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Jane Wilde Hawking
– Whiplash – Damien Chazelle from his short film of the same name

Will Win: The Imitation Game

It’s a fascinating story about a truly memorable man. It’s a story that isn’t known by everyone, but one that resonates with everyone still to this day. The story of Alan Turing is one that everyone should learn about, and the fact that it was able to be made into a successful and thrilling film makes it that much more appealing. Certainly there were facts that were stretched and details that were left out, but as a strict screenplay point of view, it was a very well-written one.

Should Win: Whiplash

From just a short film, Damien Chazelle was not only able to create these characters, but he blew them out of this world that crashed against the ridiculous. Did you ever believe that a film about a jazz ensemble and the relationship between a student and teacher could be more suspenseful that the majority of thrillers you’ve seen? Somehow, it all comes together and works, and it’s because of the brilliant screenplay by Chazelle. Give him the Oscar.

And the major categories are done. Here are the rest of my predictions listed below:

Best Animated Feature Film: How to Train Your Dragon 2

Best Foreign Language Film: Ida

Best Documentary Feature: Citizenfour

Best Documentary Short: Crisis Hotline

Best Live Action Short: The Phone Call

Best Animated Short: Feast

Best Original Score: The Theory of Everything

Best Original Song: “Glory” from Selma

Best Sound Editing: American Sniper

Best Sound Mixing: Whiplash

Best Production Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Cinematography: Birdman

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Costume Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Film Editing: Boyhood

Best Visual Effects: Interstellar

And those are my predictions! I must say that even though I’m predicting The Grand Budapest Hotel to win the most Oscars, there’s a decent chance that we can see a Birdman sweep. Yes, Hollywood might be that full of themselves. Let’s see how I do with my predictions come Sunday night.


Better Call Saul – “Nacho”

February 18, 2015

Season One, Episode Three

better-call-saul-nacho

Grade: A-

This is the episode of Better Call Saul that I’ve been waiting for! While the pilot did a lot of setting up and the second episode established exactly where Jimmy was at in his life, “Nacho” finally puts things into gear and it runs with it. As you remember, we left off last episode with Nacho’s proposal for Jimmy to point in the direction where the stolen money is and he’ll get 10 percent. Jimmy is trying to keep his conscious clean and not take the offer, though he did just complete a botched plan to scam Mrs. Kettleman. During a late night at the nail salon, Jimmy calls Kim, an attorney for Hamlin Hamlin & McGill. Was it a booty call? Probably, but through his possibly drunken rant he slips that the Kettleman family are probably in danger. After that call, he drives to a phone booth and calls the Kettlemans that they’re being targeted.

The following day, it’s reported that the Kettlemans have been kidnapped and Nacho has been brought in to the police station for questioning when his car was spotted on the street the night they went missing. This is where Better Call Saul really struts its stuff. Sure, in long-term story arcs there are little surprises that can be thrown our way since this is a prequel, but when the show concentrates on specific situations, such as this, then it can be incredibly exciting. Nacho calls in Jimmy as his lawyer and flat out tells him that he didn’t take the family. Jimmy believes him but how is he going to convince the police? Also, if Nacho gets the blame for this, Jimmy’s dead. Even though we know that’s not going to happen, it’s still an added urgency to hype up the situation.

My favorite part of the episode was after Jimmy thought of the idea that the Kettlemans kidnapped themselves and are hiding. It makes perfect sense, but the cops don’t believe him. Jimmy believes that his call spooked the family, and if they really are guilty then they’re going to have every reason to stage a kidnapping so they can get away without anyone suspecting them near. Jimmy looked like he dug himself a hole with his altercation with Mike, but when Mike backs him up I couldn’t help myself but to fist pump. Mike and Saul baby! Oh, and Mike’s little advice to Jimmy from when he was on the force in Philly was call Jimmy needed to find the family in the woods, hiding out in a tent.

Jimmy has a fake sense of confidence to him. When he has to, he lawyers up and acts confident with charm as he throws his hands in the air and pleads his case. But inside, Jimmy’s a broken guy who’s just trying to make a pretty dime to survive another day. His work as a public defender hasn’t gone the way he anticipated. His relationship with his brother is lukewarm at best as they rarely see eye to eye on anything. No one is taking him seriously except for maybe Nacho, but he’s a dangerous guy that Jimmy doesn’t want to mess around with. In the end, Jimmy discovers a bag full of cash in the Kettleman tent. What’s he to do now? Turn them in? Make a settlement? Give the tip to Nacho? Exactly how pure is Jimmy and how long will it take for him to go over to the dark side?


New Girl – “The Crawl”

February 13, 2015

Season Four, Episode Fifteen

new-girl-the-crawl

Grade: B-

It’s Valentine’s Day for New Girl and everyone is happy, except for poor Nick Miller who has been recently dumped. Naturally, he’s not taking it well at all and hides his feelings by engaging in a bar crawl that will form an image of a smily face on a map. You don’t have to twist my arm for a plot that involves a bar crawl! Like the friends that they are, everyone decides to either postpone or cancel their Valentine’s plans to go on Nick’s bar crawl is attendance is mandatory.

It’s no surprise that New Girl is best when all of its characters are together, but here they run into an obstacle that even though they’re all in the same place, they all have different plots going on at the same time. In retrospect, Nick’s story-line is just the background to the more important things happening. Starting with Jess and Ryan, initially their plan is to pretend to drink during the crawl until they can leave and make their dinner reservation. During a conversation at the first bar Ryan asks Jess to move in with her, which caused her to freak out. At this point, we can just always assume Jess is going to freak out when things get into the “serious” stage of a relationship (almost as bad as Coach). She still gets away with it because she does it in such a cute way, but as a 30-something Vice Principal, when is she going to be a grown up?

The whole ebb and flow results in Ryan receiving an unbelievable job offer at his Alma mater back in England. This all just seems to move way too quickly, like the writers were tired of this healthy relationship and rather deal with break-ups and heartache. Jess and Ryan decide they’re going to try their part at the long-distance relationship thing, but we all know that’s not going to last. This is kind of a shame because what the show had between Jess and Ryan was the show’s only legitimate relationship. I saw this as growth for the characters and for the show to stray from its cartoon-ish portrayal of friendship and relationships, but it doesn’t seem like the writers want to go anywhere near something real. Too bad.

Meanwhile, we get more of the roller-coaster ride that is Schmidt and Cece. Schmidt finally gets Fawn to publicly declare her relationship with him, which happens right after Winston realizes Cece still has feelings for Schmidt. The timing just isn’t there for those two, but you have to assume that Fawn and Schmidt aren’t going to last very long. Also, Coach keeps running into an attractive girl who he feels is “relationship material” instead of the hook-up material he was looking for on Valentine’s Day. Winston was just putting out fires all over this episode with that gigantic book-bag as he slaps some sense into Coach.

In the end, Nick confronts his empty feeling without Kai, but with the help from his friends he’s able to pick up the pieces of his heart and move forward. So the show’s pointing to another round of Schmidt-Cece and even Jess-Nick. Are we prepared to go through that again? I’m not sure if I am, but I don’t think I have a choice. If there’s one thing I took from this episode, it’s that the crawl is for all! This show always makes me so thirsty for a beer.


The Americans – “Open House”

February 12, 2015

Season Three, Episode Three

americans-open-house

Grade: A

According to Gabriel, Elizabeth looks at Philip differently now. The married couple has gone down a very difficult and trying road as spies living in America. They’ve lost and found their trust in one another throughout the years, but now they face the direct conflict with having their own daughter involved with the KGB. Would Paige make a good spy? With the genes from her parents I can’t imagine she wouldn’t, but like Philip keeps pressing on, he wants her to make her own decisions. Her situation is much different than when Elizabeth and Philip agreed to join. She’s grown up in America, has a life there, and has parents (or at least Philip) who want to protect her. I’m not sure how this will end, but I’m sure it’s not going to be resolved by this season’s end.

Despite their differences or whether or not they’re still in love with each other, Philip and Elizabeth do care for each other an awful lot, shown with the nervous tick inside of Philip as he waits for his wife to escape being followed by the CIA for hours. This was an excellent series of scenes from The Americans, especially after the Russians get involved to rescue Elizabeth. The cinematography was particularly great, shifting focus through cars to show us just when we think we know who’s tracking who, there’s always someone else with the upper hand. And as Stan puts it, those Russians are awfully tough to catch.

Another brilliant scene follows the hug when Elizabeth finally walks through the door. There isn’t a word said during these moments. They look at each other and are glad everyone’s okay. They share a soft yet meaningful hug, when Elizabeth flinches with pain from the tooth that was damaged from the first scene of the season. And after a subtle nod, they both walk down to the basement to extract the tooth. Not only are these Russians difficult to catch, but they’re as tough as they come. This wasn’t as graphic as the suitcase scene, but it wasn’t that much easier to watch.

Meanwhile, Philip bugs Paaswell’s open house and the result is something incredibly enticing for the Russians: there is a teenage girl doing her rebellious teenage thing who just happens to be the Afghan group leader’s daughter. I can just sense the Jennings foaming at the mouth with this opportunity. Also, Oleg stays in America despite his father’s orders for him to return back to Russia; and Martha keeps nagging Clark for kids. We’ve gotten away with the other story-lines for the most part of this season so far. Martha and Clark was such a big part with the ongoing tension that she’s going to do something to reveal Philip’s identity. That tension isn’t really there anymore, though I can’t imagine it doesn’t still exist.

What this season is doing is putting a lot of focus on the Jennings, which is a good thing. They’re the most interesting characters on the show and with the dilemma they’re faced with, everything is turning upside-down. How can they possibly be the spies they are knowing that one day they might have their children taken away from them? And what happened to Paige snooping around the house? I kind of miss that, but at least she’s questioning why they work so late all the time. I have to assume that Paige is going to find out sooner or later what her parents are, the question is what is her reaction going to be?


The Race for Best Picture (87th Academy Awards)

February 11, 2015

boyman

Let’s cut right to the chase, this year’s Oscar award for Best Picture is between two films: Boyhood and Birdman. Which film has the edge? That’s what I’m going to try to figure out during this post. Bear with me folks.

For Boyhood, it was the critics’ darling of 2014, collecting A LOT of accolades from critic circles. Here are a handful:

Best Film from:
– Austin Film Critics Association
– Boston Society of Film Critics
– Chicago Film Critics Association
– Critics’ Choice Movie Awards
– Detriot Film Critics Society
– Georgia Film Critics Association
– Houston Film Ciritcs Society
– Iowa Film Critics
– London Film Critics’ Circle
– Los Angeles Film Critics Association
– New York Film Critics Circle
– Oklahoma Film Critics Circle
– San Francisco Film Critics Circle
– Toronto Film Critics Association
– Vancouver Film Critics Circle
– Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association

So what’s the problem? Well for one, The Academy who vote on the Oscars aren’t critics. They’re people in the film industry and a lot of them either 1. don’t have the same taste as critics or 2. simply don’t like movie critics. Now with all the support from the critics to Boyhood, who can the industry back for Best Picture? How about a film with a distaste for critics… Birdman!

This is no major spoiler, but in Birdman, Riggan Thomson is looked down upon by a very influential theater critic because she can never see Thomson as anything else other than his super-hero days. He uses this to fuel his passion and enthusiasm to push his play to a greater level, but with extreme consequences. So basically, Hollywood can overcome the evil critics and produce incredible pieces of art, no matter what you did in the past. Is it a coincidence that Birdman has been receiving the love from the Guilds, made up of people in the film industry?

Birdman has won the top awards from the Screen Actors Guild, the Producers Guild of America, and the Directors Guild of America. It’s obvious that Hollywood is standing behind Birdman, but let’s make this even more interesting. Two other award ceremonies that are seen as precursors to the Oscars are The Golden Globes and the BAFTA Awards (British Academy of Film and Television Arts). Is it coincidence that Birdman lost Best Picture at each ceremony, and instead Boyhood won because those are two awards not voted by members of Hollywood?

While all of this speculation is fun, it’s time to crunch some numbers. First, I’m going to be concentrating on 2007-present. Here are the Best Picture winners since then:

Best Picture:

2007 – No Country for Old Men
2008 – Slumdog Millionaire
2009 – The Hurt Locker
2010 – The King’s Speech
2011 – The Artist
2012 – Argo
2013 – 12 Years a Slave
2014 – ???

Now let’s look at the SAG Award for Best Ensemble Cast.

SAG Winners:

2007 – No Country for Old Men
2008 – Slumdog Millionaire
2009 – Inglorious Basterds
2010 – The King’s Speech
2011 – The Help
2012 – Argo
2013 – American Hustle
2014 – Birdman

In the last seven years, four films that won the SAG Award for Best Ensemble went on to win Best Picture. It’s not a great award to predict who will win Best Picture, but it’s noteworthy because the SAG is the guild with the most members in The Academy. So if it’s a coin toss and it’s down to the wire, it’s likely that the majority of the SAG votes Birdman and therefore you’ll know who will win.

How about the Directors Guild of America…

DGA Winners:

2007 – Ethan and Joel Coen, No Country for Old Men
2008 – Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
2009 – Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
2010 – Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
2011 – Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
2012 – Ben Affleck, Argo
2013 – Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
2014 – Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman

During the last seven years, the movies with the DGA winner have won six times. The only time they didn’t line up was last year when Alfonso Cuaron with Gravity won, even though 12 Years a Slave won Best Picture. But isn’t it true that typically, if you win Best Director at the Oscars, you’ll win Best Picture? Let’s take a look…

Academy Award for Best Director:

2007 – Ethan and Joel Coen, No Country for Old Men
2008 – Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
2009 – Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
2010 – Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
2011 – Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
2012 – Ang Lee, Life of Pi
2013 – Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
2014 – ???

It looks like they matched up nice and tidily up until 2012, then it’s been chaos ever since. Ang Lee won the strange year where Ben Affleck won the DGA but wasn’t even nominated for Best Director (then Argo wins Best Picture). Last year it was a tight race between 12 Years a Slave and Gravity throughout, and they ended up splitting the Best Picture/Best Director categories. Can the same thing happen again this year to make it three in a row? It’s very possible.

Let’s look at the Producers Guild of America…

PGA Winners:

2007 – No Country for Old Men
2008 – Slumdog Millionaire
2009 – The Hurt Locker
2010 – The King’s Speech
2011 – The Artist
2012 – Argo
2013 – 12 Years a Slave/Gravity
2014 – Birdman

Here’s one that looks like a sure thing. Since 2007, EVERY movie that has won the PGA award has gone on to win Best Picture. Its only slight blemish is that last year the vote resulted in a tie between the obvious two front-runners in 12 Years a Slave and Gravity. But this year in another very tight race, Birdman came out victorious. Is that a sign pointing at Birdman, or is this a Hollywood statement from the industry?

With the guilds out of the way, let’s look at the Golden Globes:

Golden Globe Winners (Drama/Comedy):

2007 – Atonement/Sweeney Todd
2008 – Slumdog Millionaire/Vicky Cristina Barcelona
2009 – Avatar/The Hangover
2010 – The Social Network/The Kids Are All Right
2011 – The Descendants/The Artist
2012 – Argo/Les Miserables
2013 – 12 Years a Slave/American Hustle
2014 – Boyhood/The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Globes used to be a joke. When movies like The Hangover wins a so-called “prestigious” award, everyone starts scratching their heads. But recently, the Globes have been quite spot on in predicting the Best Picture winners. The Artist, Argo, and 12 Years a Slave won the big award at the Globes. This year, Boyhood won Best Drama and Birdman lost to The Grand Budapest Hotel. So what’s the deal? Did you know that the Globes are voted by the HFPA, a group of journalists from around the world. That’s right, no one from Hollywood. So without a Globes win for Birdman, can it become the first film in four years to win Best Picture?

Continuing to stay clear from Hollywood, let’s take a glance at the recent BAFTA winners:

BAFTA Winners:

2007 – Atonement
2008 – Slumdog Millionaire
2009 – The Hurt Locker
2010 – The King’s Speech
2011 – The Artist
2012 – Argo
2013 – 12 Years a Slave
2014 – Boyhood

Since 2008, the films that won Best Picture have also won the Best Film award at the BAFTAs. And as you can see, Boyhood won the big prize at the BAFTAs this year. Will the streak continue?

Last, but not least, let’s take a peak at the Academy Award for Best Editing. Throughout the years, there has been a direct link with this category and what film is considered a true front-runner for Best Picture. Just take a look…

Academy Award for Best Editing:

2000 – Gladiator (nominated)
2001 – A Beautiful Mind (nominated)
2002 – Chicago (won)
2003 – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (won)
2004 – Million Dollar Baby (nominated)
2005 – Crash (won)
2006 – The Departed (won)
2007 – No Country for Old Men (nominated)
2008 – Slumdog Millionaire (won)
2009 – The Hurt Locker (won)
2010 – The King’s Speech (nominated)
2011 – The Artist (nominated)
2012 – Argo (won)
2013 – 12 Years a Slave (nominated)
2014 – ??? Boyhood (nominated), Birdman (not nominated)

As you can see, every single movie that has won Best Picture since 2000 has been at least nominated for the Best Editing category. You have to go back all the way to 1980 to name a film that won Best Picture without receiving a Best Editing nomination (Ordinary People). That’s just whacky! But to be fair, Birdman’s fluid style doesn’t give much to the editors, though there are plenty of editing tricks throughout the film. So how glaring is this omission?

So what does this all mean? When there is a really tight race for Best Picture, like we have this year, plenty of patterns and logic will be broken. Will Boyhood defy all logic that you need to win the guild awards to win Best Picture? Will Birdman be the first film since 1980 to win Best Picture without a Best Editing nomination? We’ll find out soon!


Better Call Saul – “Uno” / “Mijo”

February 10, 2015

Season One, Episode One/Two

better-call-saul-uno

Grade: B

We’re back in Albuquerque! How great was the opening scene in black and white showing our favorite crooked lawyer, Saul Goodman, working at Cinnabon when a big, tough looking man stares him down. You can feel the beads of sweat creeping down Saul’s face as he approaches him. Who is this guy? How did Saul piss him off? But the guy walked right past Saul and hugs a woman that he knew. This is a flash-forward from the last time we saw Saul in Breaking Bad and while it seems like he’s doing pretty well laying low, he’s still followed with great paranoia from the line of work he was involved in with Walter White for all of those years.

So how did he get there? Turn back the calendar and Saul is using his real name, Jimmy McGill. He’s defending three dumbass teenagers who are on a trial for having sex with a corpse from a funeral home, and while he does hold his own in his charismatic way that made Saul Goodman so intriguing, it was a case he simply couldn’t win. This is the man before Saul Goodman. This is Jimmy McGill, public defender driving a crappy car with a miniature office in the back of a beauty salon. He’s a sad man with barely enough money to live off of, but with the knowledge we have of this character there’s enough to intrigue me about how he turns into Saul.

There’s an important story arc between Jimmy and his older brother, Chuck, who is a partner at Hamlin Hamlin & McGill, one of Albuquerque’s most prestigious law firms. The problem here is that the firm is acting like Chuck is on the payroll while Jimmy is demanding they buy his shares out to the cost of $17 million. Chuck hasn’t been at work for a while because of some kind of electromagnetic hypersensitivity, apparent when Jimmy visits him. He has to ground himself before entering, discard his keys and cell phone outside, and dumps Chuck’s groceries in a large cooler of ice instead of a refrigerator. While it seems like Jimmy has a good point that Chuck should be paid for his share of the firm, Chuck is pure at heart and always believes in doing the right thing. He knows that for the firm to raise that much money to buy him out, they would have to liquidate, which would result in a lot of lay-offs and he’s not willing to do that.

That’s most of the back-story that takes up the first half of the episode. There is also Craig Kettleman, the county treasurer, who has been accused of embezzling $1.6 million. Craig is about to sign off on Jimmy as his attorney when his wife, Betsy, convinces him that they should sleep on it, or more accurately take their case to Hamlin Hamlin & McGill. This is when we first see Jimmy act like Slippin’ Jimmy, by convincing two skateboarding punks to stage a car accident on Betsy as Jimmy comes to the rescue. The plan backfires and the kids run into the wrong car. Not only is it not Betsy’s car, but it winds up being the grandmother of Tuco. Yes, that insane, violent Tuco from Breaking Bad.

better-call-saul-mijo

“Mijo” immediately gives us insight to what exactly happens inside of Tuco’s house after the skateboarding kids follow his grandmother. As a viewer, we know what Tuco is capable of and while those kids are so annoying I couldn’t wait for them to get beat up, but in the kids’ perspective it was cringe-worthy that they had no idea who they were talking to. That’s one of the things the writers are going to have to concentrate on during this prequel spin-off. It’s neat seeing how characters from Breaking Bad are slowly showing up as we see how they’re all connected, but there’s a fine line that can take away from certain scenes. For instance, when Tuco and his buddies take Jimmy and the skateboard kids to the desert, I’m not worried because we all know that Jimmy lives. Every ounce of suspense is taken away from that scene, while when it was Breaking Bad we had no idea who was going to be killed, making every scene full of tension.

And that’s exactly what happens. Jimmy escapes a near-death encounter with Tuco, the skateboard kids have their legs broken, and Jimmy goes back to being a public defender during a pretty snappy montage showing him working his ass off so he doesn’t starve to death. But then an interesting proposition gets dumped at Jimmy’s little office. Nacho walks in and tells him to find out where to find the money that Kettleman embezzled. Nacho will then steal the money from them and give Jimmy ten percent. Nacho wants him to think of this as a business proposition, but there are two things that are holding Jimmy back. First, he’s still influenced by his brother and wants to do the right thing and become a respectable lawyer. And second, he’s deathly afraid of Nacho. But it seems like he’ll eventually take this offer once his luck runs out.

So far, so good with Better Call Saul. Bob Odenkirk is more than capable of continuing this witty and talky character that we loved during Breaking Bad. We can’t watch this series and constantly compare it to Breaking Bad, though it’s near impossible in the same setting and characters. This is a completely different show without the character development of Walter White turning from a dying teacher and family man to a ruthless drug king and killer. Jimmy McGill is a weasel, though it’s nice to see that he once had a conscious and tried to do the right thing. But we all know sooner or later he’s going to fall back into his Slippin’ Jimmy habits. Is that interesting enough to keep watching? You bet it is.


The Walking Dead – “What Happened and What’s Going On”

February 9, 2015

Season Five, Episode Nine

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Grade: B

I think it’s safe to say that last night’s episode was probably the most artistic episode of the series. Opening with what seemed like random images of photographs, dirt being shoveled, and a pool of blood collecting on a painting of a house, all of these things become clearer as the episode goes on. We pick up still mourning the loss of Beth as our group heads towards where Noah lived, a community in Richmond that he and Beth planned to travel to when they both got out. To no one’s surprise, there was no community left.

As Rick, Michonne, and Glen go to sweep the houses in the community, they express their recent sorrow for Beth’s death, debating whether it was right or wrong to kill in revenge. Rick did it, but Glen points out that anyone would’ve done it if Rick didn’t pull the trigger. Basically, the trio express their hopelessness following the recent events of Beth’s death and how the cure at Washington D.C. was a lie. So once again, The Walking Dead addresses the dilemma of these characters fighting to survive. Why, in such a bleak and hopeless world, are these characters continuing? In this world, isn’t being dead a heck of a lot better? Unless this is going to be spun as some kind of Lost twist where this is everyone’s hell.

The bulk of the episode deals with what happens to Tyreese. Poor Tyreese. Just as he’s getting sentimental looking at old photographs of Noah and his brother, a zombie bites his arm! And then there’s another zombie that bites the same arm! But what Tyreese goes through as he’s bleeding out is what gives this episode so much power. He has an inner dialogue with people he’s confronted in the past who are now all dead. We see Bob, Beth, and the two girls he looked after telling him that things are better and to not be afraid to let go. But then you have the Governor and one of the cannibals reminding him he’s got a debt to pay, and how he’s the reason why Bob and Beth are dead.

The death scenes on The Walking Dead are fairly straight-forward, and usually done pretty quickly, but it was really engaging seeing Tyreese struggle with fighting to stay alive or to let go. I thought the direction of the episode was great and really liked the scenes where the figures in his mind were replaced with the reality of the moment, such as when the girls were holding his hand, but in reality Rick and Glen were chopping off his arm. In the end, even though Tyreese bites the dust it was good seeing the group fight so hard for their friend.

Because of the mid-season hiatus, the episode worked pretty well, but for those who binge-watch this season they’re going to be awfully disgusted by the fact that Beth and Tyreese die in back-to-back episodes. Sure, The Walking Dead needs to have a constant flow of characters dying to keep you on your toes, but even that aspect of the show is becoming monotonous. I understand that in a post-apocalyptic world, it’s supposed to be bleak, but that doesn’t always make for the best television hours. Everyone should ask themselves the question, “Why am I watching this?” for every show they watch. For me, the reasons why I’m watching The Walking Dead are becoming thin. Do I ever care what happens to these characters anymore? Or can I just skip to the last handful of episodes and enjoy it just as much as anyone else?


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