My buddy, Mike, and I recorded a podcast episode discussing the race for Best Lead Actress. Is Emma Stone really a lock to win for her performance in La La Land? How much of a threat is Isabelle Huppert? Listen up!
I’ll make this post quick. The SAG Awards take place this Sunday and while La La Land has been racking up all of the attention and buzz (both good and bad), this year’s SAG Awards are a bit unpredictable mainly because La La Land is not nominated for the main award: Best Film Ensemble. Weird. So what does this mean?
This is Moonlight’s big chance to gain some ground while behind La La Land. With a SAG Ensemble win for Moonlight, it will certainly boost its momentum to try and upset for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. But if Moonlight loses, possibly to Fences or Manchester by the Sea, you can practically kiss its chances goodbye.
That being said, there is another big story surrounding this awards, and that is the opposite of the #OscarsSoWhite discussion from last year. It seems like in the supporting acting categories, Mahershala Ali and Viola Davis should win. There is even a good amount of talk saying that Denzel Washington could very well win his FIRST SAG award trophy. You read that corrently, Denzel has never won a SAG award before. Just for that reason alone, I feel like he has a slight edge over Casey Affleck.
But if Washington, Davis, and Ali go on to win, that is 75% of the acting awards going to African Americans. Quite the turn-around from years past. Then again, if Stone, Affleck, Hedges, and Williams win then we might have some more complaints.
Anyway, here are my predictions:
Best Film Ensemble: Moonlight
Best Actor: Denzel Washington (Fences)
Best Actress: Emma Stone (La La Land)
Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis (Fences)
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)
Rated – R
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
Starring: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis
Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu has made only four films since 2000, Birdman being his fifth feature film. For those who are familiar with Iñárritu, his films are very heavy, but he has a great talent for style and the ability to drive home the film’s theme. In Birdman, he focuses on how mainstream blockbuster films are destroying the creative minds of those who simply want to tell great stories, but might not have the chance to do so. This feels like a very personal film, and the way Iñárritu shoots it brings us into the lives of all the characters in a dazzling way.
Beginning with Riggan Thomson (Keaton), he’s an aging actor whose fame comes from the super-hero Birdman franchise, but after decades he’s trying to bring himself back into the spotlight by writing, directing and starring in a Broadway play adaptation of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. He’s betting his entire future (including his house) on this play, which is about to start its previews before opening night. The play’s cast includes Lesley (Watts), another aging actor who always dreamed of being on Broadway, and Mike Shiner (Norton), a gifted actor who has a reputation of beating to his own drum, usually to the director’s disapproval.
There is also Laura, Riggan’s girlfriend; Sam (Stone), Riggan’s daughter who is fresh out of rehab; and Brandon (Galifianakis), Riggan’s manager and seemingly the only sane one who tries his best to be the glue that keeps the whole production together. That’s the basic set-up to this whirlwind of a film. It’s known that the lifestyle of a theater actor can be quite hectic, especially during rehearsals, previews, and every moment in-between. Birdman captures the chaos of backstage, the methods of rehearsals, the intense nerves leading up to when the curtains open, and the family/relationship drama mixed in. But the way Iñárritu decides to present us with all of this chaos is what truly makes Birdman a must-see film of 2014.
You’ve probably already read about it, but in case you haven’t the majority of the film looks like one, single take. Obviously that’s not the case because that would be insane, but with the magic of digital editing the film really feels like one long tracking shot, moving from room-to-room, scene-to-scene. There’s no doubt that the film is made up of extended tracking shots glued together, and every shot is impressive in its own right, but shooting the film this way truly captures one of the most difficult aspects about being on Broadway: continuity.
Aside from the style of Birdman, the film boasts a number of great performances, notably from Michael Keaton. It’s impossible not to see the parallels between Keaton’s role in Birdman and his past fame with the Batman franchise, but I feel that makes everything even more compelling. In addition, Ed Norton and Emma Stone give fantastic supporting performances, two people who put on an act when they’re around Riggan but can strip down to the core of themselves when they’re alone on the rooftop of the theater.
Birdman revolves around Riggan Thomson’s world and everyone in it is one way or another affected by his actions. But even from his girlfriend, ex-wife, and to the theater critic, Thomson is haunted by the voice and ego inside his head telling him how he’ll always be known as the Birdman from his past movies. It’s a thought that every actor has to have throughout their career and the film goes the distance to show the risk of pulling the plug on a money-making franchise to seek out critical acclaim. Is it worth it? Just see how this film ends and then ask yourself again.
Magic in the Moonlight (2014)
Directed by Woody Allen
Starring: Colin Firth and Emma Stone
Woody Allen practically makes a movie every year. That being said, it’s just expected that there will be a number of memorable ones, and a good amount of stinkers. Unfortunately, Magic in the Moonlight falls under the stinkers. I understand what Allen was attempting to do with the film. If there was something I did love about the movie, it was its themes of skepticism and rational thought versus faith and emotion, but he was never able to execute these themes properly.
Starting with our protagonist, Stanley (Firth), a world famous magician, he’s brought in by a friend (Simon McBurney) to debunk a young female American who claims that she can communicate with the dead and has a specialty for reading people’s pasts. The extremely skeptical Stanley is almost too excited to exploit the American, Sophie (Stone), but slowly she begins to break him down with her charm, wit, and unique gift.
I’ll admit, the first half of the film is very good. It’s light-hearted and carried by Colin Firth’s performance as the arrogant magician who considers everyone below him. When Sophie again and again surprises Stanley, Firth is able to truly show a sense of shock and bewilderment. Before our eyes, Stanley becomes humble with his understanding of the world. From a man who thought he knew everything, he becomes a man who not only questions everything he believed, but he accepts that there might be a part of the world he cannot comprehend. In turn, he becomes a happier man and he has Sophie to thank.
But then the film runs into its major problem, which is a number of flimsy and predictable sequences leading to the very end. Instead of concentrating on its central themes, Magic in the Moonlight turns into a romance without any real chemistry between Stanley and Sophie. All of its charm and lightness is turned back into Stanley’s blackened heart for the world. And for almost no good reason at all, the conclusion sticks out like a sore thumb for clumsy and lazy writing.
For what it’s worth, I didn’t have much expectation going into Magic in the Moonlight, so I can happily take away its well-done first half and its themes. But overall, the film becomes forgettable and there isn’t any good reasons to ever revisit this movie again. For what it’s worth, I loved Midnight in Paris (2011) and Blue Jasmine (2013) gave Cate Blanchett an Oscar (along with two other nominations). Hopefully, next year Allen will return with another winner, keeping the pattern intact.
The Help (2011)
Directed by Tate Taylor
Starring: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain
Based on the best-selling novel by Kathryn Stockett, The Help is a powerful story about racial discrimination in the South during the 1960’s. Specifically targeting a few maids in Jackson, Mississippi, we are thrown into the lifestyle and appalling mistreatment of African American women by the upper class women. What really brings the story to life is the talented ensemble cast: Viola Davis, Jessica Chastain, Octavia Spencer, and Emma Stone.
The film revolves around Skeeter (Stone), a young journalist who takes a job at the Jackson Journal writing a cleaning column even though she knows nothing about the subject. But she’s ambitious and will go to any lengths to bring her idea to reality, to write a book in the perspective of the help. Her decision certainly turns a lot of heads and causes friction among her selective circle, but she understands she’s doing something very significant and throughout her interviews, she learns more than she ever had expected.
The two maids who agree to help Skeeter at first are Aibileen (Davis) and Minny (Spencer). Though they have volumes to discuss, including their personal lives, raising other people’s children and their stance on using a separate bathroom, the publisher informs Skeeter than she needs more. Because of the risky proposition Skeeter doesn’t get any more voices for her book, that is until a tragedy strikes the African American community.
The Help, at times, feel too much like a preaching melodrama, but mostly the story is solid with rich characters and real world conflicts. Driven by the great performances of Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, it’s impossible not to feel for their characters. With the entire film focused mainly on women, it’s a refreshing aspect that is rare in Hollywood.
Despite a few hiccups along the way, the 2+ hours of The Help breezes by. It definitely has its tear-jerking moments towards the end so have some tissues handy. Other than that, The Help expands on the message of the novel, giving it the air to breathe and the legs to run.
Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)
Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
Starring: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Julianne Moore
Do not be mistaken. Crazy, Stupid, Love is not a romantic comedy that you might expect based on the trailers and TV commercials. It is in fact a dramedy, because it contains many levels of drama, but with a lighter tone and the occasional silly moment for comedic relief. With a star-studded cast from young to middle-age, this intertwined love story is suitable for all ages, and that was one of the intentions for the movie.
Cal (Carell) finds himself in a position that no one wants to be in. His wife, Emily (Moore) admitted to cheating on him and therefore his marriage is currently in shambles, he moves out of his house away from his children, and he hasn’t been on a date since he fell in love with his high school sweetheart. Obviously rusty at the dating game, Jacob (Gosling) swoops in and tries to restore his man-hood by teaching him the tricks to picking up chicks. This part of the film felt a lot like the Will Smith, Kevin James interaction in Hitch.
The film displays three generations of couples: You have Cal and Emily’s 13-year-old son, Robbie pursuing his baby-sitter Jessica, then Jacob trying to win the heart of Hannah (Stone), and finally Cal and Emily going through rock bottom in their marriage. Because of this, I guess you could say that this movie is suitable for all ages, even though I wasn’t too fond of the Robbie-Jessica story-line.
The strength of the film lies within Ryan Gosling’s performance as Jacob. While Steve Carell owns most of the screen-time during the course of the film, Gosling’s character is the one that goes through the most change from a womanizer to a responsible young adult, ready to commit to a relationship. Also, Gosling shows off his comedic chops and his chemistry alongside Carell was very enjoyable.
While Crazy, Stupid, Love is a delightful film about love and faith, there were a few hiccups that prevented it from being a top-notch dramedy. First off, I couldn’t bring myself to like Robbie’s character. This shaggy-haired, teenager was the voice of reason throughout, and there are a few things that I hate more in a film than when you have a know-it-all kid reciting all the morals of the story. The scene towards the end of the film when Robbie gives a speech at graduation was like nails on a chalkboard.
Also, for a film with some witty and intelligent writing, I expected to avoid the typical cliches of any other dramedy or romantic comedy. The film tried to poke fun at these cliches with their self-knowing comments like when Carell mumbles how cliche it is for rain to start pouring after a heart-breaking scene. While I understand what the writers were trying to do, I felt it fell flat and put a bulls-eye on their attempt to remain smart while not being smart enough to avoid these cliches.
But aside from these minor complaints, I did enjoy Crazy, Stupid, Love a lot. It had a very pleasant blend of drama, comedy, romance, and real-life characters that you could relate to. Even though the film was fifteen minutes too long, if you have those attributes working for a film, it can’t go too wrong.