The Oscars 2014: A Night For History Making or…

The biggest storyline that’s headed into this year’s Oscar race has always been the discussion of diversity.  Male to female ratios, white to minority voting blocks, the impending conversation has stemmed from a lack of a wider voting body from a culture that’s technically supposed to support multiple ethnic backgrounds and groundbreaking movement in terms of equality and balanced perspectives.  Regardless of how the Academy is perceived, they have the ability to make history tonight.

Specifically with two categories: Best Director and Best Picture.  If Alfonso Cuaron (favorite) or Steve McQueen wins, they’d be the first director to ever receive the award for a Hispanic or a Black filmmaker in the history of the Academy Awards.  When I first heard that statistic, it was mind-boggling, thinking that it couldn’t be true that they’ve never awarded outside the Caucasian and Asian backgrounds.  But it is, and take it how you will, but if the cards play out tonight, one of the two will be rewarded unless…

The other major category, Best Picture, is a lot more mixed with mystery and confusion, with an ample amount of non-evidence for which picture has taken the lead.  You can make the argument for both 12 YEARS A SLAVE and GRAVITY, with 12 YEARS having the precursors and consensus split awarded them, whereas GRAVITY is the clear on favorite for Director and has won the DGA, which is usually the best predictor in regards to Best Picture.  Regardless, history will be made with one of these two films, with one film winning being the first time a black director, black producer, black writer, and a mostly black cast has ever won Best Picture.  The other would be the acceptance of the future of filmmaking, a thrill ride with an emotional punch surrounded by the incredible advancement in technology for the world of entertainment.  But you cannot deny AMERICAN HUSTLE’s presence, with David O. Russell’s pesky persona, hoping for third time’s a charm.  He’s greatly overdue in the eyes of the Academy, but it all depends on how a voter perceives each film.

But at least there’s a ton of speculation and unknown going into the biggest prize of the night, which hasn’t happened for quite some time.  Nonetheless, it’ll all unfold tonight, and the hysteria will end… until next year.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

One of the hardest categories to pick outside of Picture, this is dead heat race between Spike Jonze’s HER and David O. Russell and Eric Singer’s AMERICAN HUSTLE.  It’s easy to distinguish what I’d want to win, but it’s incredibly difficult to see where the trend is floating towards.  This is the one award that AH could potentially win (outside of Supporting Actress, Costume Deisgn, maybe Production Design or Editing), and if it doesn’t, then that means AH could be completely swiped out clean, which I have a really hard time seeing.  This is the one category where it’s chances are best, even if it comes down to a coin toss.  But I’m going to stick with HER, the precursor pick, and the more noteworthy film.  Yes, I’m mixing my thoughts and opinions into this category, but the script is just so much better and more complex, whereas Hustle is about people yelling and screaming for two hours.

Predicted Winner: Her
Dark Horse: American Hustle
If I Had A Vote: Her

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

This category is much more clear cut, with 12 YEARS A SLAVE winning the USC Scripter.  It’s biggest challenger would be Billy Ray’s CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, who won the WGA (though 12 YEARS was disqualified for the award).  Regardless, I believe it’s John Ridley’s night and he’ll graciously accept his achievement.

Predicted Winner: 12 Years A Slave
Dark Horse: Captain Phillips
If I Had A Vote: 12 Years A Slave

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Such a strong group of nominees, but the season has been dominated by Jared Leto and his strong performance in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB.  No one has come close in regards to amount of accolades he’s collected, but Barkhad Abdi from CAPTAIN PHILLIPS has some momentum coming in, especially with his win from the BAFTA (Leto was no nominated).  It’s Leto’s night, and I think this is an easy call to make.

Predicted Winner: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Dark Horse: Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
If I Had A Vote: Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

This is one of those races that are full of absolute arrogance and preposterous banter, and no, it’s not because of Jennifer Lawrence’s potential upset against the better performance in Lupita N’Yongo in 12 YEARS.  It’s the conversation that if Lawrence, there’ll be this complete backlash and her popularity will take a major dive.  It’s a pathetic pop culture significance where a young woman’s success would ACTUALLY derail her potential and future career.  It speaks volumes of our current obsession and misplaced emphasis in these people’s lives, and if a woman has too much success and it’s become a bad thing, then, wow, we’ve really regressed as a country.  Pathetic.

Predicted Winner: Lupita N’yongo, 12 Years A Slave
Dark Horse: Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
If I Had A Vote: Lupita N’yongo, 12 Years A Slave

BEST ACTOR

The McConnaisance is truly something to watch.  I don’t know if we’ve seen a better year from an actor in the history of film.  It’s tough to say, but he’s really out done himself in 2013 calendar year, and then add upon his riveting performance in TRUE DETECTIVE, he’s built quite the resume recently.  He’s got this one sewn up pretty much, with the only potential upset in the form of Chiwetel Ejiofor or Leonardo DiCaprio (which COULD happen), but I’ll play it safe and stay with the consensus for almost the awards season.

Predicted Winner: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Dark Horse: Leonardo Dicaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street 
If I Had A Vote: Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years A Slave

BEST ACTRESS

These are one of those categories where they not only award the best performance, but also the actor or actress’ career and their entire body of work.  No doubt Cate Blanchett has put in a wonderful piece in BLUE JASMINE, but she’s long overdue, and has dominated the acting scene for a long time.  There is no one close to touching her, and the biggest concern of the night for this category is her acceptance speech and her acknowledgement of Woody Allen.

Predicted Winner: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Dark Horse: Judi Dench, Philomena…?
If I Had A Vote: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine (Brie Larson for Short Term 12)

BEST DIRECTOR

The funny thing is, I think director and picture go hand-in-hand, for the most part, and in most years, I’d vote for the director that I believed directed the best film, but this year, I’d likely regress because Alfonso Cuaron’s work in GRAVITY is astonishing, and his commitment and determination to create a moving and daring piece of work while advancing the world of filmmaking technology is groundbreaking stuff.  I have equal admiration for Steve McQueen, and I think Scorsese is one of the five greatest filmmakers in history, but as the consensus is showing, I think Cuaron should win and will.

Predicted Winner: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Dark Horse: Steve McQueen, 12 Years A Slave
If I Had A Vote: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity

BEST PICTURE

The big one.  The one that is probably the least predictable.  The reason for it is that history contradicts one another when perceiving who the likely winner will be.  Gravity has it’s own history with PGA (tie) and DGA win with the Director category pretty much already given to them.  12 YEARS has the precursor designation given to them, with the clear Picture/Director split the pronounced trend through the awards circuit.  And then you have AH, the film that usually tickles the Academy’s fancy with it’s heavy dialogue, actor friendly, and safe and friendly movie viewing.  But it’s only won the SAG Ensemble, and unless it pulls a Crash-like surprise, then I think it’s more of a dark horse than a contender.  This category can be determined by how the night is played.

If American Hustle starts winning awards that it wasn’t favored to (Production Design, Costume, Supporting, Screenplay, and ESPECIALLY EDITING), then you can make the assumption it could take Picture.  But the likelihood of that is incredibly slim.  Now if 12 Years start taking awards like Editing, Screenplay, Costume or Production, then you can start seeing a potential trend.  If it wins Director, it’s a lock.  The only thing you can’t make the assumption on is if Gravity starts sweeping the tech categories, which it’s pretty much favored to do outside one or two categories.  The only one category that I’d watch is Editing, because if it wins that, it leans favorably for a Gravity Best Picture win.  But who knows.  Like the entire awards season, it can be a spread-the-wealth type ordeal.  We’ll all have to wait a find out.

Predicted Winner: 12 Years A Slave
Dark Horse: Gravity (with a little glimmer of chance for American Hustle)
If I Had A Vote: 12 Years A Slave

The Oscars 2014: Tech Categories & Their Importance

Like it is every year… the tech awards are important, outside of the fact that these elements in film are crucial to the overall product of the film, but they also can dictate the fate of other categories at the latter end of the show.  When ARGO won Editing and Screenplay last year, it was certain that Picture was theirs.  When films like TITANIC or LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING swept almost every technical category, it was almost certain that the evening would end on their terms.

The tricky thing about this year’s Oscar race is that there are so many films that are in the hunt, that even if a film dominates early on (a la GRAVITY or AMERICAN HUSTLE) a film like 12 YEARS A SLAVE can still take the big prize, considering that has been the established precedent for this entire awards run.  Golden Globes, BAFTA, Critics’ Choice, PGA (tie) – they all have handed other films more awards but still presented the biggest and most important category to 12 YEARS.  This is a year where anything can happen, and even if a film starts sweeping early (which GRAVITY will definitely do), that isn’t necessarily an indication that we can call it an evening an hour in.

BEST EDITING

This is a category that usually goes in hand with the winner of Best Picture, but not always a certainty.  In some years, the category is crucial, but in a year like this, it’s difficult to exactly decipher its meaning.  The favorite at this very moment is CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, winning an Eddie, and easily the most showiest of edited films.  If Gravity wins, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to take Best Picture, as it was a favorite not so long ago.  The bigger tells would be if 12 YEARS or AMERICAN HUSTLE winning, especially the latter.  If AH somehow pulls this out, it’d be a potential spoiler for the rest of the evening.

Predicted Winner: Captain Phillips
Dark Horse: Gravity
If I Had A Vote: Gravity

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

I feel bad for Roger Deakins.  What does the man have to do to get his incredibly overdue Oscar?  In any other year, I’d say PRISONERS easily the most enhanced through its cinematography, easily creating the tense and darkening world, making the film much better.  But with Emmanuel Lubeski’s groundbreaking work, it’s easy to call this category.  Anyone else winning would be a complete shock.

Predicted Winner: Gravity
Dark Horse: Inside Llewyn Davis
If I Had A Vote: Gravity

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

This is one of those categories that will most likely mean nothing in foreshadowing future categories, but I think if GRAVITY beats THE GREAT GATSBY (favorite), then we’re going to see a sweep of sorts, including Picture and Director.

Predicted Winner: The Great Gatsby
Dark Horse: Gravity
If I Had A Vote: Her

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

This is another category that has a clear favorite, but if AH or 12 YEARS somehow surprise here, I think it’d be quite telling.  I think the only other nominee that stands a chance against THE GREAT GATSBY is AH, and if it does sneak up and win, watch out…

Predicted Winner: The Great Gatsby
Dark Horse: American Hustle
If I Had A Vote: The Great Gatsby

BEST SOUND MIXING & SOUND EDITING

Not even close.

Predicted Winner: Gravity
Dark Horse: Lone Survivor
If I Had A Vote: Gravity

BEST TEN FILMS OF 2013

Like I’ve said numerous times before, 2013 was a spectacular year for movies, especially with the slate of films that were released in the fall.  It was excruciating to compile this list, let alone conclude on ten films.  Most likely, this list will change throughout the years, but for now, here are my ten favorite films of 2013.

10.  PRISONERS

Seeing this film before even knowing what it was about, I was thrown into a dark and morally conflicting world where we dive into child abduction and kidnapping in a painful and humanistic manner.  Denis Villeneuve’s direction, Roger Deakins’ cinematography, and Aaron Guzikowski’s tightly written script works in all manners, creating an thriller wrapped within multiple themes of religion, tragedy, and what we’re willing to do for our own family, even if it’s criminal.  PRISONERS is a refreshing take on cliche genre, and is a multiple viewing considering how dense the film is.  I specifically love Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal’s performances, and this cast works very well together.  It’s a film that deserves more recognition and is an entertaining but an investigation on the relationship between action and reaction.

9.  THE PAST

In simple words, Asghar Farhadi, the director of THE PAST, is a genius.  The way we layers his films, creating an intimate world between a facet of characters all intertwined within difficult relationships.  This film, another dense and pact cinematic experience, is the epitome of careful and detail outlining with the pace moving beautifully and slowly revealing the truth about the overlying situation and the reality of these flawed characters.  It’s an immense accomplishment, surrounding itself with multitudes of conflict, and the infatuation we as humans have with our past and its inability to propel ourselves to progress.  It’s a film many should watch, and can help us understand ourselves in ways that we may never have wanted to discover.  That’s the purity in cinema.

8.  STORIES WE TELL

The best documentary I’ve seen this year is STORIES WE TELL created by the talented Sarah Polley, and it’s obvious why I would appreciate a film like this.  The story, being centered around her family’s ill-structured dynamic, it’s another tale of misfortune, reveling in the past, and the ability to let go.  There are multitude of revealings that happen throughout the film, and once they all hit, the message works so well in tune, emphasizing how truth is as fragmented as our own stories, only connecting to what our memory serves us to remember.  It’s a great work of art, and I hope this film moves towards legendary status.

7.  GRAVITY

A roller coaster ride of an experience with an emotional punch packed within, GRAVITY, Alfonso Cuaron’s most recent picture, is something to behold.  The visuals on this film will easily be regarded as the best that’s ever been done, but the film doesn’t work just because of its special effects, but it’s hinged on Ryan Stone’s growth into surviving and living, rather than peacefully disappearing from existence.  The entire film is a metaphor to how tragedy can inflict our souls, and how we have two options to make: either to overcome or to wither.  Stone’s surmounting hurdles and obstacles are life’s way of making things never easy, but the power of motivation and the will to live can overcome, and the way it all works together creates a powerful and moving piece of work.

6.  THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

The most polarizing film of 2013, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is a grand example of a mastermind and auteur of everything cinema.  Yes, it’s a hypnotic and gratuitous watch, infused with sex, drugs, alcohol, and all kinds of debauchery that posts a lost ability to reflect but more to just witness.  But the film is a satire and a commentary of all things evil, and the methods these scums of the States have used throughout time to steal from whoever they can manage.  But we don’t see the victims because Jordan Belfort doesn’t see the victims.  We don’t see character growth because there is no character growth.  We see only one perspective, the shallow and inconsiderate kind, which of these men, to, at the end of day, realize that this kind of life is fraudulent and unkind to all involved.

5.  HER

This is the love story of our generation, our inability to discover true and human relationships, and rely on our computer screens or iPhones to fulfill the emptiness within our souls.  HER is a reflection on our society’s infatuation with illusion, the mere existence we share with someone on the other side.  Spike Jonze creates a world where this has become the standard, not just acceptable behavior.  The film is based in the very near future, not resembling a vast different skyline of Los Angeles or greater technology.  But the near future is a reflection of how close we are to actually falling in love with our computers, and finding our strongest connection with software.  If we really think about it, the behavior we exhume is awkward and definably questionable, but those who dissociate themselves from it are almost looked at outcasts.  HER, with a simple touch of human love and how conflicted we are as people, is an incredible achievement in story telling.  Hail all parties involved as this film will last throughout time.

4.  12 YEARS A SLAVE

Eloquent, graceful, distant, and emotionally careful, 12 YEARS A SLAVE will be the most important film that has come out in the 2000s.  Steve McQueen’s direction is clearly felt, easily having a large creative hand in how the product eventually results.  You’ve got one of the great ensembles piece of the year, with each performance pulling its weight and taking us on this journey of Solomon Northup.  It takes a few viewings to truly understand the grandness of it all, to appreciate the exact execution it took to pull of a passionate, moving, and somber tale one man’s story in a culture that has haunted American history.  It deserves Best Picture, not just for how great the film is, but for important it will be to finally reward this kind of artistry tackling an issue that should’ve been tackled a long time ago.

3.  BEFORE MIDNIGHT

In my opinion, the greatest trilogy I’ve ever seen, BEFORE MIDNIGHT is the icing on the cake, the completed work of three progressive films that get better and better.  A simple and private story of two people falling in love, it’s a realistic but yet also hopeful take on relationships and how love, as twisted as it is, is the only thing we really have in this world that stays throughout time.  Richard Linklater, with the writing aid of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy (who play the leads) have enabled us with a new range of filmmaking, ignoring the cliche rules and standards of new age American cinema, allowing us to divulge in words and their eloquent ways of expression.  It’s a study that should be constantly taught in film schools and all media classes as the epitome of risky story telling.  It works so well, and is one of the best films of 2013.

2.  SHORT TERM 12

The battle between #1 and #2 was as difficult as ever, but in the grand scheme of things, both films will be in my all time favorites so it’s really a redundant conversation, but it shows just how good SHORT TERM 12 really is.  It’s a film that nails the honesty and the truth of disturbed and pained children and teenagers, and how the victimization of innocence is what truly ruins this country.  But really, it’s a story of appreciation and finding the good in people.  Stripping away all reputation and background from an individual, and giving each and every person a chance is what’s important here.  Destin Cretton does an invaluable job of displaying these difficult stories where tortured teenagers must find ways to survive, regardless of it being healthy or legal.  The performances from each member of its cast including Brie Larson, Keith Stanfield, and John Gallagher Jr. are all essential components to this vast success of storytelling.  It’s a film that I’ll show my kids, and I hope they’ll show theirs.  It’s a recommendation I’ll always make to people because it’s a true human story, and regardless of what we have or haven’t gone through, we can all understand the difficulties of living with pain, no matter how small or big we think they are.  SHORT TERM 12 is a film you must watch.

1.  BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR

It’s hard to really explain my love for this film, from its grand themes of love, identity, individualism, and the road to happiness, but each and every individual that has seen this film has its own personal affection for it and with very good reason.  It’s one of the best films I’ve ever seen.  It’s a visual display of the power in sexual chemistry, and how overpowering it can be to find love within our physical hunger and appetite.  It’s a thesis of conversations ranging from the beauty of art, the difficulties of maturity, literature, food, and all things important in our daily lives.  It’s a reflection of relationships, and how there’s always that one person that has captured our breaths in ways that no other partner ever has.  It creates this small, intimate world of Adele that infatuates our need to find and discover.  Not just in our sexual exploration or our human interactions, but within ourselves, and to find what completes us and makes us whole.  To label this film a “sex infused lesbian movie” is unjust and unfair.  The film is so much more than that, and deserves an audience willing to explore these thoughts and ideas that provide great detail of the difficulties of living.

One can only hope 2014 emulates something similar to 2013.  What a great year for cinema.

Best Performances of 2013

2013 was a banner year for films, specifically the movement to push the artistic emphasis in an industry that forces super heroes and comic book films down our throats.  Though studios are becoming more cynical and asinine with their ignorance in quality character films, it has created this new culture of indie inspired second-hand production companies and studios, like Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Films.  Taking the risk of losing money and general audiences for better and deeper stories, this is the bright spot that gives future writers, producers, and filmmakers the hope and motivation to keep creating moving, smart, and fascinating works of art.

2013 gave us some amazing and beautiful performances, mainly because filmmakers provided characters and stories that allowed for it.  As the film culture continues to progress, one can only hope that the daring and brave new attitude that has unfolded continues to prosper.

This list is truly impossible to create, and there are many more performances that are so fulfilling and genius, but these are my 12 favorite performances of 2013.

Adele Exarchopolous (Blue Is The Warmest Colour)

A moving and incredibly honest portrayal of a high school student lost in their struggle to find peace, love, and identity, Adele Exarchopolous’ performance as the lost Adele (same name as the character) is raw, beautiful, and important.  The film is invested in Adele’s ability to showcase these emotions and feelings as every scene contains Adele, and without her utmost investment in the story and the character, this film simply wouldn’t work.  We absorb and soak in her world, the search for her own self and what fulfills her happiness.  Whatever one may think about the director’s manipulation of the lead, it’s ignores the notion that Adele’s exceptional performance had to be executed, and anyone who has watched this film cannot ignore her power.

Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)

There are so many noteworthy performances in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, from Jonah Hill to the worldwide introduction of Margot Robbie, who will undoubtedly rise and start her own illustrious career, but this film doesn’t work without DiCaprio’s sheer nastiness and despicable nature as Jordan Belfort.  He is the part, immersing his talent and charisma into a mind-blowing act, never letting go of the attitude those Wall Street criminals have committed throughout time.  It’s over-the-top, obnoxious, and borderline insane, and that’s exactly the way Scorsese would’ve wanted it.  This is by far DiCaprio’s best performance in his career, and if it wasn’t for McConaughey or Ejiofor, he deserves an Oscar for this rambunctious performance.

Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis)

It’s always hard to play an intriguing, wondrous asshole who plays the lead, but in INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, Llewyn, played by the multi-talented Oscar Isaac, who sings and plays the guitar live in every song, fulfills both the protagonist and the antagonist roles, limiting his success through his lack of sympathy and respect for himself and others.  Some may find the film dismissive, but The Coen Brothers make polarizing films.  But regardless of what one may think about the film as a whole, you cannot deny the intricate relationship you create with Llewyn, and how you much you despise his antics but respect his ambitions.  As a folk singer when folk music isn’t really known, success is very difficult to come by, but Llewyn’s problems are strictly related to his inner self, and his inability to collaborate, communicate, and live like an honest, open human being.  Oscar Isaac delivers a rich and beautiful song, extended through the whole film, and it never gets old.

Lupita N’yongo (12 Years A Slave)

Another film that is full of incredible performances is 12 YEARS A SLAVE, with its ensemble piece easily the best of the year.  But one of two performances that stand out is Lupita N’yongo, playing the saddening role of real life Patsey.  This being her first major role in any film period, it’s unbelievable how seamless and easy she makes it look, which I’m sure is far from the truth.  To play a character that’s been brutalized and contorted physically and emotionally is nothing short of mental angst, but N’yongo does it with grace and beauty.  What you see on screen is a ravaged soul looking for any motivation to live, but the world she’s seen is lacking of any sort of hope and light.  She makes this pivotal character a revelation, and is an integrate part of the film.

Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

Ignoring the polarizing reputation Jared Leto has, his performance as Rayon in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB is of large part why the film works.  It’s a beautiful character that provides an unfortunate tale of helplessness but positivity, and Leto walks that very thin line with exuberance.  Nothing short of mesmerizing, Leto’s devotion to his character is obvious, losing 30 pounds for the role, but what really works is his humanity, his acceptance of defeat, and his conscious understanding that life is coming to an end.  Though he constantly displays a sense of prosperity and glee, inside Rayon truly knows his time is up, and Leto is very aware, being complete with this mindset and nature.  He’s going to win an Oscar for this role, and there’s not one ounce of doubt that he deserves it.

Berenice Bejo (The Past)

Known for her work in The Artist, Berenice Bejo takes a 180 degree turn in THE PAST, directed by the brilliant Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi.  A simple tale of a self-destructive family perplexed with difficult situations and a dark dynamic, Marie is the sole connector between all the individuals at play, and her tug-of-war between her ex-husband and her future, her children, and herself is the focus here.  This kind of role is very easy for talent to overact and try to overreach character’s true nature, but Bejo beautifully understands that there is a subtleness within the individual, a painful fight within, and at the precise moment, we see it being too much to bear, and it’s done perfectly.  Bejo deserves much attention for her performance, and is the driving force in THE PAST.

Julie Delpy (Before Midnight)

The BEFORE Trilogy is an example of great and daring filmmaking, breaking so many structure rules and being completely grounded on its dialogue and characters.  Though Ethan Hawke turns in very memorable performances throughout, Julie Delpy’s Celine is a large part of the charm and moving factor of why BEFORE MIDNIGHT works so well.  She’s the most confused and overwhelmed character, being a mother of twins, finally being with a man she’s loved for 18 years, and also building a relationship with that man’s son in America.  Also being a careerist and an individual fueled with passion for much of the world, she has difficulties juggling all these priorities, stressing the ability to live life but feeling restricted by many different factors.  Delpy as Celine is a revelation, a true form of realness.  I loved BEFORE MIDNIGHT, and much of it is credited to the writing (which Delpy is also involved with), but one cannot ignore the greatness of Celine, a character that has been molded through Delpy’s delicate hands.

Matthew McConaughey (Mud/Dallas Buyers Club)

The McConnaisance continues, and it’s pretty amazing to see Matthew McConaughey’s career take a clear turn, in a great way.  He delivers not one, but two excellent performances in MUD and DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, with the latter being a potential Oscar win.  That would mark quite an achievement considering he was once regarded the epitome of rom-com material.  Playing two very different characters in two very different films, he delivers in both without seeing McConaughey, but witnessing his characters.  Both films rely heavily on his abilities, and he accomplishes and creates noteworthy characters, pulling the audience into the journey.  He deserves all the credit that’s going to his way, and the reputation that followed him prior will eventually be abolished.

Brie Larson (Short Term 12)

The little move that could, SHORT TERM 12 is an opportunity for Brie Larson to showcase her immense talent, showcasing a tortured and victimized character struggling to live a normal life.  Surround her with kids who struggle with the same exact kind of torment, and you have a film that is purely raw and truthful.  But much of this film doesn’t work without Larson’s commitment to making sure Grace isn’t your prototypical disturbed young woman.  She has qualities that exemplify strength, patience, and an ability to understand, yet she doesn’t use these qualities for her own self, restricting progression and moving forward from the pain experienced as a child.  Such a difficult character to pinpoint, Larson becomes Grace in ways you forget her prior roles and believe that his is who she really is.

Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave)

Being Solomon Northup is no easy task, and the difficulty of understanding one’s mind through 12 years of slavery and suddenly transitioning oneself from free to enslaved is such a difficult and excruciating job, but Chiwetel Ejiofor, a usual supporting actor, bursts onto lead status with this haunting performance.  The hardest part of the role, in my opinion, is the character arc, mixing all these emotions from hope and faith to disbelief and helplessness.  Much of this must be shown through facial and body language, and the overall capacity a human experiences in such tragic situations is one that’s very undefinable, but Ejiofor delivers a convincing portrayal, and shines through the entire journey.  Deserving of all accolades, this is a defying performance that will become of legendary status.

Scarlett Johansson (Her)

There’s something to a powerful performance when you technically aren’t in the film at all.  But Scarlett Johansson as Samantha in HER is a wonder, as her presence is felt throughout even though it is not seen.  She extends her wide range of emotions, feelings, and intellect through her tones and voice, and as viewers, we totally buy the film itself because of how good Johansson is.  Though you can credit the always brilliant Spike Jonze for his screenplay, that quality of writing isn’t transferable without an incredible performance, and though she won’t receive the credit it deserves, the film is possible because of Samantha.

Keith Stanfield (Short Term 12)

Outside of Brie Larson’s Grace, another actor emerges from this excellent film, and it’s Keith Stanfield as Marcus that strikes the most emotional toll.  The torment that’s clearly visible in his eyes, in the way he speaks, and in the way he goes about himself is true and present, never questioning his motives, but sympathizing and caring for his well-being.  It’s the most gut wrenching aspect of SHORT TERM 12, and Stanfield pulls of the roller coaster character in a smooth and gentle approach.  He’s got quite a career ahead of him if he continues to tackle these kinds of roles, and as you can see from the scene below, he’s a talent that we should watch for in the foreseeable future.

*NEXT IS THE TOP FILMS OF 2013 (#20-11).

Amazing Roundtable Interview with Actors & Actresses of 2013

If you have an incredible amount of free time, I suggest watching these two videos by The Hollywood Reporter on roundtable interviews from this year’s contenders in the acting field.  Though each video is an hour long, they’re insightful, thought-provoking, and intellectually beautiful.

Actors Roundtable 2013

Actresses Roundtable 2013

Surviving the Telluride Film Festival & Its Life-Changing Moments

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This is an extremely late post, considering its been almost three weeks now since the 40th Annual Telluride Film Festival has closed shop.  There is not enough time or words to describe the entire experience, that’s something very few people will have enough patience to ever hear or understand.  I’ve been meaning to try and express it all in a blog post, but I feel that I may write a novel instead of an entry.  But simply put, Telluride easily changed my life, but in very particular ways.

First off, Telluride is a such a beautiful pure place.  Surrounded by mountains, rivers, and some of the most picturesque landscape I’ve ever seen, it amazes me that a legitimate film festival takes place every year there.  Not necessarily because of its small size or its intimate community, but mainly how polarizing it sometimes feel to be spending most of your hours watching a screen instead of soaking in the outdoors.  You compare that to the typical nature of American cinema, that clash like two trains heading in different directions.  But then the beauty of Telluride and its correlation with the festival is the emphasis in the art.  I heard so much about how TFF is all about films and nothing else.  No press, no paparazzi (except from the passholders), and no bullshit.  The focus here is about movies, and the purity of the festival goes hand-in-hand with the purity of the town.  It’s such a revelation to experience something like this, where the combination of two such important aspects is a small glimpse of heaven.  I mean, who can ask for anything better than movies and nature?  It’s a rare equation that works so beautifully, and just having that kind of atmosphere alone made the whole trip worth the money and the journey (though it wasn’t as difficult as one would presume).

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The symposium itself was quite the interesting experience, as I’ve never been engaged in such intense and diverse discussions about the artform.  I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t necessarily all positives for me, as I needed time for myself to just contemplate and divulge through my own meditative ways, but overall, the privilege of watching a wide range of films from different countries and cultures with an immensely intelligent and thought-provoking group was a huge blessing.  Being thrown into a room full of people you’ve never met before, it’s uniqueness is understated and is easily worth the application process.  The people in general were pleasant and gave me ton of perspective.  I learned so much that I thought my head was going to explode, and one day I literally thought I was going to pass out.  Though there were struggles with certain criticisms, strong-armed opinions, and a sense of film snottiness that almost overpowered the entire week, at the end of the day, it was such a rarity to be given such a gift that I felt nothing more than just overall gratitude to be a part of it all.  Everyone comes in with different backgrounds, understandings, cultures, beliefs, etc.  Then add in the particular trait of passion and love for film, you get a melting pot of ideas and opinions that always provide for some mind-bending conversations.  As an aspiring writer, there’s nothing better more important than listening to people.  It’s one of my most important activities and methods that I partake in in regards to inspiration and the creative spirit.  Perspective is such a crucial part of my writing identity, mainly because I don’t want rely on my own to be the main source of material.  I may not have gotten much progress done specifically with my own stories or work, but being part of the symposium opened my eyes in so many ways and in so many different levels.

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What I really adored however was the symposiums with the filmmakers and discussing with the symposium alumni.  With the former, it was unreal hearing Asghar Farhadi or Werner Herzog talk about films, their methods, and how the process works for them.  To be given an opportunity to just sit down in a classroom and just listen to these incredible individuals speak was indescribable.  When would I get an opportunity to ask questions to Ken Burns or Steve McQueen (this was during a public discussion for the entire film festival)?  In general, the festival is so intimate that filmmakers, actors, and directors all rub shoulders with the general public, which in itself is amazing.  Watching Jason Reitman get sent to the back of the line for Errol Morris’ The Unknown Known was hilarious and mind-blowing at the same time.  Sitting next to Alexander Payne and talking to him for about 10 minutes with a fellow student before the Polish film Ida (which was one of my favorites of the entire festival) was truly a special moment in my life.  Discussing movies with these immaculate and talented people gave me a real sense of normality to them.  Yes, they are some of the most renown faces of film and the entertainment industry, but they are also human beings.  They have their families, their own hobbies, and their own lives to take care of, and the way they get their films made in as much of a struggle as it is for us lowly folk to just break in.  Nothing comes easy in this line of work, and if you really want it, you must work your ass of constantly and you must stay committed to it.

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Though talking to celebrities and filmmakers was exciting all in itself, being able to talk to the past student symposium participants and see where their lives have taken them was also just as gratifying.  Being given advice, seeing their line of work, and just speaking honestly with more mature and wiser individuals was so important.  I learned and took away so much from them, and regardless of how far these relationships will take me, that time I got to spend with them was itself one of the more important memorable experiences that I had at Telluride.  These people have so much to say, and sometimes people don’t give them the time of day, but it just showed me the necessity I need to have in being open and be willing to connect with an array of people, regardless of age, race, gender, sexuality, etc.  But all those supposed barriers aside, and just connect with another person.  That was special, and I hope to continue to build off of what I learned from that.

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There were many instances and moments throughout those six days that I wish I could overly dissect and share, but I’m getting a headache just thinking about Telluride (in a good way).  From waiting in lines and talking to random strangers, taking a hike and witnessing Telluride’s beauty from up above, riding the gondolas at 1 a.m. after Blue Is The Warmest Colour screening (my favorite film of the festival), and running through a rain storm after the Punch Brothers concert where we were a few meters away from the Coen Brothers.  It doesn’t get much better than the Telluride Film Festival.  As an aspiring writer and filmmaker, I learned and took away so much that adds to my motivation, my necessary involvement in this line of work, and just who I am as a person and how that reflects what I want to create.  Take all the run-ins and pictures, the films, and all the people that I met away from me, I still will have gained something so precious, which is a better sense of identity.  I know myself better, not just from a writer or filmmaker’s point of view, but my own satisfactions in life and what I want to pursue and achieve.  Watching The Past and discussing such deep conversations with Farhadi revealed to me how much I want to share his emphasis in humanity and the individual’s story.  Talking briefly with Alfonso Cuaron and how much he cared about the smaller films allowed me to understand that the superficial benefits like box office returns, critical acclaim, and awards are not the priorities in filmmaking.  The foundation should always be in the story and in the art, regardless of how successful or disappointing the result may be.  And most importantly, be proud and honest to who you are.  Don’t shy away from the things you enjoy or like just because the majority may not support those arenas.  Standing on your own two feet and weathering whatever comes at you is such a vital ability, not just as an artist, but as as a person in general.  There’s always going to be negativity, disinterest, and lack of support from different groups of people, but the person you must be most connected to and support is yourself.  There’s always room to be better, but let that journey take its own pace, and constantly grow in ways that will help you.

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The untold theme of the festival was easily survival, as films like All Is Lost, Gravityand 12 Years A Slave obviously take its specific theme.  But all the other films that played through Telluride told survival stories about love, passion, identity, family, structure, etc.  It’s not just about surviving and weathering the storm, but it’s about the aftermath, and how you as a person will stand.  In all these films, the protagonists attached themselves to one specific thing that kept them going.  If it was from family, their significant other, fame, or freedom, it pushed them to not quit but strive for their goals.  Telluride has given me such an experience where I’m ready to not just survive, but so excel and succeed in writing, film, and as a person.  And success as an individual doesn’t come from fame, money, or qualifications, but through my own character.  Though I dreaded the end of September (because I have no clue what I’m doing next), fear is not an option anymore, and I’m excited for where the road leads.

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(I will blog about the films on the next post).