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 EVOLUTION OF A SCENE: CHILDREN OF MEN

When I spend days devoted to writing, I need breaks to get my mind off of my own stories, and give myself some motivational juice and inspiration that, yes, film is the correct career choice.  So during these breaks, I like to read news articles on films, watch clips, and find interesting things to preoccupy my mind from film… with film.  What a beautiful field.

Anyways, during these breaks, I thought a cool thing to do for this somewhat confusing blog is to create these segments where we can break down scenes and how great they are.  Sometimes, a film can be remembered and even immortalized for one single scene from The Godfather’s baptism/take down of the families scene to Titanic’s “I’M THE KING OF THE WORLD”.  These scenes are what keeps older films and classics fresh in our minds as their ability to execute a scene perfectly is what keeps the legacy of any film growing.  So the first movie I want to break down is CHILDREN OF MEN, one of my favorite films of all time.

Written and directed by Alfonso Cuaron, who’s the favorite right now to win the Oscar for his work in GRAVITY, this film, to me, is truly his masterpiece.  Grand themes, epic scale, and risky choices, CHILDREN OF MEN arguably gave Cuaron the confidence to shoot a film like GRAVITY.  So one can maybe make the argument that without CHILDREN OF MEN, there is no GRAVITY.  It’s probably not legitimate, but whatever.

This film is famous for two scenes, the sudden onslaught brought upon their car where, and the seven minute continuous action sequence where the camera follows the leads through a chaotic gun fight between rebels and the army.  Though those two scenes are accomplishments and deserve its recognition, but I’m going to focus on the opening scene of CHILDREN OF MEN.


Once you get past the studio credits (I couldn’t find one without that I liked), you’re quickly thrown into the world of CHILDREN OF MEN.  I remember watching this film for the first time in theaters, and I was mesmerized by it, quickly being sold without knowing anything about the film.  But when you rewatch the scene over and over, you start picking up the genius behind its set up and how it tells you so much about the film within the first two minutes.

The first thing the opening scene does is give us the audio of news reports without showing us any images.  It automatically throws the audience into an intriguing state, clearly realizing something important must be happening if we start off with this.  The first image we see is a tiny coffee shop packed with people watching the same news report as we first heard.

No one is conversing, reading a newspaper, or really ordering anything outside of our main protagonist (which we’ll get back to in a bit).  All eyes are glued on the screen, giving us the impression that people care.  Seeing that the reports are centered around the tragic death of the youngest person alive, we are given pieces of information that provide us less exposition and more curiosity and interest.
We asks questions right away like:

-Why is he the youngest person?
-What is happening in this world?
-Why are people so afraid, so sad, so depressed by this news?

But the genius of this scene is to not stay here, but to follow our protagonist, Theo, played by the great Clive Owen.  Another great aspect of the scene above is that though everyone is clearly invested into the death of baby Diego, he wouldn’t give his own two cents about the story.  He orders his coffee, takes a glimpse at the television, and leaves.  It shows us that there’s something to this character, his apathy, his depressing body language.  He walks out of the coffee shop, and we’re sent into futuristic London, a dark, greyish atmosphere that looks unsettling and unsafe.

We see a future that is realistic in terms of society’s advancement in technology but also how grounded it is in making sure that this world is believable.  If not, we lose ourselves in disbelief, thus losing our ability to integrate ourselves in the story of a world where it’s impossible to not create life.  If we don’t believe in the surroundings, we won’t believe in the story.  We also see how big the story of baby Diego is as it’s playing through large screens that also act as windows of large stores and buildings, an advancement that we could easily believe take place in the year 2027.

We follow Theo, using a hand held shaky cam (shaky cam is always done intentionally) to give us the feeling of chaos.  If done with a dolly or a moving track, we lose the feeling of fear and disturbance.  The fact that the camera follows Theo, watches him pour whiskey or whatever alcoholic beverage he chooses, into his coffee, and gives us the view of the other side elicits a tense and insecure feeling, making the viewer all the more fearful of this world.  The pouring of alcohol in his coffee also gives us a better understanding that Theo most likely does suffer from some kind of depression, regardless of it being the current state of society or his own situation, which would be totally believable considering what we’ve witnessed already in the last minute or so.  That’s the vision and the purpose of this opening scene.  To make everything believable from the what transpires next through all the way to the end.  We must believe in this world, we must believe that cruelty, violence, and the existence of peace between humans has all but disappeared.

As the camera turns, unstably, to the other side of Theo, we watch him pour his whiskey into his coffee.  And as we are about to ask questions about Theo and his  mental state, his potential depression, and why is he like this during a time that should expose imminent emotion…  BOOM!  The coffee shop that he was just in explodes.  He reacts in ways that all other humans in the scene would react, ducking, quickly covering, and protecting themselves from potential danger and hurt.  This shows us a very real Theo, human, and that he’s aware of his surroundings.  Now if you continue past this opening scene, Theo goes back to his apathetic and dark ways, showing you that even though he just luckily survived and cheated death by mere seconds, he’s still this way.  But this scene above is crucial because it shows us that Theo does have capabilities in expressing human reactions, but even after a traumatic event like a terrorist bomb, he’s back to normal, thus giving us more questions including why is he still like this or moving into a bigger and more important question: is he just used to this kind of life and this kind of world?  But before we can ask those questions, we get the strongest image and the final image of the opening scene:

Now this scene is crucial in so many different ways.  First off, it’s a shocking, brutal, and disturbing image that isn’t grotesque or all too gory, which is the most effective way to showcase violence: allow the viewer to imagine it.  A woman walks out of the coffee shop holding her ripped off arm, screaming in pain and in fear.  What I love most about this scene, besides from the obvious, is that the camera consciously leaves Theo, though we’ve been in his perspective this whole time.  I believe they do this to show us a few things.  The first is to get a better shot of the woman.  Duh.  But when you think more about this scene, it’s a metaphor of Theo’s current state.  He’s broken.  He’s hurt.  But he’s still alive.  It’s obvious that something happened to Theo that shows us that something is wrong, but this is a reminder to Theo that something is wrong with him.  It’s an image that Theo will most likely not forget, and more of a reflection of who he is.  It’s also seems like a metaphor on the current state of society.  Broken, hurt, and clear in terrible shape, but still alive.  This woman survived, against all odds, and though it seems as if life has all but left from her, she still can overcome.  Society still has hope, but only if it figures out how to instill hope and believe in it.  And that’s the major theme in this film: hope, belief, and faith.

The opening sequence of CHILDREN OF MEN is so great not just because of everything we’ve discussed before, but because of how efficient it is in displaying all these different elements, thoughts, and providing a clear world in such a short amount of time.  One of the things I’ve learned through the cruel world of screenwriting is that showing is better than telling.  This is a great example of that, and within two minutes, we are given all the motivation we need to keep watching.

The story revolves around something we as humans can attach to in representing hope.  As a new baby has been born, the world can find hope and use that image of life to believe again.  The opening scene represents the entire film, but you wouldn’t be aware of that until you rewatch CHILDREN OF MEN over and over again.  It’s depth and its awareness is what separates itself from most movies. Alfonso Cuaron and Emmanuel Lubezki are masters of story telling through imagery and vision, and the opening scene of CHILDREN OF MEN is a prime example of their skill level.

Here is one of the famous two scenes to CHILDREN OF MEN, but I urge you to go watch the film in its entirety to really experience this masterpiece.

And here’s how they executed this specific scene.

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.

Brand New GRAVITY Trailer from Alfonso Cuaron!

I love Alfonso Cuaron, and this new trailer of his next featured film entitled, Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney looks amazing and beautiful.  If you haven’t heard, this film supposedly opens with a 17 minute continuous shot, and even for Cuaron, that’s pretty ambitious.  He’s always wanting to push the envelope, and how thankful we should be to have someone like him working in the industry.

Gravity arrives in theaters October 4th, 2013.