The Martian

Hi everyone! Hope you had a great Thanksgiving. We’re back with our first full review in a long time with The Martian. Starring Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, and Chiwetel Ejiofor, the film is rated PG-13 for some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity.

From IMDB: “During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive. Millions of miles away, NASA and a team of international scientists work tirelessly to bring “the Martian” home, while his crewmates concurrently plot a daring, if not impossible, rescue mission. As these stories of incredible bravery unfold, the world comes together to root for Watney’s safe return.”

8 out of 10

It’s been a while since I wrote one of these, so please excuse the rust. Anyhow, I saw a funny quote on Twitter about The Martian that I thought I’d share; “From Saving Private Ryan, Interstellar, and now The Martian, America has spent a lot of money trying to retrieve Matt Damon”. While I think this does speak to Damon’s incredible star power, it also reflects an audience’s thirst for adventure, which The Martian has plenty of. Now I’m not saying it is comparable to Saving Private Ryan or even Interstellar, but it is definitely a very entertaining film that has deserved the praise it’s received.

It has an innate similarity to Gravity that’s impossible to avoid simply because they are both space survival films. However, beyond the basic plot, there is absolutely nothing else they have in common. The Martian is fun— rather than being solemn and dramatic, it’s lighthearted, almost cutesie. While I definitely appreciated this change of tone, I wasn’t sure I loved the writing of the humor. It was trying a bit too hard for me. 

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In addition to the heavy incorporation of humor, I thought there wasn’t enough depression on Matt Damon’s part. For a guy who’s stuck on Mars, I didn’t see enough of a struggle. There were moments of frustration but nothing more, no sustained moments of gloom and hopelessness, which is part of what made Gravity so powerful. While I do feel like this made The Martian a fun movie, it also made it less rewarding.

That being said, Damon did do an excellent job overall. It takes a lot of ability to drive a storyline like he does in this film, while also remaining genuine and entertaining. Unlike Bullock in Gravity, however, there is a supporting cast that gives the film a new dimension. Rather than Damon being by himself, his struggle affects many other people around him. This isn’t just a story about Mark Watney, it’s a story about the entire NASA program, and this angle makes the film more enjoyable. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, and Kate Mara round out a stellar cast that allows for there to be multiple interesting characters that are each important to Watney’s return home.

Matt Damon portrays an astronaut who faces seemingly insurmountable odds as he tries to find a way to subsist on a hostile planet.

And how can I write this without mentioning Ridley Scott, director of Alien, Blade Runner, and Gladiator. He had the difficult tasks of 1) Distinguishing his piece from similar films (like Interstellar and Gravity) and 2) managing the slower pace of the film, since it takes place over almost two years. Fortunately for us, he passed both tests, while also making it an aesthetically pleasing film. It’ll be interesting to see whether Scott can get that Oscar win this year— he’s 0-3, and wasn’t even nominated for Blade Runner or Alien.

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This movie certainly has its flaws, but all in all, I came out of it having thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It was funny, charming, and straight up just an interesting movie (it helps I’m a nerd, but either way…). It doesn’t have the depth of Gravity nor the poignancy of Interstellar, but it has got its own personal flair that makes it great in its own respect.
~Vig

9 out of 10

If you like the nitty gritty of space travel (The math, the science, the play-by-play engineering and tinkering and strict physical laws) but don’t particular enjoy Sandra Bullock’s heavy breathing, Gravity wasn’t for you. If you like the nitty gritty of space travel but aren’t into the “McConaissance” (“Murph! Murph! Murph!”), Interstellar wasn’t for you.

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If you like the nitty gritty of space travel now though and want to get in on the recent swell of realistic science fiction, your film has arrived and its name is The Martian. Let’s ditch the thesaurus here: it’s an awesome movie. It’s smart but accessible; slick with polished visuals and humorous while maintaining its sky-high stakes. Above all that, it’s just plain fun.

The setup of this film is relatively routine in comparison to the hefty, complex stories of some of its peers: Matt Damon’s character, Watney, is stranded and must be rescued (Again. Hollywood must really hate our favorite Harvard alum.). Armed with a few months of resources and a thumping 70’s playlist (Think Guardians of the Galaxy’s soundtrack) one of his fellow crewmembers left behind, Watney has to simultaneously survive and signal back his group for an impromptu rescue.

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The story is actually not quite deliberately paced; it’s just a fun hodgepodge of dilemmas on the Red Planet that force out Watney’s inner-Macgyver for the first hour or so, in fact. But the movie’s snappy dialogue (whether credit belongs to the novel or the screenwriter, I’m not sure) and splendid looks keep everything rolling relatively briskly; simple tasks like sprouting a few potatoes or roving along the rocky planet with a busted plutonium core become enthralling challenges.

I found myself marvelling most at all the cinematic angles here. A film adaption of a book warrants its existence when it finds some new way to tell the tale and that quality is definitely present here. Mr. Ridley Scott takes advantage of everything from webcams to security cams and eases from basic shots to innovative angles throughout the entire film. In short, in a relatively bare atmosphere, everything just looks intriguing.

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Damon, of course, impresses as the headstrong Watney in a bit what plays out as a one-man show. I have to give credit to any character that moves through his “how-to”s and explanations with such a relaxed attitude that surviving on a desert planet seems, well, doable. He doesn’t carry this trek alone though: the whole star-studded cast delivers (Donald Glover and Jeff Daniels specifically come to mind here, not to exclude any of the other talented actors).

If you’re a fan of the disco genre (God and Spotify know I am), I’m sorry, but the retro style takes beating in one of this film’s funniest running jokes. Otherwise, I really can’t sum up the best quality of this movie better than one of my friends coming out of the theatre: “It was a ton of fun. I’ve really missed having a good fun movie.”
~Zach

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Our 2014 Academy Award Predictions

And here we are, the Oscars only a day away. Here are our (mostly) expert predictions in every single category. We start with the ones we admittedly know the least about to the ones we know a good amount about. Enjoy!

Best Documentary- Short Subject
Cave Digger
Facing Fear
Karama Has No Walls
The Lady in Number 6: Music Save My Life
Prison Terminal: The Last Days of  Private Jack Hall

These first few categories, I’m honestly putting in researched/random guesses.

Winner: The Lady in Number 6: Music Save My Life
Runner Up: Couldn’t tell you
Personal Favorite: N/A

The best documentaries are ones that take us to places where we never thought we’d learn anything. In this case, it takes us to the last days of an aging man in a prison hospital.

Winner: Prison Terminal

Runner Up: N/A
Personal Favorite: N/A

Best Documentary- Feature
20 Feet from Stardom
The Act of Killing
Cutie and the Boxer
Dirty Wars
The Square

Act of Killing is a pretty enticing name, so I’ll go with it.

Winner: The Act of Killing
Runner Up: No idea
Personal Favorite: N/A

It’s not like documentaries are unfamiliar with war but it is still a great topic. Dirty Wars gives the audience some honest insight into some questionable motives behind the violence caused by the “civilized”.

Winner: Dirty Wars

Runner Up: N/A
Personal Favorite: N/A

Best Live Action Short Film
Aquel no era yo
Avant que de tout perdre
Helium
Pitääkö mun kaikki hoitaa
The Voorman Problem

Voorman Problem is the only one in English, and it has Martin Freeman.

Winner: The Voorman Problem
Runner Up: idk.
Personal Favorite: N/A

Nothing like another prison film. Films that explore psychology often lead us to ourselves. The Voorman Problem is no different.

Winner: The Voorman Problem

Runner Up: N/A
Personal Favorite: N/A

Best Animated Short Film

Feral
Get a Horse!
Mr. Hublot
Possessions
Room on the Broom

Get a Horse!

Get a Horse!

I’ve actually seen Get a Horse! but that’s the only one. So… yeah. That’s all I got.

Winner: Get a Horse!
Runner Up: Still drawing a blank.
Personal Favorite: Get a Horse! (by default)

Talk about back to basics for Disney. “Get a Horse!” is a classic return to subject.

Winner: Get a Horse!

Runner Up: N/A
Personal Favorite: N/A

Best Foreign Language Film
The Broken Circle Breakdown
The Great Beauty
The Hunt
The Missing Picture
Omar

The Great Beauty won at the Golden Globe’s, so it has to have a good chance of winning. One comment I do have is that it is unfortunate and surprising that Blue is the Warmest Color wasn’t nominated.

Winner: The Great Beauty
Runner Up: Who knows? Not me.
Personal Favorite: N/A

The Middle-East provides a poignant environment that’s actually ideal for a tense set up like this.

Winner: Omar

Runner Up: N/A
Personal Favorite: N/A

 Best Animated Feature
The Croods
Despicable Me 2
Ernest & Celestine
Frozen
The Wind Rises

Frozen

Frozen

Here we go, finally getting into awards I know something about. Frozen has been super popular, and though I admit haven’t seen it, I’ve heard great things. It’s Disney and it’s critically acclaimed. Good luck to the other 4 nominees.

Winner: Frozen
Runner Up: The Wind Rises
Personal Favorite: Despicable Me 2 (only one I’ve seen)

Roger Ebert always said he loathed how “Animated” has become synonymous “Childish” in our culture and I really can’t help but agree. Why? Because of films like Frozen, that’s why. Just because something’s fun and light doesn’t necessarily mean it’s thoughtless and immature.

Winner: Frozen

Runner Up: The Wind Rises
Personal Favorite: Frozen

Best Original Score
The Book Thief
Gravity
Her
Philomena
Saving Mr. Banks

Music is such an important part of making a film, as it provides tone to each individual moment and scene. Gravity’s ominous, eerie and entirely original soundtrack does just that to improve upon the lonely feeling of space, while also aiding the intensity that some scenes have. I liked Her’s soundtrack more just because it was a bit more my type, while also fulfilling the job of a good soundtrack.

Winner: Gravity
Runner Up: Her
Personal Favorite: Her

Simple and subtle, I remember thinking that Her’s score played very well to the events of the movie. The score conveys many of the emotions the film’s addressing at once. It’s also somewhat cold but so is the environment the film sets up.

Winner: Her

Runner Up: Gravity
Personal Favorite: Her

Best Original Song
“Happy” from Despicable Me 2
“Let It Go” from Frozen
“The Moon Song” from Her
“Ordinary Love” from Mandela” Long Walk to Freedom

I loved ‘The Moon Song’. I thought it was really charming and fit the movie really well. It was a wonderful moment for the film. ‘Let It Go’ is no doubt a great song, and hands down the more popular one with Idina Menzel performing the song at the awards, which is why I think it will end up winning.

Winner: “Let it Go” from Frozen
Runner Up: “Ordinary Love” from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Personal Favorite: “The Moon Song” from Her

It’s not easy to get on top of the iTunes top 10 when you’re just a song from a Disney movie but Frozen managed to do this and many more. A return to substance for Disney, “Let it Go” is somewhat representative of the heart Disney seemingly lost that we all missed.

Winner: “Let it Go” from Frozen

Runner Up: “The Moon Song” from Her
Personal Favorite: “Let it Go” from Frozen 

Best Sound Editing
All is Lost
Captain Phillips
Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Lone Survivor

Gravity

Gravity

In case you didn’t realize, Gravity is set to win pretty much all the technical awards. Sound editing is no different (BTW, to all the haterz, we know there’s no sound in space. Who cares?). Anyway, Gravity will this award easy. Captain Phillips has a shot, but it’s not likely.

Winner: Gravity
Runner Up: Captain Phillips
Personal Favorite: Gravity

The Hobbit, like the films that preceded it, is a loud movie. My friend told me if I was to watch them for the first time that I should rent a movie theatre for Lord of the Rings. Sound editing is very hard work but I imagine when you see a character like Smaug come to booming life it must all be worth it.

Winner: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Runner Up: Gravity
Personal Favorite: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Best Sound Mixing
Captain Phillips
Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Inside Llewyn Davis
Lone Survivor

Go back and read the last summary about Sound Editing. It’s the same story. However, of any of the technical awards, this may be the one that Gravity has the best chance of losing. Lone Survivor and Inside Llewyn Davis both have a chance. This isn’t saying much, and I do think Gravity will end up pulling it out, but there’s always a chance.

Winner: Gravity
Runner Up: Lone Survivor
Personal Favorite: Gravity

Ditto on my prediction about Sound Editing.

Winner: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Runner Up: Gravity
Personal Favorite: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Best Production Design
American Hustle
Gravity
The Great Gatsby
Her
12 Years a Slave

The Great Gatsby, with it’s lavish costumes and setting, has a pretty good chance of actually winning more awards than American Hustle. The setting is absolutely gorgeous, providing it with a very nostalgic, 20s feel. Really well done, I’ve gotta say.

Winner: The Great Gatsby
Runner Up: American Hustle
Personal Favorite: Her

Hustle had a feel to it that very few could match. It was an extremely consistent piece that gave its cast a beautiful backdrop to work off of. In fact, American Hustle is so absorbing it often feels like a scope to the seventies itself.

Winner: American Hustle

Runner Up: The Great Gatsby
Personal Favorite: American Hustle

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Dallas Buyers Club
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
The Lone Ranger

Jared Leto to Rayon

Jared Leto to Rayon

I think it’s hilarious that Jackass was even nominated, which is why I’m putting it down as my favorite. The makeup isn’t even half bad, either. However, there is no way in hell that Jackass or the universally panned Lone Ranger wins an Oscar. Dallas Buyers Club and it’s miniscule $250 budget takes the prize.

Winner: Dallas Buyers Club
Runner Up: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
Personal Favorite: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

While Dallas Buyers Club may not fully rely on its makeup department to get the job done (Look at its budget, really, it’s unbelievable), this often plays to both sides’ favor. Using the few resources it has, Buyers Club creates a strong environment and assists its actors in their journey.

Winner: Dallas Buyers Club

Runner Up: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
Personal Favorite: Dallas Buyers Club

Best Costume Design
American Hustle
The Grandmaster
The Great Gatsby
The Invisible Woman
12 Years a Slave

American Hustle

American Hustle

This one is a matter of politics. I think Great Gatsby could easily win this one, but American Hustle needs a win somewhere. The Academy won’t shut it out after giving it 11 nominations. It could take either this award or Production Design. The costumes were pretty good too, adding to the smooth, nostalgic feel that the film should have had.

Winner: American Hustle
Runner Up: The Great Gatsby
Personal Favorite: American Hustle

Same story with the Production Design, I view them as kind of similar anyways.

Winner: American Hustle

Runner Up: The Great Gatsby
Personal Favorite: American Hustle

Best Film Editing
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
12 Years a Slave

Again, I don’t really expect Gravity to lose a technical award. This is another one where it’s possible Captain Phillips pulls off the upset, especially because it was shut out in a few categories, but I think Gravity will end up winning this one.

Winner: Gravity
Runner Up: Captain Phillips
Personal Favorite: Gravity

Its tough to take what could’ve been a very slow plot and expedite it while also having some breathers. Gravity may take place in few environments but it never gets bored, always shifting to the next development.

Winner: Gravity

Runner up: Captain Phillips
Personal Favorite: Gravity

Best Visual Effects
Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Iron Man 3
The Lone Ranger

Gravity

Gravity

Of all the technical awards, I have absolutely no doubt that Gravity will win this one. It’s not even close. It is a visual spectacle, with the stunning creation of outer space, among other things. If Gravity doesn’t win, we can officially say that the Academy has gone mad.

Winner: Gravity
Runner Up: Doesn’t even matter.
Personal Favorite: Gravity

Peter Jackson is a very talented man when it comes to set pieces and creating a fantasy environment and he hasn’t lost that ability whatsoever. Jackson may have introduced new characters and cameras but he uses new effects to his advantage, to make it feel like we haven’t really left Middle-Earth in the first place.

Winner: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Runner Up: Gravity
Personal Favorite: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Best Cinematography 
The Grandmaster
Gravity
Inside Llewyn Davis
Nebraska
Prisoners

No doubt about this one either. The cinematography is absolutely stunning, and there is little chance that something else takes this title. Gravity both exploited the emotions of Stone while also capturing the silent beauty of space. It will take the title. Meanwhile, it is a monstrosity that 12 Years a Slave was not even nominated. If you want to see what I thought of that camera work, check out my review of it.

Winner: Gravity
Runner Up: Inside Llewyn Davis
Personal Favorite: Gravity/12 Years a Slave (I know it’s not nominated, but I. Don’t. Care.)

This is going to repeat a lot of the above but Gravity is a movie that tends to compact a very vast thing in a believable way that doesn’t feel like its evading its own setting. It’s a very streamlined and focused film which makes it all the more intense when atmosphere becomes so violent and chaotic. The environment provided by space somehow makes serenity feel like the cliff hanging over destruction.

Winner: Gravity

Runner Up: Nebraska
Personal Favorite: Gravity

Best Writing-Original Screenplay
American Hustle
Blue Jasmine
Dallas Buyers Club
Her
Nebraska

Her

Her

Here’s where things start to get interesting, as we start to get into the most important awards. I think this one could go either way, again depending on the rest of the awards. If Jennifer Lawrence wins for Best Supporting Actress, then Her will win Best Original Screenplay. If Lawrence does not win, then I think American Hustle will get this one. Personally, I thought Her was (far) more original, better written, and overall just the superior, more interesting film. Her deserves this, but with the way the Academy works, it’s possible Hustle wins.

Winner: Her
Runner Up: American Hustle
Personal Favorite: Her

When it comes Best Screenplay, it generally boils down to whether the actors are really using the words or whether they’re just a vessel to them. In short: how strong can the screenplay work on its own? Well, for me, Her was my first guess. It had a strong plot and premise with some clever dialogue but, eventually, Hustle took this for me. Mainly because Hustle could easily stand by itself while Her leans very much on its actors to do the deal. Hustle has some great comedy, drama and a clever premise under its belt which may just carry it to the Best Screenplay tier.

Winner: American Hustle

Runner Up: Her
Personal Favorite: American Hustle

Best Writing-Adapted Screenplay
Before Midnight
Captain Phillips
Philomena
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

12 Years A Slave, adapted from Solomon Northup’s memoir of the same name, will most likely get this prize. Not only is it the best film, but it also has the best characters, the best story, and the best dialogue. Philomena was written well, but the characters were a bit skewed. The Wolf of Wall Street also has an outside shot, but this award looks to be going to 12 Years a Slave, and deservedly so.

Winner: 12 Years a Slave
Runner Up: Philomena
Personal Favorite: 12 Years a Slave

Suspense is a very powerful tool and its a very hard feeling to evoke from the audience (Even more so while working in the bounds of an adaption) but Phillips manages to get the audience involved as if its part of the crew. Its somewhat topical yet distant enough for the audience to focus one the story along for better or worse. Though all of the action involving could have cheapened to a Somalian could’ve been cheapened to Peter Pan ft. Some Navy Seals the writers used monologues and breathers to let the audience just take in the situation.

Winner: Captain Phillips

Runner Up: 12 Years a Slave
Personal Favorite: Captain Phillips

Best Supporting Actor
Barkhad Abdi in Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper in American Hustle
Michael Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave
Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall Street
Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club

Jared Leto provided us with the most interesting and impressive acting performance of the year. Playing a transgender with AIDS, Leto was able to transform every aspect of himself, both mentally and emotionally, to construct a person, not just a character, in Rayon. There are other impressive performances, notably Michael Fassbender as the angry, evil Edwin Epps, and Barkhad Abdi, who went from cab driver to Somali pirate. Both of them would be deserving nominees in any other year. Unfortunately for them, Jared Leto is just unbelievable in Dallas Buyers Club.

Winner: Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club
Runner Up: Michael Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave
Personal Favorite: Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club

One of the pleasures of watching a movie and the signs of a strong actor is that rigor mortis long after a film is over where you realize “That was THAT guy?!”. Without spoiling, Jared Leto was tasked with playing a cross-dresser in Dallas Buyers Club in a performance that many would have turned down. Comedic as it may sound, put yourself in a similar situation and you’ll realize it is actually a challenging task to step into that clothing and makeup while making sure it doesn’t totally consume the character and that you have space to interpret. Comedic, believable, and most importantly, somewhat tragic, Leto gave us a memorable character which readily deserves best actres-er-actor.

Winner: Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club

Runner Up: Barkhad Abdi in Captain Phillips
Personal Favorite: Barkhad Abdi in Captain Phillips

Best Supporting Actress
Sally Hawkins in Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave
Julia Roberts in August: Osage County
June Squibb in Nebraska

Jennifer Lawrence

Jennifer Lawrence

Here is probably the most unpredictable award of any, and could shape various other awards. If J-Law wins, and I predict she will, then Hustle might come away empty in other categories. If N’yongo wins, then the Academy cannot shut out Hustle and that could change the outcome of some of the other awards (this is complicated and excessively convoluted, I know). Meanwhile, I loved June Squibb. I thought she was hilarious and was the most believable of any of the nominees this year. I hope she pulls off the upset.

Winner: Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle
Runner Up: Lupita N’yongo in 12 Years a Slave
Personal Favorite: June Squibb in Nebraska

Yay for politics! Look at the history of this character and you can easily see that star power as its fingers on the scale. Most recently, Anne Hathaway was able to take home the statue for her performance in Les Miserables and I don’t think this situation is entirely different. Lawrence is a rising talent who is a safe choice for the Academy given her previous victory. In this film, she was also endowed with a strong wardrobe department and a great cast to work off of. On top of that, she has some real talent to her that’s heavily comparable to a couple of the past winners.

Winner: Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle

Runner Up: Lupita N’yongo in 12 Years a Slave
Personal Favorite: Lupita N’yongo in 12 Years a Slave

Best Actor
Christian Bale in American Hustle
Bruce Dern in Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave
Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club

Matthew McConaughey

Matthew McConaughey

Another award that could go either way is the Best Actor award. McConaughey has been winning all the awards (Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild) and rightfully so. He is tremendous as Ron Woodrow. However, Ejiofor is fantastic in his own sort. He takes on a very challenging role and kills it. Ejiofor could win this, but I have to go with McConaughey now. Meanwhile, I love DiCaprio, and though I didn’t see Wolf of Wall Street (only Oscar nominee I’ve yet to watch), I kinda feel bad for him. So many internet memes.

Winner: Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club
Runner Up: Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave
Personal Favorite: Leonardo DiCaprio in Wolf of Wall Street

Not going to lie, this one’s pure politics. Remember what I said earlier about controversy? Well nowhere is this more relevant than the constant snubbing of Leo, poor guy. The Academy has taken a beating for rejecting DiCaprio so much and I do think there is an underlying desire to give him an award at some point when just the right film comes along. Wolf of Wall Street may not be the exact film they were looking for but, come on, do you really think the Academy would pass up a chance to award Leo right before his break from acting that they caused? That’d be so sadistic that it’d become hilarious.

Winner: Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Runner Up: Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club
Personal Favorite: Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave

Best Actress
Amy Adams in American Hustle
Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock in Gravity
Judi Dench in Philomena
Meryl Streep in August: Osage County

Not too much to say about this one by the looks of it. I haven’t seen Blue Jasmine, but I’ve heard great things about Blanchett. She’s been winning all the other awards and it doesn’t look there’s a chance someone else takes the trophy. Poor Amy Adams… Five nominations and still no win (since Blanchett appears to have wrapped it up). She is quietly becoming the next Leonardo DiCaprio.

Winner: Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine
Runner Up: Amy Adams in American Hustle
Personal Favorite: Amy Adams in American Hustle (I haven’t seen Blue Jasmine)

Bullock took home this award around four years ago (Plus a Razzie the night before) and something tells me she is going to take it once more. Bullock was tasked with carrying almost an entire movie in a completely isolated setting with almost no set to work off of (Green screened backgrounds are very hard to work in) and she put herself there whether it was panic or awe she had to convey. Bullock didn’t necessarily have to work off the setting, in fact, she had to be the setting to a degree and she carried the film very well. I know Cate Blanchett is supposed to win, but sometimes crazy happens.

Winner: Sandra Bullock in Gravity

Runner Up: Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine
Personal Favorite: Sandra Bullock in Gravity

Best Director
David O. Russell for American Hustle
Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity
Alexander Payne for Nebraska
Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave
Martin Scorsese for The Wolf of Wall Street

Alfonso Cuaron

Alfonso Cuaron

Cuaron should win this one, as Gravity was an absolute gem of a film. A real spectacle. However, I wouldn’t simply hand it over to him. Steve McQueen did so many things in 12 Years that Gravity simply wasn’t capable of. McQueen used brutality and violence to show slavery in a light it hasn’t been seen on film ever. Both these films are extraordinary in their own sorts, and I actually I think McQueen was able to make a more memorable film (for me personally). However, Cuaron deserves it just as much, and I think he will end up winning.

Winner: Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity
Runner Up: Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave
Personal Favorite: Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave

It must be very challenging to make space an exciting environment much less a stage for some thematically complex events but Alfonso Cuaron shoots the film in such synchronization with the mood of the scene that it becomes it allows for the viewer to gently keep an eye on everything that’s happening without any distractions. Some of the film’s shots are a bit obvious and heavy-handed (The ending) but the film remains pretty consistent. Nice job, Alfonso, for making something that’s infinite and wide seem so claustrophobic.

Winner: Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity

Runner Up: Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave
Personal Favorite: David O. Russell for American Hustle

Best Picture
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
Her
Nebraska
Philomena
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

12 Years A Slave

12 Years A Slave

Drumroll, please! No surprise here. 12 Years a Slave is a great film and it’s historic. That is Academy Award porn. There are so many things I can say about this film, but you won’t understand how good it is until you watch it. So far it is the only 10 I’ve given out, and with good reason too. Nothing against Gravity, it’s a deserving film as well, but I don’t see it pulling out the win. You may ask why my personal favorite is Her then. My initial reaction to seeing Her was lukewarm, to be honest. But once I let the film sit with me, I realize it’s something that I would no doubt watch it again. It is something that will stick with me for years, which is why it is my favorite of the nominees this year. Is it better than 12 Years a Slave though? Nah. That is undoubtedly the best film of the year.

Winner: 12 Years a Slave
Runner Up: Gravity
Personal Favorite: Her

~Vig

Tough call this year for Best Picture (Has there ever NOT been one?) but my cinematic instinct leads me to 12 Years a Slave. First of all, the Academy tends to enjoy history as a base whether the focus is fiction or not (Argo, Titanic, Gandhi). Second, the Academy also loves it some controversy, which will continue to factor into my predictions. I’m pretty sure it gets off to a degree on being called a snub. Couple all of that with great production value, a strong cast and a touch of star-power (12 Years used its Get One Brad Pitt Scene card) and you have a strong candidate for Best Picture.

Winner: 12 Years a Slave

Runner Up: Gravity
Personal Favorite: Gravity~Zach

What do you think about the Academy Awards this year? Agree with us? Disagree with us? Feel free to let us know in the comment section below.

12 Years a Slave

This week we’ll be looking at the favorite for Best Picture this year, Steve McQueen’s historical drama 12 Years a Slave, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita N’yongo, and Michael Fassbender. It is rated R for violence/cruelty, some nudity and brief sexuality.

In America, pre-Civil War, Solomon Northup (Ejiofor) lives a free life with his wife and children, until he is abducted and sold into slavery. Solomon, through various owners and superiors (Fassbender, Paul Dano, Benedict Cumberbatch), faces both kindness and cruelty on an extensive journey in which he struggles to retain his humanity and his dignity. Along with fellow slave, Patsey (Nyong’o), Solomon attempts to find peace and rediscover his old life.

10 out of 10
                              9 out of 10

I didn’t think I would love this film. I thought I would get bored very easily. These melancholic, biopic dramas aren’t really my jam. But it doesn’t take an expert to see the mastery in this film. I would watch this movie again in a heartbeat. It blew my expectations out of the water, even after hearing so many great things about it. It truly was a masterpiece, and while it may not be my favorite film of the year (well actually, still deciding), it is far and away the best film of the year. Gravity was great and all, but seriously: this movie was simply amazing.

I don’t know where to start. The screenplay? Great. I am expecting an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. It is written so well, and the dialogue is so genuine and emotional. The sense of realism is absolutely fantastic. The characters, even the hero, Solomon, are all imperfect and more than just characters in a movie. This does have a lot to do with the acting, but I’ll get to that in just a second. The storytelling helps convey Solomon’s journey perfectly, starting from his free beginning, through his struggles and tragedy, to the touching end. Overall, just a great job of adapting and crafting this script.

The cinematography was absolutely dazzling and while I was shocked by many of the nominations this year, I was extremely disappointed by the Academy’s inability to recognize cinematographer Sean Bobbitt’s work for this film (Yes I know, Gravity would probably win anyway). This cinematography does a great job of enhancing the emotional experience solely from the camera work. The long, concentrated shots of scenes displaying horror and pain are cruel and emotionally taxing; it’s extremely hard to take as a viewer. (Very minor spoiler alert) The one shot of Solomon Northup’s character being suspended by a rope, struggling to stay alive as day and night pass by while countless slaves pass by is honestly one of the most fantastic pieces of camera work I’ve ever seen. It details the fear of the slaves, as you see them pass by, helpless and too scared to help Solomon down. This scene is another example of the emotional burden this film of because of how helpless the audience feels, as we see Northup flailing, struggling, yet there’s nothing we can do but wait and watch. An unbelievable piece of camera work.

I can’t say enough good things about the acting performances. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s absolutely killed it, perfectly playing a character with a huge range of emotions but also a will to survive. Even though Solomon’s character is a hero, he’s not selfless. He will do anything to survive. He is not afraid to fight back, sometimes even arrogantly. It is tempting to portray a protagonist as a perfect hero in a story such as this one, but Solomon Northup is, thankfully, not that perfect hero. The other performance that stood out to me was Michael Fassbender’s job slave owner Edwin Epps. Epps is such a brutal, inhumane monster, and somehow, Fassbender was able to capture all that evilness and channel it. It’s underratedly difficult to play a character like this. Sometimes, all the anger and evil is just too much for an actor to capture.

If you’re looking for criticisms, I guess I can give you Benedict Cumberbatch’s pathetic Southern accent and Brad Pitt’s ninety seconds of glory, but that’s about it. This film is cunning, emotional, and intense from beginning to end and is one of the best films I’ve seen in theaters in a while.
~Vig

IMDB: 8.2
Metacritic: 97
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%

On the surface, it may feel like slavery in the Antebellum-era has been addressed before. Mainly because whenever a movie about it does come out, there are weeks of controversy surrounding the film. Take Django Unchained from two years ago as an example. After a few weeks of controversy and a couple of award ceremonies, it evaporated into the filmography of 2012.

In that sense, movies addressing slavery (Whether fictionalized or very real) seem somewhat unremarkable. But in reality, they make up a very important, evolving genre that is slowly unfolding before our eyes. I can think of numerous movies surrounding atrocities of World War I, World War II, Vietnam and others but I can’t really come up with a ton of films that address slavery during Antebellum, a relatively “peaceful” time that has seemingly lost its place in historical fiction.

However, I’d say our movies about American history have gotten far more introspective, and slavery is a time that’s ripe for exposing flaws that seem very distant from us. 12 Years a Slave fits perfectly into that genre by all accounts. It’s a piece that dives deep into the brutality and motivation behind the forced labor that took place in this very culture.

For starters, there’s no real plotline to the story. If it were put on to paper, it’d be just an extended narrative of a free man who deals with the unpredictability that everyday slave life has to offer. Many of the scenes just take time to breath in the atmosphere. There are solid, minute long blocks where we see tedious cotton-picking or construction with Hans Zimmer’s score acting as a backdrop. That’s far more accurate than anything. Slavery for most wasn’t a saga with monologues and action strewn throughout (Just as many a producer would be eager to depict it as), it was a plodding from day to day that with occasional bursts of violence: something the movie definitely isn’t shy to show the audience.

It is slow, very slow but in a way that is perfect to how its characters live and how its era functioned. Meanwhile, its actors are perfectly in sync with it. Every part of the movie works with another to ensure that it constituents an unflinching portrayal of slavery.

Aside from that, I wondered what the exact moral of the film was when I finished but I came to one conclusion: there isn’t one but it still has a lot to say. No matter how frustrating it is, I love when a movie doesn’t spoon feed me a point or offer up simple answers. The point here, at least to me, is to show the brutality of a process that we already know is very brutal but don’t fully understand. Just like the rest of history, we’ll probably never fully understand.

I’d even say that the movie has no thesis but instead one question that it opens and closes with: “Can one truly escape slavery?”. The entire film is build on the premise of a free man being forced back into labor and, in the end, there’s no real conclusion as to how Northup lead his remaining life besides his legal pursuit of those who wronged him. As far as we know, the past is still going to haunt him and all he has left is to run.

That is the movies definition of dehumanization and its far more effective than any secondary account.
~Zach