And my Oscar goes to… (2015 edition)

In the spirit of the awards season (and as the annual game for film enthusiasts), here’s my Oscar ballot for 2015. This list doesn’t entirely predict the winners on Sunday but it could interest you to see the films based on my choices. It was an upsetting year that glared the lack of diversity among the nominees and robbed those who more deserve the recognition. Still, here’s to hoping that the Academy has a knack for pleasant surprises. And if not, perhaps 2016 would be a better year for the rightful films.

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Best Sound Editing: American Sniper (It’s a tough call. Pun not intended.)

Best Sound Mixing: Birdman‘s background drum encore is one of the film’s beguiling features but how Whiplash makes every instrument palpable and be part of something bigger than the band gives this movie so much electrifying presence.

Best Make-up and Hairstyling: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Visual Effects: This is the most competitive category with the likes of Captain America 2, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Guardians of the Galaxy, Interstellar, and X-Men: Days of Future Past in contention. But my choice would be personal.

Best Original Song: I didn’t expect ‘Lost Stars’ from Begin Again to make the cut but maybe (and I’m predicting here), Selma‘s Glory will get the sentiments’ vote (and perhaps it’s only chance of nabbing an Oscar).

Best Original Score: I’m still bitter Gone Girl wasn’t nominated. The Theory of Everything won the award in the Golden Globes. But Hans Zimmer’s unconventional work in Interstellar is the dark horse.

Best Costume Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Production Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Film Editing: Not to undermine Boyhood‘s 12-years of hard work to make a complete picture of childhood (it could win though) but I’m wishing Whiplash wins. The slick editing of The Grand Budapest Hotel comes in third.   

Best Cinematography: This is the second most competitive category. The Academy could award Birdman with its out-of-the-box camerawork but Ida‘s cinematography is so elegant and dramatic whereas The Grand Budapest Hotel is flawlessly playful. (That would be a back-to-back win for the Gravity cinematographer; though it speaks the irony of Birdman‘s appealing screen presence but hollow narrative.)

Best Documentary Feature: CitizenFour

Best Foreign Language Film: Ida (Poland)

Best Animated Feature: How to Train Your Dragon 2

Best Adapted Screenplay: WGA winner The Imitation Game was a handsomely-made bio-pic but I want an upset win by Whiplash.

Best Original Screenplay: Foxcatcher is so underrated in this category that it deserves more recognition. I’m torn between The Grand Budapest Hotel (40%) and Boyhood (60%) – a win would seal its chance for Best Picture.

Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette was the most natural and heartbreaking in Boyhood.

Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons for Whiplash will always match my tempo.

Best Actress: Julianne Moore is long overdue but Rosamund Pike was such a mesmerizing revelation in Gone Girl.

Best Actor: People are betting between in Eddie Redmayne and Michael Keaton but Steve Carell‘s chilling transformation in Foxcatcher just blew me away.

Best Director: Richard Linklater, Boyhood

Best Picture: The Grand Budapest will sweep the technical awards but the dedication and sentimentality offered by Boyhood will win (sorry not sorry for Birdman).

 

P.S.

I skipped the Documentary Short Subject, Short Film – Animated and Short Film – Live Action categories because I wasn’t familiar on the nominees. I’m more likely wrong on the lead actor categories but I’m counting on The Grand Budapest Hotel to earn the most number of Oscar wins while Whiplash to make the surprising ones. I’d still count how many categories did I get correctly. 😉

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Awards Circle: Boyhood, Birdman (Part 2)

BIRDMAN (or ‘The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance’)

How do I make my case here… My initial reaction on BIRDMAN was the same as 2013’s American Hustle. Both were critically-acclaimed, flashy comedic ensembles which in my opinion are hyped than what they’re worth. Succeeding the ostentatious 70’s costume party of bluffers, an egoistic troupe of praise-thirsty theater actors pressure themselves to be more authentic than what their craft requires, and get caught up in their self-proclaimed genius. Maybe it’s Hollywood guffawing at the absurdities of its industry who are more eager to please themselves than the viewers. Maybe it’s the black comedy’s pseudo-surrealist take of an aging actor’s ‘existential crisis’ (which is the candid alternate to the melodrama of Black Swan’s similar sadistic fate) that make it so epic. Or maybe it’s show business hurrahing its fondness for big comebacks in the likes of Michael Keaton and Edward Norton. The satirical swag and star power blasted off BIRDMAN since its Venice International Film Festival debut. But to be honest, there isn’t really too much to brag in Director Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu’s latest film. The deprecating humor is touché but BIRDMAN is a crazed tableau, too engrossed on its stage presence and is nothing more once the curtains are closed. Plainly put, it’s Hollywood irrelevantly, not irreverently, making fun of itself – which makes it (somewhere between) a fool or a genius. You tell me.

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Behind the scenes of Birdman

Brushing the hostility aside, BIRDMAN is a unique exhibition of film-making, or in kinder words, a trail-blazer in its field. The film’s technical team succeeds in pulling off a different feel of its unflattering setting. It doesn’t digitally alter the dull insides of the theater building; rather, it plays with the viewer’s perception by shooting BIRDMAN to appear as if it’s a 119-minute long, single-take movie. Such meticulousness behind the camera (credits to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki who won the Oscar for Gravity, e.g. the breathtaking 10-minute exospheric shot of planet Earth) is itself commendable. The beguiling visual design and unconventional drum score parading Riggan Thomson’s restlessness effectively conjures a surrealist view in a modern setting that adds to the film’s spatial ‘hook’. There’s something about how the camera tracks the cast (and linger at them during climatic monologues) that the viewers are kept fixated. Thematically, this is how BIRDMAN works: it is nestled on the characters’ constant need and want of attention. From the external adoration of huge ticket sales and positive theater reviews, to the varying degrees of narcissism, the film is flamboyant at its finest. But that doesn’t excuse itself from its polarizing self-consciousness.

 Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) backstage

BIRDMAN’s so-called brilliance comes from its uncanny execution of ‘life imitating art imitating life’. In that case, each of the characters is a mild/exaggerated representation of the stereotypes in Hollywood: the aging actor pining for a comeback (Keaton), the in-demand and audacious performer (Norton), the struggling actress aiming for her career break (Naomi Watts), the tolerant yet pressured producer (Zach Galifianakis) and the top critic whom everyone tries to please (Lindsay Duncan). But in its cheeky attempt to recreate the business of show business in Riggan’s eyes, what the audience can only perceive is the one-dimensional importance BIRDMAN parades around. I try to understand the reasoning behind the film’s universal acclaim. Sure it’s showy in terms of the acting (Norton > Emma Stone > Keaton) and the cinematography. But contrary the visual treat, what message does BIRDMAN want to send? (Warning: bird puns) It’s not exactly a raven that delivers a context that could fall among the following: (a) the cautionary tale of making a comeback; (b) the existential crisis of living in a world where one’s relevance is at stake; and (c) the unspoken trauma and dangerous ambition of working in Hollywood in the form of the nagging Birdman. Rather, I see a parrot that doesn’t say anything coherent and new to make itself matter thematically.

There are many other films that address the quest and consequences of stardom (or a comeback that’s not limited to Hollywood) which greatly benefit from a deeper characterization; whereas BIRDMAN only flies around with vanity written in varying degrees among its characters. The last scene, which ponders on Riggan’s myth, is most guilty of intolerable narcissism on film. Instead of challenging Sam’s blistering honesty, Director Innaritu ignores this most important sentiment and proceeds with Riggan’s self-styled artistic genius. The more the film prods on its alleged relevance, the more it becomes ineffective and unconvincing of its aspirations. BIRDMAN’s isn’t a story of reinvention but self-preservation born out of conceit. It clamors for import through its satirical depiction of Hollywood but unfortunately becomes too self-important in the process. (Spoiler) To brand its flawed lead as ‘compelling’, Riggan throws himself out of the window and let viewers bask on his irrational method of validation. All I’m saddled with is a glamorized gimmick that talks too much but tells little to justify on why it should matter.

 Sam (Emma Stone) confronting her father, Riggan

I, too, was excited to see the ‘greatness’ of BIRDMAN. The restiveness among the characters was a thrill to watch (a cathartic combustion of 2014’s best ensemble) while the cinematography was, at first, a strange experience but it eventually won me over. However, with so much focus on the obvious, it forgot to be subtle; the movie’s overall message went lost in its ego. Worse, it’s criminally overlooked.

Rating: 3.0/5.0

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Since this post wraps up my reviews of the Best Picture nominees, here’s my “official” ranking: (linked to my Letterboxd account): 1. The Grand Budapest Hotel 2. Whiplash 3. Boyhood 4. Selma 5. The Imitation Game 6. Birdman 7. The Theory of Everything 8. American Sniper

Photos grabbed from Eclipse MagazineThe Hollywood Reporter, The Wrap

Awards Circle: Boyhood, Birdman (Part 1)

And now we’re down to two. Tugging the opposite ends of this year’s Oscar statuette, Boyhood and Birdman (since their respective festival premieres) are settled for a coin toss that gambles on which is the more award-winning epic. Grand in terms of its dedicated and candid story of growing old (for parents) and growing up (for kids), Boyhood matches the time frame of last year’s winner (12 Years a Slave) but offers a gentle and humbling account of middle families throughout the years. Meanwhile, Birdman preys on the pretentious ideologies of its cathartic profession and preens its black comedic wings through its prima donnas caged in a unique, meticulously looped environment. For full disclosure, I am not an ardent fan of both (The Grand Budapest Hotel and Whiplash get my vote); though for this edition, I’d join the bandwagon for… Boyhood. At the end of the day, these films (the Best Picture nominees are populated by individuals – not ideas*, as the subject matter) are weighed by the potency of their human stories, and the easiest give-away (in my opinion) is the one that mirrors the most accessible reality, and not what is too disposed of its self-serving mythology.

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BOYHOOD

There are movies that are part of one’s childhood (mine were Space Jam, Casper, Jumanji), but there’s one film, that definitively relives those nostalgic years as if they’re part of your own.

BOYHOOD or girlhood, it makes no matter. Capturing nostalgia for 12 grueling years, director Richard Linklater knocks on suburban stories for an inviting fictional memoir that speaks universally about the recognizable workings of childhood. A kaleidoscopic saga of the becoming of a youth, this coming-of-age drama is everyone’s story of growing up, most particularly the 90’s kids (including myself) who experienced first-hand the multitudes of transitions towards the new millennium. Transitions are in fact, BOYHOOD’s most binding theme as it sprawls on a more than a decade-long biography that endured shifts such as technology, culture, and ideology – the last being the most crucial change in one’s childhood. Linking honest snippets of domestic drama into a seamless technical feat, Director Linklater creates a straightforward narrative of a boy’s transition to adulthood that doesn’t miss the collective effects of its changing family dynamics and external influences which shaped Mason Evans Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) to become the man he has grown.

Ellar Coltrane throughout the filming of Boyhood

Unlike other coming-of-age dramas, BOYHOOD is certain on how it sees its youngsters in their grown up state. It’s the matter of how the audience identify themselves with them – not just to Mason Jr. and his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), but also on their familial setting. Linklater’s latest epic (The Before Trilogy is considered a longstanding romance) deconstructs the mundane reality of families and in the Evans’ case, a perfect depiction of an imperfect family. As the committed matriarch, Olivia, Patricia Arquette embraces a truthful portrayal of an enduring mother who single-handedly raised her children while also aspiring for her self-interests. Linklater regular Ethan Hawke is a ‘constant’ scene-stealer who sporadically visits his kids and somehow imparts wisdom – the least he can do to compensate for his detachment and non-support. But perhaps the most heartbreaking reality in BOYHOOD, aside from the authenticity of its domestic disposition, is the ‘dreadful’ permanence of change. In her touching last scene, Olivia has no choice but to let her grown children lead their own lives, while she’s left sulking, alone, at her apartment. Seeing the sweetness and innocence from Mason Jr. and Samantha curdle to aloofness and disinterest was the most tangible reflection of reality that makes me ruminate on my own teenage becoming. Understanding the psychology of growing up is a puzzle of its own but BOYHOOD makes a benevolent chance for viewers to see their younger selves grow up with Mason Jr. and become sentimental of the childhood years that were forgotten and/or taken for granted. It’s a completely immersive experience on a personal level that makes BOYHOOD a bull’s eye shot to the heart. Its tragic truthfulness, however, is not cynical; rather an unwavering promise of youth and the hopeful conclusion of seizing every moment of it.

The universality of BOYHOOD’s thematic scope makes it an epic of its own, aside from its grand film exploit of more than a decade in the making. Rarely does a movie make extraordinary stories out of its ordinary characters but this Oscar frontrunner easily becomes an exception. It’s a film about everyone’s family and childhood in its simplest ways. It more than forges a fleeting onscreen empathy. It brings cinematic intimacy to a deeper and more conscious skin.

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Up Next: Birdman (which will be lengthier than I thought)

Awards Circle: Wild, Still Alice, Guardians of the Galaxy

Here are the latest films I’d seen (the third was embarrassingly the last) which are all contenders in the Oscar race. Reese Witherspoon and Julianne Moore star in last year’s rarity of under-appreciated female-focused films while Guardians of the Galaxy’s inclusion on this entry stays true to its odd-one-out persona (it’s bizarre yet perfectly sane of its cause).

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WILD

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A dramatically tailored and extraordinary chronicle of grief, atonement and strength, WILD is director Jean-Marc Vallee’s powerful follow-up of 2013’s Dallas Buyers Club that doesn’t lose sight and touch of its character drama completely grounded on Reese Witherspoon’s grittiest performance. Boldly embracing her role’s physical and emotional strife, Witherspoon wins her best showcase since Walk the Line, as her backstory unfolds intimately and judiciously through Nick Hornby’s adapted screenplay. A soulful and thoughtful quest for redemption, WILD treks on Vallee’s dedicated track record of recreating personal stories that are more transcendent of what is expected. Packed with emotional resonance that makes Cheryl Strayed’s true story sturdier, WILD is born to become a satisfying and personal ‘hiking’ experience.

Rating: 4.0/5.0

STILL ALICE

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It’s interesting to note that the frontrunners of this year’s Oscars lead acting categories are encumbered by their illnesses. Eddie Redmayne wrestles in the grotesque physicality of renowned physicist Stephen Hawking while Julianne Moore becomes less of the accomplished professional her character was as she succumbs to Alzheimer’s disease. Unlike The Theory of Everything, STILL ALICE is not a story that triumphs over one’s sickness. Moore poignantly captures the confusion, acceptance and submission of Alice Howland in her quick mental spiral. But the psychological tragicomedy of Blue Jasmine (as Oscar winner Cate Blanchett’s banner film) is traded with the understated family drama that STILL ALICE sheds with subtlety and restraint. The long exposures on Moore invite viewers to observe her waning mental state that shuns itself of overpowering hysterics. STILL ALICE doesn’t shy on the disconcerting lapses brought by the disease, nor makes it uncomfortable to see Alice degenerate as the months pass by. Alice’s brave admittance of losing the battle against Alzheimer’s doesn’t make her helpless; neither does the film propose defeat. Rather, STILL ALICE is consistent in inflicting endurance and inner peace as it makes an emphatic case for its delicate subject matter.

Rating: 3.5/5.0

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

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I found myself wary during my initial immersion into Marvel’s latest cinematic foray. The atmosphere beyond The Avengers was overwhelming as the narrative jumps into the alien locations, exposing me to comics’ cosmic unchartered territory. But thanks to the earthly company of Starlord (the affable Chris Pratt) and the pop culture references, I warm towards the intergalactic eccentricity. The oddest assembly of superhero-underdogs, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is Marvel’s most deliriously funny and irreverent adventure that never runs out of unwarranted humor while introducing new characters with humane stories no matter what their genetic composition is. Often starts ridiculous yet finds itself levelheaded throughout the process, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY exchanges familiarity with the foreign for a ferocious entertainment that raises the studio’s cinematic standards.

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Capsule Review: ‘English Only, Please’, ‘Halik sa Hangin’

Warning: These two films are not particularly flattering telling of love onscreen. Benefiting from its Metro Manila Film Festival boost, English Only, Please is a crowd-pleaser that charms with its imperfect yet sincere script that could definitely be improved (ex. more distinct cast). Meanwhile, Halik sa Hangin extremely disappoints in becoming a refreshing romance whose attempt to supernatural succumbs to superficial.

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ENGLISH ONLY, PLEASE

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Jennylyn Mercado and Derek Ramsay are amiable as the romantic leads but it’s the hearty and humorous screenplay that buoys ENGLISH ONLY, PLEASE among the mundane saccharine sea of mainstream romantic comedies. It still tangles on the genre’s cliche themes and doesn’t reinvent the cinematic love game but at least ENGLISH ONLY, PLEASE pleased viewers by its unconventional narrative that translates to a more believable set-up of emotional connections, without the need of grand display of affections that its contemporaries has long practiced.

Rating: 2.5/5.0

HALIK SA HANGIN

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Star Cinema starts its 2015 slate with a deceptive Goth romance that was too besotted on unoriginality and illogic. HALIK SA HANGIN takes too much time in establishing the angst and attraction between Mia (Julia Montes) and Gio (Gerald Anderson) that the hastened twists in the last 30 minutes were a clumsy send-off. This pseudo-romance is a nonsensical chimera that amalgams every plot device and cliches known in the romance and horror genres. At one point, it becomes a talky romantic melodrama that surprises into a psychological thriller (which comes off as a nice touch) but in the end, suffers from the silliness on the reveal of Gio’s true nature and Mia’s last act of redemption. The film’s fondness of meaningless cliffhangers further demeans the whole purpose of its narrative. Not even comparable to the eerie ambiance of the excellent Nasaan Ka Man, HALIK SA HANGIN is a clumsy experiment that fails in repackaging the romance genre with a mysterious and sensible skin, and overall fumbles as one of the most incoherent Filipino films of recent memory.

Rating: 1.0/5.0