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The Academy Awards are this Sunday. Here are some picks and notes for the festivities.

Best Picture

SHOULD WIN: Spotlight

WILL WIN: The Revenant

  • CAROL not being nominated is a travesty. THE REVENANT has abundant momentum. Not a film I enjoyed all that much, but the Oscars often get it wrong.

Best Actor

SHOULD WIN: Whatever (Really, whatever)

WILL WIN: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)

  • By far the weakest of the major categories. DiCaprio wins by default in a year with no competition, and for a performance that was lacking (I blame the script more than him).

Best Actress

SHOULD WIN: Charlotte Rampling (45 Years)

WILL WIN: Brie Larson (Room)

Best Supporting Actor

SHOULD WIN: Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies)

WILL WIN: Sylvester Stallone (Creed)

Best Supporting Actress

SHOULD WIN: Rooney Mara (Carol)

WILL WIN: Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight)

  • This category is a major wild card. Perhaps the strongest all around category, this is a pure guess, at best. Kate Winslet is a terrific actress and always a threat, but I’ll stick with these predictions.

Best Director

SHOULD WIN: George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road)

WILL WIN: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (The Revenant)

  • I’d be disappointed by another Inarritu victory, but with recent victories at the BAFTAs and DGA, it seems likely. Really pulling for Miller or Tom McCarthy.

Best Original Screenplay

SHOULD WIN: Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer (Spotlight)

WILL WIN: Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer (Spotlight)

Best Adapted Screenplay

SHOULD WIN: Phyllis Nagy (Carol)

WILL WIN: Adam McKay and Charles Randolph (The Big Short)

  • In the interest of full disclosure, I have not read any of the books these adaptations are nominated for, so I’m not to be trusted with my “should win” pick. I pick Nagy because I loved Carol, but it’s clear McKay and Randolph are the front-runners.

Best Cinematography

SHOULD WIN: Roger Deakins (Sicario)

WILL WIN: Emmanuel Lubezki (The Revenant)

  • I’d love to be wrong here. One of the great cinematographers of this or any era, Deakins has been nominated 13 times for an Oscar, and has come up empty each time. I could make an argument for each of the other nominees: Ed Lachman for Carol, Robert Richardson for The Hateful Eight, John Seale for Mad Max: Fury Road, or Lubezki. Lubezki does brilliant work, but has won 2 years in a row (Gravity, Birdman). Would like to see a spread of the wealth. Wildly competitive category, and a great year for one of the most vital and powerful parts of the medium.

Best Foreign Language Film

SHOULD WIN: Son of Saul

WILL WIN: Son of Saul

  • Mustang is terrific as well, but this should be a slam dunk.

Best Documentary Feature

SHOULD WIN: The Look of Silence

WILL WIN: Amy

  • This is a shame. Amy has racked up almost every award this season, and while it’s fine (I feel like this doc could be made about thousands of people, making it less unique), it in no way compares to Joshua Oppenheimer’s devastating companion to 2012’s The Act of Killing.

That’s all I got. If you’re into it, enjoy the show. Brace yourselves for the inevitable boredom that will strike somewhere in the second hour (maybe first depending on how well Chris Rock is doing as host), and don’t take it too seriously. A lot of your (my) favorite movies this year weren’t nominated.

****One additional note: World of Tomorrow is nominated for Best Animated Short. It is incredible and at only 17 minutes, well worth your time. I LOVED THIS. It’s streaming on Netflix.

Robert is a current student here at CUNY SPS, pursuing a degree in Communication and Media. He is interested in platforms of media, especially those related to digital media; and a fan of serious film as well as this current golden age of television.

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With critics awards almost completed and the Academy Awards a little over a month away, I felt inclined to share some of my favorite movies from the past year. Mine is just another list for people to roll their eyes at. I mean, who’s reading this? I’m just some guy who really likes movies. A guy who would rather stay at home on a Friday night to watch one, and then wake up Saturday morning to hit the matinee for another; a matinee that sometimes sparks an entire day in the theater. I wrote in an earlier post about this not being a banner year for film. At the time, summer had come and gone. The bombardment of overwrought blockbusters, sequels, reboots, and end of seasons dumps were coming to an end. As 2015 grew older, however, the output seemed stronger than in recent years past.

The sequel/reboot fad didn’t end with the summer season; however, this fall gave us two reboots that reinvigorated franchises beloved by millions. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, though not as iconic or as unique as Episode IV or V, was an enjoyable movie-going experience. The first 30 minutes is as fun and exhilarating as anything released this year, even if the film is essentially A New Hope remix. Another reboot, what I would call my surprise of the year, Creed, knocked it out of the park (or ring?) for what amounts to the best of the Rocky franchise since the original.

The end of 2015 also re-introduced the world to the 70mm format. The Hateful Eight, Quentin Tarantino’s mystery-western set in the 1800’s, is the first film projected entirely using the Panavision equipment since Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (2012). 70mm allows for a higher film resolution than the most frequently used 35mm, as well as capturing colors more vividly. It’s a glorious and exciting way to see a film. Questions arose about why a story such as The Hateful Eight needed to be shot in 70mm. It probably didn’t, but kudos to directors like Anderson, and Tarantino (as well as Christopher Nolan who has championed the idea of film use to the studios for several years) for attempting to bring this beautiful format (KILL DIGITAL) back to the forefront. These are filmmakers that truly care about the art. Whether or not every movie is a hit is irrelevant. They’re making them the way they want to make them about what they’re interested in. It’s something for anyone to admire.

The digital vs. film debate is a heated and contentious one as described by this Vox article.

***PRO TIP: Do not see The Hateful Eight and The Revenant back to back on the same day as I did. It was an endurance test I nearly didn’t survive. I wouldn’t say I was a huge fan of either, though Hateful had some big laughs.***

There needs to be a willingness to find great movies. This is not to say that a movie not seen by mass audiences are always better, but in watching there’s a feel they’re made with more care. I’m coming off as a snob, but I point this out because much of the following list will not be seen during the Oscars telecast. Go and find them.

1. Phoenix

2. Queen of Earth

3. Carol

4. It Follows

5. The Clouds of Sils Maria

6. Spotlight

7. Sicario

8. Mad Max: Fury Road

9. 45 Years

10. Creed

11. The Diary of a Teenage Girl

12. Ex Machina

13. Tangerine

14. Heaven Knows What

15. The Duke of Burgundy

Twitter: @BobbyJDaniels

Robert is a current student here at CUNY SPS, pursuing a degree in Communication and Media. He is interested in platforms of media, especially those related to digital media; and a fan of serious film as well as this current golden age of television.

In 2002, the Boston Globe released a series of investigative articles covering the widespread pedophilia and subsequent cover-ups within the Catholic archdiocese of Boston. The investigation led to a Pulitzer Prize for the Globe and the conviction and sentencing to prison of several priests in the Boston area.

Now that you have a background, you should know something about the movie: it’s excellent. Spotlight, named for the investigative unit of the Globe (the oldest of its kind in the U.S.), is an affecting, impressively directed and acted drama that cares more about the possibly unsexy “how we got here.” The job of a journalist can be a tedious one. These stories don’t come together overnight. It takes weeks, months, sometimes years of hard work to tell the right story. Spotlight plays as something of importance, but also as a sort of love-letter to investigative journalism.

One of the year’s best films, surely a front-runner for Best Picture, Spotlight embraces the power of the press for good; it pits two of Boston’s most known institutions, the Catholic church, and the Boston Globe against each other. As stated in the movie, 53% of the Globes readers are Catholic. Boston is a town made up of many Irish-Catholics. How will they react to such a story? There is also an ethical line to be drawn in regards to the feelings and privacy of those abused. In one case, a father of three tells that not even his wife knows of his childhood of abuse.

The film itself is not a takedown of the Catholic church. Writer/director Tom McCarthy allows the facts to speak for themselves as well as giving the audience the opportunity to make decisions based on those facts. Instead of showing us the abuse, he allows the actors portraying the abused convey the emotions. It’s often true in horror films that the threat of the violence is more scary than the actual violence. Same rule applies. There’s a lot to be said for subtlety and restraint, something McCarthy proves himself completely capable of here. It made him the perfect director for such a film.

The superb cast of writers and editors (played wonderfully by Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James, and John Slattery) put together the pieces like a jigsaw puzzle just waiting for its conclusion. Comparisons in genre to All The President’s Men and Citizen Kane—the standard bearers for newspaper films—are inevitable.

Spotlight celebrates the standard of integrity each journalist should hold themselves to. In the world of Twitter (shamelessly plugged without pay by me at the jump) where attention spans are at a low, and clickbait is at a premium, the care and effort that went into the piece leaves me with a sense of gratitude. It feels true to form that in the end, the job goes on. As one conflict simmers, another one brews. Sadly, there will always be a scandal to be uncovered. We should be hopeful, whether it’s print, online, or otherwise that it’s investigated and reported as thoroughly and honestly as it is here.

Spotlight: 3.5/4

Tweet me @BobbyJDaniels!

Robert is a current student here at CUNY SPS, pursuing a degree in Communication and Media. He is interested in platforms of media, especially those related to digital media; and a fan of serious film as well as this current golden age of television.

It would be difficult to characterize 2015 as a banner year in film. Take a look at the top 10 box-office hits of the year and we find sequels, reboots, and superheroes. A box-office list doesn’t necessarily show us the good in film. Most often, it’s quite the opposite. These are major-studio-produced projects that have big budgets, and major dollars in advertising campaigns behind them, most of which are released in the summer months. We’re past that now. October brings in the season of more serious fare. Indie, art-house, supposedly award-worthy films.

Let’s break down some of the early hopefuls already in theaters. Perhaps this post helps some of you who aren’t sure what films are worth your time and money this season.

SICARIO – 3.5/4

My favorite of the early awards hopefuls, Sicario is a tense thriller that takes a look at the frightening drug wars on the border of the United States and Mexico. Director Denis Villeneuve (Enemy, Prisoners) has established himself as a man so adept at tension in even the simplest of scenes. Shot beautifully by Roger Deakins (DP – The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, No Country For Old Men, Skyfall), and led by a quiet, but powerful Emily Blunt, and Benicio Del Toro in his most chilling performance in years, Sicario is an ambitious, and compelling thriller that at times will leave you breathless.

THE MARTIAN – 2.5/4

I couldn’t help but feel disappointed walking out of this one, feeling as marooned as Matt Damon’s character on Mars. While critical praise is almost universal, The Martian left me cold. Damon gives a fine performance, but the rest of the cast—that for whatever reason needed to be someone recognizable in each role—was distracting at best, and annoying at worst. At times, the science is fascinating, and the imagery wonderful, but it was too Hollywood-by-the-books. A neatly wrapped up film where the end is never in doubt.

BRIDGE OF SPIES – 3/4

Steven Spielberg is no stranger to war-time film-making with movies such as Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Munich, and Lincoln under his belt. While Bridge Of Spies may not be a major Spielberg work, and at times feels like it’s a film more settled than ambitious, it’s well done. With a tight, at times humorous script by the Coen Brothers (of course!), and one of America’s most beloved actors (Tom Hanks) leading the way, it’s a drama about morals. About doing what’s right instead of doing what’s asked or expected. Mark Rylance as Abel, the Russian spy, is scene-stealing.

STEVE JOBS – 2.5/4

It’s another slam-you-over-the-head with quick, witty dialogue Sorkin-fest. Think The Social Network, but not as good (and I didn’t love that, either). There isn’t a lot of revelatory information here. Jobs was a difficult person to work with and be around, but this is known, and there are better sources for that information. The film, and script are more concerned with showing you how bad a guy this was, rather than the visionary who inspired it. This gets the extra half a star for Michael Fassbender’s immersive title performance as Jobs. He’s so good, you forget they look nothing alike.

A bonus pick for those of you who enjoy documentaries:

JUNUN – 3/4

For my money, Paul Thomas Anderson is the greatest working filmmaker today, and of the last 18 or so years. Writing and directing the fabulous Boogie Nights at 26 years old, and creating what I consider to be the only masterpiece of the past decade (There Will Be Blood), PTA is known for his flair behind the camera, his close-ups, and getting the best damn performances of actors a director could dream of. He sets most of that aside here to film his friend, and regular collaborator Jonny Greenwood (lead guitarist of Radiohead) creating an album in India with a group of Indian musicians. There is almost no dialogue, and very few interview moments we’ve become accustomed to seeing in documentaries, but the connection of these musicians, and the feeling conveyed by each shot left an impression on me. It might not be for the average viewer, and maybe you need to be a fan of PTA to get it, but for the wonderful music alone, and that it’s less than an hour, it’s certainly worth the look.

Tweet me @BobbyJDaniels!

Robert is a current student here at CUNY SPS, pursuing a degree in Communication and Media. He is interested in platforms of media, especially those related to digital media; and a fan of serious film as well as this current golden age of television.