Friday, February 26, 2016

2016 Academy Award Predictions

It’s that time of year again, Oscar season! I’m going to be honest, this year’s nominations are a little grim and predictable. There wasn’t anything I was really felt excited about, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be watching on the edge of my seat. I felt like there were quite a few snubs that really bothered me. The biggest snub I think is Quentin Tarantino. THE HATEFUL EIGHT was hands down one of the best films of 2015 and certainly deserves many accolades. QT being the renegade director who refuses to play by any rules is often penalized for it. There should have been a Best Picture nomination, Best Director, and at least Best Original Screenplay for HATEFUL EIGHT. Todd Haynes should have received a Best Director nomination for CAROL. Michael Keaton deserves a best Actor or at least Supporting Actor nomination for SPOTLIGHT. He really deserved the Oscar for BIRDMAN, but that’s neither here nor there. Although, the film fell a little short, Johnny Depp’s performance in BLACK MASS was certainly worthy of at least a Best Actor nomination.

Now that I’ve aired my grievances, here’s my bracket for the 2016 Academy Awards:


Best Doc is one of my favorite categories because I constantly obsess over documentaries. AMY is a safe bet for the Academy. They don’t like overly controversial films in this category which I think is why the other choices won’t win. THE LOOK OF SILENCE was my pick to win, but the Academy isn’t going to choose a film that blatantly calls out the U.S. for their involvement in the Indonesian genocide. This is evident in the snub for the first film, THE ACT OF KILLING. I only hope that the momentum behind THE LOOK OF SILENCE brings more awareness of this often overlooked massacre. I enjoyed AMY, but in the big scheme of things and compared to the other docs, it seems a lot more selfish and trite. AMY was well made and engaging film even if you’re not a fan of Amy Winehouse’s music. It’s a great look into the psychology of addition, but I don’t think it’s as essential as other films in this category.


What really gets my goat is that most of the foreign features won’t screen nationwide here in the U.S. until after the Oscars. SON OF SAUL is the all-around frontrunner in this category as it won the Grand Prix award at Cannes as well as the Golden Globe. SON OF SAUL is an intense film about a prisoner in Auschwitz forced to burn the bodies of his own people. This is Hungary’s submission for Best Foreign and would mark the second win after 1981’s MEPHISTO. Personally, I think WHITE GOD is the best Hungarian film which was nominated last year and on my list of favorite films of 2015.


Some of my favorite writers were nominated in this category. BTVS alum and CABIN IN THE WOODS director, Drew Goodard was nominated for THE MARTIAN. I enjoyed THE MARTIAN for the most part, but it was a bit overambitious and I felt like the script was a little too flimsy. I expect more from Goodard. BROOKLYN was written by one of my all-time favorite novelist, Nick Hornby. Hornby has had much success lately with his screenplays and book adaptations. I liked BROOKLYN, but it didn’t give me the warm fuzzies like everyone else.


As previously stated, I think THE HATEFUL EIGHT deserves this award. It’s certainly more deserving of a nomination than INSIDE OUT. By process of elimination, I’m going with SPOTLIGHT in this category. I enjoyed this film, but at the same time it felt like one big pat on the back for investigative journalism. It was a little too self-gratifying to take seriously, but then again so is the Academy.


Ah, the time honored career Oscar. The one performance of actors in this category that stands out above the rest is Tom Hardy for THE REVENANT. His role was dark, gritty, and sinister. He deserves this award more than any other nominees in the category, but I think Rocky will take it home. This is (probably) the last Rocky film so why not commemorate that with an Oscar for the man who has encompassed the role for the last forty years? Yawn.


Of course I’d pick Jennifer Jason Leigh for this award, but that’s not going to happen. The current frontrunner is Alicia Vikander. I think she’s very young and at the beginning of her career and isn’t ready for this award. Then again so is J. Law and she still has an Oscar. Her performance in THE DANISH GIRL is great, but not as diverse as Leigh’s role in HATEFUL EIGHT. Daisy Domergue is such a loathsome character and Leigh really made it her own. I think Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character was far more challenging than any other in this category. I also really enjoyed Rooney Mara in CAROL.


Leo is the Susan Lucci of Academy Awards. How far will Leo go to get an Oscar? Well, he’ll allow himself to be violated by a bear. But seriously, I think he honestly deserves an Oscar. He chooses smart roles and strong directors to work with and it’s pushed him to the top echelon of actors. He’s proven himself as a versatile actor and not just a former teen heartthrob. My favorite performance in this category is Eddie Redmayne in THE DANISH GIRL, but he was the belle of the ball (no pun intended) last year so I don’t think the Academy would let him win back to back (that’s only for Tom Hanks). This is Leo’s year; after all he’s paid his dues (bear rape).


I know it’s not very ethical or objective, but something about Brie Larson really bothers me. Could it be that she’s a former child actress who lucked into a really good role? I don’t know, but I’m just not feeling it. I would choose Cate Blanchett for her role in CAROL, but she’s already got a couple Oscars. She was so captivating, tragic, and vulnerable all at once as Carol Aird. I was completely mesmerized by her performance and the chemistry between her and Rooney Mara. Alas, I think Brie Larson will take this category.


Even though he won last year for BIRDMAN, I think he’ll take this award again. The Academy loves Inarritu and I’m so glad he’s finally received the mainstream success he deserves. I’ve been a big fan of his work since AMORES PERROS and certainly look forward to what he has in store in the future. THE REVENANT was a notoriously tough shoot with tensions rising between director and actors. Inarritu has a vision and a drive that will not be compromised, but I can see this conflicting with strong actors like Tom Hardy and Leo DiCaprio. In the end a masterpiece was created. The one dark horse in this category is MAD MAX which was a fantastic futuristic tale of feminism and strife. My money is on another Inarritu win.


This category could actually be a toss-up between THE BIG SHORT and SPOTLIGHT. Again, I would have liked to see THE HATEFUL EIGHT nominated at the very least. I loved THE BIG SHORT and I love that it was co-written and directed by the genius who brought us STEP BROTHERS. THE BIG SHORT is smart, funny, and perfectly paced. I think it’ll take home the Oscar.

There you have it folks. You know the Academy Awards are always to be taken with a grain of salt. They don’t always get it right and most of the time it’s about money and politics, but they’re still pretty fun to watch. I’m actually pretty excited about Chris Rock hosting this year than anything else. Who do you think will win?

Friday, January 15, 2016

David Bowie

It’s hard to find words for the monumental loss the world has experienced with the passing of David Bowie. I never get emotional about celebrity deaths, but this is different. I still can’t believe how this even happened; he was supposed to live forever. I keep hoping that it’s all a ruse. Perhaps he faked his death like in VELVET GOLDMINE. I just don’t want to accept it to be true. There has never been an artist like Bowie and there will never be another. He changed the shape of music and influenced so many. People say these things all the time when a celebrity dies, but in this case it couldn't be more true. Growing up in the 1980s, Bowie’s music was so prominent. His videos were everywhere. His songs were infectious and I was completely mesmerized by his clothes. As I got older I came to understand all the personas of this beautiful alien. I’ve been thinking of just how much he’s been a part of my life. I cannot recall a time before Bowie, and I really don’t want to consider a time after Bowie. I thought I’d share some of my favorite Bowie moments.

I certainly love his performances as Warhol in BASQUIAT and as Pontius Pilate in THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. He's great in LABYRINTH and THE HUNGER. However, my favorite Bowie acting performance is as Agent Phillip Jeffries in FIRE WALK WITH ME. Even the details surrounding his character were such a vague mystery. Jeffries disappears for two years and then suddenly appears in the Philadelphia FBI offices spouting bizarre ramblings about the inhabitants of the Black Lodge. Then just as quickly as he appeared, he’s gone again. This performance in FIRE WALK WITH ME added a charm to David Lynch’s saga we never knew we needed. “He was here, but where did he go?”

I used to say many years ago that I wanted “Under Pressure” to be played at my funeral
. I always imagined a grandiose montage of people looking very somber as the coffin is lowered down right at the climax of the song. The thought never occurred to me that David Bowie’s funeral would come before my own. I now imagine Bowie and Freddy Mercury singing this song together someplace far, far way.

Speaking of interesting duets, remember the Mick Jagger collaboration? “Dancing in the Street” was initially intended to raise funds for Live Aid. It was very successful at the time, but has since become a bit of a joke probably due to the outrageous music video. Regardless, I absolutely love it. Yes the video is incredibly ridiculous and self-indulgent, but so were the entire 1980s. The pair raised even more questions about the relationship between Bowie & Jagger. I love how they were always so coy about it. Maybe it was the coke, but I really enjoyed this fun and lively side of Bowie.

ALMOST FAMOUS is in my top 5 all-time films. David Bowie was originally intended to have a role in the films as a publicist. However, the role was cut from the final script. He still makes a sort of cameo (he's also on the soundtrack) during the Cleveland scene at Swingo’s Hotel. You’ll also recognize comedian Nick Swardson as the rabid fan who freaks out at a mere glimpse of him. It’s great to see the Bowie fandom portrayed in the 1970s.

I absolutely HATE Christmas music with a fiery passion. Anyone who’s ever had to work retail during the holidays knows that Christmas music becomes the bane of your existence. I still cringe at the thought of hearing “Last Christmas” by Wham! or Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” On the other hand, I don’t mind Bowie’s duet with Bing Crosby – “Little Drummer Boy.” Bowie did the duet on Bing Crosby’s 1977 holiday special. He allegedly only made the appearance to appease his mother who was a big fan of Crosby. No matter what, it’s still a beautiful rendition of a shitty song.

I always wondered if Bowie would write his own memoirs. It seems like everyone is getting around to it these days (Keith Richards, Elvis Costello, Patti Smith). There are countless unauthorized Bowie biographies out there. I’ve read a few. I even read Angie Bowie’s autobiography many years ago. I would certainly take anything an embittered ex-wife says with a grain of salt. The book ended up being the basis of what became of the film VELVET GOLDMINE. I love this film even if it’s incredibly exaggerated. It paints an exciting portrait of the legend.

My all-time favorite Bowie song is “Golden Years.” According to Angie Bowie, David called her from tour and played the song over the phone for. I’m not sure how accurate that account is, but it sure adds some context to the lyrics. Initially, the song was written for Elvis Presley, but he rejected it. What a huge mistake. Bowie's performance on Soul Train is so iconic. As one of the first white artists on the show, he was allegedly so nervous about the appearance that he got incredibly drunk yet never skips a beat. Bowie’s soul era is definitely one of my favorite time periods in his catalog. He just brought so much panache and grandeur to the genre.

One of my favorite film montages (besides ROCKY IV) is from INGLOROUS BASTERDS. At the beginning of Chapter 5, we see Shosanna preparing herself for the film premiere of NATION’S PRIDE as David Bowie’s “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” plays. When I saw this for the first time in the theater, it just sent chills up my spine. It’s probably one of my favorite scenes in film history. It’s just so brilliant and fateful at the same time. It’s just perfect.

Obviously we won’t be reading his memoirs now. It’s just as well, we should honor the mystery. After all, a magician should never reveal his secrets. I know I’m not saying anything that hasn’t already been said. It’s just so heartbreaking to think about. David Bowie created a safe and exquisite place for people who were different. He made it cool to be yourself. He taught us that instead of being ordinary, you could be extraordinary. We are extremely fortunate to have been given one last album as a goodbye letter from an phenomenal being. David Bowie will be remembered for so many things from an amazing musician, fashion icon, actor, animal lover, and all around performer. Let’s also remember that while we mourn a hero, someone else is mourning a husband and father. Goodbye sweet prince; the world feels a lot less magical now.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Most Anticipated Films of 2016

There’s so many great films coming out in 2016, it was really difficult to choose just ten. Like many of you I’m looking forward to watching THE LOBSTER, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, and TRUE CRIMES. I really have no interest in most of the never-ending sequels to any modernly successful big studio film coming out this year. However, I am excited to see a couple superhero films like X-MEN: APOCALYPSE and CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. Without further ado, here are my Top Ten Most Anticipated Films of 2016:


“Taking place in a Manhattan apartment building, Max's life as a favorite pet is turned upside down, when his owner brings home a sloppy mongrel named Duke. They have to put their quarrels behind when they find out that an adorable white bunny named Snowball is building an army of abandoned pets determined to take revenge on all happy-owned pets and their owners.”

I’m a total sucker for movies centered around dogs, especially if there’s a pug. This film actually looks enjoyable and I even caught Ross chuckle a bit during the trailer. It’s made by the people who created DESPICABLE ME/MINIONS. I can’t say I’ve seen anything in that franchise, but with voice acting by Steve Coogan and Louis C.K. there’s a big chance for potential. Sometimes you have to watch silly movies.


“A screenwriter living in LA tries to make sense of the strange events occurring around him.”
“An examination of the birth and death of the known universe.”
“Two intersecting love triangles. Obsession and betrayal set against the music scene in Austin, Texas.”
Terence Malick was really cooking after THE TREE OF LIFE; he had several films in pre-production immediately following the release. He quietly put out TO THE WONDER which was received with lukewarm reviews. I personally felt like it was a lengthy, big production fragrance add starring Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko. It certainly lacked the substance that comes with all of Malick’s previous films. However, I am incredibly hopeful for his upcoming releases which are (so far) slated for 2016. It seems like VOYAGE OF TIME is an extension of the first half of THE TREE OF LIFE. You either loved or hated the whole chapter on the big bang theory in THE TREE OF LIFE. I felt like it created a beautiful precedent for his most personal film yet. I’m excited to see how he applies his stunning visual expression to the universe. Ryan Gosling (Hey Girl) stated that there was no script used while filming the untitled project. It was also filmed back to back with KNIGHTS OF CUP here in Austin. It will be interesting to see how our famed music scene is portrayed. Basically, I’m excited to see anything from Terence Malick. At this point, he’s on a roll compared to when he was releasing only one film every decade.


“A family in 1630s New England is torn apart by the forces of witchcraft, black magic and possession.”

I’ll be honest; I’ve been thoroughly disappointed with current horror films. Even much lauded films like GOODNIGHT MOMMY and IT FOLLOWS fell very short for me. I feel like there’s no creativity or fervor put into recent horror films which really breaks my heart since this is my absolute favorite film genre. I’ve always been fascinated by the whole witch hysteria and this is certainly a refreshing topic to tackle. Writer/director Robert Eggers has worked on several short films, but this appears to be his first feature film. THE WITCH did well at Sundance and has received positive reviews from notable sources. It's actually rated R which is a big relief. Nothing pisses me off more than a horror film that's rated PG/PG-13. Could this mean redemption for American horror? Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

“A private eye investigates the apparent suicide of a fading porn star in 1970s Los Angeles and uncovers a conspiracy.”

Director Shane Black has had great success with screenwriting, but he’s probably most know for directing IRON MAN 3 which I enjoyed most out of the trilogy. He also wrote my favorite adolescent film, MONSTER SQUAD. The film has a pretty diverse cast staring Hey Girl, Russell Crowe, and Kim Basinger. From watching the trailer, I get a PTA - INHERENT VICE (which I loved) vibe from it. It also seems like Russell Crowe is revising his beloved character from LA CONFIDENTIAL (also starring Kim Basinger). This film looks fun, witty, and entertaining. Let’s hope it is.


“A Hollywood fixer in the 1950s works to keep the studio's stars in line.”
The Coen brothers never disappoint. Even their less favorable films like BURN AFTER READING and A SERIOUS MAN are still amusing and well made. They have singlehandedly perfected the fumbled crime plot. The cast of HAIL CEASAR consists of frequent Coen players like Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Josh Brolin, and Frances McDormand. As long as the Coens continue to put out smart, whimsical scripts, I will continue to eat it up.


“When aspiring model Jesse moves to Los Angeles, her youth and vitality are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will take any means necessary to get what she has.”
Nicolas Winding Refn is one of my favorite newer film directors. He makes such striking films that rely heavily on mood and atmosphere. He also chooses strong actors who can make his scripts come alive. Refn’s last film, ONLY GOD FORGIVES was one of my favorite films of 2013. It was incredibly startling with gorgeous colors and very little dialogue. This was definitely one of Hey Girl’s finest roles yet. I get a feeling that NEON DEMON is a throwback to classic 1980s Brian De Palma. I would love to see the 1980s steamy thriller genre come back.


“A scientist blames the head of a large company to cause an ecological disaster in South America. But when a volcano begins to present eruption signs, they must unite to avoid a disaster, despite their ideological differences.”
There are so many things I love about this film and it’s not even out yet. I love ALL of Werner Herzog’s films and documentaries. I especially love Gael Garcia Bernal and Michael Shannon. Herzog is no stranger to environmental catastrophes and anomalies. Just look what he did with LESSONS OF DARKNESS. I love that Herzog always plays by his own rules. His films are direct and to the point with striking visuals. It will be interesting to see how he applies his uncommon style to a volcano disaster film.


“A lighthouse keeper and his wife living off the coast of Western Australia raise a baby they rescue from an adrift rowboat.”
Derek Cianfrance is an incredibly talented director who really captures the vulnerability of his characters. His last film THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES was my favorite film of 2012. Before that he made BLUE VALENTINE which was an eloquent examination of a romantic relationship from start to finish. His films are sensitive and emotional. The film is based on a novel by M.L. Stedman. I’m really interested to see the chemistry between Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander who subsequently became a couple during filming. I’m also interested to see how he utilizes the gorgeous backdrop of New Zealand. I look forward to many more films from Cianfrance.


“A father and son go on the run after the dad learns his child possesses special powers.”
Jeff Nichols makes gritty, impassioned films mostly set in the South. MIDNIGHT SPECIAL will be his first foray into the sci-fi realm. As with many Jeff Nichols films, Michael Shannon will star. This relationship is shaping up to be the new Scorsese/DiCaprio duo and I really like it. Michael Shannon is certainly one of the most underrated actors around and Jeff Nichols’ film are always well received. Nichols is going to do big things and I think MIDNIGHT SPECIAL will bring him the attention he deserves.


“A group of college baseball players navigate their way through the freedoms and responsibilities of unsupervised adulthood.”
Initially, this film was touted as a sequel to DAZED AND CONFUSED. It follows the same timeline, but not the same characters for obvious reasons. (Batfleck may have been a little too busy to reprise his O’Bannion role.) As someone who grew up in the 80s, I have such an affinity for anything set in that time period. Just ask Ross how much I laughed out loud in the theater during HOT TUB TIME MACHINE. Nobody does nostalgia like Linklater. He’s perfected and applied the concept to nearly all his films. I love that he cast all unknown actors and I can’t wait to see what the soundtrack is like. Linklater utilizes music like Cameron Crowe, and it really brings the scenes together. It’s also exciting to see how Austin in the 1980s will be portrayed. Linklater always goes back and forth between making serious dramas to fun comedies and he’s relatively successful with both genres. DAZED AND CONFUSED is such an iconic and cult film for my generation. I think it definitely ushered in that whole 70s revival we saw in the 1990s. Perhaps EVERYBODY WANTS SOME will do the same for this generation. Either way, I can’t wait to see it.

Please note all synopsizes are courtesy of

There it is friends, my most anticipated films for 2016. I hope everyone is having a great start to the New Year and I look forward to hearing what else is out there to watch. What are you looking forward to seeing in 2016?