My Ranking of the 2016 Oscars Best Picture Nominees

Thanks to the AMC Best Picture Showcase, I was able to watch all the Best Picture nominees before Oscar night! As a whole, my favorite movies make me feel something and take me on an emotional journey. I want to feel invested in its world and in its characters. That being said, here is my ranking of all the nominees, from my most to least favorite.

Room

My favorite film of this year’s Oscars crop is Room. I read Emma Donoghue’s Room for a book club in 2011. For the first time in my life, a book had made me cry. The tears flowed during this film adaptation as well (I lost count at six times). Like the novel, Room is an emotionally captivating character study of a kidnapped woman held prisoner with her young son that she was forced to bear. Brie Larson perfectly embodies both a fierce maternal instinct and the vulnerability and exhaustion of a woman who was taken captive at only 17. Jacob Tremblay is stunning as the 5-year-old Jack and leads us through the world of Room with curiosity, horror, and wonder. It’s a shame his exceptional work wasn’t acknowledged with an Oscar nomination. Ultimately, the catharsis I experienced filled me with an inspired and life-affirming empathy. Room is going to stay with me for a long time.

Brooklyn

Brooklyn is a deceptively simple and utterly charming tale about a young Irish woman emigrating by herself to America in the 1950s. This extraordinarily lovely coming of age film presents adulthood as a series of choices, and reminds us that smaller stakes stories can resonate even deeper into our hearts than life or death superheroics. Saoirse Ronan is absolutely magnificent as the film’s center and breathes life into Eilis Lacey’s emotional inner world. The humanity of her heartache, longing, tenderness, and bliss, is all deeply personal and deeply felt. Plus, Brooklyn has LEO FROM SMASH.

Mad Max

Mad Max: Fury Road is kinetic, frenetic, and is meant to be seen in movie theaters. George Miller’s images leap off of the screen (Cirque du Soleil-esque pole attackers!) and are littered with a manical style (flamethrowing guitars!). This is a wild action movie that has something to say and gives meaningful voices to the women who (pardon the pun) drive the plot. Charlize Theron’s performance as Furiosa is legit badass. You experience Mad Max: Fury Road, in all its full throttle, eye-popping glory. It’s what movie theaters were made for. I would love to see Mad Max: Fury Road take home the big prize.

Spotlight

Spotlight is a subtle and sharp film. Thanks to the its confident screenplay, Spotlight tells a seemingly straightforward story, the investigative reporting of the cover-up of the Catholic Church’s priest’s child abuses, and infuses it with vitality and deftness. It’s an ensemble showcase of its talented actors, including Oscar nominees Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams, who do fine work, creating three-dimensional characters in the midst of this season’s flashier films. It’s certainly cliché to speak of a place as a character, but Boston lives and breathes in this film, especially in the exterior shots (all those churches!). Not to mention, the film’s unflinching portrayal of the scandal still manages to pierce our hearts without a trace of righteousness, culminating in the powerful epilogue screens of all of the Church’s sexual abuses over America and the world.

The Martian

Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman can barely contain his excitement when he yells out, “Yeah, science!” in a memorable Breaking Bad scene and “Yeah, bitch! MAGNETS!” in another. These enthusiastic exclamations about the joys of science is basically The Martian in a nutshell. In fact, Matt Damon’s Mark Watney proclaims that he will “science the shit out of this” in order to survive being stranded on Mars. Damon has charisma to spare and his journey as a sexy space botanist is simply a delight to watch. The Martian is an absolute crowd pleaser, but the action on Earth fares less well than the space adventures.

The Revenant

I came into The Revenant expecting to dislike it, but I came away impressed. This frontier revenge drama was as gorgeous as it was punishing. And boy, is it incredibly punishing. The movie is stunning to look at, but the story and thematic elements are lacking (as is a Best Screenplay nomination). Leonardo DiCaprio does admirable work in his mostly wordless performance, but Tom Hardy’s irked me to no end with his portrayal. I honestly couldn’t understand what he was mumbling half the time.

Bridge of Spies

Bridge of Spies is a respectable (if not old-fashioned) film made by the respectable Steven Spielberg. In the casting of respectable Tom Hanks, you know exactly what you’re in for: a gentle, broad swath of optimistic patriotism. Mark Rylance’s performance as a captured Russian spy is easily the best part of the film. Rylance is refreshingly droll and remarkably measured. Bridge of Spies is beautifully crafted, but if I wanted to watch Russian espionage, I would gladly take the outstanding The Americans. Season 4 starts March 16 on FX!

The Big Short

When it comes down for it, The Big Short is simply not for me. That doesn’t mean that this well-constructed and often hilarious film about the 2008 housing crisis isn’t good, though. I can still appreciate the cheeky breaking-the-fourth-wall asides that simplify dense economic lingo, but Margot Robbie drinking champagne in a bathtub was not meant for me. I just wasn’t invested (again, pardon the pun) in this world of morally corrupt men in a morally corrupt business. It just so happens that another film about the 2008 housing bubble was released this year. I wholeheartedly loved 99 Homes’ personal, more emotional approach to the housing crisis by painting the story of one struggling man in a corrupt system way more than what The Big Short did. Go watch 99 Homes.

[all gifs courtesy of moviegifsthatrock.tumblr.com]

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The Veronica Mars Movie: The Ultimate Fan Service

Without the fans, there would be no Veronica Mars movie. In an act that will go down in history books, the film came into existence through the sheer enthusiasm and financial fortitude of the fans. The 2012 Kickstarter campaign raised $5.7 million dollars, whose backers ranged from the mildly curious wanting to participate in the site’s highest-profile campaign, to the most rabid die-hard fans shelling out thousands to appear as a background extra. I didn’t contribute to the campaign myself, as I hadn’t yet fallen prey to the show’s charms. I only arrived at the series a little over a month ago, binge-watching seasons one, two, and three in preparation for the film’s release, the climax to my full-throttle Veronica Mars experience. While I enjoyed the film immensely, at times I felt like the straight-up “fan service” diluted the film’s potential.

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As an extremely recent binge-watcher of Veronica Mars, I was a bit torn in my appreciation of the film. On one hand, the movie was tailor-made for me. With the series fresh in my head, I got every winking reference and was in on every joke. Do casual fans remember that the murdered girlfriend was originally played by Leighton Meester? On the other hand, I had only watched season three’s untidy, yet wholly necessary, ending mere days before. If I had some emotional distance from the series, would I have geeked-out more seeing the characters all grown up? Do these questions even matter?

As the old adage goes, it serves an artist better to give an audience what it needs, rather than what it wants. And boy, did the Veronica Mars movie cater to the fans. It was “fan service” to the nth degree. Series creator and film director Rob Thomas had stated, “partly because [the film] is crowd-sourced, I’m going with the ‘give the people what they want’ version… ‘Let’s not piss people off who all donated. Let’s give them the stuff that I think that they want in the movie.”

As a result of this approach, the movie bent over backwards to make sure every beloved character got their due (next time, Duncan), instead of giving us a truly meaty mystery. The Carrie Bishop murder, while a smart device to bring the action back to Neptune, never quite took off, thanks to all the detours down memory lane. It was standard Veronica Mars mystery fare and the climax between Veronica and Martin Starr (he’s the guest star, so of course he did it) was stale and uninspired (really, a basement showdown?!).

The film’s emotional life, much to its detriment, was too focused on all things Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) and Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell). Rob Thomas decided that what the fans wanted was more LoVe and was determined to spoon-feed us the image of a rehabilitated Logan, down to the pandering shot of him in his too-large Navy uniform. While the sight certainly took the air out of Veronica, it was a touch too blunt. Watching the film eschew all the other dynamic characters in favor of this now-clichéd LoVe story was disappointing. When the fans are the major stakeholders, the film is expected to deliver what they want. But the fans aren’t the authors of this art. The story needed different stakes. Pleasing the fans simply removes all possible surprises. We need to be surprised. It’s healthy, creative, and necessary.

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Granted, there wouldn’t be a Veronica Mars movie if Veronica continued her New York City life with the upstanding Piz (Chris Lowell). Poor, poor Piz. He’ll always have his unbelievably rock star job at This American Life. (Hold on. Am I #TeamPiz because I find everything about him utterly relatable? AM I PIZ? Don’t answer that …this Zimbio quiz already did for me.) Veronica’s emotional decisions, however, seemed more in line with her teenage headspace, than her at 28. Veronica’s father, Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni, the emotional bedrock of Veronica Mars), was sidelined after his shocker of a car crash, making it clear that the film wasn’t interested in his protestations to leave the bad boy be. Still, Veronica’s character arc of abandoning her burgeoning lawyer career in favor of the alluring and inescapable past in Neptune was strong, addiction metaphor be damned (sorry, Veronica’s addict mom). This pointed character examination elevated the scope of the movie and made it more than just a super-sized episode of television.

At times, the Veronica Mars movie positioned itself as a set-up of things to come, focusing on building the world of Neptune, instead of spending time in the now. I was more intrigued by the film’s B-story, which centered around Weevil (Francis Capra) and Neptune’s corrupt police force, led by the new Sheriff Lamb (Jerry O’Connell). This storyline of police misconduct entwined with racial divides and gentrification stayed truer to the show’s core of smart explorations of social inequity. “When the class war comes, Neptune will be ground zero,” Veronica laments at the top of the film. It’s too bad there wasn’t enough time to dive deeper into these vast class issues.

All of this isn’t to say I didn’t like the film; far from it. I loved the entire engaging experience from start to finish. I squealed with giddiness when Veronica verbally cut Dick Casablancas (Ryan Hansen) and queen-bee Madison Sinclair down to size. My heart sang with the joy during Veronica’s reunion with bffs Mac (Tina Marjorino) and Wallace (Percy Daggs III). The acting was as sharp as ever, especially with Kristen Bell, whose maturity in the years following the series has only deepened her emotional well.

While I did feel the claustrophobic budget restraints on occasion, the look of the film really popped on the big screen. The visual language stayed true to its noir roots, with dark alleys starkly contrasting with the warm California sun. Oh, and hey there, product placement! Shout-out to Samsung, Pepsi, and Bud Light! Major props must also be given to the film’s rich soundtrack, a highlight of the original series. Sufjan Stevens’ swelling “Chicago,” which underscored Logan and Veronica’s evening escapade, gliding over a sparkling bridge in a sleek convertible, was a perfect, emotionally resonant moment that sincerely captured their epic relationship.

Coming off binge-watching the entire series, I saw the Veronica Mars movie more as a bonus feature and than a grand event, as it must have been for long-time fans. Suffice it to say, I want more Veronica Mars! Rob Thomas and company successfully delivered on Veronica’s transition into the trenches of adulthood. And now that all of the re-introductions are complete, I would love to see what awesomely gripping mysteries the franchise can take on with a mature Veronica at the helm. I have become profoundly invested in all of Neptune’s characters and I hope to see them onscreen again one day. In the meantime, the first book in Rob Thomas’ Veronica Mars series is already downloaded to my Kindle. The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line, here I come!

The 2014 Oscars: Big Night for Lupita Nyong’o & Adele Dazim

Let’s face it. We will always complain about the Academy Awards telecast. The awards ceremony will either be too crass (Seth MacFarlane), too toothless (Billy Crystal), too WTF?! (Anne Hathaway and James Franco), and in this year’s case, too boring. Sorry, Ellen DeGeneres, but this year’s Oscars was a flat and endless flop, save for one funny monologue joke aimed at Jennifer Lawrence and her many stumbles: “If you win tonight, I think we should bring you the Oscar.” As a whole, the winners were predictable, but who would have predicted that the reliable DeGeneres would have brought such a muted, disruptive tone.

Five years now, we’ll remember how Oscar night came down to a race between Gravity and 12 Years a Slave for Best Picture, and everything else will become a boring blur. When we look back to this year, we’ll fail to recall Kim Novak’s awkward appearance with Matthew McConaughey. (Jacqueline Bisset, you’re off the hook!). We’ll overlook the umpteenth salute to The Wizard of Oz (seriously, it feels like there’s one every year). We’ll forget, but not forgive, the endless parade of montages: Animated films! Heroes (guys, guys, Jennifer Lawrence, and more guys)! These old movies! Those old movies! On a classy note: Fortunately, the producers muted all applause for the In Memoriam segment and gave all those featured equal screen time. Unfortunately, Bette Midler flapped. her. wings. at the end of “The Wind Beneath My Wings.”

So what will we remember from these ceremonies? What moments will leave a profound mark in our pop culture memory banks? Probably not much.

The morning after, without a doubt, the biggest meme to come out of the night was John Travolta’s hilariously horrible mispronunciation of Idina Menzel’s name as “ADELE DAZIM.” What the actual f*ck, John Travolta?!

Adele Dazim was the name that launched a dozen fake Twitter accounts. Think of the mishap as this year’s Angelina Jolie Leg from the 2012 Oscars. The mispronunciation unfortunately upstaged Menzel’s show-stopping performance of Frozen‘s Oscar-winning song “Let It Go,” written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and EGOT winner Robert Lopez. But what followed wasn’t Menzel’s best showing either. Perhaps it was nerves that got the best of Menzel’s stiff physicality, as she and the orchestra fell out of sync, and ended with strained final notes.

Pharell Williams’ soulful performance of Despicable Me 2‘s “Happy” was also memorable, not only for the return of The Grammy Hat, but for the celeb dance-offs, started spontaneously by 12 Years a Slave‘s Lupita Nyong’o. The song delivered a much-needed jolt of energy to the snoozy proceedings. Who knew that all we ever wanted to see was Pharrell bring Nyong’o and Amy Adams to their feet in joyous dance and get Meryl Streep to shimmy? What an infectious performance that perfectly complimented the cool stylings of the #1 song in America.

Oscars_2014_Happy

The theme of this year’s Oscars was “Heroes in Hollywood,” but night came across as “Celebrities Are Just Like UsOnly Better!” They eat pizza! They take selfies! They carry cash on them! DeGeneres’s drawn-out self-involved shtick found her strolling down the aisles of the theater time and time again, casually chatting it up to nervous audience members. These bits could have been organic and fun, but they never took off the ground. Typically, award show hosts disappear mid-way through the night, but DeGeneres simply refused to let the night go undisrupted by her antics, which were more entertaining on paper than they were in execution.

Early in the evening, DeGeneres asked the celebrities if they were hungry and wanted pizza, to which the somehow still-pregnant Kerry Washington cutely raised her hand immediately in support. In a surprising bit of continuity, the delivery guy showed up later with three pizzas and we watched semi-amusingly, as the slices distributed to the likes of Harrison Ford, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Julia Roberts. (But how endearing was it that Brad Pitt was distributing napkins?). Uma. Oprah., meet Pizza.

But nothing came close to the Selfie Seen ‘Round the World.

In a bit of shameless plugging of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, DeGeneres enlisted the help of Meryl Streep to break the record of most retweets. They were soon joined by Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and other A-listers. (Don’t wave, Angelina Jolie, this isn’t a Vine!) Again, what could have ended up as cute and spontaneous, ended up feeling forced. At any rate, the selfie beat out President Obama 2012’s victory tweet, with 2 million retweets and counting. So… hooray? Celebrities love themselves and need us to love them back; we get it. Just icky and pandering.

Speaking of celebrity fandom, where was Oscar presenter Andrew Garfield? My favorite celebrity was sadly a no-show. Producer Neil Meron had stated, “Andrew Garfield is going to be part of what we hope is a very moving moment in the show… He is going to induct a new superhero into the fraternity of superheroes.” Instead, we got the “talented Chris Evans.” Yawn. A Garfield appearance wouldn’t have saved the telecast by any means, but it would have been nice to see him.

[UPDATE 3: Phew! So as it turns out, the appearance was confirmed by the Academy to be cut “due to the logistics of production.” In fact, Garfield spent time with Batkid at Disneyland. That’s my Andrew! UPDATE 2: According to Page Six, Garfield “refused to go by the script… He had a tantrum. He stormed off.” Yikes. UPDATE: Andrew Garfield’s appearance was with Batkid! The two even rehearsed together the night before. How could the producers cut out Batkid, of all things?! And there was still time for THREE of Ellen’s pizza bits?! That makes me dislike this year’s Oscars even more.]

To end on a positive note, we will remember the emotional acceptance speeches, from 20 Feet from Stardom‘s Darlene Love basking in her spotlight and singing a line from “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” (Go out and watch 20 Feet, an insightful, stirring look at gender and racial politics in music.), to Dallas Buyers Club‘s Jared Leto sweetly giving tribute to his mother, to Lupita N’yongo’s beautiful and moving words of encouragement:

When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.

The night simply belonged to N’yongo. We were witnessing her Hollywood coming-out party, from her exuberant “Happy” dance, to her and her brother goofily taking part in the selfie and pizza payment. Already a red carpet fashion icon, the 12 Years A Slave star blossomed before our eyes. And what a narrative for Hollywood to latch on to: chase your dreams, kids. Play us off, incongruous Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory music!

2014 Golden Globes starring the ***Flawless Fey & Poehler

Compared to the over-indulgent and overly-long Oscar telecast, the Golden Globes are a silly breeze. The awards mean next to nothing and the alcohol is flowing. This year, the Golden Globes were just as ludicrous as ever, marred with technical difficulties, often baffling winners, and ill-prepared speeches.

Luckily, there was a shining beacon to light the way. Simply put, hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler were ***Flawless. This dynamic duo knew exactly how to work both the celebrities in attendance at The Beverly Hotel and the audience at home. Their comedic bits were hilariously to the point and their quick-witted zingers were biting, without ever being mean. My two favorite lines of the night:

  • Gravity is nominated for Best Film. It’s the story about how George Clooney would rather float away into space and die than spend one more minute with a woman his own age.”
  • “And now, like a supermodel’s vagina, let’s all give a warm welcome to Leonardo DiCaprio.”

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The absolute highlight of the evening for me was Amy Poehler FINALLY being recognized for her dynamite portrayal of Parks and Recreation‘s Leslie Knope. When her name was read, I literally screamed out loud with joy and shock. It’s hard to believe that Poehler has never won a single award for playing Knope. Harder still to believe: Brooklyn Nine-Nine has won more major awards (one) than Parks and Recreation has (ZERO). Simply ridiculous. But these are the Golden Globes after all, and boy, does the Hollywood Foreign Press Association like its shiny, new shows (see past TV winners Girls, Homeland). Still, the Andy Samberg and Brooklyn Nine-Nine wins were head-scratchers.

My only real gripe about the ceremony was that there wasn’t enough Fey and Poehler to go around. Two-thirds of the way through the evening, it seems as though the two were missing in action. What could we blame for this mismanaged screen time? Look no further than American Horror Story: Path to the Golden Globes Stage. (Spoiler alert: Jessica Lange doesn’t make it out alive. Wah wah. You’ll get ’em next year, J.Lange!)

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Seemingly every winner was seated miles from the stage, so we spent more precious moments watching celebrities awkwardly navigate a labyrinth of tables than we actually did on their speeches. While the censor bleeping out curse words was asleep at the wheel (we most definitely heard Jacqueline Bisset say “shit”), the orchestra was on the ready to cut off any and all nervous and rambly winners (but not U2, frustratingly).

But what was most peculiar, was that while some speeches feel rushed (Amy Adams will not let you play off her talking about her daughter, dammit!), others were excruciatingly long and endless. So thanks for making the entire evening behind schedule, Jacqueline Bisset. There’s fun celeb loopy, and then there’s “oh God… This is really happening” loopy. Her incoherent acceptance speech was not the former.

On the TV side, kudos to Behind the Candelabra, an opulent and bitter kaleidoscope of a film, anchored by a mesmerizing performance from Michael Douglas as Liberace. A huge WTF goes to Jon Voigt for Best Supporting Actor over the heartbreaking Aaron Paul for Breaking Bad and the transformative Rob Lowe for Behind the Candelabra. The HFPA loves its movie stars… ugh. I was also rooting for Tatiana Maslany as Best Actress in a Drama, even though I don’t watch Orphan Black. And real talk, Hayden Panettiere deserved the award for Best Supporting Actress for her stunningly multi-faceted work on Nashville. She’s the heart of that show. It’s not easy to play someone who fails so spectacularly, while shrouding a lonely soul with catty glitz and glamour.

As for the film awards, I was most thrilled about Spike Jonze for Best Screenplay for Her, who crafted a magnificent film that made my whole body feel. His dizzying musings on the nature of love threw me for a loop in the best ways possible. And I’m bracing myself for the eventual Jennifer Lawrence backlash. Fingers crossed that we as a nation will never reach that point. Just keep on charmin’ your way through the hearts of everyone, J.Lawr!

As Tina Fey joked in the opening monologue: “This is Hollywood, and if something kinda works, they’ll just keep doing it until everybody hates it!” Luckily, we still have the 2015 Golden Globes to look forward to, and with Fey and Poehler at the helm, it’s a guarantee that no one will hate it.

Finally, a special shout-out goes to my favorite pop culture maven, Billy Eichner (@billyeichner), who had my favorite live-tweets from the evening. Here are just two of his winners:

Oscarzzz 2012: Where were the surprises?!

"Dean your heart out, Angie!"

The Oscars, as with any other self-congratulating awards ceremony, will always be a tedious affair, no matter the host and no matter the nominated films. Then why do millions tune in? For the thrill and excitement that stem from spontaneity and surprise. Unfortunately, the 84th Annual Academy Awards were a boring, lifeless mess that lacked that crucial element of surprise and failed to conjure many memorable moments.

What will we remember most from this year’s Oscars? Sadly and hilariously, it will most likely be Angelina Jolie’s Right Leg, as mimicked by Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Descendants, Jim Rash (aka Dean Pelton, my favorite character on Community).

Much of the night’s suspense was already voided before the nominees entered the Chapter 11 Theater, thanks to The Artist’s inevitable and pre-determined march to Best Picture victory. Without a tangible narrative in the Best Picture category, or any of the other categories for that matter, spontaneity was especially needed on Oscar night. There was no David (The Hurt Locker) vs. Goliath (Avatar) story to root for; No ambitious, daring, zeitgeist of a film (The Social Network) vs. a safe and emotionally manipulative period piece (The King’s Speech). [Oops! Still bitter about that one…]

With Billy Crystal returning to host for his ninth time, the Academy chose tried and true (read: boring) over risk-taking. The ceremonies yawned its way out of the gates with a been there, done that host-in-various-films montage and never recovered. “Really, Billy Crystal!?! Blackface for a Sammy Davis Jr. impression from the 1980s AND a Men’s Warehouse joke!?! REALLY!?!” harped my inner Seth Meyers. As awful as the man is as a person, one can’t help but imagine what Brett Ratner (and host Eddie Murphy) might have brought to the proceedings.

The one real surprise of the night came from Meryl Streep taking home the Best Actress Oscar over Viola Davis. To be sure, Meryl Streep brought a refreshing and much-needed buoyancy to the proceedings, but let’s just read that sentence one more time: The one surprise of the evening was that the supremely talented Meryl Streep won an award. For acting. SURPRISE!

The theme of Oscar night, “Aren’t movies magical!?!” or whatever, was a misguided and surprise-less effort. We were hit over the head again and again with sweeping notions of nostalgia: “Weren’t movies just the bees knees when you were growing up!?! Let’s all remember movies from years past, when movies resonated with both the Academy and the American public at large!” These heavy-handed reaches for past glory read more as a desperate plea to help sagging box office revenues, urging viewers to watch movies in theaters, than anything else. Montage after tedious montage of past films and actors waxing nostalgic about past films were simply either nonsensical or unnecessary. They took away from the films of the present (isn’t that what they’re supposed to celebrate?), and robbed precious screen time from true memorable moments like Octavia Spencer’s emotional and heartfelt acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress.

The real winners of this year’s Oscars were James Franco and Anne Hathaway. At least Franco and Hathaway gave us oddly fascinating and colorful train wrecks last year, and not inoffensively bland ones from Billy Crystal and Academy Award producer Brian Grazer.

On the bright side, the 2012 ceremonies were the shortest in over 30 years. But of course, the dull night suffered from uneven pacing and could be summed up by the Oscar-winning film editors, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo‘s Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall: the two speechless winners petered out at the end of their acceptance speech, mumbling, “let’s get out of here…” We’re right there with you guys.

Here’s to the cinematic surprises of 2012!