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Sunday, May 22, 2016

Top 10 of 2015

As usual, much of a year has passed me by before I'm ready to look back on last year's movies. It was a very good year for movies, as most are if you know where to look. Of the 56 movies I saw last year, I enjoyed a large majority of them, and highly recommend everything listed below. I particularly like the diversity of my Top 10 list this year, which encompasses a couple sequels, science fiction, animation, and comedy.

Here are my #16-25, in alphabetical order:

Best Documentary winner Amy, Best Picture nominee Bridge of Spies, Carey Mulligan in the Thomas Hardy adaptation Far From the Madding Crowd, French immigrant drama Girlhood, divisive but charming Sundance winner Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, the hypnotic German film Phoenix, Amy Schumer's overlong but very funny Trainwreck, fascinating documentary about a great artist What Happened Miss Simone?, the completely unique Hungarian film White God, The beautiful, stylish, naval-gazing and moving Youth by Italian director Paolo Sorrentino.

5 Runners-Up (In alphabetical order):

The End of the Tour: Jason Segal and Jesse Eisenberg are terrific in this movie about David Foster Wallace and the journalist David Lipsky hanging out and chatting. It's like Before Sunrise without the romance.

45 Years: A portrait of new discoveries in a long and complacent marriage, this is a master class in acting from Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay.

Room: This Best Picture nominee is moving and gripping, especially in its first half.  Best Actress winner Brie Larson is terrific, and young Jacob Trembaly gives a remarkable child performance.

Spotlight: While it didn't quite make my Top 10 list, last year's Best Picture winner is a totally solid choice. A movie committed to chronicling the slow, steady heroism of a group of journalists, this is an important, entertaining, and educational film.

Tangerine: The movie starring two transgender actresses and filmed on an iPhone is pulsing with life, energy, and sass.  This movie gives a great sense of the hardscrabble LA streets.

And my top 10:

10. Steve Jobs: This movie bombed at the box office, and its a real shame. With sparkling, quick-witted dialogue by Aaron Sorkin, a clever structure, and great performances by Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet, this movie is a real treat.

9. Creed: If you had told me a year ago that a Rocky sequel would grace my top 10 list, I would have scoffed. I like but don't love the original Rocky, and have not followed or seen most of its sequels .  Director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) and actor Michael B. Jordan were the exact right mix for a sequel/reboot. While paying enough tribute to the themes and iconography of the series to satisfy fans , something new is created here, with elegantly choreographed fight scenes, a real sense of African-American Philly, and a elegiac relationship between the elderly Rocky and the young Creed.

8. Clouds of Sils Maria: Great performances by Juliette Binoche and (especially!) Kristen Stewart anchor this movie about acting, women, and artifice.  Talent, aging, and meaning are debated through long scenes of fascinating dialogue. Talk bout passing the Bechdel test!

7. Inside Out: Another year, another great movie from Pixar, right? Out of the high concept of emotions living in your head, Inside Out pulls off the tricky balance of making both the humans and "emotions" matter, moving us to tears with just the right mix of humor and melancholy.

6. Sicario: Canadian director Dennis Villeneuve has made several impressive movies (including Incendies and Prisoners), but Sicario is a huge step forward into another league.  Great performances  by Benicio del Toro and Emily Blunt, stunning cinematography by Roger Deakins, and a tightly constructed script blend beautifully into a perfectly tense hard-eyed look at the intricacies of the drug war on the U.S.-Mexico border.

5. The Big Short: A hilarious, frightening, angry howl at the American economic system. This movie is so all over the place it shouldn't really work, but work it does. It's a movie where you laugh so you don't cry.

4. Brooklyn: A movie packed, from start to finish, with honest emotions both large and small. Saorsie Ronan gives a luminous performance (the best of the year) as an Irish immigrant negotiating life choices in 1950s New York in a story both particular and universal.

3. Ex Machina: Proof that the best science fiction comes from ideas, not from big budgets. This three-handed drama slowly draws you in and plays with your mind, forcing your sympathies and curiosity between the recluse scientist Oscar Isaac, the "A.I." Alicia Vikander, and naive visitor Domhnall Gleeson. Without relying on gotcha tricks, Ex Machina slowly shifts your perspective so that you'll be reanalyzing everything you've seen once you leave the theater.

2. Carol: A train set, lost gloves, a camera. Director Todd Haynes uses an array of period-specific details to tell a beautiful story of same-sex love in the 1950s. Simultaneously aware of its period trappings and utterly sincere, Carol is a thing of beauty. With two perfectly pitched performances at the center, Carol is a work of art for the ages. I just saw it for a second time and, as I suspected, it's the kind of movie that reveals even more of its magic on repeated viewings.

1. Mad Max: Fury Road: Ever since seeing this in the theater, there was a little doubt what would to my list. Mad Max: Fury Road is an act of crazy genius by director George Miller. Never before has an action movie had so much to say with so little dialogue and so much rich visual language.  It's also a feminist and environmental parable for the ages, and one of the most thrilling experiences I've ever had in a movie theater.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Best Lead Performances of 2015

 And now to the lead categories. A really nice group of male performances, and an astonishingly good group of women this year. It pained me to leave several women (Brie Larson and Charlize Theron in particular) off my list. In the end, my top votes go to the youngsters, Saoirse Ronan and Michael B. Jordan.

Steve Carrell, The Big Short

As much play as The Big Short got during awards season, little of it fell onto Steve Carrell's excellent performance, which in my mind far exceeds his nominated Foxcatcher role from last year. Carrell's gift for comedy serves him well in this comedy, and his dramatic chops come through it the final scenes where he acts as the movie's flawed soul.

Tom Courtenay, 45 Years

 In this quiet but powerful marital drama, the story is mostly seen  through the eyes of Kate (Charlotte Rampling). This makes what Tom Courtney does as Geoff even more remarkable. As we watch him dealing with a painful reminder of his past, we see him a long history both with his wife and before he met her.

Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs

Fassbender doesn't look much like Steve Jobs, so the movie doesn't try for impersonation.  This makes his role even more powerful, as Fassbender gives us all sides of a man with great vision and immense flaws. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Fassbender is our best working actor today.

Michael B. Jordan, Creed

Of all the outrage of this year of #oscarssowhite, for me no snub stung as much as the exclusion of Michael B. Jordan, giving a great movie-star performance as Donnie Johnson Creed, a young man of great discipline and vision dealing with his vision. After Fruitvale Station and Creed, let's hope Hollywood learns its lesson and gives Jordan more great roles.

Jason Segal, The End of the Tour

The End of the Tour is a talky, charming, moving film about reporter David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) hanging out with reclusive writer David Foster Wallace (Jason Segal). The usually comedic Jason Segal digs deep into the soul of Wallace, giving us his wit, his intelligence, and also his great loneliness.

My Pick: Michael B. Jordan
Second: Michael Fassbender

Runners Up: Abraham Attah (Beasts of No Nation), Michael Caine (Youth), Matt Damon (The Martian), Leonardo DiCapiro (The Revenant), Jesse Eisenberg (The End of the Tour),

Matches with Oscar: Just Fassbender.  DiCaprio and Damon made my runners-up list. Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl) was good but not great, and I didn't see Bryan Cranston in Trumbo.


Cate Blanchett, Carol

As the title character in Carol, Blanchett is mesmerizing. Her performance is big and stagy in the best way, since Carol is constantly performing in the movie- both in society and in her relationship with Therese. In the moments where her veneer drops, her performance becomes even more powerful.

Emily Blunt, Sicario

With her performance as a woman working hard in a man's field, Emily Blunt's performance as Kate Mercer reminded me of Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs.  Blunt brings intelligence and real moral deliberation to her part as a DEA agent. She excels at both the action and the emotional moments, and it's mesmerizing to watch.

Rooney Mara, Carol

As Therese Belivet,  the second half of this love story, Rooney Mara's quiet and initially naive character is a perfect counterpoint to the sophistication and confidence of Carol.  As viewers, Mara often wordlessly takes us on a journey into what it looks like to fall into attraction, infatuation, and love.

Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years

A beautifully quiet and powerful performance that's a wonder to behold. Sometimes with little more than a flash of the eyes or a movement of the hand, Rampling is able to suggest a myriad of emotions. She deserves a nomination for the wordless final scene alone.

Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

Sometimes there's a perfect match between actor and star, and this is one of those times. Saoirse Ronan grows into her own as an actress just as her character Eilis finds herself in a new country. With great humor and great heart, Ronan gives a beautifully nuanced performance.

My Pick: Saoirse Ronan
Second: Rooney Mara

Runners Up (and a great bunch they are): Juliette Binoche (Clouds of Sils Maria), Nina Hoss (Phoenix), Brie Larson (Room), Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road), Lily Tomlin (Grandma)

Matches with Oscar: 3. The Academy rightly rewarded Blanchett, Ronan, and Rampling. They also rewarded Mara, but ridiculously in the Supporting character. It pains me to leave off the great Brie Larson (my 6th), and I haven't yet seen Jennifer Lawrence in Joy.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Best Supporting Performances

Now that I've caught up with most movies on my list from 2015, I'll be using this week (Spring Break!) for my end of year run-down.

I'll start with the Supporting performances.  Lots of good supporting performances, but M\my top votes go to the two Ex Machina actors.

Supporting Actor

Christian Bale, The Big Short

Hedge fund manager Michael Burry is an eccentric character that requires a big actor, and Christian Bale digs his actorly teeth right into this role.  As a social recluse fully committed to meticulously figuring out the financial crisis, Bale builds a performance of tics and habits that keep us glued to his every move.

Paul Dano, Love and Mercy

The best parts of Love and Mercy, bar none, are the scenes of the young Beach Boys creating Pet Sounds and other masterpieces.  As the young Brian Wilson, Paul Dano makes Wilson's internal musical genius apparent, as well as Wilson's developing mental health issues.

Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina

As Nathan, a reclusive CEO of a software company, Oscar Isaac gradually teases the viewer (and Caleb, played by Domnhall Gleeson), by providing information bit by bit.  He's able to be seductive and scary in equal measure, an important task in this twisty movie. After Ex Machina, Inside Llewyn Davis, and HBO's miniseries Show Me a Hero, I'm fully convinced there's nothing Isaac can't do.

Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

A rare case where Oscar justly awards a performance that's mostly quiet and subtle. British stage actor Mark Rylance gives a impressively restrained performance as Russian spy Rudolf Abel.   His wry humor and grace are a perfect counterpoint throughout all of his scenes with Tom Hanks.

Benicio del Toro, Sicario

Like the other men on this list, Allejandro Gillick is a mystery. For a long time, the movie keeps you guessing about who he is working for and why he is working for them.  In the last third, he takes over as a major character in a series of stunning scenes that upend much of our understanding.  A great performance by a great actor we haven't seen this good in a long time.

My choice: Oscar Isaac
Second: Benicio del Toro

Runners-Up: Emory Cohen (Brooklyn), Nicolas Hoult (Mad Max: Fury Road), Michael Keaton (Spotlight), Liev Schreiber (Spotlight), Stanley Tucci (Spotlight)

Matches with Oscar: Oscar also went with Rylance and Bale. I liked Tom Hardy (The Revenant) and Sylvester Stallone (Creed) quite a bit, but not enough to make my top 10. I also found Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight) one of the weaker performances in a great cast.

Supporting Actress

Kristen Stewart, Clouds of Sils Maria

Kristen Stewart (yes, the one from Twilight) gives an astonishingly good performance in Clouds of Sils Maria, fully matching the talented acting of Juliette Binoche. Stewart plays Valentine, an American assistant to a temperamental European actress. By playing every seen with integrity and depth, Stewart gives a deep and assured performance that carries us along through this movie of words, ideas, and images.

Tessa Thompson, Creed

There's no argument that Thompson is playing a stock role, that of the supportive female sidekick.  But just like Talia Shire in the original Rocky, Thompson permeates her character with a life of her own, a talented Philly native with her own dreams of greatness. One of my favorite scenes is when Creed goes to her concert and the two connect.

Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina

Alicia won the Supporting Actress award for her very good performance in the so-so movie The Danish Girl. In a better world, she would have won for her great performance in a great movie, Ex Machina.  Vikander plays Ava, a robot create to test theories of artificial intelligence. The movie has much up its sleeve, though, and Vikander's performance is essential to making everything work. A performance that was only better the second time I watched Ex Machina.

Rachel Weisz, Youth

Winning my "where the hell has she been?" award is Rachel Weisz in the quite good, and very underseen, Youth. Weisz plays Lena, the daughter of Michael Caine's lead character Fred. She's recovering from a recent divorce and dealing with issues of her father.  She gives an incredible monologue that's the most powerful part of the film.

Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

Winslet is great as Joanna Hoffman, Steve Jobs' work wife and conscience. Winslet's intelligence and energy is a great match for Aaron Sorkin's typically wordy dialogue, and she plays her scenes with Fassbender as verbal ping-pong matches.  Steve Jobs is t

he best Winslet (one of my favorite actresses) has been in a long time!

My Choice: Alicia Vikander
Second: Kristen Stewart

Runners-Up: Elizabeth Banks (Love and Mercy), Rose Byrne (Spy), Marion Cotillard (Macbeth), Mya Taylor (Tangerine), Julie Walters (Brooklyn)

Matches with Oscar: Oscar and I both picked Vikander for the win, although for different movies. We also both picked Winslet.  They also went with Rachel McAdams in Spotlight, a performance I found serviceable but not especially impressive, and Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight, which I haven't seen. As for Rooney Mara in Carol, hang on for the lead categories (where she belonged!).

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Oscar Night Liveblog

The Show!!!


Actress to Brie Larson of course. She's my fourth favorite in this category I think, but still great.  A terrific category. 15/21.

And Leo of course..... While not my favorite performance, I'm happy for him. 16/22.

Not The Revenant....not The Revenant.....not The Revenant.......  SPOTLIGHT!!!! Not my favorite but SO GLAD The Revenant did not win!  16/23.  It's been a really really long time since a movie has won Best Picture with only one other award.


Director to Innaritu for The Revenant. Here starts where Mad Max starts losing.... 14/20 for me.


Score to Ennio Morricone. 13/18.

Song to that REALLY BAD James Bond song. 13/19. No one was picking this one.


Live Action went to Stutterer. 11/16.

Foreign to Son of Saul. 12/17. No surprise here... a powerful movie. I'm still processing it.

Joe Biden!! Just to remind everyone we wish he was running for president I guess.

Powerful moment with Gaga and the victims of sexual assault.


Seems strange to show Spike Lee when he's boycotting.....


Documentary Short. A Girl in the River. 10/14.  Somehow I picked this one.

Documentary to Amy. 11/15.  A good pick.


Patricia Arquette..... why do you sound so odd??

Supporting Actor to Mark Rylance!  A pretty big surprise!  He was my favorite! 9/14. Not doing well, but mostly because some of my favorites are winning. No complaints here.


Animated Short to Bear Story.  Not doing so well. 8/12.

Animated Feature. Inside Out of course! 9/13.  Fun fact: Director Pete Doctor's wife was my wife Emily's babysitter in Minnesota!


Sound Editing to Mad Max!!!! Could it go further...... My first miss, but I'm happy. 8/9.

Sound Mixing to Mad Max!!! 8/10. No matter what happens next, Mad Max is certainly the most wacko movie to ever win 6 Oscars. So happy for it.

Visual Effects to Ex Machina???  NO ONE was picking that, but how awesome. My second favorite of the year. 8/11.


Cinemtography to Emmanuel Lubezki, a true cinematic artist. I remember a few years ago when he lost for The Tree of Life- all the film nerds (me included) were mad. Now he's set a record- 3 years in a row! (Gravity, Birdman, Revenant). 7/7.

Film Editing to Mad Max. 8/8.  4 awards to Mad Max! The editor is George Miller's wife. Is this the end of the Max awards? Hope not.

Jack Black history month.... ehhhhh.


Costumes for Mad Max. 4/4 so far.  Love this woman's style! And the magic she did on Mad Max.  Good speech too!

Production Design for Mad Max. 5/5.

Makeup/Hairstyling to Mad Max as well! 6/6.


OK, The Revenant with Leslie Jones was the best! But then that Stacy Dash joke just..... no.

Supporting Actress to Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl. 3/3 so far.


Racial jokes right up front- "The White People's Choice Awards."

More audience shots please!!!! This monologue. Whoa.

Black Categories: "Best Black Friend" The winner for the 18th year in a row is Wanda Sykes.....

First award for Original Screenplay to Spotlight, as expected.

Second award for Adapted Screenplay to The Big Short. 2/2 so far.

The Red Carpet

Conversation here in my living room:  Would Charlize Theron really eat one of the little hamburgers? I say yes, because she's a "cool girl," especially after starring in Mad Max.

We're noticing it looks like Leo went to the dentist (or had a stroke?). He's talking out of the side of his mouth.

Can someone please explain Lady Gaga's accent to me? Isn't she just from New York or New Jersey?

Cate Blanchett can do no wrong. She can pull off anything- even a dress with feathers. I saw her in the play Uncle Vanya several years ago and had never seen such a star on stage.

Kerry Washington giving a good answer about Oscars and diversity, owning her presence and respecting those who are boycotting.  Bold choice on the dress too.

Jacob Tremblay (the little guy from Room) just killed it on the Red Carpet!  Sooooo great.  "I'll be going to some after parties."

Saoirse Ronan is great and looking so very adult. She had to wear green as a tribute to Ireland. Love it.

So what to expect tonight? I'm thinking The Revenant will come out of the night with 4-6 Oscars, including the big ones.  I also can't wait for Chris Rock to host, especially in the year of #oscarssowhite. There are going to be some uncomfortable faces there during his monologue. Surest bet of the night.

The (pre) pre-show-livestreaming on E!.  I was half watching this as I saw lots of people I didn't recognize.  Then Alicia Vikander came on.... wowza. She's going to be high up on the best dressed lists for sure.  I haven't yet seen The Danish Girl, which she will probably win for tonight, but she's a great actress too. Everyone if you haven't seen Ex Machina yet, put it on your list.  It's streaming on Amazon Prime.

Hi folks- I'll be here liveblogging all evening.  Newest posts will be up top.

Check back here for my final predictions and here for my favorite blog, the family write-up.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Mad Rankings: Oscar Road

Here we are! Back for my favorite blog of the year, ranking the Best Picture nominees.  It will be the seventh blog for my mother-in-law Barb and me, and 6th for everyone else. My sister-in-law Kirstin also joins the blog with a quick ranking of the movies she saw this year as well.  We're hoping this tradition keeps up so the newest member of the family, Jason and Kirstin's newborn Hana, can join us in 15 years!

First, some history. Our consensus best picture winners from the past 6 years:

2009-The Hurt Locker
2010- Black Swan
2011- The Artist
2012- Lincoln
2013- 12 Years a Slave
2014- Boyhood

This year, we loved post-apocalyptic warriors, Wall Street oddballs, and Irish immigrants. Topping the list are the battles of Mad Max and Furiosa.

While Mad Max had the most outright love, with 4 of us putting it #1, The Big Short was our biggest consensus movie, placing #2 or #3 on everyone’s list.

Average Rank
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
2. The Big Short
3. Brooklyn
4. Spotlight
5. Room
6. Bridge of Spies
7. The Revenant
8. The Martian

For our big category votes this year, it may be our first year with no unanimous choices.  The consensus of the group goes to Leo, Director George Miller, the Adapted Screenplay of The Big Short, and Original Screenplay to Inside Out. We split between Brie Larson and Saoirse Ronan for Actress, Mark Rylance and Christian Bale in Supporting Actor, Rooney Mara and Kate Winslet in Supporting Actress.

Best Actor

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant: Barb, Jason, Emily, Tyler
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs: Ben, Sarah

Best Actress

Brie Larson, Room: Jason, Sarah, Tyler
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn: Ben, Barb, Emily

Best Supporting Actor

Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies: Barb, Jason, Ben
Christian Bale, The Big Short: Emily, Sarah, Tyler

Best Supporting Actress

Rooney Mara, Carol: Sarah, Ben
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs: Tyler, Emily
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl: Barb
*Jason abstaining- has only seen Spotlight.

Best Director

George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road: Ben, Jason, Sarah, Tyler, Emily
Alejandro G. Innaritu, The Revenant: Barb

Best Original Screenplay

Inside Out: Ben, Sarah, Emily, Tyler
Spotlight: Jason, Barb

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Big Short: Ben, Sarah, Jason, Tyler, Barb
Brooklyn: Emily


After a somewhat slow start, 2015 turned out to be a really great year in movies and a solidly good year for Oscar.  With one exception (which unfortunately is favored to win), I thoroughly enjoyed all the Best Picture nominees this year.  That said, I do wish I could swap out my 4-8 and add in these 5: Ex Machina, Carol, Sicario, Inside Out, and Creed. Now THAT would have been a lineup.

1. Mad Max: Fury Road: There’s a moment about 30 or 40 minutes into  MM:FR when the action finally dies down for a minute, and the audience in the theater I was in let out a breath and gave a communal joyful laugh.  Did a director really just keep us all glued to the screen that whole time? Emphatically yes, and it didn’t stop there.  MM:FR is a master class in using the visual medium to tell a story, so much so that it almost functions as a silent film. The (many) action scenes are easily some of the best ever put on film, the design is astonishingly distinctive, and the movie tells an important environmental, anti-authoritarian, and feminist story with Charlize Theron giving a great action star performance.  I’m astonished and gratified a movie this singular made it to 10 Oscar nominations. It’s one for the all-time great lists.

2. Brooklyn: A perfect adaptation from one of my favorite books of recent years. I can’t think of a single way this movie could have been better.  Emotional without being manipulative, sweet without being saccharine, specific and yet universal.  The movie perfectly captures the tension of the pull from home and the desire to make a new life. The ensemble cast is great, and at the center of it all is the luminous Saoirse Ronan, coming into her own as an adult actress and holding your attention every second she’s on the screen.

3. The Big Short: A film about the appalling financial crisis of last decade could have been serious, dour, and relentlessly dry.  How to fix that? Hire comedy director Adam McKay to turn it into an angry comedy, with a mix of visual styles and tones that seems like an entirely new genre of movie. Add in one of the best casts of the year, with Steve Carrell, Christian Bale, and Ryan Gosling giving perfectly pitched performances. This feels like a movie of the moment, funny and angry and alive all at the same time.  

4. Spotlight: Spotlight is a compelling, engaging story about the Boston Globe’s intensive research into the sex abuse scandals of the Catholic Church. For (mostly) better or (occasionally) worse, it’s an understated movie that builds power along the way. I loved the way the great ensemble cast worked together, sharing the screen and the story and fully inhabiting their roles. Why isn’t it a tad higher then? At times I felt like I was watching a really good TV show, and wanted just a little more cinema artistry.

5. Room: Room is really two movies, the first focusing on Ma and her son held captive in an abductor’s shed, and the second (spoiler alert I guess) focusing on their adjustment to life outside.  I was most impressed with the first half of Room, particularly director Lenny Abrahamson’s skill at keeping the movie visually interesting in such a tight space.  It also has moments of skilled tension-building and immerses us in the lives of the two protagonists. While I think the second half of the movie is fully necessary, and has some terrific scenes, it also leads the movie into more conventional waters.  The chemistry of Brie Larson and young Jacob Tremblay are great and vital to the success of the movie.

6. Bridge of Spies: The Cold War-era Bridge of Spies is a really good movie in an old-fashioned sense, well-made with a strong script (co-written by the Coen Brothers!) and very good performances. Tom Hanks give another effortlessly good performance, and Mark Rylance blew me away in his supporting role as Russian spy Rudolf Abel.  Without hitting you over the head, it also draws important parallels to our current political climate.  The fact that nothing about it feels particularly innovative keeps it from placing higher on my list.

7. The Martian: A fun romp in outer space, with a charismatic movie star performance by Matt Damon. It also has a fun cast of supporting characters back on Earth and in the rescue spaceship. My favorites were Jessica Chastain as the team leader and Donald Glover as the goofy but brilliant NASA employee.  The whole thing does get a bit long, though, and feels more like a summer popcorn flick than a Best Picture.  For me, it didn’t approach the awe and emotional depths of 2013’s Gravity.

8. The Revenant: Well, here we get to the probable winner, and it’s (by a long shot)  at the bottom of my list, the one movie that failed to emotionally move me in any noticeable way. First the good.  Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Children of Men, The Tree of Life, Gravity, Birdman, Y Tu Mama Tambien, …...) is one of my absolute favorite cinematic artists, and he doesn’t disappoint here. Throughout its running time, The Revenant is a wonder to look at, even in its many brutal moments. I also enjoyed the first 30-45 minutes or so, especially the initial attack and flee from the fur trading site. And then it keeps going and going, becoming a familiar and frankly monotonous story of survival and revenge. I’m still waiting to talk to someone or read a review where anyone convinces me of any message or point this movie coherently makes. As for Leo, he’s solid in a part that calls for him to suffer, but I wish he was winning his Oscar for a movie that called more on his natural charm. If this goes on to win, it will be my least favorite Best Picture winner since Braveheart 20 years ago.

Should Win:

Director: George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Actor: MIchael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Actress: Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Supporting Actor: Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Supporting Actress: Rooney Mara, Carol (Although the category fraud is ridiculous. She’s obviously a lead!)
Adapted Screenplay: The Big Short
Original Screenplay: Inside Out


Thanks, Ben, for another year of getting me to see all the movies. Since I don’t get to talk about them below, I also want to say that I really enjoyed Inside Out, Ex Machina, 45 Years, and Creed (especially Michael B. Jordan, who should have been nominated). Looking forward to Oscar night and hearing what Chris Rock has to say about our extra White list of nominees. (Did you see how SNL imagined the evening?) Okay, so here’s what I thought:
1. Brooklyn: Gorgeous movie and performance by Saoirse Ronan. Broad appeal in a personal but universal story, and themes of home, love, family, identity, decisions, and navigating change. Loved a lot of the visual elements - looking over the sea from Ireland and New York and the drab-to-vivid transition in her costuming (that green bathing suit!).
2. Mad Max: Fury Road: I couldn’t have imagined ranking an action movie so highly, but make it a pro-environment, pro-feminist action movie? Okay, you won me over. So high-speed and intense that the crowd in our theater burst into relieved laughter after the very extended opening chase scene. Awesome effects to say the least. And frighteningly, a lot to ponder in a year full of water crises.
3. The Big Short: Loved what was going on with this edutainment filmmaking genre. Imagine all the things we think we’re not smart enough to understand becoming things that we find out we actually can. Great performances, especially by Christian Bale. Did you know that he was wearing Michael Burry’s actual clothes?
4. Room: A powerful and at times, highly anxiety-inducing, movie (that truck scene!). Fantastic performances by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. Interesting to see the story shown through a child’s eyes, as he awakens to life in a huge, unimaginable new world. Also, it wins my award for best scene of the year. Is it too late to campaign Seamus the Dog for Supporting Actor?
5. Spotlight: An engaging account of top-notch investigative journalists (in unstylish late 90s/early 2000s khakis) up against a powerful system with influence around every corner. Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams (and Roger Sterling!) were all very believable as journalists and gave strong performances.
6. The Martian: A celebration of science being cool, well-led by Matt Damon as the astronaut/botanist who maintained the levity of the movie through near-death experience after near-death experience. I also liked Jessica Chastain as the crew leader, and the overall representation of women and non-White people in science.
7. Bridge of Spies: Interesting combo of Spielberg directing and Coen Brothers co-writing… who knew? A story of diplomacy, integrity, and two people staying true to what they do – with an especially superb performance by Mark Rylance. Maybe lower on my list because it isn’t really my genre, but I did find it enjoyable.
8. The Revenant: I just think I had my eyes closed for too many scenes, which is too bad because the scenery was stunning. Strong performance by Leo, who always does well on the edge of hypothermia (this time, cozy inside a horse carcass). Overall, though, I felt it was a bit long and without a very clear moral argument. That said, I was still engaged in the story.
Should Win:

Director: George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Actress: Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, The Big Short
Supporting Actress: Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs
Adapted Screenplay: Brooklyn
Original Screenplay: Inside Out


I am honored to be part of Oscar blog for the 7th consecutive year. Another great year at the movies! I love a good story, and this year's nominations provided plenty of them.

1. Spotlight: An outstanding cast tells the story of the Boston Globe's Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporting unit's (Spotlight team) months long investigation into sexual abuse by priests. As we witness, it's not easy taking on an institution like the Catholic Church. I was totally swept up in this story.The suspense builds, as these talented investigative journalists seek to uncover the truth, in spite of the obstacles encountered and the complicit silence of the Catholic Church. There is a reason this film was nominated, and won so many awards, for best ensemble cast.

2. Brooklyn: The heartfelt story of a young Irish immigrant's journey to America in the 1950's, beautifully portrayed by Saoirse Ronan. Ronan quietly, and with grace and charm, allows us to see the ambivalence many young immigrants must have felt caught between what was familiar and comfortable, and what was seen as the land of opportunity. Ronan has the ability to convey this conflict, often without ever saying a word. A beautiful movie.

3. The Big Short:  Another great story and another outstanding cast. The story of the wall street visionary's who predicted the housing crisis, bet against the housing bond market and amassed huge fortunes with the financial crisis of 2008. Quirky, entertaining characters (Chrisitain Bale as Michael Burry, Steve Carell as Mark Baum, Ryan Gosling as Jared Vennett and a host of others), provide enough comic relief that it keeps you from getting so disgusted with the banking industry that you walk out of the theater. How could this have happened? Believe me, there is enough blame to go around. I know not everyone liked the celebrity cameos breaking down various financial terms and Wall Street facts and figures, but I loved them. I had no idea what a synthetic CDO or subprime loan was. Great cast and an entertaining movie.

4. Bridge Of Spies: I guess I'm going to have to quit saying I'm not a Tom Hanks fan. He's done some outstanding work lately, and this may be one of his best performances. The fascinating true story, set during the Cold War, of a rather ordinary man sent on a very extraordinary mission. Insurance lawyer, Jim Donovan (Hanks), is asked by his government to defend Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) accused of espionage against the United States on behalf of the USSR. He  is later asked to arrange a prisoner swap between Abel and a downed U.S. pilot, despite having no experience in espionage. What transpires is a heart-pounding sequence of events before this exchange is accomplished. What I liked most about this movie is the unspoken bond that develops between Donovan and Abel. Donovan and Abel have a mutual respect and trust of one another. After all, aren't they both just doing their job? A very entertaining movie.

5. The Martian: After being left behind on Mars, and presumed dead, Mark Whatney (Matt Damon),  must find a way to survive. Although he must use all his creativity and skills as a trained NASA botanist to meet each new challenge, he must also rely on a group of talented scientists, both on the ground and on the Hermes, to bring him home. As with many other movies this year, this has an outstanding ensemble cast. I loved the use of the video diaries. We are privy to not only his plans for survival, but also his emotions and loneliness. Although predictable, I thought the rescue was exciting nonetheless.  Also, I really liked the potato greenhouse.

6. Mad Max: Fury Road: I need to see this movie a second time. First let me say I had no clue who Mad Max was and knew nothing about the movie before seeing it. I wasn't prepared for the non-stop action, but it was awesome. I was intrigued by many of the characters (whose stories I later googled). I loved Doof Warrior and his non-stop electric guitar. I also liked that the primary hope for the future was in the hands of courageous, strong women, led by the fearless Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). Although I can appreciate George Miller's immense talent, this is not typically my kind of movie. That being said, I liked it. I do regret not seeing it on the big screen.

7. Room: Outstanding performances by both Brie Larson (Joy/Ma) and 11 year old Jacob Tremblay (Jack). Abducted and forced to live in a dilapidated room for seven years, while being repeated raped and abused by her abductor, a young woman attempts to create a world that is as safe, happy and as normal as it can be for her young son. She allows young Jack to believe that only 'Room' is real, and everything else only exists on T.V. Larson does such an outstanding job allowing us to see how difficult this is as she struggles with her own loneliness and despair. In desperation, they make their daring escape, at which time Jack experiences life outside 'Room' for the first time. I felt the rest of this movie was pretty predictable. Although Jack initially struggles to adjust, it is much more difficult for Joy. The losses she has suffered, and the lingering effects of 'Room', will live on even in this new world.

8. The Revenant: Just because this is last on my list doesn't mean I didn't like it. I did. The story of frontiersman Hugh Glass'(Leo DiCaprio) epic journey for survival and revenge. Knowing what the cast and crew had to endure to make this movie made me appreciate it all the more. With the brilliant cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki, we see a wilderness that is both brutal and beautiful. If I had one complaint about this movie it is that it was a little too long (I feel that way about a lot of movies). Leo should finally get his Oscar.

Should Win:

Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Supporting Actor: Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Actress: Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Director:  Alejandro Innaritu, The Revenant
Original Screenplay: Spotlight
Adapted Screenplay: The Big Short


1. Mad Max: Fury Road:  The Oscars have gotten a lot of criticism- rightfully so- for a big lack of racial diversity.  I am happy, however, that this year compared to last year, there was more recognition for women’s stories, and no way to better symbolize that than Mad Max.  Action movies are normally quite the testosterone fest- awesome to know it doesn’t have to be that way!  I never would have guessed that an action movie would be my favorite of the year but I loved Mad Max- even more the second time I watched it.  Not only did I love the epic narrative but the production design was incredible- love the contrasts of the blue night scenes and the fiery daytime action sequences.  The attention to detail was incredible in the creation of this dystopia-  A real highlight is the war guitarist with the weird red onesie- couldn’t get enough of that guy!

2. Brooklyn: Brooklyn was a very beautiful , seemingly subdued but emotionally captivating,  journey of a young woman.  Brooklyn did an incredible job of capturing what it is like to adapt to a new culture and the overall immigrant experience.  My job is working with a mostly immigrant population, and I think the movie rings true to what my clients have told me about having one foot in both worlds- missing the culture of their native countries while trying to take advantage of opportunities and adapt to the American lifestyle.  And what beautiful colors in the set design and costumes!

3.The Big Short: I don’t think I‘ve ever seen anything quite like the Big Short before- what creative storytelling.  I’m not sure if it's the funniest sad movie, or the saddest funny movie I’ve seen in a long time and that attests to how well they were able to use humor to dissect the financial crisis.  Love the cameos from Selena Gomez and Anthony Bourdain.

4. Room: I’m a horribly claustrophobic person, so the fact that i was able to enjoy this movie I think is a testament to the directing and portrayal of Ma’s character trying to create the most normal of worlds for her son in a horrific scenario.  The scene where Jack escapes was more heart racing than even the best action sequences in Mad Max, Bridge of Spies, or the Revenant.  Would’ve loved to seen a supporting actor nominee for young Jacob Tremblay!  The second part of the movie after getting out of the room was maybe not quite as strong as the first but still an engaging portrayal of how people transition to “normal life”  after horrific trauma.

5. Spotlight: I enjoyed Spotlight, but I think I liked it slightly less than I hoped.  One of my original critiques was that none of the performances, maybe other than Mark Ruffalo, stood out- but then again- in this story where the team (both the team of actors and the actual journalists)  had to work together behind the scenes on a very emotionally charged issue without one person taking all the credit- so on that level it was successful.  I appreciated how Spotlight indicted all of us- not just those who abuse others, but also the many levels of complacency and cover up in our institutions.

6. Bridge of Spies: I would call Bridge of Spies “Classic Spielberg with a twist”- some zippy one liners and goofy characters, like Abel’s fake family members- I didn’t realize until after I watched it that the Coen brothers helped write it, so there’s the twist!    I overall thought that worked well but it did make the tone a little bit off at times

7.The Revenant:  I was kind of dreading seeing the Revenant due to all the buzz about the bear scene and the overall violence, and i guess it wasn’t as hard to watch as I thought?? Cinematography- wow!  I almost felt like I could see my breath in the theater. Also, I’m glad that Leo will likely finally get an Oscar, He was certainly committed to the role,  but personally liked him better in Wolf of Wall Street and the Departed and wish this movie wasn’t going to be his big win.  I actually thought Tom Hardy was more the standout here.  I thought the movie was too long and left me feeling a little empty at the end- I didn’t feel very emotionally invested.

8. The Martian: As I was working on doing my rankings this year, as I listed the movies, I kept forgetting what the last nominee was..   Not because it was a bad movie- I did enjoy it, maybe even more than my 6 and 7 spot.  However, I just don’t see it deserving of best picture.   Some of the casting was a little weird- I love Kristin Wiig but not sure she was a great choice for the role and it was a little distracting.  I also wish they would've shown a little more about what impact being stranded on Mars would have on someone’s mentality

Should Win:

Director: George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Actress: Brie Larsen, Room
Actor: Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, The Big Short
Supporting Actress: Rooney Mara, Carol
Original Screenplay: Inside Out
Adapted Screenplay: The Big Short


1. Mad Max: Fury Road:  Visionary, intense, beautifully shot and let's not forget the special FX that aren't CGI! Mad Max was the most fun that I had at the movies all of last year and I believe it climbed into my top 10 of all time!

2. The Revenant: I love a good frontier, survival style movie so Revenant makes it high up on my list. Leo was spectacular, Tom Hardy was a great surprise as Fitzgerald and the rest of the supporting cast was excellent.  

3. The Big Short: I read the book so I was very curious as to how Adam McKay and company would take the story of hedge funds, credit default swaps, compliance officers, and real estate foreclosures and make it entertaining for the big screen. Fortunately for us, they did an amazing job. The "Margot Robbie in a bubble bath drinking champagne" scene was the funniest moment of the year for me, that's one way to make the topic more entertaining!

4. Spotlight: A fascinating look into how a team of dedicated journalists under the pressure of the Internet becoming the driving force in media create a story that literally changes one of the most powerful organizations in the world. Tom McCarthy and the cast take a movie that's literally all talking and create a gripping atmosphere.
5. Room: I really enjoyed this small film (literally for the first half) about the bond between a mother and her child. Brie Larson was amazing and I thought Jacob Tremblay got robbed for a nomination. Kudos to the director Lenny Abrahamson as it can't be easy to film in just one small Room and make it visually interesting for the audience.

6. The Martian: Beautifully shot by Ridley Scott (robbed of a nomination), perfectly played by Matt Damon and an all-star supporting cast created a fantastic movie. The cross between science fiction, science and a good survival story worked very well.

7. Brooklyn: Brooklyn was a great film with a fairly standard but well told story. It was cool to see that her boarding house is four blocks from where we live and it's fun to imagine what our neighborhood was like during the time period of the film. Saoirse was exceptional in her role and in other years I think she could have won the Oscar.

8. Bridge of Spies: I thought this was a fairly standard Spielberg picture with an interesting story that I had never heard about before. Mark Rylance was superb and Tom Hanks did a great job as well. Overall, this was an entertaining and informative movie, but I can't put it into the same category of best picture like the others higher on my list.

Should Win:

Actor: Leo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Actress: Brie Larson, Room
Supporting Actor: Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Supporting Actress: Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs (I've only seen Spotlight, so I'm totally guessing here)
Director: George Miller, Mad Max
Original Screenplay: Spotlight (caveat, I thought Straight Outta Compton's screenplay was brilliant)
Adapted Screenplay: The Big Short


1. Mad Max: Fury Road: Very few filmmakers are afforded this level of control and risks on a big budget film. It’s a miracle that George Miller was able to leave the world of pigs and penguins and create this masterpiece. The action is creative, plausible, exhilarating, and chaotic, yet easy to follow. This is the film version of a good speaker who has a real point to make, and will try to be as clear as possible; there is no need for shaky cameras or giant formless robots. The storyline didn’t need to be a standout, but I think it was great at creating the heart, motivation, and sense of stakes supporting the insane action.

2.The Big Short: The most eccentric attribute of this film is the fourth-wall-breaking scenes. A few parts come from our pseudo-narrator character Ryan Gosling in the middle of the action, but the rest come from completely separate scenes of celebrities and academics explaining some of the banking concepts necessary to follow the story and understand the crisis. I found these entertaining and clear, and a really good method for translating a book like this to the screen. The biggest benefit of this though is the freedom it gives the other scenes, where the characters are able to speak about the subjects believably instead of awkwardly jamming in vocabulary and banking concept lessons. With that freedom, the great acting, direction, and screenplay all come together to really tell a story that is both personal and global, hilarious yet conveying the real tragedy of that crisis and the institutions that have seemed to learn almost nothing from it.

3. Room: It seems this type of storytelling is often overlooked, so I’m glad this great and unique film is getting so much attention. The two main characters are unnervingly believable in their roles as long-term captives. The intimacy they have with each other and the small room that is their whole world is astounding. It’s certainly not a narrative driven piece, as the only real action in the entire film happens for a few minutes right in the middle. The rest is just a fascinating story about tragedy and resilience. The dynamic of a mother doing whatever she can to protect her child, and a child is old enough to imagine the whole world but not able to experience any of it is heartbreaking.

4. Brooklyn: This film was beautifully shot and well acted, with a very delicate treatment that certainly made it still feel like a book. The story of being torn between two worlds, the obligations to family, the comforts of a familiar culture, added a lot of depth the love triangle story. The one part I found odd is that I never really got the sense of what she was looking for in America, or what she found other than the Italian guy. Being reminded that small-town Ireland can be cruel doesn’t seem like enough motivation to solve her dilemma, so I’m not really sure why that caused the film’s resolution. Maybe it’s not just the immigrant story, but the story of youth; forced to make important decisions without ever really getting to know what lies in store.

5. Spotlight: I’m still not quite sure what kind of film this is (or if I should even try to categorize it in these terms). One one side it wants to serve the purpose of a documentary, alarming us all to the troubling ideologies and structures of the Catholic Church, but it doesn’t really examine these much beyond “everyone just trusts them” and “good people will do terrible things to preserve the reputation institutions they put above all else”. On the other side, it wants to be a movie about journalism, about sacrificing your status or job to get the right story, about biting the political and economic institutions that feed you, and maybe I just feel this is all undercut because we know these people are now lauded journalists who are the heroes of a major motion picture. I’m really focusing on the themes because I have very little to say about way it was presented as a film. Spotlight was really well acted, directed, and edited. It kind of felt like I was watching a really well done episode of a network procedural, which may be exactly how this story should be told, but I was hoping for a little more depth.

6. The Revenant: Pretty, gruesome, and pretty gruesome. The untouched west makes for beautiful landscape shots, but I thought the carefully-crafted fight shots were even more impressive in how natural and untamed they felt. Outside of the cinematography, I was a little underwhelmed by the “Tarantino film played straight” revenge storyline. The acting was great, but I felt the ending was unsatisfying, even though I recognize that the revenge was supposed to be unsatisfying.

7. Bridge of Spies: I knew very little about this movie before watching except that Tom Hanks was in it. The moment he starts his first Atticus Finch monologue about how our justice system requires the spy gets the best defense possible, and that orchestration swell almost drowns him out, I realized it was a Spielberg film. I think the story is interesting enough to be told, and I’m glad we have a film hero with commitment to the Constitution/American idealism and top-notch negotiating skills when we are all trying so hard in vain to find that in our election cycle. I just wish we could have seen it with the full Coen brothers treatment instead of just their part in the screenplay. Lincoln felt fresh and new because of the way it explored the details; this historical retelling was just a little too by the book for me.

8. The Martian: This movie is nothing like the other recent realistic space action drama Gravity, as it lacks the immediate intensity and interesting cinematics of that film. It has been a long time since I’ve seen Apollo 13, but The Martian often felt like a rehash of that (I guess future NASA hasn’t seen Apollo 13 in a while either; slingshotting to save fuel! what an idea!). Matt Damon was great, but there was just too much dullness throughout that didn’t serve any purpose and should have been left on the editing room floor. I can see that the Robinson Crusoe on Mars (which I just discovered is actually a film!) thing would work well for a book, but poop potatoes and duct tape were not enough to sustain the whole movie. The B-plot about the crew abandoning him was fine, but the parts where mission control were very weak, where they should have been used to clarify the stakes, put us on the edge of our seats, and instill a bit of that sinking dread that makes the Apollo 13 payoff.

Should Win:

Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Actress: Brie Larson, Room
Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, The Big Short
Supporting Actress: Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs
Director: George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Original Screenplay: Spotlight
Adapted Screenplay: The Big Short

My sister-in-law Kirstin also saw 4 movies and sent in her rankings!
1. Spotlight
2. The Big Short
3. Brooklyn
4. The Martian