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Friday, February 19, 2016

The 5 films you should see before Oscar Night

which movie should we see tonight
Without spending the week in a theater, it’s sorta impossible see every important movie before February 28. Seeing these five will keep you in the conversation on Oscar Night.

The Revenant
You’ll want to have an opinion on that bear scene…and that horse scene. The Revenant is going to roar on Oscar Night; it is nominated for the most Oscars (12) and is the front- runner for Best Actor and Best Cinematographer. It has a good chance to win Best Picture and Best Director as well.

(In theaters.)

Mad Max: Fury Road
Released last summer, this film should go the distance on Oscar Night.
It was nominated for 10 Oscars and will likely topple Star Wars for all the technical awards: Visual Effects, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing Makeup. It’s my current bet for a Best Director upset and largest tally of the night.

(On HBO, HBO GO and HBO Now.)

Spotlight and The Big Short
I cheated with two films, but you’ve seen at least one of these already, right? These are very likely your Best Original and Best Adapted Screenplay winners. Either of them could take Best Picture so you should have a favorite to root for.

(Spotlight is available On Demand/iTunes. The Big Short is in theaters.)

World Of Tomorrow
If you want to be in the know, but don’t have time to see everything, this frontrunner for Best Animated Short Film is for you. It’s free on Netflix and you can watch it in 17 minutes.  

(Available on Netflix. See all of the Best Animated Shorts at the Magnolia Theater in Dallas.)

Since you can’t see every movie that’s going to win, I’d suggest this one. Not only was Creed the perfect mix of nostalgia and fresh movie magic, but it’s family to Academy Award royalty.

Forty years after Rocky took Best Picture, Stallone is likely to accept the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for playing Balboa again. It should be one of the show’s finer moments.

(Available On Demand, iTunes and more.)

Monday, February 15, 2016

Win your Oscars pool: 8 ways to science the sh*t out of your picks.

Best bets for Oscar Academy Award Best Picture Oscars
My gut tells me that Oscar voters are more likely to pick prestige films such as Spotlight and The Revenant across the board, but history tells me otherwise. To quote Matt Damon’s character from The Martian, let’s “science the sh*t out of” this year’s Oscar nominations — so that you can win your Oscars pool.

1. Win the Best Director category

Go with whoever won the Director’s Guild of America award. Those winners have matched 61 times in the past 68 years. 

2. Win the Best Sound Editing category

No need to vote for the prestige film here. The loudest movie takes Best Sound Editing, period. Speed, Pearl Harbor and Bourne Ultimatum have all won Oscars, for real. If there is a war movie, pick it.

3. Win the Visual Effects category
We can narrow this group to two. Historically, a Best Visual Effects nominee that also has a Best Picture nomination will always win. Good news for The Revenant. For eight of the past 12 VES Awards, the winner for Outstanding VFX has gone on to win the Oscar. Good news for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

4. Win the Best Costume category 
True to life period movies (versus creative or modern ones) have won Best Costume for 20 of the past 24 years. Exceptions were Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Dracula, Alice in Wonderland and last year’s The Grand Budapest Hotel.

5. Win the show’s-running-time tiebreaker.
In 2002, the show ran four hours and 23 minutes. Whew! But more recently, the show has trended consistently shorter. Here are the timings on the past seven years:

2009: 3 hours, 30 minutes
2010: 3 hours, 37 minutes
2011: 3 hours, 15 minutes
2012: 3 hours, 14 minutes
2013: 3 hours, 35 minutes
2014: 3 hours, 30 minutes 

2015: 3 hours, 43 minutes

6. Win Best Documentary and Best Short Subject
Beginning just two years ago, ALL members of the Academy (not just category peers) can pick the winners of: Best Documentary Feature, Best Animated Short Subject and Best Live Action Short Subject.

That means everyone from actors to musicians will have a say instead of just documentarians, so dumb it down a bit when making your picks.

7. Win the Best Actor/Actress and Best Supporting Actor/Supporting Actress categories

The SAG voters are all actors and are the largest block of voters for the Academy Award. Choose the SAG winners and you’re likely to win.

In the past ten years:
100% of the SAG winners also took home the Oscar for Best Actor
80% of the SAG winners also took home the Oscar for Best Actress 
100% of the SAG winners also took home the Oscar for Best Suppporting Actor
80% of the SAG winners also took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress 

An interesting note: Kate Winslet is the cause of two of those four misses above and this year she is competing behind frontrunner Alicia Vikander for Best Supporting Actress.

8. Win the Best Picture category 

Most years, you can look to three awards to determine Best Picture: The PGA awards went for The Big Short, the Screen Actors Guild went for Spotlight and the Directors Guild went for The Revenant. So that old trick doesn’t help.

Let’s look at what didn’t happen. In the last 15 years, no Best Picture winner has missed an ACE nomination. Bad news for Spotlight.

In the past 50 years, only Titanic has won best picture without a screenplay nomination. Bad news for The Revenant.

For the last eight years, the Producers Guild’s choice for Best Picture went on to claim the top prize at the Oscars. There are only three exceptions since the PGA Awards were started a quarter-century ago: Brokeback Mountain, Saving Private Ryan and Apollo 13. Good news for The Big Short.


Call it a comeback.

The fact that we’re talking about a Rocky sequel during the awards season of 2016 is a huge accomplishment itself. This is one of the most exhausted franchises of all time, but somehow Creed has fashioned an underdog story that seems part new and part nostalgic.

The plot is simple. Adonis Johnson Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the son of former heavyweight champion Apollo Creed, hopes to become a legend in his own right. Enter Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) who reluctantly takes him under his wing.

Great fight sequences and a superb camera work are a one-two punch that keeps this story fresh.

From Jurassic World to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, 2015 was a very good year for reviving sequels. This one is superb.

Simply put: It’s a knockout.

Award potential: Jordan was fantastic but Sylvester Stallone reminds us why we fell in love with Rocky, the Academy Award Best Picture of 1976, and he is the frontrunner to win Best Supporting Actor.
The ten buck review: Worth ten bucks.


I didn’t connect.

Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) and the team behind Anomalisa have expertly crafted a puppet movie into a disarmingly emotional film with a lot to say about the human struggle to connect.

I was transported into this world and story of a lonely soul who desperately needed to connect. It’s a great concept to explore, but one thing didn’t connect with me: I couldn’t sympathize with the main character who brought so much harm to so many people from his family to relationships to strangers.

I was hoping this film would have some joyful revelation, but that’s not the story being told. I just don't see the point.

Simply put: A well-produced downer.

Award potential: Nominated for Best Animated Film, but too dark (and sex-filled) to steal the award from the emotional favorite, Pixar's Inside Out.

The ten buck review: Impressive. But without a character to care about it's not worth 90 minutes and ten bucks.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Oscar and Chill: 12 nominated films you can watch from your couch

During the winter, the couch can seem like a snugglier destination for a movie night than the theater — and the popcorn is free. Tonight, you can watch a dozen Oscar-nominated films at home, including three on Netflix and one on HBO.

Mad Max: Fury Road
10 nominations, including Best Director and Best Picture

With the fury of visionary director George Miller, Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron blaze new trails out of a franchise that (surprisingly) has a lot of steam left. It's the most decorated film of 2015.

(Streaming now on HBO Go, HBO Now, digital rental and DVD/Blue-ray)

Bridge of Spies
6 nominations, including Best Picture

Steven Speilberg’s Cold War drama starring Tom Hanks and Best Supporting Actor nominee Mark Rylance is smart entertainment and one of the best films of 2015.

(Available now for digital purchase and on DVD/Blu-ray)


The Martian
6 nominations, including Best Picture

A crowd pleaser from director Ridley Scott (Alien), featuring Matt Damon and his pearly whites.

(Available for digital purchase/rental and on DVD/Blu-ray)

6 nominations, including Best Director, Screenplay and Best Picture

The best newspaper film since All The President’s Men, featuring Michael Keaton, Best Supporting Actor nominee Mark Ruffalo and Best Supporting Actress nominee Rachel McAdams.

(Available for digital purchase and avaialable on DVD/Blu-ray February 23rd)

Inside Out
Nominated for Best Animated Film

Try to manage all your emotions while watching Pixar’s front-runner for the animated category.
(Available for digital purchase, on Amazon and DVD/Blu-ray)

Nominated for Best Documentary

Say “Yes, yes, yes” to the lauded documentary about Amy Winehouse, the iconic British songstress who famously sang “no, no, no” to rehab.

(Available for digital purchase and on DVD/Blu-ray)

What Happened Miss Simone?
Nominated for Best Documentary

Critics and supporters of this year’s Oscar nominations could learn a lot from activist Nina Simone, whose brutally honest beliefs, legendary music and extraordinary life is captured in this solid documentary.
(Streaming now on Netflix)

Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom
Nominated for Best Documentary

Get close to the unrest in Ukraine during 2013 and 2014

(Streaming now on Netflix)

World of Tomorrow
Nominated for Best Animated Short

I was mildly amused and somewhat frightened by this 15-minute animated science fiction film.

(Streaming now on Netflix)

Steve Jobs
Nominations for Best Actor and Best Actress

Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet’s acting chops stand out from the story in this sub par production.

(Available for digital purchase)

Ex Machina
Nominated for Best Original Screenplay
The sci-fi picture of 2015, featuring Alicia Vikander (nominated as Best Supporting Actress for The Danish Girl) and Oscar Isaac (Star Wars: The Force Awakens).
(Available for digital purchase, Redbox, Amazon and on DVD/Blu-ray)

Straight Outta Compton
Nominated for Best Original Screenplay
The energetic film capturing the rise and fall of the musicians of N.W.A. was one of 2015’s best films.

(Available for digital purchase and on DVD/Blu-ray)

The Revenant

Epic movie and chill.
The Revenant is a nonstop two and a half hour cinematic adventure that drops the viewer in the 19th century uncharted American wilderness to witness all its beauty —and ugliness.

The story, and there’s not much of one, delivers on a simple tale of the human spirit as explorer Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) journeys on a quest to survive. That quest involves survival, betrayal, loss, a grizzly fight with a bear and (perhaps) revenge. Let’s just say I had a hard time complaining about my next busy workday.

While the script is chillingly bare, the pairing of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity, Birdman), Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman, Biutiful, Babel) and DiCaprio raises this tale to epic proportions.

Simply put: Small story with epic visuals.

Award potential: This is the film that will give DiCaprio his first Oscar and Lubezki his third in a row. An epic film like this may win Best Picture and Best Director in a year without a solid frontrunner, but I doubt it will be the first film in 50 years (other than Titanic) to take Best Picture without a nomination for screenplay. Tom Hardy could also be a surprise upset for Supporting Actor; he's excellent in his terrifying role.

The ten buck review: Worth ten bucks