Best Picture: Rocky

rockyThe third entry (it has been a while) into my Best Picture Oscar series is finally here with 1976’s ‘Rocky’. The first film in what has become a seven film series over the course of forty years, ‘Rocky’ has become known as one of the greatest boxing and sports films of all time and perhaps even one of the best “American dream” films that we have ever seen as well.

Written by and starring a young  Sylvester Stallone as the Italian Stallion Rocky Balboa, the film brought Stallone to worldwide prominence in a role that has gone on to shape his career and also become a cultural phenomenon.

Earning a total of ten nominations at the 49th Academy Awards, ‘Rocky’ collected three Oscar’s, not only for Best Picture, but also Best Director for John G. Avildsen and also for Best Film Editing. It also won the Award for Outstanding Directing from the Directors Guild of America as well. To say that ‘Rocky’ is iconic would be an understatement.

Telling the story of a debt collector for a loan shark who moonlights as a middling boxer who has never seriously trained for the fights, ‘Rocky’ is a film that could never get made in this day and age. From a slower pace, to the love story between Stallone’s Balboa and Talia Shire’s Adrian Pennino, audiences today would never flock to a film like this. And I feel this is a shame, because not all films have to work at a breakneck speed of feature explosions every twenty seconds.

‘Rocky’ shifts back and forth between three clear storylines, the love story between Rocky and Adrian, the arc of Rocky embracing of his boxing ability, and the story that brings all of this together, the desire of earning a big paycheque from Rocky’s opponent in the ring, Carl Weather’s Apollo Creed.

The story between Rocky and Adrian is what really sets this film apart, and both Stallone and Shire received well earned Best Actor and Best Actress nominations. While neither won, the fact that the film had such great performances, and from a film that was shot in only a 28 day time period, really just highlights how good they were.

Weathers’ performance as the film’s counterpoint to Stallone’s Rocky is actually a very understated performance. Playing an analogy to Muhammad Ali, Weathers steps up as a brash, loud self promoter who fails to take his self appointed challenger seriously, resulting in the climactic fifteen round fight that closes out the film.

While it took me into my 37th year to see the entirety of ‘Rocky’, especially considering that growing up it would be on television a couple of times a year, I am glad that I waited to be a bit older to give a full first viewing to fully understand the scope and wonder of this film.

While not all previous Best Picture winners have aged well, and while you can clearly tell that this film was shot during the 1970’s, ‘Rocky’ does truly stand the test of time to tell a great story of an underdog reaching up and grabbing a hold of the chance that we all dream of when it is presented and making the best of it.

As always, for all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer, and watch for some other Best Picture reviews soon.

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The Martian

themartianAs I have grown older, I have noticed that my taste in films has also changed, heading to, over the years, more adult based fare. Now, I guess that this is probably quite normal, but in the past couple of years, I have really found myself drawn to certain kinds of films, and the newest on that list is ‘The Martian’.

I need to preface this by saying that I, for the most part, really enjoy Matt Damon as an actor and think that the majority of Ridley Scott directed films are top notch, so much so that I place Scott in the top echelon of film makers today. With the combo of the two involved, I really had high hopes for ‘The Martian’, and I am happy to say that it delivered on the mark.

The not-so-distant future setting of ‘The Martian’ allows it to come off as something that we can actually believe as reality, and unlike 2014’s “Interstellar’, this film was able to pull off a whole other level of realism and convincing us that a singular human, stranded on a barren planet, could actually survive, and that is exactly what Ridley Scott does with this adaptation of Andy Weir’s novel of the same name.

That being said, the star of this film is and always will be Matt Damon. Damon, he of the face on a poster type of movie star, allows you to get inside the head of his character, Mark Watney. Watney, a botanist, comes across as a likeable every man, even if he is a pretty intelligent one at that.

The supporting cast for ‘The Martian’ is fleshed out with amazing actors and actresses from Jeff Daniels to Jessica Chastain and Chiwetel Ejiofor. To see these names filling out their characters just goes to show the quality of this film. Each of the supporting characters has reason to be there and a key role to play in the main arc of getting the stranded astronaut home.

The visuals for this film, when needed, are near perfect for the kind of story that Ridley Scott was looking to tell, which you would expect nothing less from the man that brought us other breath taking films like ‘Gladiator’ and ‘Kingdom of Heaven’, to say nothing of his other sci-fi work over the years.

At the end of the day, what we get is a film that tells a wonderful story, keeps you on the edge of your seat in doing so, and does it without ever feeling like the 141 minutes it is. ‘The Martian’ is an amazing film, well worth its Oscar nomination for Best Picture and Matt Damon shows us why he will one day win a Best Actor Oscar after securing his second ever nomination in this film.

Also, something new for you all on this review, I am going to start a ranking of the films that I review, and for ‘The Martian’, it gets 4 1/2 Martian potatoes out of 5.

Thanks for reading all and bearing with me while I go through some spurts of not getting these reviews out. As always, for all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer and cheers!!!

86th Academy Awards Preview

oscars

Well, it is that time of year again. That time when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hands out their Oscars to deserving films and actors, and sometimes some undeserving ones as well.

Much like last year, I will look at the major awards from the 86th Academy Awards, but unlike last year, I am going to be adding in the two writing categories as well, trying to see if I can figure out those awards this time around.

I also want to mention that I am not going to be looking at the technical categories, as we all know that ‘Gravity’ is going to win them all anyways.

Best Animated Short Film

"GET A HORSE!" ©2013 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Nominees: Feral, Get a Horse!, Mr. Hublot, Possessions, Room on the Broom

Will Win: Get a Horse!

Should Win: Get a Horse!

Won’t get into this category too much other than to say that this should be a slam dunk for Disney with ‘Get a Horse!’. Appearing in front of ‘Frozen’ last November, a return to the big screen for Mickey Mouse using both traditional and 3D animation, there is little doubt in my mind that ‘Get a Horse!’ wins this award.

Best Original Song

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Nominees: Happy – Despicable Me 2, Let It Go – Frozen, The Moon Song – Her, Ordinary Love – Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Will Win: Let It Go – Frozen

Should Win: Let It Go – Frozen

Curveball: Happy – Despicable Me 2

Originally a five nominee category, Best Original Song is now down to just four nominees following a rare disqualification of one of the entrants. While that may be the story of this category, it will not change how a winner is crowned here.

This is another runaway slam dunk category for Disney in my eyes. Yes, U2’s “Ordinary Love” won the Golden Globe for this category, yes, it’s a song from a popular band about one of the most influential men of the 20th Century, but a Disney song is a Disney song.

“Let It Go” from ‘Frozen’, sung by Idina Menzel, is one of the most powerful songs to have ever come out of an animated film, and let’s be honest, Disney has one hell of a track record in that category. A curveball on this front could be Pharrell’s “Happy” from ‘Despicable Me 2’, just on the strength of his Arby’s hat.

Best Animated Feature

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Nominees: The Croods, Despicable Me 2, Ernest & Celstine, Frozen, The Wind Rises

Will Win: Frozen

Should Win: Frozen

Curveball: The Wind Rises

Okay, I think it is completely safe to say that Disney may be back on top of the animated film summit. Thanks to recent hits like ‘Tangled’ and ‘Wreck-It Ralph’, Disney had started to catch up on Pixar and DreamWorks, and a return to the fairytale princess stories of old with ‘Frozen’ has seen them reach that summit again.

‘Frozen’ was won of my favourite films of 2013 and is head and shoulders above anything else in this category. The curveball here could be the final film from renowned film maker Hayao Miyazaki. Should the voters determine that is enough, this could be a major upset.

Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay

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Nominees: Before Midnight, Captain Phillips, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave, The Wolf of Wall Street

Will Win: 12 Years a Slave

Should Win: 12 Years a Slave

Curveball: Before Midnight

One of the easiest categories to call, but also one of the hardest as well. Four of these films are also up for Best Picture, and if one of them wins that award, it will be foreshadowed in the Adapted Screenplay category.

For myself personally, the winner here is ’12 Years a Slave’. Adapting a memoir from the 1860’s is hard enough, but making it relevant, poignant and heart breaking all at the same time is something special indeed.

The curveball here would be ‘Before Midnight’. Critics have a love affair with this love story trilogy and if the Best Picture winner does not come from the other four films in this category, it could count an upset.

Best Writing – Original Screenplay

her

Nominees: American Hustle, Blue Jasmine, Dallas Buyers Club, Her, Nebraska

Will Win: American Hustle

Should Win: Her

Curveball: Dallas Buyers Club

Much like the Adapted Screenplay category, the Original Screenplay category features four of the nine films up for Best Picture, but unlike its sister category, I would be shocked if the winner of this category ends up winning the big one at the end of the night.

That being said, this category will go a long way in telling us just what the voters are thinking. If ‘American Hustle’ has withstood its much warranted backlash, it wins this category, even over quite possibly the most original film in years in ‘Her’, which would be the film I would vote for here.

‘Dallas Buyers Club’ is my curveball in this category as it was, to me, the best film of the five that are nominated for Original Screenplay.

Best Supporting Actress

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Nominees: Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine, Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle, Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave, Julia Roberts – August: Osage County, June Squibb – Nebraska

Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle

Should Win: Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave

Curveball – Julia Roberts – August: Osage County

I have a real sneaking suspicion that this will be the biggest joke of the evening. There is a very deserved winner of the Best Supporting Actress awards that is going to be be completely disregarded so more people can give a completely unwarranted trophy out. The clear winner of this category, based on actual performance and emotional impact, is Lupita Nyong’o for ’12 Years a Slave’.

Instead, the Academy seems sure to bestow this award on a third rate, meaningless and totally un-impactful performance in ‘American Hustle’ to last years Best Actress winner, Jennifer Lawrence. Don’t get me wrong, Lawrence is the best young actress in Hollywood today, but take her out of ‘American Hustle’ and you end up with pretty much the same film.

Outside winner here, and one that would be a huge shocker, would be Julia Roberts for August: Osage County. If Meryl Streep ends up not winning Best Actress, I would say that the chances of Roberts winning her would go up.

Best Supporting Actor

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Nominees: Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips, Bradley Cooper – American Hustle, Michael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave, Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street, Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club

Will Win: Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club

Should Win: Michael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave

Curveball: Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips

Much like Best Supporting Actress, Best Supporting Actor seems to be a shoo-in for Jared Leto for his performance in ‘Dallas Buyers Club’. While both the film and his performance were well done, all I kept seeing was a rock star in drag on screen, and as a result of that, I would look elsewhere for this category.

My personal choice would be Michael Fassbender for his role as a plantation owner in ’12 Years a Slave’. Showing the worst of what a rich white man could be in the middle 1800’s, and doing it so convincingly, is why my vote would go here.

If you took Fassbender off the board for Best Supporting Actor, I would immediately turn to newcomer Barkhad Abdi for his role as a pirate in ‘Captain Phillips’.

Best Actress

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Nominees: Amy Adams – American Hustle, Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine, Sandra Bullock – Gravity, Judi Dench – Philomena, Meryl Streep – August: Osage County

Will Win: Sandra Bullock – Gravity

Should Win: Sandra Bullock – Gravity

Curveball: Judi Dench – Philomena

Best Actress is a very tough category to call this year, as four of the five nominees seem to have very legitimate hopes of winning the trophy, which of course means that this could be the one category where the curveball comes out on top.

This really should be a two actress race between Sandra Bullock for ‘Gravity’ and Cate Blanchett for ‘Blue Jasmine’, and I would not be surprised to see it go either way. Bullock seems to be the favourite here, as she carried her film on her shoulders almost 100% solo, so I feel she takes it home.

Should the four front runners cancel themselves out, I would love to see Judi Dench win for ‘Philomena’.

Best Actor

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Nominees: Christian Bale – American Hustle, Bruce Dern – Nebraska, Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street, Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave, Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club

Will Win: Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club

Should Win: Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave

Curveball: Bruce Dern – Nebraska

Best Actor is truly a two-man race between Matthew McConaughey for ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ and Chiwetel Ejiofor for ’12 Years a Slave’. It is a bit of a shame that Tom Hanks isn’t here for ‘Captain Phillips’, but such is life.

If you go for best year, and inexplicably include what he is doing in HBO’s ‘True Detective’ right now, along with what he did earlier in 2013 in ‘Mud’, this is McConaughey’s Oscar to lose. If you are going with the best performance from any actress or actor on film from 2013, you are going to the bank with Ejiofor’s performance, hands down.

Ejiofor’s performance as Solomon Northup in ’12 Years a Slave’ may just be the single best performance I have ever witnessed, and for my money is the runaway winner here.

Off the wall chance goes to veteran Bruce Dern for the black and white ‘Nebraska’, as we all know how the Academy loves older style films.

Best Director

gravity

Nominees: David O. Russell – American Hustle, Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity, Alexander Payne – Nebraska, Steve McQueen – 12 Years a Slave, Martin Scorsese – The Wolf of Wall Street

Will Win – Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity

Should Win – Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity

Curveball – Alexander Payne – Nebraska

Best Director is another very tough category to predict. For myself, there are two clear front runners for the Oscar, but when taking into account the voters themselves, it brings four of the five into play, which of course means that there could be an upset from the fifth nominee.

For my money, I can see it going to either Alfonso Cuaron for his revolutionary ‘Gravity’ or to Steve McQueen for crafting a film in ’12 Years a Slave that is both wonderful and hard to watch all at once. I truly believe that there is a good chance that if either director wins here, they also pick up Best Picture for all the same reasons. I would dearly love for McQueen to win here, but I think this is all Cuaron all day long.

Should there be a canceling out of the voters, look to a shock win for a second straight year, this year to Alexander Payne for ‘Nebraska’.

Best Picture

12slave

Nominees: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave, The Wolf of Wall Street

Will Win: 12 Years a Slave

Should Win: 12 Years a Slave

For the second year in a row I feel like I truly have nailed down the Best Picture winner, and for the second year in a row, it is a film that was long in the public eye before the nominations came out.

To be completely honest, I don’t think this is anywhere near as close as many believe it to be. ‘American Hustle’ is nowhere near as good as many make it out to be. ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ is too bloated with swearing to win over the Academy. ‘Her’ is just to weird for most voters to have even seen. ‘Philomena’ and ‘Nebraska’ are just too small to be taken as legitimate contenders. ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ is all about the two main stars, and “Captain Phillips’ suffers from not having its main actor or director get nominations.

That leaves ‘Gravity’ and ’12 Years a Slave’. One is a redefinition of what can be done to put a film on the screen, and the other is simply the most heart breaking film that I have ever seen. Here is how I break them both down: ‘Gravity’ was a great “movie”, one that needed to be experienced in the correct cinema environment. ’12 Years a Slave’ is a pitch perfect “film” that I will be able to watch over and over again due to the entire experience, from the silent scene featuring only Chiwetel Ejiofor’s eyes, to the use of actual plantations and clothing from the era.

No curveball or surprises here.

Check back on Monday for my review of what actually goes down at the 86th Academy Awards.

As always, for all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer. Cheers.

Philomena

philomena

There are people out there that will argue that a film like ‘Philomena’ is another attack on the Catholic Church, as it strives to paint church practices from the past in a negative light. While that may in fact be a part of the message that others will take from this film, it is also a film that highlights the struggles of living silently with your past and how hard it can be to overcome that.

The story of how an Irish woman lived for 50 years with the loss of her son who was forcibly adopted while living in an abbey highlights not the negative practices of the catholic Church, which were widespread throughout the world at the time, but brings to light the fact that hearing about things like this can negatively skew our views in the here and now.

Dame Judi Dench portrays the aforementioned Philomena Lee, who, on the 50th birthday of the son that she lost, decides anew that she wants to try and track him down. In order to do so, she winds up in the hands of Steve Coogan’s Martin Sexsmith, former public sector employ who is moving back to the private sector.

While Dench was quite warranted in her nomination for a Best Actress Academy Award, and her struggles to deal with new surroundings while dealing with old hurts are symbolic of this, I truly feel that the star of this film is in fact Coogan’s turn as Sexsmith, but that might be due to my thoughts on organized religion as a whole as to why I lined up with him.

‘Philomena’ tells a singular story that highlights larger issues, but does so in such a manner that leaves you wondering if more stories like this have been resolved, and if so, were they done so in happier confines than how the story ends here.

It is quite clear why this film is up for four Academy Awards this weekend, with nominations for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Score to go along with Dench’s Best Actress. It might surprise in a couple of categories, but it is definitely worth a watch at home with loves ones.

As always, for all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer. Cheers.

Her

her

‘Her’ will go down as the one of the strangest and weirdest films that I have ever seen.  The premise of a man from the near-future falling in love with the Artificial Intelligence of his computer Operating System was completely different to begin with.  But after actually watching the film, that is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ‘Her’.

Spike Jonze crafted a rather interesting take on societies current addiction to social media and how we, as humans, currently interact with our technology.  That is truly the highlight of ‘Her’, forcing us to look into ourselves to see if this is in fact something that could happen to any one of us in the future.

Joaquin Phoenix does a wonderful job of playing a man struggling to deal with his personal life and the emotions that stem from it.  Phoenix has always been known for being somewhat quirky himself, so he really was a perfect fit in the main role of Theodore Twombly.

In a quite surprisingly emotional role, we also find Scarlett Johansson, playing the voice of the Artificial Intelligence that the lead character falls in love with.  From tentative wonder when first activated, all the way through finding “herself”, Johansson, through her voice alone, brings a character that you never see to life.

In the end, ‘Her’ does a great job of telling a new take on a love story, all while delving into commentary on our current reliance on technology and social media.  While the film gets a little odd at times, it does so all in the name of telling its story.

As always, for all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer.  Cheers.

Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave

12yearsI was originally planning on seeing ’12 Years a Slave’ all the way back in October or November, but things just didn’t work out. Much to my delight, I was able to see this film this past Wednesday at my local multiplex and I will tell you this: It was worth the wait.

’12 Years a Slave’ is at times a very hard watch, but one that is well worth it. Right from the opening, director Steve McQueen, in just his third feature film project, sets the tone for a two hour plus film that will test your resolve as a human being.

From McQueen’s directing, to the understated score from legend Hans Zimmer, ’12 Years a Slave’ is an emotional ride through the hardships suffered not by just one man, but generations of humans who were enslaved due to the colour of their skin.

The big thing with ’12 Years a Slave’ is that, unlike other films in 2013, this film earned the praise, the recognition and the award nominations that have come its way. Chiwetel Ejiofor carries this film with the kind of depth, emotion and gravitas that the big name veteran actors like Daniel Day-Lewis and Tom Hanks can only dream of.

It really feels that Ejiofor threw everything he had into ’12 Years a Slave’, from the whipping he first takes upon being kidnapped, to pain of the lashing he is forced himself to give out near the end of the film. Ejiofor does such a wonderful job of bringing freeman-turned-slave Solomon Northup to the screen that in one scene, a shot of just Ejiofor looking into the camera, you cannot but help feel that you are indeed looking into the soul of Northup on a cotton plantation.

As much as this is a breakthrough role for an actor that you have quite possibly seen but not recognized in other films, the true coming out party from ’12 Years a Slave’ is reserved for Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o.

Nyong’o, who somehow just lost out on the Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe award to Jennifer Lawrence, makes a stunning debut as a sometimes favoured slave of the character brought to the screen by McQueen favourite, Michael Fassbender. Nyong’o brings a very stark realization to this film, as we see just what it meant to be a “favourite” of a plantation owner.

’12 Years a Slave’ also benefits hugely from the main supporting roles of three actors: Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt and Academy Award nominee Fassbender.  All three actors play different roles in this film, and each highlight a vast difference in society during the 1840’s and 1850’s.

Fassbender is almost spellbinding as an alcoholic plantation owner, essentially the personification of evil in ’12 Years a Slave’.  Fassbender, who has featured in all three of director McQueen’s feature films, plums the depths of the evils that white plantation owners inflicted on their black slaves, and the ironic love that they seemed to have for their favourites.

To contrast Fassbender, we have Cumberbatch who is our first plantation owner we come across as his character is the first to purchase Northup following his abduction. Cumberbatch shows the lesser side of the evil, showing favour for his “debt” and standing almost as a polar opposite to Fassbender’s character later in the film.

Finally, we have Brad Pitt in the smallest of the three roles but one that is the most critical to the resolution of the film.  Pitt shows his years as a Canadian abolitionist carpenter who provides Northup with the recourse to his salvation.  Of the three, Fassbender definitely does carry his Best Supporting Actor nomination well.

The end of the film killed me and, even though you know how it is going to end, you can’t help but fully feel the entire well of emotion that has been dredged up throughout ’12 Years a Slave’.

As for the Academy Awards next month, ’12 Years a Slave’ is my choice for Best Picture, as is Lupita Nyong’o for Best Supporting Actress.  Both Steve McQueen for Best Director and Chiwetel Ejiofor for Best Actor are most warranted but will have tough competition for their wins.  As for Michael Fassbender and the Best Supporting Actor award, it is unfortunate that he is up against a not as deserved momentum train called Jared Leto this year, as I feel it should Fassbender all the way.

In the end, while a tough film to watch at times, ’12 Years a Slave’ is the best film from 2013 that I have seen and one that will stay with me for years to come.

As always, for all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer.  Cheers.

Dallas Buyers Club

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In what is bound to be one of the more random films I have ever seen in the theatre, last night I took in ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ featuring recent Golden Globe award winners Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto. While at times a tougher watch than most films I have seen, this film was well worth going outside of my norm to see.

With today’s announcement of the nominees for the 86th Academy Awards, ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ was one of the big winners, pulling down a total of six awards including Best Actor for McConaughey, Best Supporting Actor for Leto along with Best Writing for an Original Screenplay, along with the big one, Best Picture.  Quite the haul for a smaller film.

The key thing for ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ is not in how it portrays the AIDS fear of the mid-1980’s or the rejection that came with the extreme homophobia in Texas at that time, but in the fact that this is an accurate portrayal of these same feelings throughout most of conservative America today. Because of that mentality, this is a perfect time for this film to be released and is the main reason for its success with both critics and The Academy.

I will say that this film is all McConaughey. While Leto is receiving tons of praise for his role as a transgender AIDS victim, this film would be nothing without the stellar performance put forth by McConaughey as straight, homophobic man afflicted with AIDS and how his dream of a treatment for the virus changed his views on the world.

While McConaughey’s role is the true eye catcher of ‘Dallas Buyers Club’, I will say that I was not really a big fan of Leto’s, and for no other reason than that they did not push any boundaries with how the role was filmed.  Leto is basically playing a gay rock star in drag, and I found the performance to actually be very flat and not a stand out.

In the end, ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ is a very good movie, and well deserving of its Best Picture nomination, but it also could have been an even more riveting film that feels like it left some things on the table to avoid any controversy and pushing of boundaries.

As always, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer. Cheers.