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.

Best Picture: The French Connection

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The next film in my tracing back of past Academy Award Best Picture winners is ‘The French Connection’.  Featuring Gene Hackman in his Best Actor award winning role, ‘The French Connection’ is commonly known for having one of the best car chase scenes of all time, and one that has been parodied many times over in the forty plus years since.

Based loosely on true events, ‘The French Connection’ centers on a heroin drug smuggling operation from France, one that allows director William Friedkin, who won the Best Director Oscar for this film, to show how singularly focused police officers can become in pursuing leads of the nature shown in the film.

I will admit that the opening to ‘The French Connection’ is a tad dry, but as you get introduced to main protagonists and antagonists, the film does start to pick up, and never is this better seen than when Hackman’s character, “Popeye” Jones trailing his mark, the affectionately known “Frog One” and gets made at a subway.

As for the aforementioned car chase scene, the use of multiple angles, chasing of an elevated train, and the cramped confines that entailed all make it one of the greatest car chases ever put to film.

In the end, ‘The French Connection’ is a product of its era, limited in what it could do when compared to films today, but a major success as a result. Telling a point a to point B story that didn’t worry about trying to throw the audience for a loop, it only deviated at the end to leave those watching guessing as to the end.

All in all, I was quite entertained by ‘The French Connection’, but I feel I won’t be venturing into the sequel, for I have heard it is nowhere near the original.

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

Best Picture: Titanic

titanic

I decided at the start of 2014 that I will do my best to watch as many of the Academy Award Best Picture winners that I have never seen before. Shockingly, it was a longer list than I anticipated. While I own a decent number of Best Picture winners, I haven’t sat down to watch many of them, and in the past two years, only watched two more members of the list in ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and ‘Unforgiven’.

So, the first film on tap for the conquering of this list this year was ‘Titanic’, for two reasons. First off, if there is one Best Picture winner that I had absolutely no desire to see at all, it was ‘Titanic’, a film I have long considered to be the biggest chick flick of all time, so I might as well just get it out of the way. Secondly, it was a gift on Blu-ray to my fiancee with a promise to watch it with her, so it also fixed a long standing issue with the honour of my word.

As for the film itself, ‘Titanic’ really is two different films in one, and sadly, neither of them touched home with me. At the start it really is a slow-burn against type romance film, decidedly right up the alley of most of the female population. The second half really is a borderline disaster flick as the unsinkable Titanic goes to the bottom of the Atlantic.

Sadly, the latter part of the film cannot escape the earlier parts, as the sinking is really used as a backdrop against which the continued love story reaches its climax. Neither of these facets are really built for a guy like me. Don’t get me wrong, I can respect great film-making at any time, even if I might not like the story, and that is precisely what ‘Titanic’ is for me.

This series will be ongoing throughout the summer as I start to make my way through other Best Picture Winners from previous Academy Awards.

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

86th Academy Awards

12yearswin

So, the 86th Academy Awards have come and gone, and looking back on the winners, there really was only one real surprise from the categories that I had looked at in my preview. The Oscars seem to have become a little predictable. Hell, a Canadian baseball player went 18-for-18 in his predictions. A baseball player!!!!!

That being said, let’s take a quick look back on the winners from last evening in Hollywood. The big winners were ’12 Years a Slave’ and ‘Gravity’, and neither of those would be considered shocking. ’12 Years a Slave’ picked up three Oscars, while ‘Gravity’ picked up seven trophies, and in the process became the first film since ‘Star Wars’ in 1977 to win six or more trophies and not win Best Picture.

Both ‘Gravity’ and ‘American Hustle’ had ten nominations going into the ceremony, but unlike ‘Gravity’, ‘Hustle’ came away with zero awards. Only two films in history, ‘The Turning Point’ in 1977 and ‘The Color Purple’ in 1985, have had more nominations without any wins, both at eleven nominations.

The winners are as follow:

Best Visual Effects: ‘Gravity’ – Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, Dave Shirk and Neil Corbould

Best Film Editing: ‘Gravity’ – Alfonso Cuaron and Mark Sanger

Best Costume Design: ‘The Great Gatsby’ – Catherine Martin

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ – Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews

Best Cinematography: ‘Gravity’ – Emmanuel Lubezki

Best Production Design: ‘The Great Gatsby’ – Catherine Martin and Beverley Dunn

Best Sound Mixing: ‘Gravity’ – Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead and Chris Munro

Best Sound Editing: ‘Gravity’ – Glenn Freemantle

Best Original Song: “Let It Go” from ‘Frozen’ – Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez

Best Original Score: ‘Gravity’ – Steven Price

Best Animated Short Film: ‘Mr Hublot’ – Laurent Witz and Alexandre Espigares

Best Live Action Short Film: ‘Helium’ – Anders Walter and Kim Magnusson

Best Documentary – Short Subject: ‘The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life’ – Malcolm Clarke and Nicholas Reed

Best Documentary – Feature: ’20 Feet from Stardom’ – Morgan Neville, Gil Friesen and Caitrin Rogers

Best Foreign Language FIlm: ‘The Great Beauty’ – Paolo Sorrentino

Best Animated Feature Film: ‘Frozen’ – Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee and Peter Del Vecho

Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay: ’12 Years a Slave’ – John Ridley

Best Writing – Original Screenplay: ‘Her’ – Spike Jonze

Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong’o for ’12 Years a Slave’

Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto for ‘Dallas Buyers Club’

Best Actress: Cate Blanchett for ‘Blue Jasmine’

Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey for ‘Dallas Buyers Club

Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron for ‘Gravity’

Best Picture: ’12 Years a Slave’ – Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen and Anthony Katagas

At the end of the night, most of the awards fell the way most were expecting. ‘Gravity’ won in most of their technical categories and for Best Director for Alfonso Cuaron. Jared Leto won Best Supporting Actor and Matthew McConaughey won Best Actor for ‘Dallas Buyers Club’, a film in which both actors underwent significant personal transformations, something that the Academy absolutely loves.

Cate Blanchett won Best Actress, which was the worst kept secret of the entire evening, while Lupita Nyong’o overcame the unwarranted publicity of Jennifer Lawrence to bring home Best Supporting Actress for her role in ’12 Years a Slave’.

Of course, the big award for the evening was Best Picture, which had a total of nine nominees, but in my honest opinion, only one truly viable winner in ’12 Years a Slave’, and I am quite happy that the voters of the Academy agreed. ’12 Years a Slave’ is one of the most wonderful, gut-wrenching, heart-breakingly beautiful films I have ever seen, and rightly deserved to win the big one.

One last thing to add quickly here at the end, and that is that I really wish Best Actor could have been a tie last night, because as much as McConaughey deserved to win, so to did Chiwetel Ejiofor for ’12 Years a Slave’, and I truly believe that this is a role that will go down in history as hauntingly beautiful.

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.

Lawrence of Arabia

For most of this year I had made it a goal of mine to finally sit down and watch Lawrence of Arabia.  Now, that was definitely easier said than done, as I have this inane compulsion to only watch movies in the theatre or on Blu-ray, having almost done away with watching movies on DVD.  For Lawrence of Arabia, at the time of my decision, it was only available on DVD at that time, but I could also not even find a DVD copy of the movie to watch anywhere locally.

Finally, it seemed that the opportunity to watch the movie was coming my way as my local theatre does classic movies every month for two showings, and for the month of November the movie chosen was Lawrence of Arabia.  The two viewings were at noon on Sunday the 11th and at 6pm on Wednesday the 14th.  Sadly, I ended up working both of those days so I missed that opportunity.

On the Tuesday of last week, the 13th, I was at my local Future Shop and saw much to my surprise that Lawrence of Arabia had been released on that day to Blu-ray, so I quickly snapped up one of the remaining two copies and purchased it.  I didn’t have ant time to watch the movie until two days later when I was home sick from work, so I finally laid down to watch one of the biggest classics of all time that I had never seen before.

Before I go much further, I would like to mention something about me: I’m a history guy.  I love reading about it and I try to watch historical movies in context, knowing full well that the movies are in no way 100% accurate, and that is what we have with Lawrence of Arabia, and I am okay with that, as I know that nothing ever is able to be filmed 100% accurately.

I loved how Lawrence of Arabia was filmed.  Not many movies are filmed this way anymore, with a grand scope in mind, but you can tell that this movie was filmed to be an epic, and that it is.  At almost four hours in length it did have a few slower moments, but other than at the hour mark or so, I didn’t find them to be tedious at all.

The one thing I did find with watching it was the volume when it was just characters speaking to each other seemed to be quite low and that at times it was hard to catch what was being said, especially in the first half an hour of the film or so.

That issue aside, Lawrence of Arabia tells a dramatic story of the Arab Revolt during World War I against the Ottoman Empire and their fight for autonomy.  T.E. Lawrence was a British soldier assigned to assist the Arabs in the Middle East front against the Turks and Lawrence of Arabia follows a stylized account of his history in the region during the Arab Revolt.

I thoroughly enjoyed Lawrence of Arabia.  That being said, it definitely is not for everybody, but I would absolutely recommend it for anyone that is into history in general, or World War I or the Middle East in particular.

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

Best Picture: Argo

I have seen a lot of movies so far this year, and a lot of movies that I had never seen before as well.  None of them, short of The Avengers, can hold a candle to the movie that I saw Sunday evening: Argo.

Argo is based on declassified information from events that transpired during the American Embassy hostage situation in Tehran, Iran from 1979 to 1981, particularly focusing on the exploits of six Americans who made it out of the embassy to the Canadian Ambassadors house, and the CIA’s attempt to exfiltrate them out of the country.

The movie was directed by Ben Affleck, and for the second straight time (the other being The Town), Affleck crafts one of the more underrated movies of the year.  As maligned as he turned out to be as an actor, due to some acting choices and his personal life, Affleck is turning into one of the better directors currently available in Hollywood, and it is no wonder that Warner Bros. contacted him about the opportunity to direct The Justice League.

Argo is the kind of film where you know what is going to happen and how it is going to end, but as you are watching it, you can’t help but wonder if they might not make it at certain scenes.  That is the true sign of a well-made, suspenseful thriller.  If you doubt for a second that the characters are going to survive, the film makers, and in this case Ben Affleck, have done their jobs wonderfully.

I found the casting to be very well done across the board, from John Goodman and Alan Arkin to Victor Garber.  At the end of the movie you see pictures of the actors in character side-by-side with actual pictures of the real life persons, and many look very, very similar.

While of course not historically accurate, as the role of the CIA was increased and the Canadian involvement was scaled back, this movie nonetheless held my attentions for the full two hours and I highly, highly recommend Argo to anyone that loves a good movie of any kind.  As I tweeted Sunday night after seeing, the best non-Avengers movie I have seen in 2012.  Hands down, bar none.

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