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.

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!!!

Best Picture: The French Connection

french

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.

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.

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.