Category Archives: Academy Awards

The Danish Girl (2015)

There’s something about Eddie Redmayne that just crushes your soul. I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing — he’s a beautiful soul-crusher — but man, I feel like every time I sit down to a Redmayne movie, I’m going to leave feeling any one of, or a combination of, three things: 1) uncomfortably mortal, 2) disastrously under-accomplished, or 3) questioning my sexual identity.

The Danish Girl is no exception to this inevitability, though in this case, it is perhaps a bit more of a forced conclusion than in some of Redmayne’s other roles. In fact, all three of these reactions are obviously sought by the end of the film, with the lead dying – “Shit, I’m so mortal!” – the two leads both being successful, talented artists – “Shit, I’m so bad at doing stuff good!” – and of course, the main character transitioning in order to become his true self – “Shit, what even is a ‘true self’?”

However, the real issue I take with this film, aside from the generally predictable feel of the method-acting made-for-Redmayne award-seeking plot, is that it isn’t actually accurate at all to the life of the person it is supposedly based off of, Lili Elbe (Elvenes), and her relationship with Gerda Wegener, played by the stunning and Oscar award-winning Alicia Vikander — but we’ll get to her later.

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Spotlight (2015)

One appreciates how difficult it is to make a successful film like Spotlight. Yes, you have an A-list cast at your disposal, and yes, it’s Oscar season. They’re going for it. You have a true story that is quite literally already recorded for the public eye, plain as day, and besides the revelatory Spotlight newspaper clippings you have a vast backlog of coverage on the coverage, stories about the story. Yes, most of the real people who took part in that story are still alive and willing to participate in making a film about their achievements. And yes, the crucial win is already firmly in place: this is a highly relevant story, stranger than fiction but all the more urgent for being the truth.

Granted, there’s one massive pressure point in the expectations set by the aftermath of the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. Director Tom McCarthy (“you” from the first paragraph) must have felt what Adam McKay felt in directing The Big Short, what David O. Russell felt in directing Joy, what Danny Boyle felt with Steve Jobs, what Don Cheadle felt with Miles Ahead. Any director dealing with the poster tagline Based On a True Story must ask “am I getting this right?”

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Anomalisa (2015)

Rather than going out and partying or hanging out with friends as most teenagers do on Friday nights, I instead chose to have an existential nightmare by watching the latest film from writer/director Charlie Kaufman: Anomalisa.

You may recognize Kaufman as the writer of such films as Spike Jonze’s Adaptation. and Being John Malkovich. Kaufman also wrote the much beloved Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and directed the incredibly complex and possibly genius film Synecdoche, New York. If you’re interested in reading some more thoughts on Kaufman’s works, there’s a wonderful writer series here on Motion State. To say the least, in this very impressive filmography Charlie Kaufman has built for himself, Anomalisa stands out as both incredibly unique and right at home.

Anomalisa is about a man named Michael Stone, played by David Thewlis. Michael is a corporate spokesperson known for writing books on customer service. Many people look up to Michael and the way he is able to look at the world, but beneath that exterior, he is actually struggling deeply with problems in his personal life and what he deems “psychological problems”. When people talk, Michael simply hears the same bland voice over and over. One evening in his hotel room, Michael is practicing delivering a speech he is scheduled to give the next day and attempting to infuse it with the sincerity that he obviously lacks. Just outside, he hears the voice of a beautiful young woman named Lisa, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh. Michael is instantly mesmerized by her and is determined to make Lisa a part of his life.

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The Hateful Eight (2015)

Hey — it’s Christmas! Let’s go to the movies. Slug some hot chocolate, throw on your wool hat, follow the colored lights strung from tree to tree on the citywide commons to the movie theater or the cinema or the multiplex or whatever you call it in your neck of the woods. I’ll get the tickets, you get the popcorn. What do you want to see? It’s Christmas, remember, so we need something that will encourage our merriment and warm up our capacity for joy. That disqualifies The Revenant. What about Star Wars for the fifth time? What do you mean you saw it again this morning? Why didn’t you invite me? Whatever, just go get the popcorn.

Here we go: a new Tarantino movie. One would think that a brand spankin’ new flick from Tarantino would, if nothing else, be entertaining. It’s Tarantino. This is the diabolical purveyor of histrionic, action-packed jaunts that bleed style and ooze cool, of movies that have banging soundtracks and automatically generate an Academy Award for Christoph Waltz. This is the director that champions violence in film as fun, responding to the masses that claim violence in film is a potentially toxic influence on viewers with a beautifully composed shot of red blood spewing out of a newly-severed neck. Take that! The violence-is-bad point always reminds me of part of the testimony of famed censorship bogeyman William Gaines during the 1954 hearings on the validity of the violent comic books he produced: “Do we think our children are so evil, so simpleminded, that it takes a story of murder to set them to murder, a story of robbery to set them to robbery?” I picture Tarantino saying that, only with a lot more gesticulation and overeagerness and a lot of “alright, you know, okay?” and a lot of averted glances.

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The Revenant (2015)

It’s fitting that The Revenant pushes the limits of film, ceasing mercifully only just before breaking, because that’s exactly what happens to Hugh Glass. If you’re one of the people behind the film, crafting it, then you have to push the limit: you’re Alejandro Iñárritu or Emmanuel Lubezki, coming off the exquisite Birdman and arguably at the height of your career, seemingly happy to be shouldered with the weight of expectation or otherwise just left with no choice. If you’re one of the people in front of the film, watching it, you want it to push the limit: if you’re watching The Revenant in the first place, you’re likely quite certain that you’re in for a challenging watch and not a brain-switched-off actioner.

But if you’re one of the people inside the film, acting in it, living it, then being pushed to the limit means actually being pushed to the limit. Throughout 2015 stories of the extremely arduous on-location filming of Revenant trickled down from that remote region of Alberta, from the torrential rains of British Columbia, from the freezing southernmost tip of Argentina. Ten people quit or were fired during production. In July Hollywood Reporter ran an article about the brutal conditions on set, prompting more and more questions about the safety precautions and the direction of the film. Blurbs from Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, and the rest of the cast make The Revenant shoot sound more life-threatening than that of Apocalypse Now or Fitzcarraldo; Iñárritu himself has since taken to referring to the cast and crew as “survivors”.

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Steve Jobs (2015)

97% of Steve Jobs is nearly perfect. Much like the products borne of the man’s unparalleled creative vision, everything in his latest biographical film is optimized, streamlined, rounded when the edge should be rounded, sharp when the edge should be sharp, forward-thinking, life-changing, and pitched to be perfect. The performances are subtle and explosive, depending on which character you’re dealing with. The drama is heavy-duty; the comedy is excitingly witty. The pacing of the whole film is breathless. And the writing — whew, the writing — Aaron Sorkin has probably never been this good or done this much with a film script. This is ostensibly The Social Network 2.0, a story about a genius/jerk who defined the times for the rest of us, except Steve Jobs has a richer character in the driver’s seat.

And in comparing the two, that leftover 3% only becomes all the more glaring. The structure of the film is unique, built over three days in history: the launch of the Macintosh in 1984, the launch of the NeXT computer in 1988, and the launch of the iMac in 1998. The aforementioned breathlessness of the film is derived from setting each episode immediately before these launches, as that’s probably the most stressful and nerve-wracking collection of hours in any product launcher’s life. No different in Steve Jobs. Jobs needs everything to be perfect, every address to start exactly on time, every personal grievance from his staff and family (of which there are many, and between which the words staff and family mean less and less) to be voiced and dealt with. “It seems like five minutes before every launch, people go to a bar and get drunk and decide to air their grievances,” says Jobs.

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Inside Out (2015): Pixar Goes to Therapy

Our Take Two column offers second opinions and alternative angles on films and TV series reviewed elsewhere on Motion State. Head here for our original review of Inside Out.

The people have spoken. Original, well-written content is what they want, and they want it now! Down with all of these cliched remakes! I speak on everyone’s behalf when I say–what’s that? Ex-squeeze me? Jurassic World, of all movies, is breaking every box office record? Well then.

It’s hard to express how that makes me feel. I could scream and gag and cry and fall into a deep depression. And there’s no movie that can fix me. What’s that? Another off-screen interjection? I should look no further than Inside Out? So there’s hope after all… Continue reading Inside Out (2015): Pixar Goes to Therapy

Inside Out (2015)

Pixar’s most recent creation, Inside Out, is not a children’s movie as it is advertised to be. The animation and young protagonist, Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), may suggest that the movie is for the ten and under crowd, but it most certainly is a movie that is better suited for an older audience. Now, this is not just a long-winded attempt at justifying the fact that I sat in a theater crowded with six-year olds to see this movie; it is a credit to Pixar for their ability to disguise an emotionally complex and subtly humorous film as a children’s movie. They have wisely used this model several times over, which has led to their vast success. Inside Out, even more so than other Pixar films, is able to not only entertain kids, parents, and everyone in between (or just me in between), but also provide a powerful message about the power and role of emotions.

It is no coincidence that Inside Out is a movie entirely about emotions, mostly centered on Joy (Amy Poehler) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) because throughout the movie, at least the older portion of the audience goes on a journey of emotion as well, mostly between joy and sadness. As the protagonist Riley tries to adjust to her new life after moving from the comfort of her Minnesota home to San Francisco, we see how she and her emotions (Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust) handle the transition.

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Ex Machina (2015)

There’s this dude Nathan. He’s one of the few dudes onscreen in Ex Machina, the directorial debut of 28 Days Later and Sunshine scribe Alex Garland. Nathan is a walking paradox, even in the most perfunctory surface-level characterization of him as a hard-drinking frat boy who also happens to be a veritable technological genius. Caleb, his temporary intern of sorts, at one point compares him to Mozart — likely the first time a Mozart figure has ever spent so much time on abs and forearms. This straightforward incongruity in Nathan would only work with the right actor in his shoes, and Oscar Isaac is the right actor. A force in Inside Llewyn Davis and A Most Violent Year, Isaac is utterly convincing throughout Ex Machina. Nathan drains bottles of beer and vodka, yells at his maid, passes out drunk, wakes up to lift weights and beat his punching bag, and soon starts in on the beer and vodka again — and yet he’s always the smartest guy in the room by a longshot.

That somewhat superficial contradiction (or, for the purposes of a review of a film about artificial intelligence: that skin-deep, cosmetic, inorganic contradiction) is only the beginning of Nathan. Isaac is joined by Domhnall Gleeson as Caleb, the timid young coder brought to Nathan’s underground tech lair as ostensible winner of a contest to take part in a secret experiment (Isaac and Gleeson are also both in The Force Awakens later this year, which is doubly exciting after seeing Ex Machina). Together they deliberate Ava, Nathan’s advanced A.I. that not only walks exactly like a human and talks exactly like a human but thinks exactly like a human, too. What that means, exactly, is exactly what Ex Machina probes. Maybe. Spoilers follow.

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Leviathan (2014)

Leviathan is chilling. It’s many things, of course — it’s beautiful, stunningly shot by director Andrey Zvyagintsev and cinematographer Mikhail Krichman; it’s grand and sweeping, ceilingless in theme and character; it’s relevant, despite criticism by the Russian government regarding an “unpatriotic” message. But most of all Leviathan is hauntingly realistic, defiant of many of the plot developments one might expect from such a film. Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars (and arguably the frontrunner alongside Ida), Leviathan is also Russia’s first appearance at the Academy Awards in nearly a decade.

The plot stems from a land dispute between a corrupt town mayor and a family living by the seashore. After having been harassed by the mayor’s men, the short-fused patriarch Kolia brings in his friend Dmitri, now a lawyer in Moscow, to help fight the takeover. Dmitri digs up some dirt on the mayor that he thinks he can use — but in this tiny Northern town it seems everyone is dirty. Kolia’s life begins to unravel as he watches helplessly, and before long it’s not just his home that lies in jeopardy but his job, his wife, his son, his freedom.

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