Movie review: The Shape of Water

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of another awards movie. This is The Shape of Water!

IMDb summary: At a top secret research facility in the 1960s, a lonely janitor forms a unique relationship with an amphibious creature that is being held in captivity.

Writing

The Shape of Water was written by the director Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor (who wrote Divergent and the upcoming live-action Alladin and has also worked on Game of Thrones). I thought that the duo crafted a unique yet familiar love story. The characters – the mute woman and the creature – were the two things that made the conventional plot into an unconventional (subverted) and extraordinary one. It was interesting to see how Elisa’s disability made her more empathetic towards other individuals who were shunned by society (not only the creature but the (?)gay (he is never labeled in the movie) neighbor but the black co-worker). Her specific disability (being mute) and her gender (female) also had an interesting correlation with the idea of women being silenced/having no voice in that period (the 1960s – prior to the sexual revolution and the overt women’s rights movements).

The hints at the fact that the amphibian man was the one who hurt her as a child made for some fascinating implications in their relationship too. For one, that possibility (of him maybe having hurt her) and some of his other actions in the film made him seem as a creature in which goodness and destruction coexist (sort of like in humanity: Hawkins‘ character symbolizing the kindness and Shannon’s – the violence). The whole romantic relationship between the two characters was just so pure, even adorable and yet still slightly creepy. The picture didn’t shy away from the more questionable parts of the relationship (Beauty and the Beast never raised those kinds of questions) which was quite brave, in my mind, mostly in risking alienating the audience. The film’s ending was quite unexpected, to me, personally. I was assuming that the script will go the melancholic route – ‘if you love, let go’ – but The Shape of Water chose the hopeful/happy fairytale conclusion and finished on the note of love and unity. That was quite an escapist ending but it did fit the surreal quality of the film.

A few other notes on the writing. First, I loved this movie’s appreciation for cinema and creative arts in general (painting, drawing). I’ve always loved films which love (like me) and pay homage to other motion pictures (I’d love to live above the movie theatre). The second interesting point of writing that was somewhat divorced from the main love story was Michael Shannon’s arc and his character’s relation to the ideas of the male success and the expectations for such success. Failure was not an option for him and it is still not seen as a legitimate or appropriate part of the construction of masculinity, especially the white privileged form of masculinity.

Directing

Guillermo del Toro directed The Shape of Water and succeeded in crafting almost a spiritual sequel (an adult one) to Pan’s Labyrinth (while I have liked his more action-driven works like Hellboy and its sequel and Pacific Rim, his weirder creations (fantasy realism or realistic fantasies) were always more fascinating to me and that includes Crimson Peak). Anyways, speaking about this picture, I adored its mixed tonne. The Shape of Water was both a genre movie and a typical awards movie. It was an old-school monster thriller/horror movie (think the original Universal Monsters Universe, Creature from the Black Lagoon) as well as an old-school romantic drama with some shades of the theatrical musical or more than just shades in one particular sequence (think Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris, just recently La La Land). The adult tone that I’ve mentioned in the opening sentence was that fact that the film had sexual and sensual undertones that one would not find in a more family-friendly film, like Pan’s Labyrinth (though, both that movie and The Shape of Water were rated R, so maybe Pan’s Labyrinth isn’t that all-ages appropriate as I remember).

Visually, the film looked stunning. The 1960s world of science was well realized (stellar production design) and the underwater sequences at the beginning and the end of the film were amazing (top-notch cinematography). The movie’s and the main character’s relationship to water was realized so cleverly and beautifully too. The costume design and the makeup were impeccable as well: the monster looked incredibly real.

Acting

Sally Hawkins (Paddington 2) delivered a brilliant performance that shined through the limited means of expression, a.k.a., she was amazing, even though, she barely said any lines. She seemed so endearing and had such a complex interplay innocence and maturity about her. And, although she was so great in the film, part of me wishes that the role would have been given to am an actually mute actress – I’d love to see more opportunities being extended to actors with disabilities (or special abilities). The TV show Switched at Birth has taught me that there are quite a few mute and deaf actors working in the business.

Doug Jones (a longtime collaborator of del Toro, currently part of the main cast of Star Trek: Discoveryor the Andy Serkis of practical costumes/effects was great as the creature and was definitely more than able to act through all that rubber. Michael Shannon (12 Strong, Nocturnal Animals, Loving) was also fascinating to watch even when though he played a very despicable character. Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures, Allegiant) also had some fun scenes, while Richard Jenkins was amazing as the neighbor. Michael Stuhlbarg also had a small role in the film (and applause go to him and his agent for having three awards movie this season – The Shape of Water, Call Me By Your Name, and The Post – that join numerous other awards movies in his filmography, including the recent ones: Steve Jobs, Trumbo, and Arrival).

In short, The Shape of Water was one of those movies that made me go ‘huh?!’ and made me unsure what to feel (or think) in the best way possible.

Rate: 4,8/5

Trailer: The Shape of Water trailer

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Movie review: Darkest Hour

Movie reviews

Hello!

I’ve finally found time to watch Gary Oldman’s Oscar picture Darkest Hour and this is my review.

IMDb summary: During the early days of World War II, the fate of Western Europe hangs on the newly-appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who must decide whether to negotiate with Hitler or fight on against incredible odds.

Before we start discussing this film, let me link you to another Churchill biography from 2017 titled, surprise surprise, Churchill. That film focused on the closing moments of WW2 (in contrast to this movie, which explores the opening chapters of it). Also, if you want more context for Darkest Hour, you can watch Dunkirk, also from 2017: the events in that film happen at the same time as the ones in Darkest Hour.

Writing

Darkest Hour was written by Anthony McCarten (writer and producer of The Theory of Everything and a novelist) and he did a spectacular job writing for the character of Churchill (less of a stellar job constructing the story of a film but, then again, the character was the story in the case of this movie).

Churchill was presented as a complex and layered figure, one that had both flaws and redeeming features. He was basically the last choice for the position of PM and, yet he became the hero of the nation and half of the Western world. He came from a privileged background (didn’t even know the correct hand gestures) and, yet was also the man of the people (the underground scene was a great visualization of his transition from being the PM for the government to being the PM of the people). He was also a patriot through and through and, yet he decided to lie to his nation (is there ever a good enough cause to withhold the truth?). He also has worked with people with diverging opinions and personalities all his life and, yet have never really learned to comprise. In addition to being a leader, who deeply felt the loss of his troops (the fact that it is the leader’s main objective to bear the loss is as true in real life as it is in fiction, a.k.a. The Last Jedi), he was also a husband and a father, who sacrificed his family life for the public one. And yet, Churchill’s and his wife Clementine’s relationship was portrayed as a very loving and caring one. The moments of confrontation were present in it too, but the shared feeling between the two individuals was love, at its purest.

The screenwriter also did a very good job with the inclusion of Churchill’s actual speeches into the film. However, while those speeches were truly inspirational, especially the final one, probably not one of the initial listeners (other politicians) were that inspired to do any actual fighting. The scriptwriter also wrote some brilliant dialogue for Churchill and King George VI (yup, the one from The King’s Speech – this is a well cinematized period of the British history) – I especially liked the King’s change of heart moment. Darkest Hour also explored or hinted at some of the wider implications of war. The moment with Churchill calling Franklin D. Roosevelt was a perfect signal of the reversal of fortunes of the former colony and the empire. Speaking about the empire: every WW2 (or any war) movies I watch raise me a question: is there ever the good side in the war? Yes, Hitler was a monster but the British Empire was an empire, that oppressed millions of people around the globe for way longer than Hitler was in power. How do count who is worse? By human loss? By time? By subjective and personal evaluation? Lastly, some historical events portrayed in the film, when put in contemporary context, made me chuckle ironically, like the fact that the majority of the British politicians were ready to compromise, while they are not known for their ability to do the same nowadays (*cough, cough*, Brexit).

Directing

Joe Wright (of such literary adaptations as Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, and Anna Karenina and mainstream missteps as Pan) tackled the Churchill biopic and was quite successful. Darkest Hour was truly a character piece, and a specific glimpse into, rather than a full-on recreation of a historical event. I loved how the camera’s focus was always on Churchill and how he occupied the center of the frame most of the time (I loved the images where Churchill was framed in doors, windows, rooms). I also thought that the drama was constructed quite well, though a film did felt a bit long. Lastly, I reached a sort of a personal epiphany that probably wasn’t intended by the director, when watching the picture. Seeing all the rooms of white old men in the positions of power was all good and appropriate for a historical drama but as soon as I saw them, I had a sad realization that this image has changed very little in the governments of today.

Acting

Gary Oldman (The Hitman’s Bodyguard was his last film – what a step-up in quality this one is) absolutely nailed the titular character. He fully transformed himself into Winston Churchill. While the physical transformation (the make-up and the prosthetics) were impressive, what I found most intriguing (and transformative) about Oldman’s performance was his demeanor, emotional intensity, and his way of speaking. I also appreciated the fact that Oldman played Churchill as a real person rather than a historical figure. By treating Churchill as a person, Oldman (and the director) found room for humor and sarcasm within the character – two things that don’t really come across in the history textbooks. Oldman has won every major acting award so far, thus, an Oscar win is almost a sure bet too.

Kristin Scott Thomas (The Party) brought warmth and strength to Clementine Churchill, while Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One) was really good as King George VI and portrayed the royal as a real person rather than a larger than life figure too. Lily James (Cinderella, Baby Driver) was good as the secretary Elizabeth Layton but her character wasn’t really necessary for the film. Also, I feel like a secretary type of character (with either a boyfriend or a family member being at war or in another kind of peril) has been included in alongside portrayal of Churchill: e.g. Ella Purnell played PM’s secretary in Churchill, while Kate Phillips played one on The Crown. Lastly, Ronald Pickup and Stephen Dillane were good as the two main antagonists of Churchill: Neville Chamberlain and Edward Wood, 3rd Viscount Halifax, respectively.

In short, Darkest Hour was a brilliant character piece that featured a truly magnificent performance by Gary Oldman.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Darkest Hour trailer

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The Awards Season Round-Up 2017

Movie previews, Movie reviews

Hello!

With the Oscars happening tomorrow and the 2017 awards season coming to a close, I decided to do my own annual awards round-up type of a post.

Like I did last year (2016 round-up), I have combined the nominees from the various awards shows. Although the Oscar nominees make up the basis for all the categories, I have also added nominees from the Golden Globes, the Critics Choice Awards, the BAFTAs and the various guild awards (SAG, DGA, PGA, WGA) that the Academy overlooked. I allowed myself up to 10 nominees in every category except the best picture one – it was expanded to 12. I have not only noted my personal winners in each category but I also ranked all the runner-ups. Below, I have also written down my guesses of who will actually win an Academy Award in each category, because my subjective preferences not necessarily fit my more objective picks. Lastly, all the full reviews of the movies have also been linked.

Best Picture:

  1. Hidden Figures
  2. Arrival
  3. Hacksaw Ridge
  4. La La Land
  5. Hell or High Water
  6. Manchester by the Sea
  7. Moonlight
  8. The Lobster
  9. Nocturnal Animals
  10. Fences
  11. Lion
  12. Sully

The objective pick: While I’d be very happy if any of my top 3 films win the big award of the night, neither of them will. Best Picture will probably go to La La Land. Moonlight is my other guess.

Best Lead Actor:

  1. Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
  2. Denzel Washington – Fences
  3. Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
  4. Collin Farrel – The Lobster
  5. Ryan Gosling – La La Land
  6. Chris Pine – Hell or High Water
  7. Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
  8. Joel Edgerton – Loving
  9. Tom Hanks – Sully

The objective pick: the top three frontrunners for the award are Affleck, Gosling, and Washington. Gosling would be my choice because of the wide variety of skills required for his particular role (playing piano, dancing, and singing on top of acting).

Best Lead Actress:

  1. Isabelle Huppert – Elle
  2. Taraji P. Henson – Hidden Figures
  3. Ruth Negga – Loving
  4. Natalie Portman – Jackie
  5. Emma Stone – La La Land
  6. Amy Adamas – Arrival/Nocturnal Animals
  7. Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins
  8. Emily Blunt – The Girl on the Train

The objective pick: My personal winners – Huppert, Portman, and Stone – are the frontrunners for the Oscar. Stone will most likely take it even though Huppert does have a chance of stealing it. Portman deserves the win as well but she already has an Oscar.

Best Supporting Actor:

  1. Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
  2. Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
  3. Aaron Taylor-Johnson – Nocturnal Animals
  4. Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
  5. Dev Patel – Lion
  6. Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals
  7. Simon Helberg – Florence Foster Jenkins
  8. Hugh Grant – Florence Foster Jenkins

The objective pick: Ali should win this one. Patel, coming off of BAFTA win, might prove to be a legit competitor. Bridges or Hedges could also possibly steal the win.

Best Supporting Actress:

  1. Viola Davis – Fences
  2. Janelle Monae – Hidden Figures
  3. Naomie Harris – Moonlight
  4. Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
  5. Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea
  6. Nicole Kidman – Lion

The objective pick: this is one of the two categories, where my subjective and objective choices are one and the same. Davis has won all the important awards up until now and it is obviously her time to finally get an Oscar.

Best Director:

  1. Damien Chazelle – La La Land
  2. Denis Villeneuve – Arrival
  3. Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge
  4. Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
  5. Tom Ford – Nocturnal Animals
  6. Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
  7. David Mackenzie – Hell or High Water
  8. Denzel Washington – Fences
  9. Garth Davis – Lion

The objective pick: the other category, where the objective and subjective winners coincide. Chazelle did a great job directing La La Land and, even if the film wasn’t my favorite of the year, his excellent work should be rewarded.

Best Original Screenplay:

  1. Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou – The Lobster
  2. Taylor Sheridan – Hell or High Water
  3. Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
  4. Damien Chazelle – La La Land
  5. John Carney – Sing Street

The objective pick: La La Land has won a few screenwriting awards but, if it wins the Academy Award, I will be furious. The story was the weakest part of the film and I’ll, genuinely, be happy if any other picture wins.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

  1. Eric Heisserer – Arrival
  2. Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi – Hidden Figures
  3. August Wilson – Fences
  4. Tom Ford – Nocturnal Animals
  5. Jeff Nichols – Loving
  6. Luke Davies – Lion
  7. Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney – Moonlight
  8. Todd Komarnicki – Sully

The objective pick: This category has the most equal race. Honestly, any nominated film deserves it. The Academy might give this win to Hidden Figures as they probably not gonna give it any other awards.

Best Animated Feature: 

  1. Zootopia
  2. Kubo and the Two Strings
  3. Moana
  4. Sing
  5. Finding Dory
  6. Trolls

The objective pick: I haven’t seen the 2 indie picture that were nominated but, that doesn’t really matter because Zootopia will take the win, as it should.

I hope you enjoyed flicking through my list of winners. Are you planning on watching the big show tomorrow or are you just gonna check who wins online, like I’m planning to do?

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5 ideas about a movie: Moonlight 

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to probably the last review of the awards season. Today, we are discussing the frontrunner Moonlight!

IMDb summary: A timeless story of human self-discovery and connection, the film chronicles the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami.

  1. Moonlight was written and directed by Barry Jenkins, based on a play ‘In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue’ by Tarell Alvin McCraney. Jenkins made his directorial debut in 2008, with the critically acclaimed indie romantic drama Medicine for Melancholy. Moonlight is only his second feature film.
  2. At its core, Moonlight is a coming of age story. However, it is a coming of age story like no other because it focuses on an individual that the mainstream media would rather forget – a poor black gay boy/teenager/man. And yet, even if a viewer’s identity falls on the other side of the spectrum, the movie still has universal appeal. The family problems, bullying, finding a life path for oneself, dealing with emotions, learning to forgive and reconnect – these are all topics of widespread appeal. The more personal issues of sexual identity and masculinity are also present. The picture paints a complex picture – it asserts that only an individual can decide who he/she wants to be, but also undermines this statement by showing a stereotypical outcome for the character of this background. Lastly, the film provides interesting commentary on the LGBTQ+ position within the black community.
  3. For such a progressive and modern movie, Moonlight has a very striking traditional structure – the film is divided into vignettes, like some movies from the past. Jenkins manages to create a deeply personal almost documentary-like feeling for the film. The long slow takes in the first part of the movie allow this story to unfold at its own pace, while the shaky and fast closeups in the other parts of the picture create a sense of disorientation and intimacy. Some pretty standard techniques, like the over the shoulder shots for the dialogue, are also implemented.
  4. In the first part of the film, the main character of Chiron, played by Alex Hibbert, takes on a passive role in order for Mahershala Ali’s Juan – the drug dealer mentor of Chiron – to shine. Juan is even the first characters that the viewer is introduced to. Ali has been getting a lot of recognition for his work in this film and that’s happening for a reason. Although he only appears in a handful of scenes, both his characters and the actor himself leave a striking mark on the picture. Juan, the drug dealer, seems to be the only positive influence on Chiron and they form a student/mentor type of relationship. The scene in which Juan teaches Chirton to swim is just beautiful. The question arises why would a Juan care for this child? Maybe because he saw a part of himself in the little boy?
  5. The teenager Chiron is portrayed by Ashton Sanders, while the adult Chiron is played by Trevante Rhodes. Rhodes does an absolutely incredible job in the third part of the film and I wish that his performance would have been rewarded much more. Nevertheless, this film really helped him to breakthrough into the business, as he was just cast in a mainstream movie – 2018’s The Predator. Janelle Monáe also appears in the film as the truth mother figure for Chiron. Her career has also kicked off to a good start – she starred in not one but two awards contenders in 2016, other being Hidden Figures. Naomie Harris also plays a small role of the actual birth mother of Chiron. Although the role is a bit stereotypical, Harris does a brilliant job. She has also probably hoped to be in 2 awards contender this year. She also recently acted in Collateral Beauty, which was supposed to be an awards movie, but that film did not materialize at all.

In short, Moonlight is a well-written and nicely directed personal story that takes the framework of a coming of age narrative and tells a unique story about an individual who has been relegated to the fringes of society for too long.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Moonlight trailer

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Movie review: Hidden Figures

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of a movie that would have been on my Top 10 films of 2016 if I have seen it before the end of the year (when will the studios realize the benefits of the global day-in-day releases?). This is Hidden Figures!

IMDb summary: Based on a true story. A team of African-American women provide NASA with important mathematical data needed to launch the program’s first successful space missions.

Similarly to Loving and Fences, Hidden Figures is a different kind of movie that spotlights the African-American talent. It’s set during the civil rights movements but doesn’t directly relate to it, even if some of the movement’s ideas are addressed in the film in a really powerful way. This movie also stands out as one of the major female-driven films of the awards season. It has been praised by critics but most importantly it managed to debut at the top of the box office list in the US, meaning that a lot of mainstream moviegoers saw it!

Writing

Hidden Figures was written by Allison Schroeder and the director of the picture Theodore Melfi, based on the book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly. I absolutely adored the film’s story. I knew about Katherine Goble Johnson before seeing the film (thank you, SciShow on Youtube) but I loved getting to know more about her as well as other African-American women working at NASA. I immensely enjoyed seeing all the different parts of NASA (the 3 of them worked in different departments – calculations, engineering, and computing) and the space race through their distinct perspective. It was actually really interesting to finally see a Cold War movie that didn’t focus on the local conflicts in Vietnam, Korea or Berlin, but a one which looked at the more passive but no less interesting space race.

In addition, I liked that not only the professional but also the private lives of the 3 main characters were presented. This made them all into more well-rounded and realistic characters. Hidden Figures’ writing also focused a lot on the importance of education, portraying it as a key to a better life. I have always been a strong believer of this statement, so the film automatically appealed to me. It was also quite cool that the picture underlined the importance of mathematics, as it is usually the most hated subjects in school (I actually quite liked it). The film’s story, even though set in 1960s, was also contemporary and very topical, if you think about its possible relation to the Women in STEM program.

Lastly, Hidden Figures tackled all kinds of discrimination, mainly sexism and racism but also general discrimination in the work place. Even though half a century has passed, all of these types of bullying are still happening today and should be stopped. Hidden Figures contributes to this conversation by a lot. And even though the film deals with serious topics, it still ends on a positive note and has a very satisfying ending. Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary are not just heroes to all girls or African-Americans. They should be idols to all underdogs and, let’s be frank, we are all underdogs in one field or another.

Directing

Hidden Figures was directed by Theodore Melfi and he did a superb job with his 2nd feature (St.Vincent was his directorial debut). The movie was balanced and well-paced, both entertaining and intellectually engaging. It was compelling, suspenseful, and intense and these feelings were only strengthened by the fact that it told a real and not a fictional story. The picture had a few very powerful scenes, like Taraji P.Henson’s character’s speech about the bathroom discrimination as well as Janelle Monáe’s courtroom speech. The film also has a few more personal and touching moments to counteract the powerful and serious scenes, like Mahershala Ali’s character’s proposal to Taraji P. Henson character.

Hidden Figures also had a magnificent soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams (he also produced the film), and Benjamin Wallfisch. It was upbeat and fun and really helped to lighten up the serious mood of the picture. When watching the film, I didn’t know who composed the movie’s music, but now, seeing who was involved, I’m not at all surprised that I liked the soundtrack. I mean, Hans Zimmer and Pharrell Williams!? Such a great combo of class and pop!

Acting

The three leading ladies of the film were played by Taraji P.Henson (Empire), Octavia Spencer (The Help, Snowpiercer, Zootopia, Divergent) and the newcomer Janelle Monáe. I absolutely loved the individual performances of all the actresses as well as their chemistry in the group scenes. In my mind, the cast is the film’s strongest element so it is not surprising that the movie received a lot of SAG nominations. Octavia Spencer has been getting the majority of the recognition but I would have preferred if they would have spotlighted Taraji P. Henson in the lead actress category instead. Spencer already had her big win with The Help andmore importantly, I thought that Henson’s performance was stronger. If the voters wanted to only reward the film’s in the supporting actress category (like they are doing now),  Janelle Monáe should have received a nomination instead of Octavia Spencer. Monáe is a true breakout star of 2016, as she was also in Moonlight. Don’t get me wrong, Spencer was great too but it would have just been nice to reward the other two actresses as well or instead.

The picture also has a splendid array of secondary characters who were brought to life by great actors. Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons played a familiar role (he can’t seem to escape the nerdy scientist part) and did a great job. His character was the one that bullied Katherine the most, but I think that he would have been jealous of anyone. Sadly, Katherine’s gender and skin color made her an easy target. Kirsten Dunst (Midnight Special) also played a part in the film and had an amazing line that just summed up the movie perfectly. I, of course, mean her statement about how the USA are fast to space but slow when it comes to the progress on the ground. Mahershala Ali, who was in Moonlight too, also had a small role and did a nice job. The mainstream audiences know him best from Luke Cage, so his career, both the mainstream and the indie parts of it, are on the rise. Lastly, even Kevin Costner (Draft Day, McFarland, USAdelivered his best and the most interesting performance in years.

In short, Hidden Figures was an excellent film that told an important and fascinating story but did that in an entertaining way. The movie was really well-made behind the scenes and it also had the best on-screen ensemble I’ve seen in a couple of years.

Rate: 4.8/5

Trailer: Hidden Figures trailer

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Movie review: Jackie

Movie reviews

Hi!

Welcome to a review of the best 1960s film made in the 21st century. It’s Jackie.

IMDb summary: Following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy fights through grief and trauma to regain her faith, console her children, and define her husband’s historic legacy.

Writing and Acting: the main character and the lead actress

Like I did in the review of Elle, I’m going to combine the writing and the acting parts of this review because like Isabelle Huppert and Elle, Jackie and Natalie Portman are inseparable. Also, when watching Elle, I was sure that Huppert will take the Oscar for playing the titular character. Now, having seen Portman’s performance, I’m not that sure. Honestly, I’d be happy if either of them wins because they both deserve it. Portman already has an Academy Award for Black Swan, while it would be the first one for Huppert.

Anyways, let’s focus on Jackie. The picture’s screenplay was written by Noah Oppenheim who previously wrote some so-so YA adaptations, like The Maze Runner and Allegiant. I can’t actually comprehend how he could be the one who wrote all of these differents scripts. Not only are these films all very varied but the quality of the writing also differs drastically, with Jackie, obviously, being his best script yet. He did win ‘Best Screenplay Award’ at the 73rd Venice International Film Festival for it, so that should tell you all you need to know.

Speaking of the writing in more detail, the picture’s narrative was located in a limited timeframe and had a deep focus on the specific events. The movie was structured as a real-time interview with incorporated flashbacks. It portrayed Jackie as a complex and multifaceted individual. The differences between her public and private persona and between the pre-incident and post-incident Jackie were just fascinating to watch.

I’ve always imagined Jacqueline Kennedy as being sort of innocent, poised, and feminine figure. However, in truth, she was very much a strong-willed individual whose public appearances were always performative. Especially after the assassination, there seemed to be a certain amount of bitterness in her being that might have risen from the feelings of self-guilt. Her relationship with her husband was certainly not easy, with JFK having multiple affairs, but, in the end, she did love him and witnessed him being murdered in her arms. The film also raised the political questions of legacy (both hers and his) and also commented on the famous Camelot parable, but also showed Jackie’s more personal side through her adoration of arts and history, so kudos to the scriptwriter for showing multiple sides of the character/the real person. However, it was Natalie Portman who carried this movie and absolutely nailed the performance. The way she manipulated the different layers of the character and the way she transformed her look, behavior and speech were just magnificent to watch. Jackie would go from episodes of almost panic to showing imaginable strength in a heartbeat, so Portman was able to display a wide variety of her acting skills. She played Jackie as so much more than merely a President’s wife because she was indeed so much more than just that.

Directing

A Chilean director  Pablo Larraín, with whose previous work I’m sadly not familiar with, directed Jackie and did a spectacular job. I loved the temporarily appropriate aspect ratio and the whole old-school feeling of the film. The documentary-like handheld camera work for the flashbacks and the steady mostly 180° shots for the interview sequences also worked. The fact that the interview was shot from the straight-on perspective made the actors’ performances even more effective. The viewers could feel like Jackie was basically speaking directly to them/at them. The filmmakers’ choices of music were also interesting (soundtrack by Mica Levi). The instrumental theme of the picture was very classic with a slightly modern edge. A few moments of it reminded me of the sounds one would hear in a neo-noir thriller.

The supporting cast

The secondary roles of the film (as famous as the role of Jackie herself) were played by moderately known actors. Peter Sarsgaard starred as Robert F. Kennedy, Greta Gerwig played Nancy Tuckerman, Billy Crudup was Theodore H. White/The Journalist, and John Hurt appeared as Father Richard McSorley. The casting director also did a good job in finding an actor who looked quite similar to JFKCaspar Phillipson. Granted, he appeared in only a handful of scenes, but since everybody knows how JFK looked in real life, it was nice to see the picture trying to be as accurate and as seamlessly realistic as possible.

In short, Jackie was a great personal biopic that showed the complexities of the JFK’s assassination’s aftermath and neatly spotlighted the woman who was in the middle of all of it – Jacqueline Kennedy (Onassis)Portman’s performance as the titular character was just brilliant and spectacular.

Rate: 4.2/5

Trailer: Jackie trailer

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Movie review: Lion

Movie reviews

Good day!

Another potential awards contender – the motion picture Lion – has landed in the UK cinemas, so, let’s review it!

IMDb summary: A five-year-old Indian boy gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia; 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family.

Writing

The biographical drama Lion was written by Luke Davies (an Australian film critic, novelist, and poet) based on the memoir ‘A Long Way Home’ by  Saroo Brierley
(co-written by Larry Buttrose). The film’s narrative is divided into two parts. The first hour- long story revolves around the child Saroo. The viewer gets to see Saroo’s relationships with his birth mother, sister, and brother; and witnesses the unfortunate accident of him getting lost and trying to survive alone and away from home. This first-half of the movie is very well written: the audiences are able to form a bond with the main character and become emotionally invested in the boy’s journey.

Lion then flashes 20 years forward: Saroo is now an adult and lives with his adoptive parents in Australia. This part of the film is not as solid when it comes to writing as the first part. To begin with, the audiences don’t get to see a lot of Saroo’s life as an adult, so his change of heart (from not caring about his birth family to desperately trying to find them) seems a bit sudden. A few extra scenes, maybe showing a different stage in his life, like the teenage years, would have helped to solidify the fact that he never really felt at home in Australia and always wanted to find his family. The second part of the narrative also has two other important storylines which don’t get enough of screentime. First one is Saroo’s relationships with his adoptive mother and his adoptive brother (who might have a mental illness?) and the second one is Saroo’s relationship with his on-and-off-again girlfriend. Both of these plotlines had to be included in the film (bio-dramas try to be as accurate as possible) but I wish that they would have been given more screen time because that would have made them more compelling. Maybe the movie could have been 15 minutes longer or maybe the first story could have been shortened by the same amount (if they wanted to keep the film at 2h).

Even though I have found some problems with the technical structure of the narrative, I found the narrative itself to be very interesting and fascinating. The fact that the modern technologies actually brought people together instead of separating them was just amazing. In general, the whole Saroo’s story was both heartbreaking and hopeful. It had more than a few tear-jerker moments, especially at the end. The inclusion of real-life counterparts of the characters was nice too.

From the anthropological perspective (sorry, I can’t turn it off, if you study anthropology you are basically living it), the film was also very valuable. It mostly felt like a documentary with a higher budget and a fancier production design. Nevertheless, the ideas on privilege and poverty and on the adoption across countries/cultures are just two of the concepts that could be considered in an anthropological discussion in relation to this film.

Directing

An Australian TV and commercial director Garth Davis made his very successful feature film directorial debut with Lion. I loved how he realized the shots of the nature of India. That whole opening sequence was just beautiful and very classic. The pacing could have been neater but it didn’t bother me much. Basically, if this was his first motion picture, I can’t wait to see what he will do next.

Also, on a side note, guess whose song was playing during the credits. If you said Sia, you either read my blog a lot or just go to the movies a lot. Sia wrote a song called ‘Never Give Up’ specifically for this film. Her songs have also been used in Sing, Star Trek Beyond, The Shallows, The Neon Demon, and Finding Dory. You will also be able to hear her during Fifty Shades Darker.

Acting

Dev Patel played Saroo in the second half of the film and did an amazing job. After seeing the film, I finally realized why he is being nominated in the supporting actor category, even though he is playing the lead. Well, the answer is simple – he only plays the lead during the second hour of the film, while the viewer spends the first hour with a 5-year-old Saroo played by an adorable child actor Sunny Pawar. So, on the whole, if we add up Patel’s scenes, his screentime probably comes closer to that of a supporting rather than a lead role. Anyways, despite the fact that he is not in the first half of the film, Patel delivers his best performance yet. He has really matured as an actor since the days of Slumdog Millionaire. His best scenes that were most likely included in his awards reels were  1. the montage in which he finally reaches the breakthrough on Google Earth. The way he whispers ‘Mum’ is just breathtaking. And 2. the final meeting sequence – he showed a lot of acting skills in that one too.

Moving forward, I would love to see Patel cast in a racially blind role, meaning that I would like to see him playing a character whose ethnicity is not his main character trait. Up until this point, Patel played characters whose ethnicity was really important character feature, like in Slumdog Millionaire, The Man Who Knew Infinity and even The Exotic Marigold Hotel films. I’d like to see him take on roles similar to the one he had on Chappie, but it looks like that is not on the horizon, as his next film is also India-centric and based on true events – Hotel Mumbai.

The picture’s supporting cast also delivered brilliant performances. Rooney Mara (Carol) starred as Saroo’s girlfriend and was great in the few scenes she had. David Wenham (recognized him faster than another LOTR alumni – Viggo Mortensen in Captain Fantastic) appeared briefly as Saroo’s adoptive dad but it’s Nicole Kidman as Saroo’s adoptive mother who stole all the attention in their scenes together. Lion also spotlighted some lesser known (in the West) Indian talent (as it should): Abhishek Bharate, Divian LadwaPriyanka BoseDeepti NavalTannishtha Chatterjee, and Nawazuddin Siddiqui all co-starred and did a great job with their limited screentime.

In summary, Lion was a lovely picture with an amazing story at its core. Sadly, this story was not represent as cohesively and compellingly as it could have been. However, the flaws in writing were covered up with great directing and amazing acting performances.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Lion trailer

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Movie review: Manchester By The Sea

Movie reviews

Hello!

Since the awards’ season is finally in full swing, let’s review one of its frontrunners – Manchester By The Sea!

IMDb summary: An uncle is asked to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies.

Writing

Kenneth Lonergan, who I only knew as the screenwriter behind Scorcese’s Gangs of New York, both wrote and directed Manchester By The Sea. I really enjoyed the narrative that he came up with for this film. First of all, I liked the setting choice – the majority of movies (both indie and mainstream ones) that I’ve seen tend to focus on either the huge urban metropolises of the USA or on the stereotypical rural south, so it was refreshing to see an American movie set in just a normal and mundane city of Manchester that wasn’t super big but also was not just a small town in the middle of nowhere.

In addition, I liked the fact that the film’s mundane focus, like the logistics of daily life, were treated with respect and importance because these things are important even if we don’t think about them as such. The big reveal of the past tragedy was unexpected and completely horrifying, but it allowed the film to explore the themes of guilt, of feeling like one should have been punished and of not being able to forget. Speaking about the last theme, I loved that the resolution of the movie was that one does not necessarily have to forget, no big revelations has to come in the end. Sometimes, it is better to just live.

Other few topical points that the movie made were 1. the portrayal of the worker as present in people’s lives without being seen and 2. that the showing of emotions is a positive thing and not a sign of weakness. From this review or the trailers, you might think that this film is really depressing and sad and it is that in part (it is also sometimes uncomfortable and unsettling), however, it also has a few lighter moments that arise from the daily lives of the characters and that give hope to the future and hope is the only thing that makes our lives, as well as these character’s lives, better.

Directing

Lonergan’s directing was as great as his writing. I loved the almost documentary-like feeling of the picture and the slow but engaging pace. The steady camera shots brought a classic aspect to the film while the play between the offscreen and onscreen space modernized it. The sea or the ocean wasn’t as big of a character in the movie as I expected it to be, but it was always present in the background and kinda characterized the city without overbearing it. I also really enjoyed the soundtrack by Lesley Barber. The sacral gospel-like numbers and the tunes by a string orchestra really elevated the atmosphere of the picture.

Acting

Casey Affleck (Triple 9, The Finest Hours, Gone Baby Gone) played the main character in the film and did a magnificent job. His brilliant performance has already been rewarded with a Golden Globe and a Critics’ Choice Award. He will, most likely, take both the SAG and the Oscar in the Best Lead Actor category. Casey has always tried to stay out of the spotlight but I think that it is gonna be quite hard to do that moving forward. I wonder if he is going to follow in his brother’s Ben’s footsteps and do something really mainstream (although Ben Affleck is probably regretting that he took on the role of Batman as the critics just can’t stop picking on his films both the mainstream and the indie ones).

Speaking more about his performance in Manchester By The Sea – it was truly brilliant. He portrayed the social reservedness/awkwardness and almost the emotionless of the character just perfectly. The past tragedy of the character could also always be felt in the appearance/the behavior of the actor. Affleck also played the character as a realistic drunk and not an over the top one (similarly to Emily Blunt in The Girl on The Train). The overall performance seemed to be of low energy but it was actually very subtly powerful.

Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine, My Week with Marilynstarred as the main character’s ex-wife and, even though she only appeared in the handful of scenes, she did a spectacular job. Similarly to Affleck’s, her performance was grounded and silently persuasive. My favorite scene of the film was William’s and Affleck’s characters’ encounter in the street – it wasn’t an easy or a pleasant scene to watch but it just allowed the acting skills of both actors to truly shine and that’s why it was my favorite.

Lucas Hedges, to whom Manchester By The Sea was a breakthrough film, played the teenager nephew of Affleck’s character and was really good too. I liked the fact that his character was written as a realistic teenager that could both be in a band and on a hockey team, both have girlfriend(s) and like Star Trek.

Kyle Chandler and C.J. Wilson also played two small supporting roles and did a great job with their limited screentime.

In short, Manchester By The Sea was a great picture with nice writing and directing. However, the acting was the thing that made it stand out from other films.

Rate: 4,5/5

Trailer: Manchester By The Sea trailer

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Movie review: Elle

Movie reviews

Hello!

The awards season is usually dominated by American and British films, while the non-English language pictures tend to be relegated to the Best Foreign Film Category. However, sometimes a movie escapes this section and gets wider recognition. The French language films (or pictures made by the French) are the ones that succeed at this the most often (The Artist, Amour) and 2016’s Elle is hoping to one of them.

IMDb summary: A successful businesswoman gets caught up in a game of cat and mouse as she tracks down the unknown man who raped her.

Writing and Acting: The main character and the lead actress

Elle is getting the most recognition for the performance of the lead actress – Isabelle Huppert. The film’s story revolves solely around her as the titular character. At first glance, the movie appears to be just another rape victim story that so often gets reduced to just being the awards bait for great actresses (like Downton Abbey’s rape plotline for Joanne Froggatt’s character). However, the character of Elle is so much more than a rape victim: she is complex and multifaceted and so much more than just the victim of her incident. The great Isabelle Huppert meticulously maneuvers this labyrinth of character traits and delivers a mesmerizing performance. And even though I would love for the Academy, the various guilds, and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association to recognize actresses that play more contemporary strong female characters, I cannot be that mad at them for rewarding Huppert, as she both conforms to the needs of this traditional role and also confronts them.

Now, let’s go over the writing for the main character in more detail. The script was penned by David Birke, based on the novel ‘Oh…’ by Philippe Djian. While I did not necessarily agree with all of their ideas, the film’s writing certainly raised questions.

  1. The fact that the female character is reluctant to speak out and treats the whole situation almost nonchalantly does not set the best example. The romanticization of the rape (Stockholme Syndrome) could also be seen as a problematic or at least a controversial choice.
  2. And yet, I applaud the film for being open about women’s sexual lives. This topic is becoming less and less of a taboo, especially, when films like Fifty Shades of Grey are being made, are seen by many, and then are discussed online (even if not in the most productive way).
  3. While the role of a rape victim might appear as a very traditional female role, the film’s complex commentary on rape and consent is really contemporary and extremely relevant.
  4. The background writing for the main character is super unique too because the female lead is portrayed as working in the field of video games. I don’t think I can name another film with a female character working in such a stereotypically male field.
  5. The personal background of the main character is super rich too. All the different relationships are super complex and interesting separately but the interconnectivity of them is the thing that makes them realistic and even more interesting. The father-daughter relationship affects mother-daughter relationship, while the friendship between the two co-workers suffers because of the cheating.
  6. The fact that the main female character is open to the idea of having multiple lovers and at least a dozen of admirers (employees) was not only a fresh development in the portrayal of female characters but also makes it more believable that this silence and nonchalance would be the way for her to deal with the incident (even if I don’t personally agree with her decisions).
  7. The fact that her father was a murderer and that she might also have violent tendencies adds another interesting layer to the character. Her jealousy and selfishness that would sometimes result in despicable and frankly creepy actions made it hard to see her as a victim but I also think that this might have been a conscious choice. This might show that bad things happen to bad people too or that the victimization or the sainthood of the victims are fickle facades that might not actually be true.

Directing

A well known Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven, best known to the mainstream audiences as the man behind such films, like Total Recall and Showgirls, directed Elle and did a magnificent job. He unfolds this story brilliantly: the viewer is dropped into the film’s world straight up, without any set-up. The rape is showed in the first sequence and later on revisited and showed from different perspective and angles to not only enhance its effect but also to show the different outcomes of it. The whole ‘cat and mouse’ game is also realized neatly: it is slow but suspenseful and intense. The film is truly a psychological thriller with some elements of a great scary movie. It reminds me of Gone Girl, The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, and Panic Room. And yet, it differs from these American films in its atmosphere: European films always seem realistically glamorous instead of being cinematically glamorous. The level of sophistication is also much higher.

Supporting Cast

The film has an extensive supporting cast full of European talent. The secondary roles are filled by Christian BerkelAnne ConsignyVirginie EfiraLaurent LafitteCharles Berling, Alice IsaazJudith Magre, Jonas Bloquet, Vimala Pons and Lucas Prisor and all of them do a fabulous job.

To conclude, Elle is either empowering or subversive and either traditional or contemporary (or both in both cases) film with a complex female lead who is brought to life by the astonishing Isabelle Huppert whose performance is subtle and restrained but still extremely powerful.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Elle trailer

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The Awards Season Round-Up 2016

Movie previews, Movie reviews

Hello Hello Hello!

Welcome to the last (finally) post dedicated to the awards’ season. This time, I won’t be reviewing any nominated motion pictures (I have done that already), but I  will tell you my own personal winners and will list all the others films in a very subjective order in each category. I am listing all the films because it was very hard for me to pick a definite number 1 spot. In addition, a lot of these films would have probably made my Best movies of 2015 list if I had seen them before January 1st, so I feel the need to at least mention them here.

Now, my categories won’t have a definite number of spaces in them. I have actually picked 20 films in total that have been nominated for either a Golden Globe, a SAG, a BAFTA, an Oscar or for all 4.  Also, I will be joining adapted and original screenplay categories into one. The distinction between lead and supporting roles will also be treated subjectively and not necessarily the way that the studios wanted. At the end of each category, I will also give my more objective prediction of who will probably take home the Academy Award.

P.S. The reviews of all these movies are linked to the names of the films only once – in the first category because it just seemed irrational to link you to a single post 5 or 6 times.

Best Picture

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road
  2. The Revenant
  3. The Martian
  4. Spotlight
  5. Creed
  6. The Big Short
  7. The Hateful Eight
  8. Steve Jobs
  9. Room
  10. The Danish Girl
  11. Bridge of Spies
  12. Brooklyn
  13. Ex-Machina
  14. Concussion
  15. Joy
  16. Straight Outta Compton
  17. Trumbo
  18. Beasts of No Nation
  19. Carol
  20. 45 Years

Prediction: As much as I would love for Mad Max to get the win, it seems very unlikely that this will happen. Although, with all the backlash against the Oscars online, the Academy might want to calm the fanboys/fangirls down by giving the award to the fan favorite. If they do decide to go the traditional route, The Revenant will probably be their top pick.

Best Directing

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road – George Miller
  2. The Revenant – Alejandro González Iñárritu
  3. The Hateful Eight – Quentin Tarantino 
  4. Room –  Lenny Abrahamson
  5. The Big Short – Adam McKay
  6. Creed – Ryan Coogler 
  7. Beasts of No Nation – Cary Joji Fukunaga
  8. Bridge of Spies – Steven Spielberg 
  9. Straight Outta Compton – F. Gary Gray
  10. The Martian – Ridley Scott
  11. Steve Jobs – Danny Boyle
  12. Ex-Machina – Alex Garland
  13. Spotlight – Tom McCarthy
  14. Concussion –  Peter Landesman
  15. The Danish Girl – Tom Hooper
  16. Brooklyn – John Crowley
  17. Trumbo – Jay Roach
  18. Joy – David O. Russell
  19. Carol – Todd Haynes
  20. 45 Years – Andrew Haigh

Prediction: Again, I would love for George Miller to take the award home, but I kinda think that Iñárritu will get his second win in the row. I would be willing to let Iñárritu win if Mad Max gets the Best Picture statue.

Best Writing

  1. Spotlight – Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer
  2. The Hateful Eight – Quentin Tarantino
  3. Steve Jobs – Aaron Sorkin
  4. The Martian – Drew Goddard
  5. Creed – Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington
  6. The Big Short – Adam McKay, Charles Randolph
  7. The Revenant – Mark L. Smith, Alejandro G. Iñárritu
  8. Mad Max: Fury Road – George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nico Lathouris
  9. Bridge of Spies – Matt Charman, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
  10. Straight Outta Compton – Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff
  11. Ex-Machina – Alex Garland
  12. The Danish Girl – Lucinda Coxon
  13. Room – Emma Donoghue
  14. Trumbo – John McNamara
  15. Concussion – Peter Landesman
  16. Joy – David O. Russell
  17. 45 Years – Andrew Haigh
  18. Beasts of No Nation – Cary Joji Fukunaga
  19. Brooklyn – Nick Hornby
  20. Carol – Phyllis Nagy

Prediction: this is the hardest category to predict. My best bet is that the original screenplay statue will be awarded to Spotlight, while the adapted one – to The Big Short.

Best Male Performance in a Leading Role:

  1. Leonardo Dicaprio for The Revenant
  2. Eddie Redmayne for The Danish Girl
  3. Tom Hardy for The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road
  4. Matt Damon for The Martian
  5. Jacob Tremblay for Room
  6. Michael Fassbender for Steve Jobs
  7. Samuel L. Jackson for The Hateful Eight
  8. Michael B.Jordan for Creed
  9. Will Smith for  Concussion
  10. Bryan Cranston for Trumbo
  11. Tom Hanks for Bridge of Spies
  12. Christian Bale for The Big Short
  13. Mark Ruffalo for Spotlight
  14. Domhnall Gleeson for Ex Machina
  15. Abraham Attah for Beasts of No Nation
  16. O’Shea Jakcson Jr. for Straight Outta Compton
  17. Tom Courtenay for 45 Years

Prediction: this is one of the few categories where my objective and subjective side think the same thing. If Leo does not win this year, he should just stop trying altogether.

Best Female Performance in a Leading Role:

  1. Brie Larson for Room
  2. Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl and Ex-Machina
  3. Charlize Theron for Mad Max Fury Road
  4. Rooney Mara for Carol
  5. Jennifer Lawrence for Joy
  6. Rachel McAdams for Spotlight
  7. Cate Blanchett for Carol
  8. Saoirse Ronan for Brooklyn
  9. Charlotte Rampling for 45 Years

Prediction: once again, I both objectively and subjectively think that Brie Larson should get the Oscar, although, I would be pleasantly surprised if Vikander gets the win. On a side note, the saddest part about this category is that out of the 20 films, I could only find 9 actresses in  leading(-ish) roles, while there 17 male leading roles.

Best Male Performance in a Supporting Role:

  1. Ryan Gosling for The Big Short
  2. Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies
  3. Sylvester Stallone for Creed
  4. Nicholas Hoult for Mad Max Fury Road
  5. Domhnall Gleeson for The Revenant
  6. Bradley Cooper for Joy
  7. Idris Elba for Beasts of No Nation
  8. Oscar Isaac for Ex-Machina
  9. Matthias Schoenaerts for The Danish Girl
  10. Walton Goggins for The Hateful Eight
  11. Michael Keaton for Spotlight
  12. Alec Baldwin for Concussion
  13. Corey Hawkins for Straight Outta Compton

Prediction: while I would like Gosling to win, I think that the award will go to either Mark Rylance or Sylvester Stallone. I wouldn’t be sad in either case.

Best Female Performance in a Supporting Role

  1. Kate Winslet for Steve Jobs
  2. Jennifer Jason Leight for The Hateful Eight
  3. Jessica Chastain for The Martian
  4. Tessa Thompson for Creed
  5. Amber Heard for The Danish Girl
  6. Gugu Mbatha-Raw for Concussion
  7. Diane Lane for Trumbo

Prediction: I would like the win to go to Kate Winslet, but the actual award will probably find itself in the hands of Jennifer Jason Leight. On a side note, this was probably the hardest category to fill, because I put a lot of actresses in the leading role category, while the Academy and the studios said that they were playing supporting roles.

I really hope that you enjoyed this post because I worked really hard on it. I felt the most challenged not when I was compiling the actual final lists, but while I was watching and reviewing all the films. Tell me in the comments your personal winners! Bye!!