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Amazon Prime Can Get You In The Mood For The Oscars

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A few days ago I wrote a post about how Netflix can get you prepared for award season and more specifically the Oscars. Well now I’m going to do the same for those with a subscription to Amazon Prime. Amazon Prime has its differentces than Netflix, while it still offers free content, it also allows you to rent and purchase digital movies so there is an extensive library far beyond what Netflix offers you if you are willing to spend a few extra dollars. For the purposes of this post I will focus on what is free for Prime members.

The Big Sick

First and foremost is a movie that is ACTUALLY nominated this year and not one that just gets you in the mood for the awards like all the rest on this list are meant to do. The Big Sick is nominated for best original screenplay and is based on the true story of star Kumail Nanjiani and his now wife Emily Gordon and the unusual way that they fell in love and how he fell in love with her family and them with him before their true romance ever blossomed. Kumail comes from a traditional Pakistani family who is regularly trying to set him up to get married when he meets Emily a girl who is anything but what his family wants for him. After a break-up over this very subject, Emily mysteriously falls ill and into a coma. Kumail is called and finds himself caring for her and having to contact her family. When her family releases him of any responsibility he still continues to be around and show support. It’s an extremely well told and heartwarming story of such an unlikely romance and is definitely worth a view.

Moonstruck

Now on to the past winners that are available and worth a watch or re-watch if you have already seen them. Moonstruck was a career defining moment for Cher who had been acting here and there, but was still considered just a singer who wanted to act. Moonstruck proved that she in fact CAN act and rode Moonstruck all the way to a best actress win at the Academy Awards. While remembered for her outfit at the Oscars and the fact that she got the win, what is forgotten is that it won two other major awards that night for Olympia Dukakis and write John Patrick Shanley. It is a masterful romantic comedy that also features a young Nicolas Cage in one of his best movies. Funny and heartfelt it is a movie that has really stood the test of time.

Lawrence Of Arabia

Back when Hollywood was still making big sweeping epics, Lawrence of Arabia was no exception and is amongst the best of those large stories and wonderful scenery. With a widescreen that showcased the beauty of the film and its landscape. Winner of seven Academy Awards including best picture, it is also known for the fact that its star Peter O’Toole was once again not a winner for best actor, something that would follow him his whole career until he received and honorary Oscar that he reluctantly accepted. It is the true story of T.E. Lawrence who united warring Arab tribes in World War I. It is a great film and great watch…if you have three and a half hours to spare.

Room

Brie Larson gave a powerhouse performance as a young girl kidnapped and held captive for over 5 years where she has a child in captivity and is forced to raise him in a single room shack until they manage to escape. She and her son are then forced to learn to enter society, he for the first time outside the room and her trying to find some semblance of her life again. Brie Larson swept every award category she was nominated in that year and deservedly so and the film introduced the world to Jacob Tremblay who gives a marvelous performance of his own. Heart-wrenching and even different to watch at times, if you enjoy first rate acting then you will no doubt appreciate Room.

Monster

Charlize Theron proved that her acting ability goes beyond being just a pretty face when she went behind a lot of makeup to make sure her beauty wasn’t a distraction when she played the infamous female serial killer Aileen Wuornos. As a lesbian prostitute living on the streets when she is raped by a “John” she turns to killing him and robbing him and it soon becomes a habit and a way to keep money coming in. She is soon turned in by her young lover Selby played by Christina Ricci. This is once again a difficult movie to watch at times and is very gut-wrenching but leaves you conflicted on Wuornos’ guilt and even a bit sympathetic considering the life she led up until the point of capture.

Fences

Denzel Washington gives a commanding performance as Troy Maxson a blue-collar father who works hard provides for his family and gives himself the reward of liquor when he sees fit. A tough father who has a contentious relationship with his son to say the least. Unable to have any sympathy or compassion for how his son feels because of the life he had as a young man and the life he still has while working hard and taking care of his mentally disabled brother and never getting over the fact that his dream of being a professional baseball player never came to fruition. Without a doubt one Denzel’s best performances he took a controversial loss on Oscar night to Casey Affleck who many did not find worthy because of past allegations of sexual harassment. The movie did however give Viola Davis her first Oscar win in the best supporting actress category, an honor that had been long over due. Directed by Denzel based on the play it features a boat load of dialogue that is expertly delivered at every turn.

There are some more recommendations of many past award winning movies to get you in the mood for Oscar night.

Review: Molly’s Game

Aaron Sorkin has without a doubt been one of, if not the best screenwriter in the last 25 years. From his debut with A few Good Men to his hit show The West Wing to his Oscar-winning script for The Social Network. His dialogue driven work has lent life to stories that otherwise may not have seemed as exciting for example once again The Social Network and Moneyball. Those are two stories that while interesting don’t necessarily lend themselves to a compelling movie.

For his latest effort Sorkin not only goes behind the words but he goes behind the camera for his directorial debut. There is no doubt Sorkin has taken notes and learned a lot from some of the top-notch directors that have brought his words to life such as David Fincher, Rob Reiner, Bennet Miller and Mike Nichols. Those are some pretty good auteurs to learn the craft from and Sorkin didn’t miss anything they showed. Molly’s Game is much more of a cinema-friendly story than some of the others but Sorkin has made it beyond compelling. After the success of the underground poker film Rounders, which levitated the poker world and game to the heights it knows today, Hollywood has tried and failed to capture that world again. Enter Molly Bloom and Aaron Sorkin.

Molly Bloom was Olympic level mogul skier who after injury found herself thrust into the money hungry world of Los Angeles where her career ambitions took a left turn when she took an assistant job to a high-end realtor who also happened to play in a high stakes poker game with some of Los Angeles’ elite millionaires. After diligently learning their world and making friends with the games regular players which included an A-list Hollywood actor who, although not named in the movie has since been identified in her book as Toby McGuire as well as his longtime friend Oscar winner Leonardo DiCaprio she eventually starts her own game with these elite players. Determined to keep her game legal and make enough money to get her degree and the life she initially set out for herself, the greed and glam of L.A. took over as well as the vices that come with it. Battling substance abuse which snuck up on her as well as the idea that she was slightly untouched she loses the L.A. game. This leads Molly to take her knowledge and skills to New York City where the clientele is less than savory and soon includes members of the Russian mafia. Molly finds herself on trial for multiple offenses that include fraud as well as money laundering all of which add up to a possible 20 plus years in prison. Her new unlikely high priced attorney Charles Jaffey are soon building a defense as Molly reveals all aspects of her business for Jaffey.

The film is driven and I mean driven by the two stellar performances of two time Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain and Golden Globe winner Idris Elba. When working with an Aaron Sorkin script you need actors that can deliver not only a massive amount of dialogue but can deliver it razor sharp. Think of Philip Seymour Hoffman in Charlie Wilson’s War, Kate Winslet in Steve Jobs and recent first time Oscar nominee Allison Janney in The West Wing, maybe the greatest master of his words. Without actors of this skill and caliber, these films fall flat. Elba and Chastain master his words just as well as anyone. The quick pace he demands is maybe as difficult as any stunt Tom Cruise does in any Mission Impossible film. Chastain delivers to a point where I can’t picture a Sorkin film NOT including her in some aspect.

Jessica Chastain in MOLLY’S GAME

To discuss Sorkin’s directing abilities he shows he can hang with most directors working in Hollywood. While he didn’t bring much new to the table as Fincher did with The Social Network, for instance, he paces the film and moves the story along in a way that leads to zero dullness and keeps the viewer captivated from beginning to end. He clearly knows how to work with great actors as well as get the best out of them. In light of today’s Oscar nomination announcement, it comes as no surprise that he is once again nominated for his unparalleled writing ability. The surprise is that Chastain is left out as a best actress nominee, something that hasn’t happened to an actor speaking working words in a film since 1995’s The American President and has only happened twice out of his eight feature film scripts. To say it’s a snub is an understatement, but such is the way of the Academy. In no way is Molly’s Game a film to be missed or should I say experienced.

Netflix Can Get You Ready For Awards Season

Award season is in full swing so I thought I would take this opportunity to make my first post of the new content I plan on bringing to showcase some of the movies available on Netflix that were either Best Picture winners or nominees. There are several movies available to choose from but I have chosen just a few of my personal favorites that you might enjoy.

The Godfather Parts 1 and 2

Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpieces are the first two that really stand out. Long considered two of the best films ever made as well as the only movies where both parts one and two BOTH won the best picture at the academy awards. While nominated for several awards each it might be surprising that they did not win as much as you would think of for such highly regarded masterpieces. With two outstanding performances by Al Pacino yet he received no hardware for either performance while his counterpart in the second installment, Robert De Niro received his first Oscar for playing a young Vito Corleone in Godfather Part II. if you are going to take a look at awards movies this is the perfect place to start.

Spotlight

The best picture winner at the 2016 awards ceremony is a hard-hitting look at the effects journalism can have on communities as well as the world. An in-depth look at how the Boston Globe single-handedly brought Boston’s powerful Catholic church to its knees and the domino effect it had on the country as well as the world. With an all-star cast it conveys the hard work and courage of those needed to tell this remarkable and harrowing story. You can read my full review from 2 years ago here.

The Shawshank Redemption

For years now Shawshank has been number 1 on IMDb’s viewers top 250 rated movies of all time with a 9.3 rating out of 10. With career-defining roles from Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, it is captivating from being to end the emotion that goes through the story goes equally through the viewer. Most shocking of all was that although nominated for 7 Academy Awards it walked away with exactly zero wins. It would be one of the movies that would go on to show the academy and viewers that time proves greatness, not ticket sales because the movie was ultimately considered not box office success. I wrote a commentary about this very thing a few years back and you can read it right here.

The Reader

Speaking of career-defining roles, The Reader was the movie that finally gave Kate Winslet her night on the podium to take home Oscar in 2009. She was a double nominee at the Golden Globes that year but it was The Reader that brought her gold that night. She plays Hannah Schmitz a former Nazi guard at a concentration camp who forms an unusual attachment to a young boy who she has a brief love affair with who she also enjoys having him read to her. The two are brought together again years later when he is a law student and she is put on trial for her war crimes in which her illiteracy leads to her being the only one convicted. As an adult, he strikes up a correspondence with her that ultimately leads to her putting an end to her illiteracy. You can also find other films of hers that are fantastic in a top 5 list I put together here.

Michael Clayton

Finally is one of George Clooney’s greats films and performance as the attorney/fixer, Michael Clayton. Nominated for 7 Academy Awards in 2008 which included the best picture and best actor for Clooney yet only brought home one for best-supporting actress for Tilda Swinton. Michael Clayton is an attorney with a special skillset who is used by a law firm to get the things done that no one else is willing to do. He is thrust into the firms biggest case when its lead attorney has a manic episode and threatens to wreck a case worth hundreds of millions of dollars. With an intense story that has you captured from start to finish Michael Clayton is without question a defining moment in the career of George Clooney. It also features an underrated supporting role for Sydney Pollack as this was his next to last acting role before he died in early 2008 just a few months after the Oscar ceremony. For other George Clooney selections, you may be interested in finding check out a top 5 list I put together here.

Well, there you have it, just a few movies worth checking out to get you in the mood for the always fun award season.

Expanded Content To Come

I have recently decided to change things up on my blog. Since its beginning, it has generally been three different categories, reviews, commentary and lists. With the powerhouses that are streaming services and devices and as someone who has recently joined the club of people who have cut the cable, I have decided to expand into commentary on streaming services and programming and adding reviews of movies AND TV shows available on streaming services. This should allow for more frequent posting and more options for others to watch and enjoy. I hope everyone enjoys the new content which will start very soon.

Review: The Post

Anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock over the last year is well aware that journalism has been under fire in this country. As a fan of journalism movies, I was extremely excited for Steven Spielberg’s new movie, The Post. Set in 1971 it tells the true story of the leaked documents detailing the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war and what the government knew and didn’t know as well as what they failed to tell the American people. The New York Times ran a story featuring based on information they received from the whistleblower. The struggling Washington Post then obtained all 4000 pages of the report and was stuck in a moral and legal dilemma as whether or not to release the information to the country. Feeling bound by their journalistic obligations they soon decided that releasing the documents was more important than the legal ramifications that could come their way.

The film has a true all-star cast led by Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep with great supporting roles at every turn. Tom Hanks plays the famous editor Ben Bradlee Sr. who was also played wonderfully by Jason Robards in the 1976 masterpiece, All The Presidents Men. Meryl Streep plays Fay Graham the owner of the paper who’s family has owned the paper for decades. Doing her best to keep the paper afloat all while trying to keep its integrity and relevance. She is on the verge of taking the paper public on the stock exchange when the documents find their way into the hands of the newsroom. After combing the damning documents the quick decision must be made ultimately by Graham as for whether or not to publish. she is conflicted because of not only the legal backlash but how it could ultimately be the end of the paper if mishandled in any way.

Spielberg has done a fine job capturing the quick pace that journalists work at as well as the enormous pressure they can be under in a time factor as well as morally. He shows the tension so well that we as the viewers can feel it at every level. As good as Hanks and Streep are, and they are great, the film is really carried by its supporting cast. The pace of the film is so quick it will be a movie that needs multiple viewings to absorb all the information that is given in rapid-fire succession.

Two years ago I reviewed the Oscar-winning film Spotlight (review can be found here) and I mentioned how the death of great journalism is slowly happening in this digital age. Once again a film shows the power of true journalism and how it can’t go away or be taken away no matter how ugly what is reported is. It is the last line of defense to hold ANYONE in power accountable, not just in government but in any daily situation. The Post talks about how newspapers fledgling and that is so much truer today, yet even in times like those, great things happened and they still can.

Spielberg pulls no punches and shows the truth behind everything that went into informing the public about the disaster that was Vietnam. As bad as everyone knew the war was for so many years, they had no idea how deeply and just how bad it really was. These papers tarnished legacies such as Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy just 11 years after his assassination. Richard Nixon undoubtedly took the brunt of the heat at the time leading him to wage war on the Washington Post (sound familiar?). The paper survived and ultimately took the president down a couple years later with the Watergate scandal.

There is no question that Spielberg had the current times on his mind while making the movie but he did not let that change the way the story was told. He didn’t have to change things to make a point about today. The story itself is the message of journalism and the power it has. There is a saying that the pen is mightier than the sword and when you realize that right to a free press was an amendment to the constitution before the right to bear arms, it shows that the founding fathers knew this well over 200 years ago. The Post will leave in awe as well as having you thinking deeply about today’s political climate. It will rank with great films such as Spotlight and All The Presidents Men and is one many people need to see.

Review: The Shape Of Water

Two and half years ago I wrote a post about how the creativity in the movie industry seems to be all but dead. I still wholeheartedly believe that but, like I said before there are some exceptions to this. Guillermo del Toro is maybe the leader of the original filmmakers in Hollywood. His 2006 film, Pan’s Labyrinth was one of the most creative films to hit cinemas in quite some time. He then brought the futuristic sci-fi action movie, Pacific Rim to theaters. This year he gave us yet another truly original story to life with The Shape Of Water. With an all-star cast including a slew of Oscar nominees, Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins and Oscar winner Octavia Spencer he brings his monsters back to life in beautiful style.

Set in the 1950s cold war in a highly secret government facility a mute cleaning woman who lives a small life who’s only friends are a fellow cleaning woman who looks out for her played by Octavia Spencer and her artist neighbor played by Richard Jenkins. When a secret project is brought into the facility by the nearly sadistic leader played by Michael Shannon. When Elisa (Hawkins) looks into the project too closely and discovers an amphibious creature which appears to be half man she finds herself unusually drawn to him and forms a friendship in secret. When the Russians begin trying to capture the creature she forms a plan with her friends to take him out of the facility and bring him home to keep him from being experimented on. They soon pull off an unlikely heist which brings the creature to her home and has the government on a search to bring him back to the facility and keep him out of Russian hands. Elisa soon forms an even deeper bond with the creature that leads them to attempt to flee from everyone they know.

The mind of del Toro is something of people like Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, George Lucas (early Lucas) and Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, in our own time. It has been recognized by critics and award committees and fans worldwide. He has used the film medium to bring his creatures, or as he refers to them, monsters, to life. What makes it wonderful to experience is not just his creativity but the beauty in which he makes his worlds come to life. He is not just creative but he is a great filmmaker and has a unique vision. He has a great sense of character and emotion that all great filmmakers have, which is what makes them great. His mind and worlds can captivate every cinephile and bring them into a new place which is what movies are all about. The Shape Of Water is rightfully being recognized all over this year as one of the years best movies and rightfully so. While his style and worlds may not be for everyone, those with a desire for originality will find The Shape Of Water a refreshing new find. We can only wait for his next creation to be taken away to another fascinating world and time.

2018 Golden Globes Predictions

Sunday marks the 75th anniversary of The Golden Globes, Hollywood’s biggest party of the year and I am here once again to lay out my predictions. There are very few heavy front runners if any in any category.

Best Screenplay
This the category that could set the tone for a lot of the movie side of awards night. I expect this to come down to two films and these two films will be scooping up a lot of awards this season. It’s very tight between Lady Bird and Three Billboards but I expect Lady Bird to begin its strong run with a win here.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
The Shape Of Water
Lady Bird
The Post
Molly’s Game

Best Supporting Actress Motion Picture
This is the one category I’m most excited for and once again it’s very tight between two nominees. Allison Janney has her 6th nomination and is looking for her first win as Tonya Harding’s mother LaVona. Laurie Metcalf has her 3rd nomination also looking for her first win as the over bearing mother Marion in Lady Bird. I may be a little biased by my fandom but I’m looking at Allison Janney to walk away with gold here.

Allison Janney – I,Tonya
Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer – The Shape Of Water
Hong Chau – Downsizing
Mary J. Blige – Mudbound

Best Supporting Actor Motion Picture
Once again it looks to be a two horse race, this time between Christopher Plummer in his brilliant last minute performance as J. Paul Getty and Sam Rockwell as a bigoted local police officer in Three Billboards. I think that Sam Rockwell will finally get some hardware to take home.

Armie Hammer – Call Me By Your Name
Richard Jenkins – The Shape Of Water
Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project
Christopher Plummer – All The Money In The World
Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Actress Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
It’s becoming a broken record but it once again appears to be between two nominations in Saoirse Ronan for Lady Bird and Margot Robbie in I, Tonya. If they end up tying for this I wouldn’t be happier. But since the likelihood of that happening is very slim I have to give the advantage to Saoirse Ronan although I genuinely feel that one isn’t better than the other.

Emma Stone – Battle Of The Sexes
Judi Dench – Victoria And Abdul
Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird
Helen Mirren – The Leisure Seeker
Margot Robbie – I, Tonya

Best Actor Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
This category is pretty clear cut I believe with James Franco being the clear front runner for his portrayal of the very odd and eccentric Tommy Wiseau in The Disaster Artist. My one problem here is Daniel Kaluuya being nominated in the musical/comedy category. Get Out was a very good movie but unless I completely misread the whole film, it was in no way a comedy.

Ansel Elgort – Baby Driver
Hugh Jackman – The Greatest Showman
Steve Carell – Battle Of The Sexes
Daniel Kaluuya – Get Out
James Franco – The Disaster Artist

Best Actress Motion Picture Drama
This is again a very exciting category with very deserving winners. There is the perennial nominee Meryl Streep and other multiple nominees and winners. I am having a hard time seeing anyone besides Frances McDormand or Michelle Williams NOT winning this. With that said nothing would surprise me but I think Frances McDormand will take home her second award and I really love her but I’m really hoping to see Michelle Williams up on stage

Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Meryl Streep – The Post
Sally Hawkins – The Shape Of Water
Jessica Chastain – Molly’s Game
Michelle Williams – All The Money In The World

Best Actor Motion Picture Drama
This is the one category I’m completely out of my element with because I have yet to see any of the performance nominated. Based on what I’ve heard and from the little I’ve seen I would have to give the advantage to Gary Oldman. This is a category of all heavyweights and one new comer so it’s anyone’s guess.

Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread
Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour
Tom Hanks – The Post
Denzel Washington – Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Timothée Chalamet – Call Me By Your Name

Best Director
I have been on the Dunkirk bandwagon since the summer and I don’t see any reason to abandon that now. I really like Christopher Nolan to finally get his just reward Sunday night for his brilliant work with Dunkirk.

Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk
Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Steven Spielberg – The Post
Guillermo del Toro – The Shape Of Water
Ridley Scott – All The Money In The World

Best Picture Musical or Comedy
As I said earlier I don’t understand Get Out being in this category even though I understand the HFPA wanting to recognize it in some way. I like Lady Bird to win here and keep its momentum going right into the Oscar race.

Get Out
Lady Bird
The Greatest Showman
I, Tonya
The Disaster Artist

Best Picture Drama
While Three Billboards is more deserving to be in the comedy category than Get Out it is in the drama category and that is deserving as well. The trouble there is that I’m sticking with my initial pick for Dunkirk to win the big prize on Sunday.

Call Me By Your Name
The Post
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Dunkirk
The Shape Of Water