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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Friday, September 30, 2016

The 2015 RyMickey Awards - Best Film

And the 2015 RyMickey Awards come to an end with this year's final category -- Best Picture of the Year.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I've become a bit nicer in my old age -- I doled out more B's and above this year percentage-wise than most other years.  Looking back, I may have been a tad too generous, but I feel like I've crafted a really solid Top Twenty list this year full of blockbusters, indie pics, documentaries, dramas, comedies, musicals, animation -- I really ran the gamut of genres which pleasantly surprised me when I began to realize what films made it into my Top Twenty.

I urge my few readers to give a movie or two listed below a chance -- more than half are streaming in some capacity, so check them out if any of them pique your interest.

Best Films of 2015
(SoN = Streaming on Netflix / SoA = Streaming on Amazon / SoH = Streaming on HBO)

#50 - Cinderella   ---   #49- The Peanuts Movie (SoH)
#48 - Manson Family Vacation (SoN)   ---   #47 - The Voices (SoA)
#46 - 45 Years   ---   #45 - Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (SoA)
#44 - Batkid Begins (SoN)   ---   #43 - Grandma
#42 - 6 Years (SoN)   ---   #41 - I Smile Back (SoA)
#40 - Victoria (SoN)   ---   #39 - Everest (SoH)   ---   #38 - Circle (SoN)
#37 - I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story (SoA)
#36 - We Are Still Here (SoN)   ---   #35 - The Gift
#34 - Jurassic World (SoH)   ---    #33 - Straight Outta Compton (SoH)
#32 - The Age of Adaline (SoA)   ---   #31 - Spectre

Honorable Mentions
  • #30 - Me and Earl and the Dying Girl - (B) - A hip irreverence makes this cancer comedy a winner (SoH)
  • #29 - Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief - (B) - One-sided, but rather damning in its indictment of this unique religion (SoH)
  • #28 - The Girl in the Book - (B) - A sleeper film with two very nice female performances at its center (SoN)
  • #27 - The Hateful Eight - (B) - Typical Tarantino, and while I'd like to see him branch out a little more, this is a solid piece squarely in his wheelhouse
  • #26 - In the Heart of the Sea - (B) -  Much better and much more interesting than its lack of box office implies (SoH)
  • #25 - Beasts of No Nation - (B) - A sad tale detailing a horrific atmosphere that is occurring in our world today (SoN)
  • #24 - Anomalisa - (B) - A unique animated tale for adults
  • #23 - Sicario - (B) - Frighteningly realistic in its take on the US/Mexico drug war
  • #22 - About Elly - (B) - Another interesting flick from director Asghar Farhadi that details cultures unknown to most Americans (SoN)
  • #21 - Shaun the Sheep Movie - (B+) - Wonderfully animated and very clever in its ability to tell a story with hardly a word spoken

And the Top Twenty Are...

#20 - Amy - B+
Amy Winehouse never really impacted by musical landscape and it certainly didn't help that her heavily scrutinized public life made her quite unappealing to me.  However, this documentary told completely through interviews with Amy's family, friends, and the singer herself details the tragic story of Ms. Winehouse's early death at the age of 27.  Director Asif Kapadia never presents Amy as a victim, martyr, or saint, but hearing her own words describe the pleasure of the addictions that led to her downfall makes the singer's tragic end all the more poignant. (SoA)

#19 - McFarland, USA - B+
We've seen this underdog sports story many, many times before, yet thanks to a heartwarming turn from Kevin Costner, a well-cast group of unknown actors portraying the McFarland High School track team, and a sentimental story that comes off surprisingly non-treacly, McFarland, USA is a sleeper hit that hopefully more people will come to appreciate in years to come.  

#18 - Danny Collins - B+ 
Danny Collins is an example of one of those little hidden gems that I love to come across over a year of film.  The talented cast take what may have been a typical dramedy about an aging rockstar (albeit with some very clever dialog) and transform it into something more engaging than could be expected.  Underrated and under-seen, Danny Collins is one you should definitely add to your viewing queue. (SoA)

#17 - Inside Out - B+
I didn't hold quite the same affinity towards Inside Out as most critics, finding the film to be a bit lacking in the "heart" department despite attempts by the screenwriters and directors to try and pull on the heartstrings a few times.  For that, Inside Out doesn't land in the upper echelon of Pixar films story-wise for me.  However, visually, it's a bit of a masterpiece.  With wonderfully developed characters expertly voiced by their respective actors, Inside Out is a clever piece of animation.

#16 - The Last Five Years - B  
Attentive readers will notice that my RyMickey Rating for The Last Five Years is a 'B' which is lower than the previously discussed five films in this list which all garnered a 'B+'.  However, The Last Five Years provided a unique experience for me.  I know it's a flawed film.  But I really like it.  Detailing the story of the relationship of Cathy and Jamie, the film is told in a unique manner -- Cathy's side of their story is told from the end to the beginning, whereas Jamie's side of the story is told from the beginning to the end.  The two sides of the story intertwine creating a sometimes disconcerting experience, but an immensely watchable one.  And it's a musical with some heartbreaking and heartwarming songs from composer Jason Robert Brown.  All I'll say is give this one a chance.  It will not be for everyone -- in fact, I've shown it to a few people who think it's one of the worst things they've seen.  But, as I quote at the top of my blog, "The joy of watching movies...is arguing about them."  (SoN)

The Top 15 will be revealed by clicking that tiny little "Read More" to the lower left!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The 2015 RyMickey Awards - Best Scene

This used to be one of my favorite categories every year because I get to highlight some pivotal moments in films that made an impact.  Maybe my mindset has changed, however.  I'm considering abandoning this one next year simply because I often feel myself watching movies in search of "scenes" as opposed to embracing the film as a whole.  On the other hand, I enjoy the notion of allowing moments from lesser-liked films to shine through, proving their worth in some way.  We'll see.  Needless to say, there were several great scenes this year that elevated their respective movies and provided powerful moments that either hit me dramatically, made me laugh, or, in a few instances from one particular film, made a grown man cry.

Note:  There will be many spoilers ahead so proceed at your own risk.

Note 2:  The YouTube videos found below worked at the time of this posting -- as is often the case, they may not work forever.

Best Scenes of 2015
(SoN = Streaming on Netflix / SoA = Streaming on Amazon / SoH = Streaming on HBO)

Honorable Mentions
(in alphabetical order)
  • Beasts of No Nation - Final Scene involving Agu admitting to his actions (SoN)
  • Black Mass - Johnny Depp's mobster Whitey Bulger goes up to Julianne Nicholson's Marianne's room and threatens to choke the wife of a police officer (SoH)
  • Brooklyn - Final Scene - perfect voice-over, but the director ends it on a still snapshot...ugh...(SoH)
  • Creed - Final Scene with Rocky walking up the famous art museum stairs with Adonis
  • Love - Threeway Orgy - I'm a guy...that's why it's here...(SoN)
  • Me and Earl and the Dying Girl - Funny Film Homages (SoH)
  • The Revenant - Bear Sequence (SoH)
  • The Revenant - Final Showdown between Leo and Tom Hardy (SoH)
  • Room - The Interview - "Why didn't you ask your captor to take your child away to save him?"(SoA)
  • Sicario - Hell House Opening Scene
  • Steve Jobs - Act Three showdown between Woz and Steve (SoH)
  • Straight Outta Compton - Opening Scene - Drug Bust (SoH)
  • Victoria - Piano Sequence - Great insight into the main character and her motivations (SoN)
And the Top 15...

#15 - The Last Five Years - Still Hurting
What a way to start a movie.  Full of grief and angst.  Certainly keys you into the fact that this isn't your typical "happy" musical. (SoN)

#14 - About Elly - Elly Goes Missing
Immediately following the scene above, Elly, the character flying the kite, goes missing (and that's the scene that lands this berth).  Did she drown?  The kids with whom she is flying the kite seem to think so and panic sets in amongst the adults who frantically begin looking for the woman in the water near the beach. (SoN)

#13 - The Keeping Room - Opening Scene
A white woman gets shot after she was apparently raped in a carriage.  A black woman who happens to stumble upon the carriage gets shot by another man who is standing behind her.  And the carnage doesn't stop there.  The horrific men who commit these acts (and a few more in the opening scene of this western) will turn up later and attempt to wreak havoc on the film's three female leads, but unfortunately the rest of the film can't live up to this tense, horrific opening moment. (SoN)

#12 - Brooklyn - Casadh an Tsúgáin
A stunningly beautiful and surprisingly powerful moment that helps Eilis reconnect with her Irish heritage while living in New York City.  Not only is Saoirse Ronan fantastic here, but the looks on the faces of the extras are just stunningly heartbreaking. (SoH)

#11 - Creed - Single-Take Boxing Match
Unable to embed, but scene can be found here
 Incredible, putting us right in the middle of the action for nearly four-and-a-half minutes.  Superb work from director Ryan Coogler and cinematographer Maryse Alberti who allow the match to unfold in real time.

The Top 10 scenes can be found by clicking that little "Read More" on the lower left...

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The 2015 RyMickey Awards - Best Actress

While the Actor front may have been a bit lacking this year, there was an abundance of females fighting for a spot in the Top Ten this year.  Any one of my Top Five could've easily landed the top spot in another year and it's nice that there were so many layered performances that placed the female perspective front and center this year.  (This talk amongst the Hollywood community about a lack of female-centered films really needs to be debunked.  You just need to look for them particularly in a year like 2015 and you'll find some fantastic films.)

Best Actress of 2015
(SoN = Streaming on Netflix / SoA = Streaming on Amazon / SoH = Streaming on HBO)

In the running...
(in alphabetical order)
Cate Blanchett - Truth
Sandra Bullock - Our Brand Is Crisis (SoH)
Blythe Danner - I'll See You in My Dreams (SoA)
Julianne Moore - The Maps to the Stars (SoH)
Teyonah Parris - Chi-Raq (SoA)
Lily Tomlin - Grandma

Honorable Mentions
#11 - Jamie Chung - Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong 
A "meet-cute" in the vein of the Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight trilogy, Chung has a great chemistry with her real-life actor beau that helps to make this an immensely enjoyable film.  (SoN)

And the Top Ten...

#10 - Emily VanCamp - The Girl in the Book
As a character with huge emotional baggage from her youth, Ms. VanCamp exceeded my expectations in this rather heavy role.  She has crafted a character that is believably realistic in her emotions, actions, and reactions in this film that you likely haven't heard of before, but is well worth your time.  (SoN)

#9 - Charlotte Rampling - 45 Years
I think the biggest reason Charlotte Rampling (nominated for an Academy Award for this role) doesn't appear higher up on my list is that I had some issues with her character's plot-driven emotional reactions to the familial drama unfolding around her.  Her character's insecurity crafts a person that some viewers may latch onto, but distanced me a little bit.  That said, Rampling nicely crafts a quiet, insular character whose ever-building tension is seemingly waiting to bust free.

#8 - Amy Poehler (plus animators) - Inside Out
The most stunning thing about Inside Out was the collaboration between the voice actors and animators to create two of the most well thought-out characters in Joy and Sadness I've seen in an animated film in some time.  Amy Poehler voices Joy and the actress's charm and ebullience shines through from the moment we hear her character speak.  Couple that with the star-like quality of the way Joy looks -- she has no "fine lines" outlining her, but rather this sensation of "fuzzy light" creating a yellowish aura around her -- and you've got a tremendously memorable character.

#7 - Golshifteh Farahani - About Elly
Director Asghar Farhadi is one of the better filmmakers on the current scene as he's managed to get fantastic performances from his cast in each of his three films I've seen.  While About Elly is largely an ensemble piece, Golshifteh Farahani is certainly the female lead as her character Sepidah journeys from a fun-loving mom to a heartbroken woman after her children's teacher Elly goes missing while on a weekend beach excursion.  Farahani eloquently depicts the struggles of an Iranian woman forced to adhere to the more stringent aspects of her culture. (SoN)

#6 - Anna Kendrick - The Last Five Years
Anna Kendrick is certainly the go-to girl for movie musicals and while I think the actress is a good singer, her minor shortcomings in her voice are washed aside by the raw emotions she is able to pack into her vocals - for that, Kendrick truly is a talent.  Kendrick grips us in the film's opening scene - as Cathy, she is reacting to the dissolution of her marriage to Jamie and we in the audience are drawn in right away.  The film's conceit - Cathy's story moves backwards so at the end of the film we're seeing her pleasure in meeting her Jamie for the first time - can be a tad confusing at times, but we're always certain of Cathy's emotional state thanks to Kendrick's portrayal. (SoN)

#5 - Alicia Vikander - The Danish Girl
I hated The Danish Girl.  It landed (Dis)Honorable Mentions on my Worst Film of the Year and Most Overrated Lists, and Eddie Redmayne placed #2 on my Worst Performances of the Year List.  And yet amidst all of the horribleness that makes up the film, it contains a fantastic performance from Alicia Vikander - my Breakthrough Star of the Year who also landed a #3 spot on my Supporting Actress List.  Vikander is compelling as Gerda, a woman trying to come to grips with the fact that her husband truly desires to become a woman.  We totally grasp Gerda's sense of desperation, sadness, and understanding towards her husband's plight which, in turn, becomes her plight as well since her world will drastically change.  To me, Vikander is given just as much screen time as her counterpart Eddie Redmayne and the story is just as much hers.  Hence, I've placed her in the Lead Actress category as opposed to the Supporting Actress field which felt like category fraud at the Oscars where she won this past year. (SoH)

#4 - Laia Costa - Victoria
In a film that is one continuous 132-minute-long take, actress Laia Costa had no opportunities for do-overs or retakes.  That alone must be a daunting task for any actress, but to have to portray a character who goes on quite an emotional journey in a film that uses this unusual cinematic technique is even more of an admirable feat.  Costa's Victoria is a character in search of something new and at first, admittedly, I had a difficult time understanding why her seemingly put-together character would take a journey with people from an obviously tougher crowd.  However, as the film progressed, Ms. Costa really keyed me in to why her character does what she does.  By the time the film ended, her character's motivations and emotional baggage were clear to me and it made Victoria's journey all that more compelling. (SoN)

#3 - Carey Mulligan - Far from the Madding Crowd
In the few years Carey Mulligan has been on the cinematic scene, she has always proven to be a reliable actress, but I think she delivers her best role yet in Far from the Madding Crowd.  Not knowing the story at all, I was quite taken by Mulligan's character of Bathsheba, a strong-willed, confident woman, characteristics that Mulligan fully embraces without ever coming across as overly feminist or off-putting.  The intelligence that radiates from Mulligan's persona is key to the film's plot and the actress successfully conveys it in a role that should've received more recognition last year.

#2 - Brie Larson - Room
Room is really a tale of two stories for actress Brie Larson who really popped onto my radar with her role in the fantastic Short Term 12 (my #2 film from 2013).  In the first half, she exudes a strong will for survival coupled with a loving demeanor for her son for whom she is the only source of communication, compassion, and contact.  In the second half, however, her character runs a gamut of emotions some of which I wasn't expecting, but all of which feel legitimate and believable.  It's utterly fascinating to see Joy revert back to her seventeen year-old self upon leaving Room and facing the weightiness of the real world again.  As the choices that led to her being captured and the choices she made while being trapped begin to come into doubt, Larson captures Joy's resentment and pain beautifully and is certainly one of the reasons she walked away with the Oscar for Best Actress earlier this year.

#1 - Saoirse Ronan - Brooklyn
In a film that has so many fantastic things going for it, Saoirse Ronan is perhaps the greatest reason for its success.  Upon initially reviewing this film, I looked back over some of my critiques of Ronan's other works and I wasn't exactly the biggest fan, calling some of her work "bland," "unemotional", and, perhaps most damning of all, "one of the most overrated actresses working today."  I am pleased to report that has all changed with Brooklyn.  Here, she's finally given the chance to play an adult facing grown-up issues and she proves to be utterly captivating.  Her character of Eilis is certainly scared of her move to America, and the sullenness and solemness about leaving behind her homeland, friends, and family in Ireland is fully conveyed by Ronan.  However, as the film progresses, we in the audience become mesmerized by Eilis's ever-growing happiness as her relationship with her new Italian beau begins to take shape.  Her eyes, her moments of silence, her ever-so-slight movements add depth and substance to her character whom the audience grows to root for and embrace.  I can only hope that my newly discovered interest in Ms. Ronan and the praise she received for this role in Brooklyn leads to more adult-oriented roles in her future.

Previous RyMickey Award Winners
2014   ---   2013   ---   2012
2011   ---   2010   ---   2009

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The 2015 RyMickey Awards - Best Actor

Honestly, this was a somewhat weak year for actors in general.  My Best Supporting Actor list wasn't particularly strong, and beyond my Top Four below, the rest of the list was a bit of a puzzle trying to figure out placement (hence only a "Top Five" as opposed to a "Top Ten" below -- the past few years I have expanded the four main acting categories to ten when performances deemed it necessary).  I just wasn't incredibly moved or genuinely excited by many performances by actors this year.  Still, you won't be disappointed with any of the actors' performances listed below, but I'm not sure anyone beyond the Top Four would've really been in contention for an Oscar for me were I an Academy voter.

Best Actor of 2015
(SoN = Streaming on Netflix / SoA = Streaming on Amazon / SoH = Streaming on HBO)

In the Running...
(in alphabetical order)
Kevin Costner - McFarland, USA
Johnny Depp - Black Mass (SoH)
Michael B. Jordan - Creed
Will Smith - Concussion

Honorable Mentions
#10 - Al Pacino - Danny Collins
Bringing a cocky suaveness to his aging rock star title character, Pacino is hugely entertaining. (SoA)

#9 - Matt Damon - The Martian
Balancing the humor and drama quite well, Matt Damon brings a charm to Mark that is quite watchable. (SoH)

#8 - Tom Courtenay - 45 Years
As a man coping with a physical ailment who then gets huge emotional news about a person from his past who now affects his present, Courtenay plays a man forced to come to grips with the notion that he is neither the man he physically or emotionally once was.

#7 - Jeremy Jordan - The Last Five Years
While I overpraised him after my first viewing of the film (after a second viewing, he's not the "revelation" I wrote in my initial review), Jeremy Jordan is very good in this musical as his character embarks on a journey from infatuation to disgust and hatred. (SoN)

#6 - Michael Caine - Youth
The film is not very good, but Michael Caine captivates as a man coping with repressed guilt from past indiscretions. (SoH)

And the Top 5...

#5 - Leonardo DiCaprio - The Revenant
There's no denying that Leonardo DiCaprio is good in The Revenant.  The problem lies in the fact that the film is hugely overrated and that this simply isn't the film for which DiCaprio should've won his Oscar -- that should've been for his revelatory work in The Wolf of Wall Street.  He was overpraised all awards seasons because he fell into that "Overlooked" or "He's Due" category for so long.  Still, this is a very good role from DiCaprio who doesn't talk very much, but conveys everything we need to know about his character's motivations through his physicality. (SoH)

#4 - Abraham Attah - Beasts of No Nation
Beasts of No Nation is all about Abraham Attah's character Agu and his horrific journey from a fun-loving kid to a child mercenary who needs to try and be heartless in order to survive.  This young, first-time actor has to carry the film's emotional heft on his shoulders and he does a fantastic job bringing the audience into his horrific struggles.  Thanks to Attah, we fully grasp the pain Agu feels when he must kill someone in order to please the man who is essentially his captor.  It's a tough role, but one in which Attah succeeds.  (SoN)

#3 - Michael Fassbender - Steve Jobs
I think Steve Jobs doesn't give its title character as much of an emotional arc as it thinks it does -- and that's not a bad thing -- but it did maybe hinder Fassbender's chances of seriously being a contender at the Oscars despite being nominated for Best Actor there.  Still, Fassbender is in every moment of the film and in his interactions with each and every actor feel natural, real, and never forced.  He helps make a film that really shouldn't have worked shine (its set-up by Sorkin and director Danny Boyle still astounds me in its uniqueness) and Fassbender surprisingly captivates as a guy who may not have been the nicest kid on the block. (SoH)

#2 - Christopher Abbott - James White
Christopher Abbott delivers a powerhouse performance in James White, as the title character who uses alcohol (and some other drugs) to mask his pain.  And boy does James have pain - he's jobless, his father recently died, and his mom is facing yet another battle with cancer.  The intensity that James bottles up - and that Abbott eloquently depicts - bursts out in some painfully unfortunate ways, but his character's journey is a gripping one thanks to Abbott's powerful portrayal. (SoN)

#1 - Jacob Tremblay - Room
At the age of nine, Jacob Tremblay burst onto the cinematic scene in Room - a film in which he holds his own against the talented Brie Larson, perhaps even outshining her at certain moments.  Imagine seeing the world for the first time - we can't even begin to contemplate the cacophony of sounds, the frenetically fast-paced movement, and the sheer brightness of something as commonplace as sunlight.  Yet Tremblay pitch-perfectly portrays five year-old Jack who steps outside of Room for the first time. He depicts the awe-inspiring, frightening, and bewildering emotions of his character with such precision and childlike innocence that makes it certain that Tremblay will be on the cinematic scene for years to come.  The youthful zest ever-present in Jack and depicted by Tremblay deserved to be nominated for an Oscar, but I have to wonder if production company A24's campaign to push Tremblay as a supporting actor hurt his chances.  Oscar voters are able to choose the category into which they want to place actors and Tremblay is undoubtedly a lead here.  Unfortunately, this may have mired his chances.  At least I hope that's the reason -- because there's no other reason this role shouldn't have been nominated. (SoA)

Previous RyMickey Award Winners
2014   ---   2013   ---   2012
2011   ---   2010   ---   2009

Monday, September 26, 2016

The 2015 RyMickey Awards - Best Supporting Actress

A solid group of Best Supporting Actresses this year -- much better than the Supporting Actor list.  You'll find an eclectic mix spanning comedic and dramatic roles below with a few performances from movies that have yet to make an appearance on any prior RyMickey Award list thus far.

Best Supporting Actress of 2015
(SoN = Streaming on Netflix //  SoA = Streaming on Amazon // SoH = Streaming on HBO)

In the Running...
(in alphabetical order)
Jane Fonda - Youth (SoH)
Ana Mulvoy-Ten - The Girl in the Book (SoN)
Phyllis Smith (plus animators) - Inside Out
Katherine Waterston - Steve Jobs (SoH)

And the Top Ten...

#10 - Annette Bening - Danny Collins
Annette Bening brings an irresistible charm to her character of hotel manager Mary Sinclair.  Her chemistry with Al Pacino's title character is palpable and always enjoyable. (SoA)

#9 - Elizabeth Debicki - The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. isn't very good, but Elizabeth Debicki snidely plays the dastardly villainess, without chewing up the scenery which she easily could've done. (SoH)

#8 - Joan Allen - Room
Tender and caring, Joan Allen makes her appearance an hour into Room after a huge switch in the direction of the plot.  She helps to anchor the film's second half.  I wish she had a few more "moments" because I'd love to have pushed her higher up on this list. (SoA)

#7 - Cate Blanchett - Cinderella
While I still don't understand Disney's insistence on remaking their animated films in a live-action format, Cinderella was the best incarnation yet and a huge reason for that is Cate Blanchett's on-point scenery chewing as the title character's stepmother.  Cloaked in some elegant garb, Blanchett snarls and jabs at Cinderella, yet manages to avoid ever being cartoonish.

#6 - Cynthia Nixon - James White
Creating quite the realistic portrayal, Cynthia Nixon proves heartbreaking as a mom whose only son is forced to be her caretaker when cancer causes her body and mind to deteriorate. (SoN)

#5 - Kate Winslet - Steve Jobs
The interesting thing about Kate Winslet's role in Steve Jobs is that it's much more about her reactions to her surroundings than anything else.  Sure, she's not afraid to tell her boss her true feelings about his attitude and demeanor, but even moreso than the actual dialog she utters, it's about her looks of anticipation or dread or encouragement that speak louder than many of the words she says.  And while the script certainly gives her a lot of words to speak, Winslet makes the moments she doesn't speak have just as great an impact. (SoH)

#4 - Jennifer Jason Leigh - The Hateful Eight
This couldn't have been an easy role to undertake for Jennifer Jason Leigh.  As essentially the only women in the small cast, her brash, ballsy, and tough as nails prisoner Daisy Domergue is the subject of an inordinate amount of abuse.  However, rather pleasantly (if such a descriptor could be used when describing this dark and violent film), Daisy doesn't take her abuse lightly.  She's unafraid to dole out the name-calling and physical attacks.  And she's kind of a hoot.  

#3 - Alicia Vikander - Ex Machina
2016 was the Year of Vikander and Ex Machina was certainly the high point (for this reviewer, anyway).  One may think that playing an emotionless robot wouldn't garner such an enthusiastic response from me, but Vikander's Ava is an emotionless robot attempting to be anything but an emotionless robot.  This search for humanism is depicted so well by Vikander as the film progresses that her character becomes the one we relate to almost more than the humans in the piece. (SoA)

#2 - Julie Walters - Brooklyn
Following this film's release, there was talk of crafting a whole tv series around the character of Mrs. Kehoe, the head of a women's boarding home in NYC, portrayed so warmly and hilariously by Julie Walters.  I would be so utterly ecstatic would that come true.  Mrs. Kehoe isn't particularly vital to the overarching story of Brooklyn, but she adds such realism and life to the proceedings that it's impossible not to fall in love with her sweet, though slightly irascible nature.  The dinner table scenes in Brooklyn are some of the finest moments depicted on film in 2015 and Julie Walters was at the center of them.  I found myself wanting her to come back for more scenes and there's no greater compliment than that. (SoH)

#1 - Elizabeth Banks - Love & Mercy
Even though her role as Beach Boys star Brian Wilson's girlfriend-turned-wife is oftentimes forced to be reactionary, Elizabeth Banks imbues so much intelligence behind Melinda's eyes.  Banks - in a break-out role for her - takes what could've been a throwaway role and gives Melinda depth, strength, and conviction that I wasn't expecting in the slightest.  She takes what could've been overly mushy sentimentality and tell us more in heartfelt, nervous, and contemplative gazes than I've seen from many other roles in 2015.  It's a stellar performance and one that captivated me from the moment she stepped onto the screen.  (SoA)

Previous RyMickey Award Winners
2014   ---   2013   ---   2012
2011   ---   2010   ---   2009

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The 2015 RyMickey Awards - Best Supporting Actor

The weakest of this year's acting categories (ensemble and youngest actor included), Best Supporting Actor had the least amount of contenders vying for a top five berth.  Quite honestly, were I an Oscar or Screen Actors Guild voter, my top spot would be the only one for whom I'd have been really rooting.  Rather shockingly, you'll note that only one of the men nominated for an Oscar finds his way to my list.  Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies), Christian Bale (The Big Short), Tom Hardy (The Revenant), and Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight) simply didn't blow me away or move me in any way.  Much talk was also made of Jacob Tremblay from Room missing out in the Best Supporting Actor category -- I find the talented young actor to have a leading role in that film which is why you won't find him here either.

Best Supporting Actor of 2015
(SoN = Streaming on Netflix // SoA = Streaming on Amazon // SoH = Streaming on HBO)

In the Running
(in alphabetical order)
Bobby Canavale - Danny Collins (SoA)
Sam Elliott - Grandma
Michael Shannon - 99 Homes - (SoA)

And the Top Five Are...

#5 - Emory Cohen - Brooklyn
Emory Cohen brings a charm and naturalness to the very Italian character of Tony Fiorelli.  We readily understand what Saoirse Ronan's character of Eilis sees in Tony.  It's tough not to have a smile on your face as Cohen's Tony looks lovingly on his new girlfriend. (SoH)

#4 - Oscar Isaac - Ex Machina
Too smart for his own good, Oscar Isaac's portrayal of reclusive tech genius Nathan is a bit ominous from the outset growing infinitely moreso as Ex Machina continues.  His intelligence is what is most frightening and Isaac conveys that quite well.

#3 - Idris Elba - Beasts of No Nation
Giving a fantastic no-nonsense performances, Elba's character should be hugely frightening, but it's a credit to the actor that we understand why his minions listen to him.  It isn't just out of fear -- he's charmed them into a corrupt way of life and this fine line is walked well by the actor. (SoN)

#2 - Seth Rogen - Steve Jobs
Usually the star, Rogen is relegated to second banana here, but his Steve Wozniak is desperate for attention from his father figure in Steve Jobs.  Rogen's depiction of Woz's woeful despondency and his deteriorating relationship with Jobs is a huge emotional crux of the piece for me. (SoH)

#1 - Sylvester Stallone - Creed
In Creed, Stallone's Rocky Balboa is a bit more weathered, a bit more wearied of jumping back into the boxing world.  His pace of everything -- the way he talks, the way he walks -- has slowed as time and his boxing past has taken its toll on him.  Stallone plays Rocky very vulnerable here and this adds huge layers to a character we've known for a long time.  I found myself quite moved by Stallone -- more than I ever could have expected -- and I think this is a fitting end (if it is the end) to this beloved character.

Previous RyMickey Awards Winners
2014   ---   2013   ---   2012
2011   ---   2010   ---   2009

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Theater Review - God of Carnage

The 2015 RyMickey Awards will return tomorrow with its final six days of awards.  For now, a one-day respite for a review of a local theatrical production that is quickly selling out multiple performances.

God of Carnage
Written by Yasmina Reza
Translated by Christopher Hampton
Directed by Kate Buckley
Where: Studio Theatre at the Roselle Center for the Arts
(University of Delaware, Newark, DE)
When:  Thursday, September 22, 7:30pm
Photo by the REP

The University of Delaware's Resident Ensemble Players kick off their 2016-17 season with the comedy God of Carnage which explores the uncouth side of human nature that lies just beneath the civilized façades some folks erect to hide their true thoughts and feelings.  The plot is most basic -- two couples meet up in a Brooklyn apartment after the son of Alan and Annette (Robert Gerard Anderson and the REP's Elizabeth Heflin) knocks out two teeth of the son of Michael and Veronica (the REP's Hassan El-Amin and the REP's Kathleen Pirkl Tague) during a small brawl in a park.  However, with this set-up introduced in the opening moments, the play's remaining intermissionless eighty-five minutes turns into a contest of wits, oneupmanship, and marital and sociological carnage.  This play, as we soon discover, isn't about the unseen kids at all, but rather about shifting viewpoints, ever-changing allegiances, and the animalistic nature that claws its way out of us humans every now and again.

With little plot from which to build interest, the audience is placed squarely at the mercy of the actors onstage, reliant on them to create reasons for us to comprehend their characters' feelings and emotions.  This quartet does a fine job of taking us on their individual journeys which may very well start the play in one hemisphere and end the play in one that is its polar opposite.  While guest actor Robert Gerard Anderson and debuting REP member Hassan El-Amin both nicely portray the masculine attributes gifted them by playwright Yasmina Reza (and translated from French by Christopher Hampton), for regular REP-goers, the real treat lies in seeing longtime troupe members Kathleen Pirkl Tague and Elizabeth Heflin spar one another with great gusto.  Their mannered civility quickly devolves and the interactions between Annette and Veronica seem to shift minute-to-minute from hostile to considerate and then back again, yet these two talented actresses make their characters' motivations and feelings always ring true.

Taking place on a rather lovely, sophisticated, and somewhat posh apartment set created by the talented REP designer Stefanie Hansen -- the type of environment that seems too ornate to really be lived in like the initial façades worn by the characters -- director Kate Buckley shrewdly utilizes the setting of the REP's small black box Studio Theater by constantly moving her actors around so all three seating locations of the audience feel as if they're squarely in the action of the play's increasingly brutal and hilarious proceedings.  As the god of Carnage begins to emerge onstage, I can't imagine there was a bad seat in the house.

Ultimately, a repeat viewing would likely help with better grasping the various motivations of characters' ever-shifting allegiances and tones.  Don't get me wrong, nothing here is confusing in the slightest, but there were a few minor instances here or there where I found myself going, "Why is X reacting this way to Y at this very moment?"  This is in part because your focus as an audience member is pulled four different ways at nearly every moment.  Who do I want to have my eyes on now because they're all great, you find yourself asking.  And that's a good thing.  For a play to create four characters all with their own distinct personalities, desires, and motivations which are all relayed to you in the audience so vividly in a real-time setting -- meaning the 85 minutes in the play are 85 continuous minutes in the lives of these characters -- is quite a feat.  The REP is certainly up to taking on this task and they open their season with much success.  I've wanted the REP to tackle this play for quite a while now (I even hoped for it in this 2012 review) and I greatly appreciate the group tackling some of these more modern classics as part of their great repertoire.  I'll say this again -- you can't get a better deal on theater than the Resident Ensemble Players at the University of Delaware.  

Friday, September 23, 2016

The 2015 RyMickey Awards - Best Director

For the second year in a row, my Best Director wasn't even nominated for an Oscar.  You'll also see that the eventual Oscar winner - Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu - doesn't even make an appearance here despite his film having several fascinating sequences.

Best Director of 2015
(SoN = Streaming on Netflix // SoA = Streaming on Amazon // SoH = Streaming on HBO)

(in alphabetical order by film)
Cory Joji Fukunaga - Beasts of No Nation (SoN)
Aaron Hann and Mario Miscione - Circle (SoN)
Niki Caro - McFarland, USA
Alfonso Gomez-Rejon - Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (SoH)

Honorable Mentions

8 - Ridley Scott - The Martian
Keeps things moving at a surprising clip, effectively balancing the various tones the movie creates. (SoH)

7 - Kenneth Branagh - Cinderella
Plays things old-fashioned in this modern era and there's an undeniable charm that accompanies this decision.

6 - Alex Garland - Ex Machina
Debut director has me looking forward to what I hope is a promising future. (SoA)

And the Top Five Are...

5 - Ryan Coogler - Creed
The visceral, in-your-face style Ryan Coogler (and his cinematographer) bring to the fighting sequences of Creed haven't been seen before in Rocky flicks.  The lengthy one-take fight sequence is blissfully choreographed and amazingly shot, leaving me awestruck.  Coogler also adeptly lets the quieter moments shine as well.  Fantastic work from this young director in what is only his second film.

4 - Lenny Abrahamson - Room
Mr. Abrahamson keeps the audience riveted with a emotionally intense relationship between a mother and son, getting great performances from his two leads.  In addition, he is adept at formulating a suspenseful atmosphere (that escape sequence!) as well as wonderfully lensing both the confines of Room and the wide-open spaces outside of the small enclosure. (SoA)

3 - Sebastian Schipper - Victoria
Could Sebastian Schipper have found a way to make his lengthy story a bit shorter?  Yes.  However, what he was done with his 132 minute-long single take movie is astonishing.  No tricks, just masterful camera work and well-thought-out timing.  Sure, it's a gimmick, but it's a gimmick that I always love. (SoN)

2 - John Crowley - Brooklyn
Brooklyn is a film that could've been made in the 1950s and director John Crowley embraces the simplistic and gentle aesthetic accompanying that era.  It's a heartwarming story filled with fantastic performances that exudes charm and elegance.  Plus, it's beautifully and lushly lensed. (SoH)

1 - Danny Boyle - Steve Jobs
Lensing Aaron Sorkin's talky script is no easy task, but Danny Boyle steps up to the plate and hits a home run with Steve Jobs.  He creates a rhythm that causes this talky, play-like film to move at a surprisingly breakneck pace.  The real-time aspect of the film (broken up into three acts) ingeniously keeps the tension palpable.  Plus, the decision to film each act using different formats of film (16mm, 32mm, and digital) creates unique visual imprints for the viewer.  Stunning work.  (SoH...Sept 24)

Previous RyMickey Award Winners
2014   ---   2013   ---   2012
2011   ---   2010   ---   2009

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The 2015 RyMickey Awards - Best Screenplay

Note: Slight update on 9/23 after a re-watch of Room.

A solid year for screenplays, for sure, including what I think is one of the best screenplays of the last decade (which was inexplicably not nominated for an Oscar).

(SoN = Streaming on Netflix // SoA = Streaming on Amazon // SoH = Streaming on HBO)

Best Original Screenplay of 2015
#5 - Dan Fogelman - Danny Collins
A hidden gem that isn't without clichés, but is full of witty wordplay spouted by amusing and well-rounded characters.  (SoA)

#4 - Josh Mond - James White
It takes a little bit to get going, but Josh Mond has crafted such a detailed, complex relationship between a son and his cancer-ravaged mother that it proves to be one of the best dramas of the year. (SoN)

#3 - Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi - What We Do in the Shadows
Mixing horror, comedy, and documentary clichés into a hilarious mash-up about a clan of vampires, the New Zealand duo of Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi made this sleeper flick (that you've likely never heard of before) one of my favorites of the year.

#2 - Alex Garland - Ex Machina
Sure, it's a little talky, but what it has to say about society is pretty darn intense.  A second watch recently further increased my appreciation for Alex Garland's work. (SoA)

#1 - Amy Schumer - Trainwreck
I've never seen Amy Schumer's tv show, but her debut screenplay is both charming and disarming at the same time, creating a film that feels both modern in terms of its raunchy humor and classic when it comes to romantic comedy tropes. (SoH)

Best Adapted Screenplay of 2015
Honorable Mentions
Cary Joji Fukunaga - Beasts of No Nation (SoN)
Jesse Andrews - Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (SoH)

#5 - Drew Goddard - The Martian
Surprisingly funny, Drew Goddard's flick does a great job of being intelligent in its sci-fi aspects without ever feeling haughty or boring.  Much more clever than I expected. (SoH)

#4 - Ryan Cooglar and Aaron Covington - Creed
Creating new layers for a well-known iconic character is not an easy task, but Ryan Cooglar and Aaron Covingron do just that with this latest chapter in the Rocky Balboa saga.  But it's not just a Rocky film either, introducing a new character that holds his own in the presence of cinematic royalty.

#3 - Nick Hornby - Brooklyn
While this film could land here for its hilarious women's boarding house dinner scenes alone, Nick Hornby has created a compelling love story with three members of a love triangle all feeling incredibly well-developed. (SoH)

#2 - Emma Donogue - Room
Adapting her own book, Ms. Donogue nails the tricky and tenuous emotional roller coaster of her two main characters.  Without ever feeling strained or cloying, the script is a riveting one packed with heart, compassion, and gutsiness. (SoA)

#1 - Aaron Sorkin - Steve Jobs
Even after a second viewing, my thoughts feel completely the same as they did after my original review, so I'll simply post my previous comments below:

Rarely do I write a review where I find myself giving tons of credit to the screenwriter, but in the case of Steve Jobs, I think what Aaron Sorkin does to create an atmosphere where the obviously manufactured set-ups [in which Jobs meets various people leading up to important product launches] works is something of a revelatory experience.  Part of the reason I think the three-act structure is so hugely successful is Sorkin and director Danny Boyle's insistence to have the scenes play out in real time [which has us in audience] gradually inching towards the edge of our seats desperate to see whether everything will be resolved by the time Jobs needs to take the stage.  As the film progresses and the second and third acts begin, we in the audience are now aware of the gimmick and the insistence of Sorkin to have Jobs meet up with [each person in the cast] and the anticipation we felt in Act One grows even more as we now find ourselves desperate to discover how Jobs's relationships will either become positively or negatively affected by his actions.  This concept is a writer's conceit  but it, along with Sorkin's fast-talking highfalutin dialog, works.

How Aaron Sorkin didn't get nominated for this is flabbergasting to me because Steve Jobs really is a screenwriting master class. (SoH...Sept 24)

Previous RyMickey Award Winners
2014   ---   2013   ---   2012
2011   ---   2010