Oscar noms 2015: Surprises and snubs

The nominees for this year’s Academy Awards were announced early this morning and as usual, the Academy generated lots of buzz with its picks. My initial reaction to the nominations was one of disappointment. Not one acting nomination went to a person of color. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised as the only legitimate candidate this year appeared to be David Oyelowo, who starred in “Selma,” but still, this is a problem that needs to be addressed sooner than later in Hollywood. The immediate need isn’t to produce more award recognition for minorities; it’s to produce more opportunities for minorities to gain that recognition by featuring them in more movies. But maybe diversity is still a four-letter word in Hollywood.

Here’s a look at who the Academy invited to the big Oscar party and who will be staying home watching it on TV like the rest of us.

Best Picture
“American Sniper”
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
“The Imitation Game”
“The Theory of Everything”

Surprise: “American Sniper” was snubbed by the Golden Globes, so it didn’t appear that it would make Oscar’s final list, but I guess you can never underestimate the power of a good military flick.

Snub: Although I didn’t care for the film myself, “Foxcatcher” is probably the most glaring omission here, especially considering the film’s director earned a nod for Best Director. “Gone Girl” and “Nightcrawler” should also have made this list.

Best Actor
Steve Carrell – “Foxcatcher”
Bradley Cooper – “American Sniper”
Benedict Cumberbatch – “The Imitation Game”
Michael Keaton – “Birdman”
Eddie Redmayne – “The Theory of Everything”

Surprise: Well, hello Bradley Cooper. Not recognized by the Golden Globes or the Screen Actors Guild, Cooper makes a surprise appearance on the Oscar ballot. This is his third nomination in three years.

Snub: The omission of Jake Gyllenhaal for his performance in “Nightcrawler” is criminal and really makes me sick. His was one of my top three performances of 2014 (behind Keaton and J.K. Simmons in “Whiplash”), and it’s disgusting that the Academy got this wrong. David Oyelowo (“Selma”) and Ralph Fiennes (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”) are also probably drowning their sorrows in a drink right about now.

Best Actress
Marion Cotillard – “Two Days, One Night”
Felicity Jones – “The Theory of Everything”
Julianne Moore – “Still Alice”
Rosamund Pike – “Gone Girl”
Reese Witherspoon – “Wild”

Surprise: Where did Marion Cotillard come from? The French Actress is no stranger to Oscar, having won the Best Actress award for “La Vie En Rose,” but had virtually no buzz coming in to award season. And no, Reese Witherspoon does not deserve this nomination.

Snub: Amy Adams won a Golden Globe last week for her performance in “Big Eyes” and has been nominated by the Academy five times previously, so it’s a bit of a surprise that she didn’t get her sixth nod this year.

Best Supporting Actor
Robert Duvall – “The Judge”
Ethan Hawke – “Boyhood”
Edward Norton – “Birdman”
Mark Ruffalo – “Foxcatcher”
J.K. Simmons – “Whiplash”

No surprises or snubs here. This is one category that the Academy got right.

Best Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette – “Boyhood”
Laura Dern – “Wild”
Emma Stone – “Birdman”
Keira Knightley – “The Imitation Game”
Meryl Streep – “Into the Woods”

Surprise: Laura Dern’s performance in “Wild” generated some Oscar buzz very early on, but when she didn’t get nominated by the Golden Globes or Screen Actors Guild, her Oscar chances appeared to be shot. And yet another nomination for Meryl Streep? Yawn…

Snub: There aren’t too many supporting actress performances that scream to be recognized this year (it was a pretty weak year for strong female roles), but the first one that comes to mind is Oscar favorite Jessica Chastain for her performance in “A Most Violent Year.”

Best Director
Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu – “Birdman”
Richard Linklater – “Boyhood”
Bennett Miller – “Foxcatcher”
Wes Anderson – “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Morten Tyldum – “The Imitation Game”

Surprise: Your movie “Foxcatcher” wasn’t good enough to earn one of the 10 eligible Best Picture nominations, but you get a nomination? Who’d you pay off Bennett Miller?

Snub: I would have loved to have seen first time director Damien Chazelle earn some recognition for “Whiplash,” my personal favorite film of the year.

Top 10 films of 2014

I initially thought that 2014 was a pretty mediocre year as far as films go, but looking back at the 70+ films I watched this year, there were a lot of films that I really enjoyed and will definitely be watching again soon. It was a great year for superheroes, sci-fi and even a little drummer boy. Here are my Top 10 films of 2014.

Worst Films of 2014

Picture 1 of 11

First let's start off with the films I hated the most this year.

"Winter's Tale": What an unwatchable mess. Such a confusing storyline with flying horses, magical powers and timelines that don't make any sense.

"Into the Storm": Characters so unlikable and stale that I actually wanted them to die from the tornado.

"Jersey Boys": It feels like director Clint Eastwood's films are showing the same age that he is. This film adaptation sucks all of the fun and energy out of the live musical.

"Tammy": Are Melissa McCarthy's 15 minutes up yet?

"Transformers: Age of Extinction: OMG what a stink bomb, and that's coming from someone who's actually a fan of the first three films. Director Michael Bay shows absolutely no restraint in this fourth installment and bored me nearly to tears. I was itching so bad to leave the theater while watching this one, and not because I had to pee.

My Korean parents react to ‘The Interview’

With all the hoopla surrounding the release of the comedy, “The Interview,” there was no way I wasn’t going to watch the film when it was finally released online a few days ago. But instead of giving you my review, I thought I’d share the reaction to the new Seth Rogen/James Franco comedy by two of the wisest Koreans I know – my parents.

interview1First, some background. My parents are first-generation Korean-Americans who immigrated to the U.S. a little over 40 years ago, a year after I was born. They are churchgoing Christians and generally pretty conservative. They’ve seen their share of American movies, but have never heard of Seth Rogen or James Franco. They weren’t even aware of “The Interview” until Sony’s cancellation of its release made the news. My dad’s side of the family actually is from North Korea, and while he has no love for that country, he was curious how it would be portrayed. So when I told them it had been released online and suggested that we watch it together, they were excited to see it. What follows is a summary of some of their reactions. Minor spoilers ahead:

  • The first scene shows Franco hamming it up as talk show host Dave Skylark. My dad asks me (in Korean) “Who is this joker? He’s a terrible actor.” I answer, “Dad, that’s James Franco. He’s been nominated for an Oscar.” He answers back, “I don’t care.”
  • A celebrity guest on Skylark’s talk show reveals that he’s gay. My mom starts laughing for some reason. Memories of Margaret Cho imitating her mother asking, “Is he the gay?” in a heavy Korean accent enters my mind.
  • Then another celebrity guest reveals that he’s bald on the same talk show and my dad starts cracking up. They’re so weird.
  • Another 10 minutes or so of the film goes by, and my parents have started to snack on some crackers. I hear my dad say, “These peanut butter crackers are really good.” Oh no, are they losing interest already?
  • The sight of a North Korean helicopter with “All Americans should die” written in Korean on its side gets a big laugh out of my parents. Uh oh, I hope they’re laughing because it’s funny and not because they agree.
  • A male character has a huge erection. My mom exclaims, “Oh my God!” while my dad just cracks up. Apparently we both laugh at dick jokes. Yes, we are related!
  • My sister then calls to wish us a Merry Christmas and I’m forced to pause the movie for about 10 minutes. Come on, it’s not even Christmas yet! We’ll talk to you tomorrow. Can we go on with the movie please?
  • Mom asks me, “Did they really film this in North Korea?” Gotta love my mom’s innocence.
  • The main characters visit North Korea and are shown a supermarket full of bountiful food by their escort to prove people aren’t going hungry. Both my mom and dad call BS and say almost simultaneously, “I don’t think so.”
  • A large tiger gets ready to attack one of the characters. Mom lets out a “Oh no!”
  • A character is forced to hide a large capsule in his butt to avoid suspicion from North Korean officers. My parents both laugh out loud. Who knew they’d appreciate a good butt joke?
  • Skylark plays basketball with Kim Jong Un. My dad asks “Where’s Dennis Rodman?” Glad to hear he’s keeping up with current events.
  • Then a sex scene happens. My mom says her second “Oh my God!” of the night.
  • Kim Jong Un and his staff are sitting at a table and smoking cigarettes. My dad says, “Yeah, I heard he smokes a lot.” Time to call the CIA with this intel!
  • A head gets shot off at close range. My mom cries out in disgust, “Gross!”

interview2After the film, I asked them what they thought. They agreed it was very funny and said they enjoyed it a lot. When asked to rate it on a scale of 1 to 10, my dad gave it a 7.5 and my mom gave it an 8. Whoa, that certainly was a high score from my super Christian mom for a movie with jokes about erections, feces and homosexuality.

As for me, I too liked the film a lot. I’ve seen all the Rogen and Franco collaborations and am a fan of their adolescent humor. But what I enjoyed most was being able to watch it with my parents. I love them both tremendously and was so glad to be able to spend the holiday evening bonding over immature dick and fart jokes.

Happy holidays everyone!

Don’t go ‘Into the Woods’

Two musicals in two weeks? What is Hollywood trying to do to American film audiences? Culture us? Bah humbug!

woods1I’m actually a big fan of musicals, but on the live stage where they belong. Only a small handful of popular stage musicals have successfully made the transition to film, and after the recent bunch in 2014, including the boring “Jersey Boys” and the terribly reimagined “Annie,” perhaps Hollywood should think twice about making any more. Does “Into the Woods” change this reviewer’s mind? Hardly.

I’ve never seen the original Stephen Sondheim stage version of “Into the Woods,” so I went into the movie with a clean slate. The film intertwines the characters of four classic fairy tales – Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Jack and the Beanstalk, with a married couple having to collect an item from each of them as they all enter the mysterious woods to lift a family curse preventing them from having children. The couple succeed, and all four fairy tales also conclude in the manner audiences are familiar with. But then the film takes a dark turn, exposing what happens to these characters after the “happily ever after.” I initially enjoyed this twist, but quickly lost interest when characters started making out-of-the-blue, puzzling decisions without any set up. Their choices completely took me out of the movie. And for a family film, there are some very dark moments. Eyes get gouged out, appendages get sliced off, and characters mysteriously die (although off camera).

woods2Also, be prepared for a lot of singing. A LOT. It’s a musical after all. And most of the cast perform quite adeptly in their roles with Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Emily Blunt and Meryl Streep all displaying impressive voices. Even Johnny Depp makes quite a mark as the Wolf, but he’s just onscreen for about five minutes. But you probably won’t walk out of the theater humming any particular tune. The big numbers really aren’t that memorable, other than the opening title song. And I really didn’t understand why some characters sung/spoke in British accents, with Jack having an especially noticeable cockney accent, while others sung/spoke in clear American accents.

There were just too many strange things going on in the film, so I couldn’t get into it, and as a result, it felt bloated and overly long. In order for a musical to keep your attention, the story and songs have to mesh beautifully, but “Into the Woods” didn’t do that for me.

This “Annie” has no heart, no point

You know all of those film purists who rage against Hollywood’s trend of remaking films from the past? Movies like “Annie” make their case that much stronger. It’s not that it’s a terrible film. It’s just a pointless one.

annie1I’m a fan of musicals, but am very cautious when it comes to their big-screen versions. There’s just something about musicals that demands a live audience, and the structure is very specific to a limited stage setting. Once you take those stories and expand them to the cinema world, something usually gets lost in the translation. Now I’ve never seen “Annie” as a musical, but there was just something off about the musical numbers in this film version. They seemed to be randomly plopped in throughout the script, causing a lack of fluidity between songs. And “Tomorrow,” the song that’s supposed to be the show stopper gets thrown in early in the film without any real buildup, and therefore it doesn’t get the payoff it deserves.

Quvenzhane Wallis, the young actress who charmed audiences and earned an Oscar nomination with her performance in “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” goes into full mugging mode as “Annie.” It’s like the only direction she received in each scene was to smile big and deliver her lines with street smart sass. It’s one of the most unnatural and cringe-inducing child performances I’ve seen in a long time. And I don’t know what movie Cameron Diaz thinks she’s acting in. I’m actually a fan of Diaz’s work but her performance as the foster caretaker Ms. Hannigan is certainly deserving of a Razzie. I do give a lot of credit to Jamie Foxx and Rose Byrne, however, as billionaire Williams Stacks and his assistant Grace. They give it their all, and at least seem to be having fun while doing it.

annie2Of course I realize that I’m not the target demographic for this film, but I have to think that even the targeted children audience will be too smart to fall for this glossy remake. Producing couple Will and Jada Pinkett Smith apply the same formula to “Annie” as their previous production, the 2010 remake of “The Karate Kid” – modernize the story by making it more urban, throw in a few hip hop numbers and cast one of your kids in the lead role. Thankfully Willow Smith, who originally was supposed to play the title character, was deemed too old at filming and replaced by Wallis. But remakes like “Annie” are like the Tin Man from “The Wizard of Oz” – shiny on the surface, but lacking heart.

Couldn’t those cyber terrorists have targeted this Sony movie instead of “The Interview?”