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2014 Academy Award Nominations Breakdown

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Oh what a year it has been, a fact cemented this morning with the announcement of 121 Oscar nominations. Noticeably absent were a host of Academy kings and queens like Tom Hanks, who was originally looking at two potential nominations and would up with none, and Hank’s Saving Mr. Banks co-star Emma Thompson, who became a runner-up to the five ladies who secured Best Actress noms. Missing out on the expected nominations, Saving Mr Banks is definitely the biggest snubbed film as it failed to secure even one nom while it almost looked like a frontrunner at one point.

For best picture, I nailed seven of the nominations but left out Philomena, which edged out Inside Llewyn Davis and Banks. Alexander Payne took a spot in the Best Director category that many expected to head towards Paul Greengrass. The absence of both Hanks (Captain Phillips) and Robert Redford (All is Lost) opened up spots for Christian Bale (American Hustle) and Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street). And while my predictions suffered for not including either, all in all, I’m really happy with those switches as I believe Bale and DiCaprio put in two of the best performances of the year.

A couple pleasant surprises include Jonah Hill‘s Best Supporting Actor nomination and Her scooping up a few extra awards with Best Original Song and Production Design.

Amongst those films noticeable absent across the board are Inside Llewyn Davis, which only scored two nominations (Best Sound Mixing and Best Cinematography), and The Butler which didn’t see a single nom. It seems like Dallas Buyers Club got some last minute wind beneath its wings to edge out Davis in just about every category I had it positioned for nomination.

But the biggest snubs seem to come from 12 Years a Slave, which still managed nine nominations. Most notably Hans Zimmer was passed up for his score and Sean Bobbitt who served as DP on 12 Years and was thought to be a sure contender in the cinematographer field both left empty handed. Alex Ebert, who just won a Golden Globe for his All is Lost score, was also surprisingly passed up. And though I’m not shocked, it was disappointed to not see Lana Del Rey‘s stunning “Young and Beautiful” left out of the Best Original Song category.

Leading the scoreboard, both Gravity and American Hustle each have ten nominations and stunningly director David O. Russell continues his streak of just crushing it and garnishing his actors nominations in all four categories. As if he wasn’t already an actor’s dream director, he’s become so adept at scoring noms for his performers now that any future performer in an O. Russell film is essentially assured a nomination. And while American Hustle suddenly looks like the one to beat, Gravity is still poised to strike down competition in all the technical fields.

Taking Hustle and Gravity‘s domination into account, 2014 certainly signals a mood shift for the inherently old-timey Academy. More than ever, this set of nominations is a populist collection, leaning heavily towards mass approval and away from the eclectic little indies that the mainstream doesn’t often stray into. What will this mean when award times come? Most likely a bent towards the breezy, the easy, and those that don’t wallow in the muds of slavery.

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So let’s get down to the actual nominations. Without a doubt, we’re in store for an interesting season.
I’ve highlighted those that I predicted in green.

BEST PICTURE
American Hustle
12 Years a Slave
Her
Gravity
Nebraska
Saving Mr Banks
The Butler
Captain Phillips
Philomena

BEST DIRECTOR
Steve McQueen
Alfonso Cuaron
David O. Russell
Martin Scorsese
Alexander Payne

BEST ACTOR
Chiwetel Ejifor
Christian Bale
Bruce Dern
Matthew McConaughey
Leonardo DiCaprio

BEST ACTRESS
Cate Blanchett
Amy Adams
Sandra Bullock
Judi Dench
Meryl Streep

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Jared Leto
Bradley Cooper
Michael Fassbender
Barkhad Abdi
Jonah Hill

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Lupita Nyong’o
June Squibb
Julia Roberts
Jennifer Lawrence
Sally Hawkins

BEST EDITING
Gravity
12 Years a Slave
Dallas Buyers Club
American Hustle
Captain Phillips

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Nebraska
Her
Dallas Buyers Club
Blue Jasmine
American Hustle

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
12 Years a Slave
Wolf of Wall Street
Before Midnight
Captain Phillips
Philomena

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
The Hunt
The Missing Picture
The Broken Circle Breakdown
The Great Beauty
Omar

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
The Grandmaster
Gravity
Inside Llewyn Davis
Prisoners
Nebraska

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
12 Years a Slave
The Great Gatsby
American Hustle
Her
Gravity

BEST SOUND MIXING
Gravity
Captain Phillips
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Lone Survivor
Inside Llewyn Davis

BEST SOUND EDITING
Gravity
All is Lost
Captain Phillips
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Lone Survivor

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Michael Wilkinson “American Hustle”
William Chang Suk Ping “The Grandmaster”
Michael O’Connor “The Invisible Woman”
Catherine Martin “The Great Gatsby”
Patricia Norris “12 Years a Slave”

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
William Butler and Owen Pallett “Her”
Steven Price “Gravity”
Thomas Newman “Saving Mr Banks”
Alexandre Desplat “Philomena”
John Williams “The Book Thief”

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
The Act of Killing
Cutie and the Boxer
Dirty War
The Square
20 Feet From Stardom

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Frozen
Despicable Me 2
Ernest and Celestine
The Croods
The Wind Rises

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Gravity
Iron Man 3
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Star Trek into Darkness
The Lone Ranger

BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING
Bad Grandpa
Dallas Buyers Club
The Lone Ranger

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
“Let it Go” – Frozen
“Happy” – Despicable Me 2
“The Moon Son” – Her
“Alone Yet Not Alone” – Alone Yet Not Alone
“Ordinary Love” – Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

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For their nominations, certain actors, directors have already spoken out in gratitude.

Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
“I’m really chuffed with the Oscar nomination especially being recognised alongside such great actors.  It’s a real honor.”
 
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
“I’m extraordinarily happy for all the cast and crew of our 12 Years a Slave family.  This has been an amazing ride, and to receive nine nominations from the Academy is testament to all of the hard work.  And for that I am truly grateful.”
 
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
“At no point during filming, in the sweltering heat of New Orleans, did any of us ever foresee the journey this film would take us all on. Steve McQueen created an entire family to tell one man’s tale and I am delighted that so many of this family have also been recognized today. I am hugely grateful to the Academy for this great honour, and, of course, to Solomon Northup for sharing his story through his breathtaking book.”
 
John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave
“It feels very special, but I just really appreciate how people have responded to Solomon Northup’s story and his life.  I’m just so happy for the whole crew and cast who brought Solomon’s memoir to the screen.  It’s been a great year for film, and for people to consider 12 Years a Slave to be among the best is more humbling than you can imagine.”

Amy Adams, American Hustle
“I’m very honored to be nominated alongside such inspiring actresses. Congratulations to the cast and crew of American Hustle and Her, two films that I’m incredibly proud to be a part of.”
 
David O. Russell, American Hustle
“First of all, I want to congratulate all of the nominees from all of the films. We are all blessed to be in this business, telling stories. In American Hustle, we tried to create characters and a world that the audience would find romantic and moving and real. I am so thrilled for my partners – my actors, my producers, Eric Singer, and the craftspeople from the film – who were honored today. They gave it their all; they poured their passion into the movie and I am truly thankful to them.”
 
Dana Brunetti, Captain Phillips
“We’re so incredibly proud of this film and the team we assembled both in front of and behind the camera. Simply put, we could not have done it without the enormous talent of Paul and Tom.  It was an honor to be able to tell the heroic story of Captain Richard Phillips and the US Navy SEALS who rescued him.” –
 
Michael DeLuca, Captain Phillips
We are grateful to the Academy for the recognition and for the privilege of being included in an amazing field of movies this year. It’s all a testament to Paul Greengrass’ artistry and Tom Hanks’ craft and commitment.
 
Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
“I am truly honored to have been nominated by the Academy this morning.
This has been a life changing experience for me.  I would like to congratulate all of the nominees this morning, especially the team from Captain Phillips who were recognized.  My performance is a testament to the vision of our incredible director Paul Greengrass, and our other Captain
— the generous, amazing, and inspiring Tom Hanks.”

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Golden Globes Nominations Stick to the Usual Suspects

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What a crazy two months it has been, as the majority of the Golden Globes film nominees were released in the last sixth of this year. 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle earned seven nods each, leading the pack of award season favorites. Interestingly, the competition for best film has been essentially cut in half, since the Globes consider Her, American Hustle, Inside Llewyn Davis, and Nebraska comedies, which seems a bit odd, even though they are lighter dramas.

Of the two categories, the comedy one looks to be much more competitive, honestly. While Gravity, Captain Phillips, Philomena, and Rush were all exceptionally solid films, they are second tier to the likes of 12 Years a Slave and Dallas Buyers Club (which is curiously absent). The actor nods are in the same boat, as the competitive pool has been divided into two separate categories.

The complete list of nominees below with predictions in red.

Best Picture, Drama

“12 Years a Slave”

“Captain Phillips”

“Gravity”

“Philomena”

“Rush”

Best Picture, Musical or Comedy

“American Hustle”

“Her”

“Inside Llewyn Davis”

“Nebraska”

“The Wolf of Wall Street”


Best Director

Alfonso Cuarón, “Gravity”

Paul Greengrass, “Captain Phillips”

Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave”

Alexander Payne, “Nebraska”

David O. Russell, “American Hustle”

 

Best Actor, Drama

Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years a Slave”

Idris Elba, “Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom”

Tom Hanks, “Captain Phillips”

Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”

Robert Redford, “All Is Lost”

 

Best Actress, Drama

Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”

Sandra Bullock, “Gravity”

Judi Dench, “Philomena”

Emma Thompson, “Saving Mr. Banks”

Kate Winslet, “Labor Day”

 

Best Actor, Musical or Comedy

Christian Bale, “American Hustle”

Bruce Dern, “Nebraska”

Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Wolf of Wall Street”

Oscar Isaac, “Inside Llewyn Davis”

Joaquin Phoenix, “Her”

 

Best Actress, Musical or Comedy

Amy Adams, “American Hustle”

Julie Delpy, “Before Midnight”

Greta Gerwig, “Frances Ha”

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Enough Said”

Meryl Streep, “August: Osage County”

 

Best Supporting Actor

Barkhad Abdi, “Captain Phillips”

Daniel Brühl, “Rush”

Bradley Cooper, “American Hustle”

Michael Fassbender, “12 Years a Slave”

Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”

 

Best Supporting Actress

Sally Hawkins, “Blue Jasmine

Jennifer Lawrence, “American Hustle”

Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”

Julia Roberts, “August: Osage County”

June Squibb, “Nebraska”

 

Best Animated Feature Film

“The Croods”

“Despicable Me 2”

“Frozen”

 

Foreign Language Film

“Blue Is the Warmest Color”

“The Great Beauty”

“The Hunt”

“The Past”

“The Wind Rises”

 

Best Screenplay

“12 Years a Slave”

“American Hustle”

“Her”

“Nebraska”

“Philomena”

 

Best Original Song

“Atlas,” performed by Coldplay — “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”

“Let It Go,” performed by Idina Menzel — “Frozen”

“Ordinary Day,” performed by U2 — “Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom”

“Please Mr. Kennedy,” performed by Justin Timberlake, Oscar Isaac, and Adam Driver — “Inside Llewyn Davis”

“Sweeter Than Fiction,” performed by Taylor Swift — “One Chance”

 

Best Original Score

Alex Ebert, “All Is Lost”

Alex Heffes, “Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom”

Steven Price, “Gravity”

John Williams, “The Book Thief”

Hans Zimmer, “12 Years a Slave”

 

TELEVISION

 

Best Television Series, Drama

“Breaking Bad”

“Downton Abbey”

“The Good Wife”

“House of Cards”

“Masters of Sex”

 

Best Television Series, Comedy or Musical

“The Big Bang Theory”

“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”

“Girls”

“Modern Family”

“Parks and Recreation”

 

Best Miniseries or Television Movie

“American Horror Story: Coven”

“Behind the Candelabra”

“Dancing on the Edge”

“Top of the Lake”

“White Queen”

 

Best Actor, Television Drama

Bryan Cranston, “Breaking Bad”

Liev Schreiber, “Ray Donovan”

Michael Sheen, “Masters of Sex”

Kevin Spacey, “House of Cards”

James Spader, “The Blacklist

 

Best Actress, Television Drama

Juliana Margulies, “The Good Wife”

Tatiana Maslany, “Orphan Black”

Taylor Schilling, “Orange Is the New Black”

Kerry Washington, “Scandal”

Robin Wright, “House of Cards”

 

Best Actor, Television Comedy or Musical

Jason Bateman, “Arrested Development”

Don Cheadle, “House of Lies”

Michael J. Fox, “The Michael J. Fox Show”

Jim Parsons, “The Big Bang Theory”

Andy Samberg, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”

 

Best Actress, Television Comedy or Musical

Zooey Deschanel, “New Girl”

Lena Dunham, “Girls”

Edie Falco, “Nurse Jackie”

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep”

Amy Poehler, “Parks and Recreation”

 

Best Actor, Television Movie or Mini-Series

Matt Damon, “Behind the Candelabra”

Michael Douglas, “Behind the Candelabra”

Chiwetel Ejiofor, “Dancing on the Edge”

Idris Elba, “Luthor”

Al Pacino, “Phil Specter”

 

Best Actress, Television Movie or Mini-Series

Helena Bonham Carter, “Burton and Taylor”

Rebecca Ferguson, “White Queen”

Jessica Lange, “American Horror Story: Coven”

Helen Mirren, “Phil Specter”

Elisabeth Moss, “Top of the Lake”

 

Best Supporting Actor

Josh Charles, “The Good Wife”

Rob Lowe, “Behind the Candelabra”

Aaron Paul, “Breaking Bad”

Corey Stoll, “House of Cards”

Jon Voight, “Ray Donovan”

 

Best Supporting Actress

Jacqueline Bisset, “Dancing on the Edge”

Janet McTeer, “White Queen”

Hayden Panettiere, “Nashville”

Monica Potter, “Parenthood”

Sofia Vergara, “Modern Family”

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Taking a Second Swing at the 2014 Oscar Predictions

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A lot has changed in the weeks since my first Oscar prediction post. A big contender is now out of the running with Monuments Men unexpected move to a 2014 release, while Saving Mr. Banks debuted to soaring reviews, and The Wolf of Wall Street secured its chance in this year’s Oscar after solidifying a Christmas release date.

Although buzz has Gravity and 12 Years a Slave going head-to-head for the title, that conversation is nothing more than preemptive positioning, as there’s just so much more to see before the we start setting things in stone. One thing is for sure though, Gravity’s continued praise and high box office numbers make it a stronger contender than expected and it’s pretty much locked in nominations across the board. Nonetheless, expect it to pull an Inception/Life of Pi manuever and mostly walk away with technical accolades. Although unlikely, a director-picture split could potentially see Alfonso Cuaron taking home his first Oscar but after last year’s Affleck, Argo drama, don’t cross your fingers.

After seeing 12 Years a Slave, Blue is the Warmest Color, and Nebraska, I had to shake up a few categories, first and foremost, the Best Actor category, as I can’t imagine Bruce Dern not seeing some recognition. As for Chiwetel Ejifor‘s lead role in 12 Years, it’s beyond powerful, and he’s very likely to take home the gold. Nipping at his heels, Robert Redford continues to climb the charts for his near silent role in All is Lost and could just end up playing a legacy trump card when it comes voting time.

Another black man playing a role tailor man for the Oscars, Forest Whitaker got pushed out of the top five for now but it wouldn’t be unlikely for him to step back in sooner or later. Perhaps the biggest unknown quality in this category though is Leonardo DiCaprio, who leads Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. Criminally undernominated, DiCaprio was pegged for an Oscar for this role early on but now his odds are shakier with the knowledge that Wolf is a nearly three hour long dark comedy. Now that the film will definitely see the light of day in 2013, there’s still a chance he can pull some last minute punches. For once, it’s a rather interesting race for Best Actor with some massive talent pining for those top five spots.

The Best Director category seems pretty firmed up as none of the top five spots managed to budge. Expect further momentum in that category in December when Saving Mr. Banks, American Hustle, and Inside Llewyn Davis play for a wider audience. For now, it’s a race between McQueen and Cuaron but if American Hustle is the success story that so many people expect, a win for David O. Russell would be more than understandable.

Glancing through the list for now, you’ll notice a bit of a 12 Years a Slave domination. Does that mean I expect 12 Years a Slave to clean up at the Oscars? Not necessarily, but all current momentum does have it as an early frontrunner, making it the one to beat at the moment. Gravity is currently perceived as its biggest competition but that’s little more than hogwash, as Gravity, no matter how well received, just doesn’t stand a chance at the top.

The closet thing we have as a lock for now is Cate Blanchett‘s stronghold on Best Actress. Although Judi Dench will give her a run for her money with her titular role in Philomena, Bullock is assured a nomination, and Streep is never someone to be scoffed at, this category is all but signed, sealed, and delivered for Blanchett.

Best Picture:

1. “12 Years a Slave” (No change)

2. “Gravity” +1
3. “Saving Mr. Banks” +1
4. “American Hustle” -2
5.  “The Wolf of Wall Street” +4
6. “Inside Llewyn Davis” (No change)
7. “Captain Phillips” -2
8. “Nebraska” +4
9. “Dallas Buyers Club” -2
10. “All is Lost” +1

Fringe:
11. “August: Osage County” -1
12. “Rush” +1
13. “Before Midnight” +1
14. “Blue is the Warmest Color” (New)
15. “Prisoners” (New)

Best Director:

1. Steve McQueen “12 Years a Slave” (No change)

2. Alfonso Cuaron “Gravity” (No change)
3. David O. Russell “American Hustle” (No change)
4. John Lee Hancock “Saving Mr. Banks” (No change)
5. The Coen Bros “Inside Llewyn Davis” (No change)

Fringe:
6. Martin Scorsese “The Wolf of Wall Street” +2
7. Paul Greengrass  “Captain Phillips” -1
8. JC Chandor “All is Lost” +1
9. Alexander Payne “Nebraska” +1
10. Jean-Marc Vallee “Dallas Buyers Club” (New)

Best Actor:

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1. Chiwetel Ejifor “12 Years a Slave” +1

2. Robert Redford “All is Lost” +2
3. Matthew McConaughey “Dallas Buyers Club” -2
4. Tom Hanks  “Captain Phillips” -1
5. Bruce Dern “Nebraska” +3
 
Fringe:
6. Leonardo DiCaprio “The Wolf of Wall Street” (No change)
7. Forest Whitaker “Lee Daniel’s The Butler” -2
8. Christain Bale “American Hustle” -1
9. Joaquin Phoenix “Her” (No change)
10. Oscar Isaac “Inside Llewyn Davis” (No change)

Best Actress:

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1. Cate Blanchett “Blue Jasmine” (No change)

2. Judi Dench “Philomena” (No change)
3. Sandra Bullock “Gravity” +1
4. Meryl Streep “August: Osage County” -1
5. Emma Thompson “Saving Mr. Banks” (No change)
 
Fringe:
6.Amy Adams “American Hustle” (No change)
7. Adèle Exarchopoulos “Blue is the Warmest Color” +2
8. Julie Delpy “Before Midnight” -1
9. Brie Larson “Short Term 12” -1
10. Berenice Bejo “The Past” (No change)

Best Supporting Actor:

1. Jared Leto “Dallas Buyers Club” (No change)

2. Michael Fassbender “12 Years a Slave” +1
2. Daniel Bruhl “Rush” -1
4. Tom Hanks “Saving Mr. Banks” (No change)
5. Barkhad Abdi “Captain Phillips” +3

Fringe:
6. Bradley Cooper “American Hustle” (No change)
7. Jake Gllyenhaal “Prisoners” (No change)
8. Jonah Hill “The Wolf of Wall Street” (New)
9. John Goodman “Inside Llewyn Davis” -4
10. James Gandolfini “Enough Said” (New)

Best Supporting Actress:

1. Lupita Nyong’o “12 Years a Slave” (No change)

2. Oprah Winfrey “Lee Daniel’s The Butler” (No change)
3. June Squibb “Nebraska” +4
4. Julia Roberts “August: Osage County” -1
5. Octavia Spencer “Fruitvale Station” -1

Fringe:
6. Lea Seydoux “Blue is the Warmest Color” (New)
7. Margo Martindale “August: Osage County” -1
8. Melissa Leo “Prisoners” (No change)
9. Jennifer Lawrence “American Hustle” (No change)
10. Carey Mulligan “Inside Llewyn Davis” (No change)

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Out in Theaters: CAPTAIN PHILLIPS

“Captain Phillips”
Directed by Paul Greengrass
Starring Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, Michael Chernus, Catherine Keener, David Warshofsky, Corey Johnson, Chris Mulkey
Biography, Crime, Drama
134 Mins
PG-13

“There’s gotta be something more than fishing or kidnapping people,” Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) pleads to his captors. “Maybe in America,” Somali pirate Muse (Barkhad Abdi) retorts musingly, “maybe in America.” Paul Greengrass‘s harrowing dramatization of Captain Phillip’s 2009 kidnapping is filled with cultural misunderstandings of this nature. Vermont native Phillips fails to understand the true scope of these 21st century Somali pirates’ desperation just as Muse and his ragtag gang of automatic weapon-clutching goons can’t grasp how ridiculous their uncompromising request for a ten million dollar bounty is. On the surface, Captain Phillips may be a nail-biting tension match on par with Greengrass’s Bourne films but these surging politic undercurrents nipping at the frayed seams of a lopsided global economy takes the film to the next level of austere greatness.

As Phillips departs home on a socked in Vermont morning, he and wife Andrea (Catherine Keener) make small talk. Opposite to expectations, their relationship has never quite acclimated to Phillip’s globetrotting work. His departure is a challenge each and every time. But besides the emotional stress that comes bundled with physical distance from his family that rolls around like clockwork, there looms a far greater threat to Phillips: pirates.

Not swashbuckling, rum-chugging, sword-swinging Captain Jack Sparrows that Hollywood has so successfully romaticized but rather pirates born and bred of desperation. There are no “pirate’s life for me” sing-a-longs, no colorful parrots, plank to walk, or skull-and-bones flags, just a ragged sense of urgent necessity fueled by a “do or die” philosophy. Greengrass scrubs any dated concepts of glamor with a lump-throated scene of “woe-is-them” exposure. Pirating is a business and like all businesses, it can only handle so many employees. In this third world enterprise, tattered Somalians are literally begging to join the bandit crew. As easy as it is to paint them as such, they are not the scum of the earth; they’re just the products of a living, breathing dumping ground, scrounging for their piece of the pie.

However you may despise the cold-eyed Muse and his radical tactics at times, there is never an instance where you don’t understand him. This finely tuned balance, achieved through tactful story telling and a deeply humanistic element, is the work of a master. Onward and upward from the utterly fantastic and heart-wrenching United 93, Greengrass has learned even more self-discipline in the past decade. With Captain Phillips, he’s managed to secure a better handle on blending tension, drama, and the cold hard facts. For the wealth of real-life drama originating from the Maersk Alabama kidnapping, Greengrass has harnessed the best elements, like a weathered jeweler cutting down a diamond, and crafted a truly moving story.

Front and center, Hanks puts in one of the finest performances of his career. For all of his great former roles, there has always been a pinch of something disingenuous. Here there’s no shoddy accent cluttering things, no slips into hammy flourishes, no reliance on melodrama to catalyze the impact of his delivery. This is 100 percent raw and real. As Phillips, Hanks delivers a master class in acting, easily revealing his most mature and finely adjusted performance, perhaps ever.

While Captain Phillips falls in a season exploring all brands of survival drama (Gravity, All is Lost), it carves its own niche and is able to get our blood boiling in its own kind of way. While Gravity explored our human fear of claustrophobia and solitude, Phillips overturns the darkest corner of human nature: the fight-or-flight survival instinct within us. Any creature with its back against the wall will battle tooth and nail for its own life, and this is the catch 22 of the Somali circumstance. They believe that they must put their lives in danger ransacking these cargo ships in order to survive, even if that means holding up vessels stocked with emergency aid for those living in Africa. They are literally Robin Hood-ing their own people under the thin veil of collective-interest while they are literally taking food from the mouths of their fellow emaciated comrade.

And while this crew may not be dying in the moment, they are literally rotting away as a result of abject poverty. Their only perceived solution is this kidnapping business – as fishing just won’t cut it in the days of cargo barges constantly scaring off schools of potential dollars. As our entrance to this “other side of the world” mindset, Muse is more than a caricature. He’s hardly more than a sack of bones but he’s downright terrifying at times, reminding us of a once-bullied school child, now clinging to notions of American grandeur that could only be the stuff of dreams. Even his nickname “Skinny” (a tag he despises) fingers poverty and false iconography as the true enemy.

The beating heart of Captain Phillips is the revolution of these two Captains around one another as they fight for their survival only as they best see fit. They both lie to each other, they both make tragic mistakes, they both underestimate each other’s ceaseless zeal but, in the end, they want the same thing and this is the true irony. Both Phillips and Muse covet the American dream. To Phillips, this means responsibility, family, and job security – basically, the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. He’s not asking for much, just what he’s been promised his whole life.

Muse essentially wants the same thing; he just doesn’t know how to go about it. Even more damning, he fails to understand that not every American is a millionaire nor can he really comprehend the value of the American dollar. Just as Phillips can’t quite grasp the grim lack of options presented to these sea-bound desperadoes, Muse can’t help but apply a paradise template to his Americano notions. Their inherent misinterpretation of what each other stands for creates a deliciously polarized character swirl that pulls the tension as taut as a guitar string.

Humanizing his villain is a bold step, especially since we’re rooting against him for so much of the picture, but it’s a skill that Greengrass and screenwriter Billy Ray boldly execute. It’s rare to see an antagonist so despicable and yet so secretly tender. Using the autobiography from the real Richard Phillips as a map, Ray has crafted a believable and yet supercharged hijacking film far and away better than the much celebrated but truly lacking Denmark film A Hijacking.

Greengrass has made a hero story that we don’t quite know how to feel about. Our alliances are set, our convictions are airtight, but there’s a sneaking feeling of something amiss in an American victory that we just can’t put our finger on. He’s not piling on the white guilt but maybe that’s the genesis of the moral frustration, the straw-on-camel tipping point of Western privilege. The one we didn’t see coming.

As a biopic, it’s uncompromising and doggedly raw. As a thriller, it defines “being on pins and needles”. As a showcase for Tom Hanks, it serves as a major highlight for his long and illustrious career. It is, without a doubt, a spectacular achievement.

A

 

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Round One of the 2014 Oscar Predictions


As 2013 races to a close, it’s time for the first round of Oscar predictions. 2013 started with a whimper with a truly slumping spring season that moved into a relatively disappointing summer slate of blockbusters (at least from a critical perspective). But the fall season hopes to make up for any inadequacies of the rest of the year with a lump sum of certifiably great films. Although some of my predicted contenders have yet to see the light of day, there are now enough pieces in play to make a fair judgement as to what may and may not make the cut come the year’s end. Come join us to discuss our first round of 2014’s Oscar predictions.

I’ve personally only seen a few of the big contenders for Best Picture (Gravity, Dallas Buyers Club, Captain Phillips), some have played their way through the festival circuit (Inside Llewyn Davis, Saving Mr. Banks, 12 Years a Slave, Inside Llewyn Davis) and the remainder have yet to be seen at all (The Wolf of Wall Street, American Hustle, The Monuments Men). But even for these unknown qualities, all you have to do is look at the talent and directors and a shoe-in is the rule rather than the exception.

Coming off a fiery debut at TIFF, 12 Years a Slave seems the clear front runner and is sure to nab nomination across the board (including Steve McQueen‘s first directing Oscar nomination as well as first time nominations for Chiwetel Ejifor and Lupita Nyong’o). Others such as Inside Llewyn Davis and Saving Mr. Banks won high praise out of Cannes and the AFI fest respectively and will similar play across many categories.

As far as those that have yet to play for any audience, David O. Russell’s sterling track record speaks for itself and, depending on how well-received American Hustle is, he may prove to be 12 Years a Slave and Steve McQueen‘s biggest challenge. While The Wolf of Wall Street is involved in a bit of a juggling act, it’s darkly comic tone may keep it from being amongst the top tier, a similar situation to George Clooney‘s The Monument’s Men. Although Clooney’s name, an all-star cast, and a historic context have proved successful in the past, the first trailer looked a little too light to make it a serious player in a very heavy year.

Gravity still sits pretty as a critical darling that will have the backing of the mainstream, who rushed out to see it this weekend to a tune of more than $50 million and for it, is likely to take home a bulk of the technical categories.

Probably one of this year’s biggest talking points will orbit the discussion of an unprecedented amount of African-American nominees. Steve McQueen may not be the first black director to be nominated (he would actually be the third after John Singleton (Boyz n the Hood) and Lee Daniels (Precious)) he is the first who actually stands a fair chance at winning. Likewise, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o lead their respective category. Even more impressive is the fact that the Best Supporting Actress category is likely to see nominations for three black actresses (Nyong’o, Oprah Winfrey, and Octavia Spencer)

Best Picture: