Category Archives: Oscar nominees

47 of 366: World of Tomorrow


Watching a 16-minute film may be cheating in this challenge, but it just worked after seeing part of The Act of Killing tonightI will finish watching it, but for some reason I just couldn’t get into a documentary about genocide this evening. It was late so I opted for Don Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow, a story about a little girl and a look ahead at times more than 200 years into her future.

Hertzfeldt presents a study of time travel, memories, human emotion (much like in It’s Such a Beautiful Day) through the eyes of someone young enough to not know what it all means.

Hertzfeldt’s animation is also somewhat similar to It’s Such a Beautiful Day, but with more abstract  images and color as the girl,  Emily, experiences a small portion of her future.

It’s no surprise that the film, streaming on Netflix, is getting praise from critics and could take home the Oscar for best animated short film.

I may be one of the last people to learn about Hertzfeldt, but I will say he is a filmmaker to watch and it’s worth taking a look at some of his past work if you have the time. Even his website, without watching any of the videos, is a visual masterpiece.

“I am very proud of my sadness, because it means I am more alive. I no longer fall in love with rocks,” Emily in World of Tomorrow.

All for now, I better sign off before I fall asleep at my computer again.




43 of 366: The Big Short


I’ve seen all of the best picture Oscar nominees now after watching  The Big Short today and my verdict is it’s definitely my least favorite of the bunch. I think the contest is really anybody’s game at this point while there certainly has been some back-and-forth between The Big Short and Spotlight taking the win. For the first time in a while, the big winner announced later this month could actually be a surprise to Academy Award viewers.

The Big Short at first felt like the focus of  writer Charles Randolph and director Adam McKay was to make the viewer feel like they were watching the making of a movie about a movie  depicting the housing and economic crash in 2008 rather than a drama about those events, the people who knew about them and those who were impacted.

The transition for Adam McKay from comedy to drama did not work so well in my opinion, but I did like the script and writing from Randolph based on a book by Michael Lewis.

The story is told by weaving the personal career paths and lives of Steve Carell (Mark Baum), Christian Bale (Michael Burry), Brad Pitt (Ben Rickert), and Ryan Gosling (Jared Vennett) as they work in the banking industry and in their own way discover the housing bubble and economy was set to crash as a result of selling bad mortgages and issuing loans to people who couldn’t afford them.

Michael Burry learns, through crunching numbers and studying mortgage patterns, what is going to happen and his discovery leads to other investors buying insurance on the mortgage bonds for when the market would ultimately crash. (I think.)

As is surely well-known, the film is supposed to explain what happened leading up to and in 2008 in simple terms (with some tongue-in-cheek scenes featuring Margot Robbie and Anthony Bourdain) while telling the stories of the four main banking characters and some in supporting roles who had a hand in the industry during that time.

The film is also a commentary on what happened by displaying that the general public in the U.S. was too consumed by other news and pop culture trends at the time and and those issuing loans and bad mortgages were covering it up, or lying to themselves.

There were just too many components to The Big Short in that regard and the style, I think, ultimately took away from what a film about that moment in history could be. Perhaps Michael Lewis’ book as the source material is to blame. I can’t say because I haven’t read it, but whatever creative liberties McKay and the rest of the film’s creators used fell flat for me.


I did like the performances overall, especially by Gosling and Pitt, but they didn’t redeem the film for me.

37 of 366: Anomalisa


Anomalisa will draw you in visually and even more so through its sounds in the first minutes of the film as voices, all in the same tone, play over the intro not long before the title character, Michael Stone, is on screen.

I left the theater not being able to stop thinking about the film and the deep human emotion and struggle expressed in 90 minutes. It’s such a sensory experience that when I left the theater everything outside seemed more amplified (a man whistling — not unlike Michael in the film) and the street noise all around me in Uptown.

In the film, Michael is an author and speaker in Cincinnati for a conference. Placing him and the other main characters, primarily Lisa, in a hotel out of their element in some ways served to highlight the uncertain state of where they are in their lives and where they would like to be. They are surrounded by other people who sound (through the voice of Tom Noonan) the same and have similar appearances while Michael and Lisa look different. She has a scar on her face and color in her hair while he’s always smoking and a little unkempt compared to other people at the hotel.

Writer and director Charlie Kaufman, with animator Duke Johnson, (you must listen to their interview with Marc Maron) took the story he originally wrote for the stage to the screen through a successful Kickstarter campaign. Anomalisa had a limited release in theaters (there is only one more day of showtimes at the Lagoon Cinema in Minneapolis unless it goes back to the second run theaters) and is now nominated for Best Animated Feature Film at the Oscars.

Inside Out will surely still win in that category and does also tell a story of human emotion and struggle — but Anomalisa is on a whole other level.

I still can’t even really wrap my mind around the whole picture of the film and its characters and what it’s all supposed to mean. Michael Stone is clearly searching for something outside of his marriage and life back in Los Angeles before he meets Lisa. She is from Ohio and at the hotel to see Michael’s speech on customer service, a field she works in.

They are drawn together for one night and leave to go back to their lives with a sense of mystery as to what will happen next.

I know I will watch this film again, and then again after that, to take more of it in and even just to study more of the stop motion animation style.

I may not figure out all the subtext in Anomalisa, and certainly there is always supposed to be some unknowns in a film for the viewers, but I know there is more to learn from Kaufman’s work.

For now, all I can say is it really is magical and embodies what cinema is supposed to be.



32 of 366: What Happened Miss Simone?




What Happened Miss Simone?, nominated for Best Documentary Featurepresents a comprehensive look at Nina Simone starting with her early years wanting to be a classical pianist and progressing through her rise as a jazz star and civil rights activist through her music.

The documentary, by Liz Garbus in collaboration with Netflix, also explores the singer’s dark moments in her family and career life and the health issues she suffered from.

Those aspects of her life couldn’t be ignored, but overall the film shed light on a powerful woman with a lot of struggles who accomplished an extraordinary career.

While she always dreamed of being a classical pianist, Simone landed in the world of jazz music and found ways to incorporate the two styles into her compositions. She achieved stardom, got married and had a daughter but her family life wasn’t without struggle, either.

She eventually divorced her abusive husband and was estranged from her daughter, interviewed in the film, as a result of subsequent abuse she committed in their relationship.

The rest of the story, much like Amy (also nominated for best documentary), is told through archival footage and interviews with Nina Simone throughout her career. I was enamored with Simone’s style on stage but, as her friend and band member Al Schackman described it, there was something else there and she did seem to be hiding her pain.

It’s a sad story in a lot of ways, also like Amy, but both films show the imprint their subjects left on the world and society they lived in. I didn’t know a lot about Nina Simone and I imagine, because of the film’s in-depth look at her life, even her fans and history buffs learned a thing or two from the personal story.

In other news, here is a quote of the day my everything Paul F. Tompkins posted on Twitter yesterday:

“Tired. Awakened too early by the sounds of Manhattan: traffic, stickball, the cry of the fishmonger, explosions, a heavily accented rat.” 

31 of 366: Shaun the Sheep Movie

Shaun The Sheep Movie First Look Still

I’m back to making my way through the Oscar nominees this year, which pushes me to try out animated films such as Shaun the Sheep Movie that I normally wouldn’t see.

The film is nominated for best animated feature and, unlike Inside Out, doesn’t translate as well across children and adult audiences, at least on the surface, but I still found it to be imaginative and entertaining overall.

There is no dialogue in the film, also unlike Inside Out, which for younger audiences leaves the meaning of the story and the message open to let their imaginations in as far as what the characters are saying and why.

Shaun is the main sheep of the bunch and becomes sick of the routine at the farm where they live and everything being the same day in and day out.

They come up with an idea to distract the farmer who runs the show for a few hours which, of course, does not go as planned and sends the group and the farmer’s dog on a mission to the big city to rescue him.

That premise seems very tailored to younger audiences’ brains, but the takeaway in the end to make room for trying new things and not following such a regiment every day could be words to live by for adults.

Shaun the Sheep Movie probably won’t top Inside Out at the Oscars, but it is deserving of the recognition and worth watching for imaginative thinkers young and old.

On another, somewhat related, note  John Hodman’s podcast today focused on an argument about a man who travels too much and leaves his friends and family behind in the process.

I didn’t watch Shaun the Sheep Movie before listening to the podcast, but I jotted down this quote from Hodgman and I think it’s fitting for the theme of the film:

“Travel … going out into the world is usually a way of going into yourself.”

John Hodgman

17 and 18 of 366: Inside Out and Iris

Well, it’s Monday and it’s already been a long week. That is all, about that.

I am still on track with my movies and watched Inside Out to continue to catch up on the Oscar nominees as well as Iris to start the week.


Inside Out, nominated for best animated feature film and best original screenplay, is not just a children’s film that adults can tolerate, it’s a film that all ages must see.

Pixar delivers on the visuals, as usual, and Pete Docter of Toy Story, Up, Wall-E and Bloomington, Minn. (I did not know this!) fame draws you in with his story about a young girl whose family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco, sending her emotions into a tailspin.

Docter created the story with Ronnie Del Carmen and co-wrote the screenplay with Megan LaFauve and Josh Cooley. The collaboration that must have occurred between those writers shows through the polished complexity, wit and human emotion in the script.

The girl in the film, Riley, is consumed by her emotions a lot of the time, the lesson being that it is normal for that to happen and that no one emotion is better or worse than the than the other. The actors playing Joy (Amy Poehler), sadness (Phyllis Smith), fear (Bill Hader), anger (Lewis Black) and disgust (Mindy Kaling) all embodied those emotions well and it seemed like they must have immersed themselves in the idea of what 11-year-old Riley was going through or easily had similar experiences in real life.

While the focus is on Riley, I enjoyed how the film also interjected the emotions of her parents as they tried to help their daughter feel at home in a new city as well as those of some of the supporting characters.

Of course the movie has a rosy conclusion, but its ups and downs provide a healthy balance to that and overall Inside Out is a story for adults and children alike to relate to.


We showed Iris at the Edina Cinema last year and I remember some of our clientele coming in wearing baubles and other gaudy accessories as an homage to the subject of the documentary, fashion icon Iris Apfel.

Such baubles and couture costume jewelry, along with Iris’ collection of round-framed glasses, artwork and vintage clothes are her signature and even inspiration for a museum exhibit in her honor.

The late documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles (I have to see more of his films now) focused on Iris’ love of fashion finds growing up and trips to Europe and other countries with her husband Carl to uncover new trends and pieces for their personal collections.

Iris is in her 90s in the film, but is really young-at-heart and an inspiration to models, designers, artists and the like.

One minute she is providing tips to dress-for-success and the next she is runway-side at fashion shows in New York City.

It’s a fascinating story that draws you in visually and emotionally (seems to be a theme tonight) and shows there is more than meets the eye about Iris Apfel.

“I learned a long time ago you can’t have everything.”

– Iris





16 of 366 The Revenant


There is a lot of buzz about The Revenant leading up to the Academy Awards and the will-they-or-won’t-they moment as far as Leonard DiCaprio winning the award for best actor, but I wish it wasn’t about that.

The film is certainly deserving of its critical praise but the award contention behind it all, or at least the focus on it, seems to take away from what The Revenant accomplishes on screen and in the world of cinema.

I like to think Leonardo DiCaprio didn’t take this role, or any role, to get an award. I didn’t watch his Golden Globes acceptance speech, but heard it seemed very prepared. Is that because he deep down isn’t an actor for the purpose of winning awards and doesn’t really care about them or because he expects to win?

I also like to think it’s the latter based on the way DiCaprio takes on such complex roles and immerses himself in the characters. I hope if  he does win an Academy Award for The Revenant that he is surprised by it and not prepared for the moment.

Critics say DiCaprio’s Oscar this year, or whenever he may win one, will be a career award. He deserves it but all the talk about an award really serves no purpose other than taking away the surprise factor if Chris Rock says “and the Oscar goes to …  Leonardo DiCaprio …” on Feb. 28 and again the focus on his work.

See, I already spent the whole intro to this blog writing about anything but DiCaprio’s role in Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s latest film. The Revenant is inspired by true events experienced by explorer Hugh Glass (DiCaprio), Captain Andrew Henry (Domnhall Gleeson) and John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) as they face the elements of a harsh winter and conflicts with each other.

As is well known from the promotion of the film, Glass is attacked by a bear and left behind by some of his team. It then becomes a revenge story as much as a quest for Glass to survive and not let how he was betrayed and his losses define the rest of his life.

Tom Hardy’s performance shows his range as an actor, but I think Glass’ character is more dynamic and DiCaprio had to show that through far less interaction with other characters and dialogue.

Gleeson stood out in his role as the captain of the hunters who tried to keep peace and loyalty in the group, which Fitzgerald challenged throughout the film.

Iñárritu also tells the story of The Revenant through interactions between the characters and nature and the elements that add to the definition of their struggles throughout the film.

I saw the film, actually not intentionally, in a Dolby ATMOS theater that amplified all the sounds and music. I thought the effects from the theater’s technology were more of a distraction than addition to the film and made some of the already intense scenes too intense for me.

The actors and crew of The Revenant, from what I’ve heard, already immersed themselves in the environment they were portraying so I don’t think it’s a film that needs any features to enhance what is already there.

All I recommend is that you see The Revenant in a theater instead of waiting until it is available to watch at home and try to detach yourself from the buzz about it and its cast. Then you will see a beautiful, sad and conclusive film rather than just the idea of one that has what it takes to win an award.