Room – Lenny Abrahamson

Room starring Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay.
Photo Credit: George Kraychyk/A24 Films

Lenny Abrahamson is an Irishman you’ve probably never heard of before, but you’ll be hearing a lot more of him after this year. With only 4 other feature films under his belt (none that would have played outside of film festivals), Lenny Abrahamson has done something extraordinary with Room. This little film won the Grolsch People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival and had an audience of critics and movie lovers on their feet applauding with fresh tears in their eyes. Since then, it has been one of the most talked about movies to snag three Oscars nominations for movies in 2015.

The majority of the movie is a mother and young son confined to a small room, with very minimal supplies and not much hope for a better future. Brie Larson puts in a powerful performance as the young mother who was kidnapped as a teenager and repeatedly raped by her captor while she was forced to live in a small space with a few amenities. Her son Jack, played by Canadian newcomer Jacob Tremblay, has lived his entire life without seeing the outdoors, other than through a small skylight. His reality is “Room” – the generic name they have given their tiny home; not the room, not a room, but just simply Room.

Instead of a completely devastating film, what you get with Room is a bit of a roller coaster ride. At first you just watch them live their day-to-day life and begin to understand their relationship and Jack’s lack of understanding of what life is really like outside. When they decide to escape, you hold your breath, hope they succeed, and likely hold back some tears. As expected, Jack handles their homecoming and his new reality better than his Mom, but it is a slow process as he adjusts to the other people in his life. It is difficult to watch the young mother struggle with her emotions, the unwelcome fame, and with her parents – who are also having a tough time – but the whole thing is incredibly intriguing. At the back of your mind is always the thought that this has actually happened to people, so coupling that thought with the fact that the acting is absolutely flawless, you truly feel for the characters in the movie. Supporting cast includes Joan Allen (The Bourne Series, The Upside of Anger, The Notebook) and William H. Macy (Fargo, The Lincoln Lawyer, Wild Hogs).

Brie Larson (Don Jon, 21 Jump Street) deservingly won both the Golden Globe and the Academy Award for Best Actress and it’s a real shame that Jacob Tremblay did not receive an acting nomination because he was the other half of the movie and essentially made her performance better. Seeing such range from an 8-year old is incredible and he was certainly more deserving than the winner of Best Supporting Actor category in 2016 (Mark Rylance) and at the very least on par with the other nominees (Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Mark Ruffalo, Sylvester Stallone).

Room is both unforgettable and rewarding. You may not watch it more than once, but you’ll be better for having seen it. It is based on the book “Room” by Irish-Canadian author Emma Donoghue.

Room was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2015 and was released to an increasing number of theatres in Canada and the U.S from October 2015 to January 2016.

Watch the official trailer for Room here:

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Spotlight – Tom McCarthy

Spotlight starring Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel McAdams. Photo Credit: Kerry Hayes

Spotlight starring Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel McAdams.
Photo Credit: Kerry Hayes

At this point most if us know the sex abuse stories, about priests taking advantage of young, scared, impressionable children. It’s both disgusting and shocking and not really something we want to think about. Spotlight puts you at the front of the initial investigation by The Boston Globe that brought the news of this terrible cover-up by the Catholic Church to light in the early 2000’s. The investigative team for the Globe, called “Spotlight” earned the paper a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in  2003. One can only imagine how disturbing this information would have been to come across, especially knowing that the evidence and accusations against the Catholic Church had been around for decades. Spotlight introduces you to the team that was dedicated to uncovering the story and what they went through emotionally trying to piece it all together. The result is a disturbing, yet professional, film that honours the investigators and doesn’t glorify anything. It never undermines the importance of the truth and its responsibility to the audience. It’s no mistake that Spotlight has walked away with six Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay.

Just as the investigative team works together and no one tries to outshine the other, the cast of Spotlight is so well-balanced that it’s difficult to say whose performance was better because they were all gripping. However, both Mark Ruffalo (The Avengers, Foxcatcher) and Rachel McAdams (Southpaw, About Time) showed the most emotional range and both have been nominated for Best Supporting Actor Oscars.  Michael Keaton, who received his first Oscar nomination for Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) last year is great as the veteran manager of the “Spotlight” team who just wants to “get it right”. Liev Schreiber (Salt, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) deserves some credit for his wonderful (and underplayed) portrayal of the outsider who has just stepped in as editor of The Boston Globe; he doesn’t say much, but his direct delivery can be quite amusing. Finally, Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games, Julie & Julia, The Lovely Bones) is perfection as the untrusting, but dedicated lawyer just trying to do the right thing no matter the cost.

Despite its heavy topic, Spotlight isn’t without humour; but it is completely appropriate and timed just right to help lighten the mood when it is most needed. The ending is not comforting, nor should it be, but you are left satisfied that the journalists did their jobs and that they did it right. The history of the abuse was finally public knowledge that could not, and would not, be ignored any longer.

What actor-turned-director Tom McCarthy (now with 3 Oscar nominations) has done here should be admired. Many would think it a big risk to make a movie about this delicate topic. Spotlight was perfectly unshowy and remained sensitive to the material, all while keeping the audience absorbed in the characters and their main goal. The final punch, the statistics surrounding the sex abuse, will leave you shaking your head and demanding justice. It’s exactly the reaction you should have. Spotlight has done its job.

Spotlight had a limited released in the USA and Canada in November 2015. It has been released in most other countries since January/February 2016.

Update: Spotlight won the Academy Award for BEST PICTURE

Watch the trailer here:

The Revenant – Alejandro G. Iñárritu

The Revenant starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy. Photo Credit: Everett/Rex/Shutterstock

The Revenant starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, and Domhnall Gleeson.
Photo Credit: Everett/Rex/Shutterstock

This is a movie about pain – mental and physical pain.  Leonardo DiCaprio will make you feel every bit of suffering endured by his character, Hugh Glass, in The Revenant, Alejandro Iñárritu‘s latest 156 min tour de force. If gore and death make you at all squeamish, this is not the movie for you. Arrows cutting through flesh, burning bodies, claws ripping through skin and crushing bone, the disembowelment of a horse, these are just a few things that might turn a lot of people off. But if you can handle it, you’re in for a film experience that doesn’t come around very often.

Fresh off of his Best Picture and Best Director win at the Oscars last year for Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Alejandro Iñárritu has directed and written yet another masterpiece, although arguably less, shall we say, odd. The Revenant takes place in the early 19th century American wilderness and tells the (embellished) true story of Hugh Glass, a renowned fur-trapper who was left for dead by the men he was guiding after he was viciously mauled by a bear. The majority of the movie is watching him struggle to survive and watching him try to make his way back to the camp to face the man who ultimately made the decision to leave him (Tom Hardy).

From the group’s first ambush by natives, it’s clear that there will be a significant amount of violence throughout the movie. The scene with the bear is by far the most gruesome and realistic attack by a wild animal ever to be shown on screen; it just proves that there is absolutely no holding back in The Revenant. The horror stories from the set, from the freezing temperatures to the struggles to find the right setting and only being able to shoot an hour a day in order to get the ideal natural lighting, shows the director’s passion and desire to get things perfect. Whether or not you can stomach the brutal violence, there is no denying the fact that it is a visually stunning film. It’s as real as it’s going to get for a movie filmed in this age of technology.

There are incredibly strong performances in The Revenant, led of course by Leonardo DiCaprio in one of his most outstanding immersions into a character to date. This is what acting is. Every moment is a struggle for Hugh Glass and Leo makes sure the audience struggles with him every step of the way. Even though they aren’t getting as much credit as Leo, Tom Hardy and Domhnall Gleeson are just as convincing, albeit with smaller roles (Tom Hardy also has a nomination for Best Supporting Actor). For a movie just over 2.5 hours, there isn’t much dialogue (especially for Leo) but nature and the subtle soundtrack play such strong parts that it doesn’t really matter. What Alejandro Iñárritu has done with this film is nothing short of spectacular. To get the audience to actually feel cold (and a little sore) when leaving the theatre is not an easy feat, and he certainly did his job with the help of the cast.

Nominated for 12 (of 14) Oscars, The Revenant will certainly walk away with a number of wins on February 29th – and it would be an utter travesty if Leonardo DiCaprio did not win Best Actor.

The Revenant saw a limited release in the U.S. at the end of December 2015 and has had a steady theatrical rollout from January 2016 through to the end of February 2016.

Update: The Revenant won Academy Awards for BEST ACTOR, BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY,  and BEST DIRECTOR

Water the official trailer here:

Carol – Todd Haynes

Carol starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.

Carol starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.
Photo credit: Wilson Webb/The Weinstein Company

If all you’re looking for is a nice, sleepy, Oscar-nominated musical score by the guy who does all the Coen Brothers’ movies and some slick production design, then Carol is the movie for you. To say this movie starts out slow is an understatement; and to some, the entire two-hours of this 1950’s love story will be torture to watch. The sad reality of Carol is that it will not appeal to everyone, but those who live for the Oscar categories of costume design, cinematography, and production design will be completely engaged. For this movie to captivate you, you need to be very patient and you need to be the type to appreciate the art of film-making and film direction.

Based on the novel “The Price of Salt”, Carol tells the story of two women – a young one (Rooney Mara) who doesn’t yet know who she is, and the older, unhappy one (Cate Blanchett) who she falls head over heels in love with. It’s the 1950’s, so lesbian love is not something that is widely accepted or tolerated to a great degree. The main point of drama is the fact that Carol’s husband (from whom she is separated) is trying to get their daughter taken away from her because of her pattern of “inappropriate behaviour” with women – which also doubles as a silly attempt to “get her back” because if he can’t have her, no one else should, especially not a woman.

The reviews from both critics and viewers have been very positive, but it truly takes a certain type of movie-watcher to appreciate the subtleties of the performances and the artistry of the film-making. It won’t knock your socks off unless this is the only thing you look for in a movie experience. It’s unfortunate, but the general population just won’t see the tragic beauty in Carol and the love story will be lost among the countless scenes of silence, frustratingly long gazes, and the general lack of climax.

Cate Blanchett’s performance is good, there is no question, but compared to her other Oscar-winning or Oscar-nominated performances (Blue Jasmine, The Aviator, Notes on a Scandal, I’m Not There, Elizabeth, etc.), this is nothing special and certainly not something the masses can get behind. Aside from one steamy lesbian love-making scene, there are only a couple other scenes that stand out. Like Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett could be nominated every time because she’s just that good, but maybe the standards should have been set a little higher for her this time. All in all, Carol is walking away with two acting nominations (Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress), and four others for its cinematography, musical score, costume design, and screenplay (adapted).

The many accolades it has received from prestigious film festivals proves that, in a way, Carol is just like poetry – a select few find it beautiful, powerful, and deep, and most others will just be bored and unimpressed.

Carol opened in limited release in the USA in November 2015 and Canada in December 2015. Worldwide gross is only $29M to date and it can still be found playing in some theatres leading up to the Oscars on February 28, 2016.

Watch the official trailer here:

The Big Short – Adam McKay

The Big Short starring Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt.

The Big Short starring Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt.
Photo Credit: Jaap Buitendijk / Paramount Pictures

Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt. Could you ask for a better cast? If the answer is yes, then add Marisa Tomei, Melissa Leo,  Hamish Linklater, and Jeremy Strong and you’ve got The Big Short.  Between six of the lead actors, there are 6 Oscars and 9 Oscar nominations, so it’s not surprising that this movie has already done very well. We’re well into awards season now, and although The Big Short did not walk away a winner, it was nominated for 4 Golden Globes in the two male acting categories, adapted screenplay, and best picture. It still has another chance in late February with its 5 Academy Award nominations (Editing, Screenplay, Actor, Directing, and Best Picture).

This movie takes a very complex topic – the 2008 financial crisis – and attempts to explain it in a way that the average adult can understand. There are so many moving parts and economics isn’t everyone’s strong suit, so it does it’s best (complete with various celebrities trying to dumb it down for us) and mostly succeeds.  Regardless of whether you understand all the intricacies and terminology or not, you’ll still walk away from it feeling sick and cheated – and that’s the whole point.

The movie is centralized around three different groups of men who notice something no one else did – that the U.S housing market was built on a bubble, and that bubble was going to burst. Michael Burry, the one guy who discovered it all is played by Christian Bale. His quick actions sparked the interest of the other teams, who quickly began doing their own investigations. These teams included FrontPoint Partners, lead by Mark Baum (an amazing performance by Steve Carell) and two young guys with a hedge fund start up. They all go about finding a way to make money off of the greed, corruption, and general stupidity of the banks – they bet against the housing market.

The Big Short is filmed in a bit of a quirky way that may annoy you in the first 10 minutes but you’ll quickly get over it and later recognize it for its brilliance. It’s like you’re watching real life unfold in front of you, except you know what’s going to happen. Quick flashes of real images and video serve as a reminder of how things changed so quickly. The script is nothing short of genius and the dialogue is quick-witted and blunt. The fourth wall is broken a number of times, but it works in every case and doesn’t affect the fluidity of the film, in fact, it makes it more real. Steve Carell outshines everyone else and it is likely one of the best performances of his career to date. Unfortunately his performance was not acknowledged by The Academy and Christian Bale was nominated for Best Actor instead. He won’t win, but it’s still a nice nod in his direction. Considering Adam McKay’s previous claims to fame included Anchorman and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, the Best Director nomination is a big step in the right direction for him.

It’s definitely worth a watch, but the target audience for this movie is likely 25+… make that 40+ in order to really identify with what the collapse of the U.S. housing market did to the world. The younger generations will find the fast dialogue amusing, the topic informative, and the forecast for the future slightly troubling, but they won’t have the same appreciation for the utter stupidity that ended up costing tons of people their jobs and their life savings.

The Big Short is still playing in some theatres but is mostly gone from the rotation. It still managed to pull in over $100M (worldwide) since its release in December 2015.

Watch the official trailer here:

The Theory of Everything – James Marsh

Theory-of-Everything-banner

The Theory of Everything starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones.

Those who recognize the name “Stephen Hawking” will likely know him for his unique robotic voice and as one of the world’s most brilliant minds who seems to know more about the workings of the universe than any other human being. All the things we don’t know are captured in the movie The Theory of Everything, which is loosely based on the memoir by Hawking’s first wife, Jane Hawking.

The movie focuses on Hawking as a graduate student at Cambridge and his blossoming relationship with Jane, a smart and ambitious woman who was also studying at Cambridge, as well as the progression of his disease and how it affected their lives. Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with motor neuron disease while he was still at Cambridge and has lived with the disease for over 50 years. Motor neuron disease is also referred to as Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s Disease and is mostly considered fatal; in fact, Hawking was originally given about two years to live. Hawking is a physical and mental marvel and The Theory of Everything follows his extraordinary life from 1963 to 1989.

Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones star as Stephen and Jane Hawking and both deliver performances that deserve all the recognition and awards they have received. Redmayne’s portrayal is nothing short of Oscar-worthy and must have been very difficult physically and mentally. Jane Hawking has said that she felt as if Felicity Jones stole her identity as she plays her so flawlessly. It is absolutely devastating watching them struggle as the disease slowly takes away Hawking’s mobility and speech. We watch as he becomes completely dependent on Jane and is left with nothing but his own thoughts and no means by which to share them with the world; that is, until the computer comes along to help him.

At its core, The Theory of Everything is a touching and tragic love story but it also touches on the brilliance of Hawking’s theories in quantum mechanics and relativity. It is heavy on emotions and light on the mathematics, which makes the movie universally appealing, especially since the topics Hawking studied are far beyond the understanding of the average person, particularly those who have not read his best-selling book “A Brief History of Time”. The movie doesn’t hold back and the Hawkings’ struggle is shown as something real and not just Hollywood fluff.

Even though a movie’s soundtrack can sometimes go unnoticed by movie-goers, the score by Jóhann Jóhannsson is beautiful and compliments the story well, while stirring up emotions right through to the end credits.

With the success of the “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” in 2014, one can only hope that all of those who donated but had no concept of the disease will watch this film and finally get a glimpse of what ALS does to people and their families, especially those who are not as lucky to live as long as Stephen Hawking has.

The Imitation Game – Morten Tyldum

The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Kiera Knightley.

The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Kiera Knightley.

Spectacular, simply spectacular. The Imitation Game exceeds expectations in every way and certainly deserves all the hype. If you aren’t already on the Benedict Cumberbatch bandwagon, then you will be after seeing this movie. His portrayal of Alan Turing, British mathematician and the father of computer science, is perfection. As with most geniuses, it would appear that Turing’s strength did not lie in his social skills or his ability to pick up on social cues and Cumberbatch captures the social awkwardness and egotism so well that one forgets that he just played “Khan” in Star Trek Into Darkness. It seems he can do no wrong these past couple years and he has earned a well-deserved Golden Globe nomination for his most recent performance. Kiera Knightley also stars as Joan Clarke, a close friend and fellow cryptanalyst who worked as a code-breaker at Bletchley Park with Turing.

The Imitation Game covers a lot of ground and touches upon various points of Turing’s life, including his homosexuality and how this secret affected his life, relationships, and his career. It also briefly touches upon sexism and ethical dilemmas but doesn’t overdo it in any way. The movie keeps you interested and in awe of what this man could do (and how his mind worked) in a time when radios ruled and television and computers were still just ideas waiting to be realized.

The various time jumps were flawlessly executed and never lost the audience as the story moved from the 1950’s to the 1930’s/1940’s and finally to the 1920’s when Alan Turing was just a boy at school struggling to fit in. We watch as Alan discovers his passion for codes with the help of a special school friend and eventually ends up helping to do the unimaginable – break the Enigma encryption. Most people have heard of Enigma machines, as they were a major player in World War II and used by the Germans as a means of encrypted communication, but Alan Turing’s story is an instrumental piece of history that was mostly unknown until the latter part of the 20th century. The Imitation Game is Hollywood’s first real attempt at bringing his story forward and to the rest of the world.

As it goes with movies of this type, there are a number of historical inaccuracies that have come to light and it would seem that Morten Tyldum as Director has taken some liberties for the sake of making a good Hollywood movie – but boy, did it ever work. If the historians in the audience can excuse this, then what is left is a great film about a great man whose contribution to the end of WWII cannot be ignored. Perhaps it will even get movie-goers to do their own research on the event that likely saved millions of lives, maybe even some loved ones who were fighting while the mathematicians were codebreaking.