January and February Recap

Books read, movies watched, songs listened to and cultural happenings attended in January and February 2016. Click on the links to see the respective blog posts about the experience.

Recap

Books read:
John Steinbeck – Grapes of Wrath
James Joyce – Dubliners
Fyodor Dostoyevsky – The Double
Mary Shelley – Frankenstein

Films watched at the movies:
The Hateful Eight – Quentin Tarantino
The Revenant – Alejandro González Iñárritu
Room – Lenny Abrahamson

Plays attended:
Tenk om (If/Then)

Most listened to songs:
Blackstar – David Bowie
Lazarus – David Bowie

On the literary front, the first two months of the year turned out to be all about the classics. It wasn’t planned at all, but quite fun to see that the authors read turned out to be Steinbeck, Joyce, Dostoyevsky and Shelley. After Shelley’s Frankenstein I started reading John Irving’s Avenue of Mysteries and the popular science book Galileo’s Finger by Peter Atkins, which are both quite big, and the latter very complicated (for me at least), so they are sure to take a while. I’m also following a book challenge on Instagram for March; #tuvalusbookchallenge so if you’re looking for some Instagram inspiration I recommend that you check out the tag 🙂

I’ve watched A LOT of films these two months to prepare for the Oscars, and of course keeping up with my general “film education”. I managed to see all the Best Picture nominees, and almost all the other big categories except for Joy and Creed. There were quite a lot of strong nominees in all categories this year, and I’m really happy with most of the awards. Spotlight for best picture was well deserved, and I’m of course very glad for Leonardo DiCaprio. One of the best surprises was Ex Machina winning for visual effects and Mark Rylance for Supporting Actor. A brilliant film and a brilliant actor! It’s no secret that I quite disliked The Big Short, and would have liked to see another film take home Best Adapted Screenplay, like for instance Carol. But all in all, happy with the ceremony!

New favourites:
Frankenstein (book)
Grapes of Wrath (book)
The Revenant (film)
Spotlight (film)
Blackstar (album)

Here’s to another two good months with many good things to explore!

Preparing for the Oscars: Brooklyn, The Big Short and The Martian

I’ve finally watched all the nominees for Best Picture in this year’s Oscar Awards, with Brooklyn and The Big Short being my two latest watches. I thought I’d write some short opinions on those two and The Martian. For my thoughts on the rest of the nominees, I made one blog post about The Revenant and one where I discuss Bridge of Spies, Mad Max, Room and Spotlight over here.

Brooklyn – Watched February 22nd
The Big Short – Watched February 23rd
The Martian – Watched November 6th 2015

Click on the title of the film to read more about them on IMDB, as I will not go into much detail about the premises or plot of the films!

BrooklynBrooklyn – John Crowley
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson

I found Brooklyn to be a really beautiful and quite understated, in a good way. Saoirse Ronan does a great job, and the film definitively made me tear up a few times. You get to care about the characters, and even though it’s not a very fast-moving drama-filled picture, it’s not in any ways boring either. I also have to commend Julie Walters in her role, I hardly recognized her at first! Domhnall Gleeson makes yet another appearance in one of 2016’s nominated films, and though his role here isn’t the biggest, he is surely one of the actors you should keep an eye on in the year to come!

My only issue with Brooklyn is that it just wasn’t memorable enough. It has so many strong points, especially when it comes to the acting and the visuals, but even though the story is touching it didn’t really stick with me, and it’s only been two days since I saw it. For it to be a contender for Best Picture it would have needed some more originality, to make it stand out more. But it’s a recommended watch all the same!

The Big ShortThe Big Short – Adam McKay
Starring: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling

Right. I’ll straight out say it, I didn’t care much for The Big Short. Reading on IMDB it seems like most people loved it, so I’m obviously not speaking for the majority here. The issue for me that it tackles such complicated topics, and it’s constantly doing quirky things to try to explain them, which just made my head spin. There’s a lot of breaking the forth wall in this film, cutting to scenes where models and celebrities explain advanced economics, combined with some meta moments where actors break character to tell you that “this didn’t really happen” or “this was a tad different in reality”. The concept of that is quite exciting, and The Big Short is in no way lacking originality, but for me it just didn’t work. The cuts and editing were too irregular, and while they were going for the very “cool” style and also poking some fun, it just felt too silly at times.

Christian Bale is nominated for his role, and though I wasn’t a fan of the film I think he did a fine job. One of the big surprises for me was also Steve Carell, I think his portrayal was absolutely fantastic, and equal with Bale’s. One of many this year that could have been nominated, but wasnt.

The MartianThe Martian – Ridley Scott
Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig

Ah, The Martian. It’s been a while since I saw this, but it’s still quite strong in my mind. Let me start of by saying: I really enjoyed The Martian, I thought it was a really good film, it was exciting, funny and emotional at times. I left the movie theatre with my expectations met.

I don’t however, think it deserves a nomination for Best Picture OR for Best Actor in a Leading Role. It’s just not that much of an achievement, even though I enjoyed it. The thing is, and it’s gonna sound harsh: I felt most of the work that was done in this film, both with the production and acting could have been done by most capable actors, directors, producers et cetera. I didn’t leave the movie thinking “Wow, how did Matt Damon pull that off” or “Boy, only Ridley Scott could have made something like that”. It wasn’t outstanding in any way, even though it’s a good film. Would I rather watch this again than The Big Short? Yes. But I still think it shouldn’t have gotten as many nominations as it has. Sadly.

But if you haven’t seen it, go ahead! I do recommend it 🙂

Having now watched all of the nominees my favourites are still The Revenant and Spotlight! There are still some films missing from the other big categories, but as of now I’ve seen most of the actors and actresses nominated for both lead and supporting, especially after I see The Danish Girl this Saturday.

If you have any thoughts on the Best Picture category for this years Academy Awards, please leave a comment below 🙂

Preparing for the Oscars: Bridge of Spies, Mad Max, Room and Spotlight

The Oscars are quickly approaching, and I’m trying go watch as many nominated films as possible before the ceremony, especially those nominated for Best Picture. I’ve managed to see quite a few so far, but it’s difficult to get to all of them before the 28th as several of the films aren’t released in Norway until March, and I really want to see them in the best quality possible. So far when it comes to the Best Picture nominees I’ve seen:

Bridge of Spies – Watched January 23rd
Mad Max: Fury Road – Watched January 17th
The Martian – Watched November 6th 2015
The Revenant – Watched January 24th – Review here
Room – Watched February 1st
Spotlight – Watched February 5th

Click on the title of the film to read more about them on IMDB, as I will not go into much detail about the premises or plot of the films!

I’m only missing Brooklyn and The Big Short, which I’ll hopefully get to see soon! I thought I’d just share a few thoughts about the latest films I’ve seen which I haven’t already written about.

Bridge of Spies

Bridge of Spies – Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance

Horrible poster aside, I liked this film much more than I thought I would. It looks very standard Spielberg: family friendly, good side and bad side without nuances, polished.. and in a lot of ways it does present itself with a lot of that classic formula, but it’s still a good film with very solid acting. There’s also a lot of well written dialogue, which I always appreciate. Tom Hanks does a fine job as usual, but the film’s strongest point by far is the subtle yet brilliant Mark Rylance, who is a strong contender for best actor in a supporting role.

Very well deserved nominations for best supporting actor and best original screenplay, and quite justified that it doesn’t have any directing or editing nominations, as it didn’t really stand out in those departments. Not a strong contender for best picture in my opinion though. Still, a film worth watching.

Mad MaxMad Max: Fury Road – George Miller
Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult

With it being nominated in 10 Oscar categories, I was quite intrigued before watching Mad Max, it doesn’t appear to be my type of film at all, but I ended up enjoying it quite a lot. Still, 10 nominations is a slight overkill in my book, but it’s interesting seeing the Academy paying more attention to different types of films and genres, it’s quite rare seeing a full on action movie receiving so much Oscar-buzz. Anyway, Mad Max: Fury Road is a breath of fresh air in it’s genre, keeping in balance, combining old cliches and finding its own path as it goes along. It’s also a great film visually, both in terms of camerawork, editing and effects, and deserves a lot of recognition there. All in all a very good movie, but not quite best picture for me.

Poster for "The Room" (2015)Room – Lenny Abrahamson
Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay

A beautiful film in my opinion, about a emotional traumatizing case, yet it doesn’t become “emotional porn” to put it in those terms. It’s not without flaws, the pacing of the film could perhaps be a bit different, but the acting is so strong, and the story it self very well written. It’s interesting to follow a story that takes us beyond the happy ending, and explores what happens afterwards, both on the outside and inside the characters. I really appreciated how the characters in this film are shown as extremely human, and everyone’s reactions to a near unthinkable situation I found very realistic. Brie Larson seems to be one of the strongest contenders for the female in a lead category, which I fully support, but I cannot understand how Jacob Tremblay isn’t nominated! He isn’t just great for a kid actor, he’s absolutely phenomenal no matter who he is compared to. Several of his scenes had me tearing up. In my opinion he is absolutely robbed of a nomination.

With its strong acting and great storytelling, Room is a good contender for the best picture, although it doesn’t quite reach up to the greatness of The Revenant and Spotlight in my book.

SpotlightSpotlight – Tom McCarthy
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery and Stanley Tucci.

I saw this only yesterday, and I was so so pleased with it! Spotlight is a film I hadn’t heard that much about, there hasn’t been a lot of promo or trailers around in Norway for it, don’t know about the rest of the world? As a result I didn’t know much of the premise of the story at all, which I find is a good starting point for every film you see, the less you know beforehand the better.

Dealing with a very important, yet touchy subject, I felt Spotlight never borders on the verge of tasteless. The strong highlights of this film are its dialogue (there’s a lot, and it’s fast so pay attention), the strong cast who all do a great job and the way everything flows together; the tempo and rhythm of the film is so perfect and fitting, and it’s all done in a very subtle way. Very good editing! Mark Ruffalo’s acting is also a very strong point and he received a well deserved nomination. I would have liked Tucci to receive a nod as well, his performance reminds me of Rylance in Bridge of Spies, subtle yet very moving. Anyway, as pointed out, all the actors do a great job, from the leads to the smaller ones who only have a scene or two. A film I’d recommend to everyone, and which made me conflicted after watching, I’m now very torn between Spotlight and The Revenant as for which should win best picture. They’re both great films, and very different as well! Hopefully they will both take home their fair share of awards.

Conclusion
From the films I have seen so far The Revenant is still one of my favourites, but now with strong competition from Spotlight. It’s also quite interesting to see the differences in the films nominated for best picture this year, from the “standard Oscar film” Bridge of Spies to the hardcore action movie Mad Max: Fury Road.

Hopefully I’ll get to see Brooklyn and The Big Short soon. I will also write more about films nominated in other categories before the big ceremony February 28th, and a blog post about the films I think should have nominated (more) as well.

The Revenant (2015) – Film Review

The Revenant - Movie poster

© 2015 – Twentieth Century Fox. Image used under fair use.

The Revenant (2015)
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
Written by Mark L. Smith and Alejandro González Iñárritu

Imdb summary: A frontiersman on a fur trading expedition in the 1820s fights for survival after being mauled by a bear and left for dead by members of his own hunting team.

Last Sunday night my boyfriend and I watched “The Revenant” at the movies, and before I say anything else I just have to say: This is definitively a film where you choose the cinematic experience, DO NOT download some low quality DVD-rip and watch it on your computer. If you want to see as many Oscar-nominated films as possible before the ceremony, this is the one you choose, it would be a sin to not watch this in the best quality and surroundings as possible. I simply have to gush over the stunning visuals before I move on to the story itself.

As you have probably gathered, this is simply a beautiful visual experience. Watching “The Revenant” was almost like watching a very high quality nature documentary and feature film combined, the film takes its time to let you enjoy the beautiful scenery. The film was shot using almost exclusively using natural light, which absolutely paid off, even though it made the filming period a lot longer (only so much light during the day) as the beautiful snowy scenes really came into their own in the wonderful cold and bright winter sun. When watching you get the feel that the surroundings and setting is as much part of the story as the events that are unfolding there, and cinematographer Lubezki treats them with great respect. An Oscar nomination well deserved! The same can be said for editor Stephen Mirrione, who seamlessly sews it all together, adding to the sense that story and setting are one.

A shot of Leonardo DiCaprio in "The Revenant"

“The Revenant” is a stunning visual experience

One of the most talked about scenes in the film is the bear-attack, and again I’m full of praise. For the past few years no matter how far we’ve come regarding CGI, it just doesn’t look 100% right when you have something or someone computer made interacting with a real human character in the same scene, especially when it’s a close interaction like touching and fighting. This is not the case with “The Revenant”. I have no idea how they did it, but that attack scene looks completely real. It’s worth the talk, it’s worth the hype, it’s worth the praise! I know it’s CGI, but something inside me is still a little convinced they just let a bear loose on DiCaprio, and that he willingly let them. I mean, if you let a bear almost kill you, you have to win that Oscar!

When saying that the plot it self is the weakest part of the whole film, it’s by no means an insult to the story, just again a proof of how amazing the visuals and acting are. They are the strongest points, but the story is also gripping, intense and never leaves you bored. Before watching a film that’s over 150 minutes long you’re always a bit apprehensive, and lately it seems like almost all big new releases have to be around this playtime, and frankly, in most cases 120 is enough. I was never bored for a minute though, even though the film is by no means action-packed throughout or moving high-speed through everything. It takes its time, but does so beautifully. I know there are divided views about the plot, and I can understand some of the reservations some have, because yes: a lot of the happenings in “The Revenant” are quite far fetched, and even though it’s inspired by true events there is a lot elements, some quite unrealistic, added to the film. I don’t mind myself, but I understand that people enjoy storytelling in different ways, and that type of realism is more important in some camps than other. My own justification of the “far-fetchedness” of it all is that this film sets out to tell the ultimate survival story, and I’ll accept a bit of difference in the physical laws in our own world and in this epic movie world. Though, the characters could maybe have tried just a tad harder to stay away from the water when it’s freezing around them and there’s nowhere to dry their clothes.. But details, details.

I quickly mentioned that the acting is great in this film, and I truly believe that this if finally DiCaprio’s time to win that Oscar statuette. Although his actual spoken dialogue is scarce, he does so much through, and of course, acting is so much more than just speaking lines. I truly felt his anger, hurt, pain and emotions, and above all, I truly felt cold. I am yet to see all the nominees for Best Actor this year, but so far Leo is my bet and hope! Tom Hardy also does a brilliant job as John Fitzgerald, the unsympathetic antagonist, and does not represent him as a one-note character, though we may not like him that much it’s also possible to understand his actions throughout the film. Also a nomination well deserved, though Hardy is in my opinion rivaled by Mark Rylance’s great performance in “Bridge of Spies”.

In conclusion, The Revenant is truly one of, if not the greatest films of 2015, especially in the visual department. It’s a truly epic story of survival that at times may require some suspension of disbelief, but its few weak points are saved by the brilliant actors and the always present stunning cinematography. It’s definitively a film worth seeing, and worthy of a true cinematic experience.