Academy Awards 2014

(image courtesy of Craig Piersma)

This post is going to be a break from my normal posts about photography to talk about the Academy Awards. It is a tradition of mine each year to watch all of the Best Picture Nominees prior to the Academy Awards show and then post my thoughts of the movies and make predictions about the winners.

This goal of watching all of the movies can sometimes be a challenge as some are winding down their runs in theaters or are already out of theaters but the DVD has yet to be released. This year I got an early start and managed to see all of the movies a couple of weeks before my self imposed deadline.

I thought it was interesting that 5.5 of the 9 movies this year were based on real life events (0.5 because American Hustle had fictional characters but was based on real events). Perhaps real life is stranger than fiction. Here are my thoughts on the various nominees.

American Hustle
An excellent movie and a stronger contender to win the Best Picture award. This movie has it all great story, great direction, and outstanding performances by all 4 leads, 3 of which have been nominated for Academy Awards. I highly recommend this movie.

Captain Phillips
This was also a well acted movie, that an interesting story that I was only vaguely familiar with. While enjoyable, it never really grabbed me. Tom Hanks' acting was amazing and Barkhad Abdi did a great job as well, all the more amazing because this was his first movie. Captain Phillips isn't going to win, and while it wasn't my favorite movie it is worth seeing.

Dallas Buyers Club
Another movie based on real events. I thought dragged a little at times, but it was an interesting story. I'm noticing a recurring theme in my reviews that the acting was top notch. Matthew McConaughey was very strong in this move and I believe Jared Leto will win for Best Supporting Actor for his role in this film.

This movie was the highest grossing of the nominees, and is a popular choice to win Best Picture, but I disagree. Most movies based in space get the physics wrong, or add sounds of the rocket engines, etc. Gravity started out doing a great job of getting the physics right, probably the best movie to do so since 2001 a Space Odyssey and Apollo 13. But about half-way through they threw physics out the window to make their story work. There were a half dozen scenes where the physics of space were ignored. After starting off so strong it was very disappointing to see them abandon that to make the story work. In reality they could have told the story and made the physics work, but just got lazy. For me it took a great movie and turned it into just another average adventure movie. Sandra Bullock did a great job and deserved a nomination, but won't win. I do think the movie should win for Best Cinematography, and has a shot at Best Director, but is does not deserve the Best Picture award.

Interesting movie with great acting by Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson. I enjoyed this movie but thought the ending was a little weak. I was really impressed with the cinematography of this film, lots of extreme closeups and shallow depth of field really worked to help tell this story. Not going to win, but worth watching.

I think this was a near perfect movie. Great script with tightly written dialog, great cinematography, and well acted by all involved. It didn't have a large release and therefore wasn't seen by a lot of people which is a shame. I don't think it will win but not because it doesn't deserve to.

An enjoyable movie telling a real-life tale. I enjoyed this movie but it didn't stay with me after watching. To me this is a sign of a just OK movie. The story was interesting and well told. Somewhat predictable, with only a few surprises. Dame Judy Dench was awesome as always. Not going to win, but worth seeing.

12 Years a Slave
Another real-life tale that took me on an unexpected journey. Well acted, well directed, a very interesting story. Some of the scenes made me uncomfortable, but they were meant to, and were just portraying things that happened. A very strong contender to win Best Picture.

The Wolf of Wall Street
To me the appeal of this movie was just the grandeur. The visuals in the movie were amazing, with big scenes with hundreds of actors which is where Scorsese excels. As a bonus it had actress Margot Robbie, who I've been a fan of since the tv show Pan Am. Not going to win, but worth seeing. I realize I say that all of the movies are worth watching. They aren't Best Picture nominees for nothing.

My Prediction
My top three are Nebraska, American Hustle, and 12 Years a Slave. But I think the Academy's top 3 are Gravity, American Hustle, and 12 Years a Slave. I predict 12 Years a Slave is going to be the winner.

Create Meaningful Home Videos

Over the past year Documentary Filmmaker David Hoffman has been doing an experiment with his home movies. I watched his first movie about his family's trip to Paris and it inspired me to try the same thing my a family vacation (hope to have the footage posted soon).  He recently did another one about his family's trip to New York, I watched one about their search for toilet paper. This is one of eight documenting their New York trip.

In this video David explains the thinking by this experiment. Instead of having static photos of your family that will have no meaning to your future descendants the idea is to make a home movie in a semi-documentary format so that your descendants can get a real feeling for who you were.

David is a veteran documentary filmmaker with 40 years of experience. He is taking this experience and turning the camera around on himself. These videos are telling a story about him and his family, and what I enjoy about them is how personal they are, you really get a feel for his family, and their dynamics. It's an interesting concept and I plan to do more of this with my home movies.

So what do you think? Is this something you might try?

David Mamet on Drama

Here is a memo written by David Mamet about how to write drama. It has a lot of great tips in it.