Thursday, April 16, 2015

Review: TRUE STORY

            Is there a more telling sign of a mediocre movie than a weak main character?  Not just a weak main character, a meek main character.  A character so weak & meek that the character’s significant other has the big emotional scene, even if it is poorly written & makes little sense.  That movie is TRUE STORY.
I do not own the above image.  Copyright Plan B Productions & Fox Searchlight Pictures.  All Right Reserved.

            Michael Finkel (Hill) just got fired from The New York Times for bending the truth on a cover story.  He heads home to Montana where he lives with his girlfriend Jill (Jones), hoping to revive his career.  Eventually, a fellow journalist alerts him to suspected murderer Christian Longo (Franco), who hid in Mexico under his name.  After one face-to-face meeting, Finkel thinks he has his ticket back to relevancy.
            TRUE STORY is about as bland as its title.  The movie plays like a cheap version of CAPOTE.  You have the interactions between Finkel & Longo, where Franco outshines not only Hill but also the dialogue between them.  You get the sense Franco has Longo down to a tee: somewhat intelligent, manipulative with a sliver of implication that there is something hidden underneath.  It is just a shame that we get nowhere down that road.
            The deep psychological elements of the two leads are never explored in any meaningful way.  For instance, in the letter Longo sends Finkel, demonic drawings fill the opposite sides of many of the pages.  But the deepest into them we get is a single scene with Michael & Jill.  Even then, all Michael says is how odd it is that these drawings are similar to ones he saw in Africa.  Never is there a scene where Michael & Christian talk about it.  I understand that Finkel isn’t a psychiatrist but why even have that element in the movie if you are only going to wade into the kiddie pool instead of jumping off the diving board.
            And that’s not the only element of the movie like that.  For a long while, I thought Hill was miscast.  Eventually, I woke up to the fact that Michael Finkel the movie lead character is plain old poorly written.  (spoiler alert?)  There are scenes where he interacts with the lead prosecutor on the case.  For a while, he protects Longo like he is his client or patient instead of the criminal he is.  But once, Longo reveals he has been playing with Michael all along, Finkel runs to the prosecutor like an informant, hoping to stay relevant and save his work.  It is one thing for a character to assert himself in turning on someone close to him but Finkel is written more in a groveling tone than a cooperative one.  I half-expected Hill to be on his hands & knees, begging for forgiveness. (end spoiler alert)
            The best thing I can say about TRUE STORY is it kept my attention and the attention of the senior citizens in the audience.  This first feature by director/co-writer Rupert Goold trudges along like a made-for-TV crime movie that would have been on CBS on a random Saturday night in the summer of 1987.  Franco is serviceable but the rest does not live up to any major cinematic level.  Felicity Jones is given one scene to do anything of any consequence but the scene is absurd and adds nothing but further irritation.  Irritation that the movie half-assed a story that could have been a little intriguing.  We learn nothing of consequence about these characters, these murders or ourselves as a society.  There is no there there.


**

Sunday, April 12, 2015

9 Honest Questions I Have About FURIOUS 7

I do not own the above image.  Copyright Universal Pictures.  All Rights Reserved.

What is the purpose of Djimon Hounsou?
            Hounsou, a two-time Academy Award winning actor who would act circles around the rest of the cast combined, plays Mose Jakande. He has no backstory.  He exists for the sole purpose of chasing the God’s Eye.  Mose supposedly teams up with Statham’s Deckard Shaw but only once are they possibly in the same room together.  Hounsou’s role is a thankless task that involves making faces & screaming commands at his nameless minions.  During the final action sequence, he’s in the passenger seat of a helicopter blown up by a backpack full of hand grenades.
Is there a term for a character who does nothing but chase the MacGuffin?  The FitzMacGuffin?  The Egg McMuffin?  The character-in-need-of-a-serious-rewrite?  What a waste of acting talent.

What is the purpose of Jason Statham?
            Statham plays Deckard Shaw, brother of FAST 6 villain Owen Shaw, looking to avenge his brother’s serious injuries.  He begins the movie by simultaneously killing Han & blowing up Dom’s house.  Shaw spends the rest of the movie chasing or trapping Dom & “family”.  There are moments where I was sure there were two flash drives with the God’s Eye technology and Shaw has one of them.  He’s everywhere.
            During the final action sequence, Statham gets into a much anticipated mano-a-mano with Diesel.  Unfortunately, they have to split time with the helicopter trying to kill the hacker & Dom’s crew and whatever the f*ck the body double of Paul Walker was doing.  The third act of FURIOUS 7 is a mess, pure & simple.

Where did Kurt Russell go?
            Seriously!  How am I not hearing anything about this anywhere?  Russell plays “Mr. Nobody”, a government agent hell bent on getting Mose Jakande anyway possible.  He sees Dom & “family” as the perfect opportunity to do so.  “Nobody” supplies the team with the necessary equipment & travel arrangements.  During an attempted warehouse ambush of Shaw, he is wounded by one of Jakande’s minions.  In the car ride back to the airfield home at about the halfway point, “Nobody” asks to be placed on the side of the road so his helicopter can come & take care of him.  Then…
            Nothing.  We don’t see, hear from nor hear about “Nobody” for the rest of the movie.  A pivotal character during the first half of the movie disappears without a trace.  As he was sitting against a guard rail, there was an inkling that maybe he died waiting for the helicopter in the distance.  But with news that Russell may return for the eighth installment in the series, that’s not the case.  So how do you explain “Nobody’s” disappearance?  A terribly written script.

Why was Dwayne Johnson in a hospital bed for most of the movie?
            I said it to myself since he was introduced: The most interesting character in the series is DEA Agent Hobbs, played by Johnson.  If there is anything in this series that has the joy others see in this series, it’s The Rock.  In FIVE, he chases the “family” through Brazil before earning mutual respect.  In SIX, Johnson uses that respect to incentivize the “family” into stopping former British Special Agent Owen Shaw by offering amnesty.  In FURIOUS 7, Johnson gets to fight Statham in his office. 
Exciting right?  Well, I hope you enjoyed it because Hobbs spends the next 90ish minutes in a hospital bed after being blasted out of the building and onto an SUV.  That’s right: the best remaining character in the series is given nothing to do while the increasingly uninteresting “family” gets to have all the “fun”.  Hobbs, whose daughter is visiting him and adds nothing to the movie, eventually has enough of this lying around crap and ends up ending the final battle with a machine gun stolen from a drone (not a typo).  But this one moment does not save the third act nor the movie. 
There is no such thing as too much Dwayne Johnson in this series.  But too little can sink it.  FURIOUS 7 sunk & stunk because of it.

Why was Han buried in LA?
            Just asking.  I found it interesting that the somewhat mysterious figure who was basically blown up in Tokyo was transported to Los Angeles for burial.  Does he have family there?  If not, was it Dom’s doing?  Is Han buried next to Gisele?  Is the funeral used as a shameless transition to a standoff between Dom & Deckard?  Ding ding!  We have a winner!

Why can’t Roman shut up?
            Tyrese’s character is one of the most annoying characters I have ever witnessed on the silver screen.  I understand that there has to be comic relief in these kinds of movies.  But Roman is less Simon Pegg’s Benji Dunn from MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and way more Justin Bartha’s Riley Poole in NATIONAL TREASURE where every single word out of his mouth is intended for a laugh but rarely do his words move the plot forward.  And speaking of that one time in the entire series they do…

What was Roman’s original role in the Caucasus Mountains heist?
            So the “family” parachutes out of a cargo plane in Azerbaijan with their cars.  The plan was conceived by Roman to get the “God’s Eye”.  But when it’s Roman’s turn to exit the plane, he doesn’t until Tej remotely deploys Roman’s parachute.  This sequence of events puts Roman behind everyone else, unable to assist in the main plot.  But later, Roman reappears very late in the plan, mostly as a decoy.
            Based upon how the plan played out, I really never saw an opening for Roman’s “expertise”.  Maybe he would have been additional muscle in the bus alongside Brian.  But based upon how difficult it was for Brian to get in the bus, I don’t see how he would have got on.  This just goes to show that Roman, since his first scene in 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS, is a useless, brainless, humorless modern black caricature.  And he looks so much worse when compared to Ludacris’ Tej.

What actually happened to Brian O’Connor?
            As we all know, Paul Walker died tragically on Thanksgiving weekend 2013 in a car accident in the middle of filming the movie.  After a lengthy delay, the cast & crew were decided to alter the script but had to get creative to finish the film.  Using Paul’s brothers as body doubles, stock footage & $50 million to the wizards at Weta Digital, the movie was completed as best it could without Walker.  But was Brian’s story actually finished?
            I’d argue no.  On a story level, Brian’s conclusion is open-ended at best, but closer to incomplete, to put it nicely.  So after finishing the final battle & jailing Shaw, we see the entire crew on a beach with Brian & Mia playing with their son.  I completely understand that Walker & Diesel couldn’t have a conversation about leaving the group behind and that the fact that a major subplot of the movie revolves around Brian’s inner-conflict about potentially settling down with Mia.  But the ending does not equal the sum of its parts.  The fact remains: Brian O’Connor is still alive and there is no concrete closure to his story.  Plus, if Brian is still alive, how can the group interact with Mia?  Can Jordana Brewster just be written out through no fault of her own?  As Brad Brevet of Rope of Silicon joked, can Mia’s excuse be that Brian is at the grocery store?

How can I review this movie so seriously?
            I have been asked many times by family, friends & co-workers why I can't have fun watching movies.  The answer is simple: I do, sometimes more than them.
            Their argument is to turn your brain off as you step into the theatre or as the lights go down.  A nice, flawed argument they have there.  With your brain off at the start, how can you decipher how much fun you can have during the movie?  You need to think about IF a movie is worthy enough to turn your brain off.  For instance, in the first PIRATES OF THE CARRIBBEAN movie, Capt. Jack Sparrow is introduced by comically disembarking his boat while it is sinking.  In last year’s GODZILLA, the movie builds the tension (despite the human story’s lack of quality) to the point where when the monsters are brought together, you are free to sit back & enjoy.
            FURIOUS 7, despite being told by review after review that the movie (and series as a whole ) is dumb fun, there is not one moment, not one stunt, not one line of dialogue that flips the brain’s switch to off.  Some would argue that the cars parachuting out of the plane in the Caucasus Mountains as that moment.  I would counter with how that sequence was set up: Roman’s big unfunny mouth.  Needless to say, I wasn’t amused. 
Two decent action scenes, two unsatisfying villains, one underused hero, one baffling mysterious character and one pathetic third act does not a fun movie make.  I guess I just don’t get the series’ popularity and never will.  And I’m perfectly fine with that.


*

Saturday, April 4, 2015

FAST & FURIOUS(ly Caught Up)

            For 12 years, I avoided this series like it had swine flu.  Hell, I avoided FAST & FURIOUS like it was swine flu.  I am not a car guy.  I drove the same rickety Saturn (remember them?) my parents gave me 11 summers ago until the last weekend of February.  I may be the furthest thing from a muscle-fueled gear head.  I’m 5’9” & way too damn heavy.  I hate rap music…that isn’t Eminem.
            Needless to say, I’m not the target audience for this soon-to-be seven film series.  I do remember seeing the first one at the friendly neighborhood drive-in movie theatre.  (Side note: That drive-in [Skyview-Twin in Carmichaels, PA] is about two miles from my parents’ house and opens for the season on the night of FURIOUS 7’s release.)  I enjoyed it, bought the DVD in January then promptly threw it off to the side, like it was some 3rd place science fair ribbon you are too embarrassed to say you have.  Each sequel looked progressively worse & worse.  Yet, the box office returns blew up with each installment.
            To say the series is a cultural phenomenon may be an understatement.  A $93+ million Memorial Day weekend opening domestically, $239 million domestic & $789 worldwide totals is impressive.  But the eye-opening moment for me came in the aftermath of the tragic, ironic death of the series’ star Paul Walker.  Fan & industry tributes sprung up everywhere you turned.  FAST & FURIOUS meant something to people.
            And that’s where I come to with this piece.  In order to understand the craze, I had to witness the craze firsthand.  But as I said before, I haven’t watched any of the previous 5 movies.  So I decided to do what my generation does best: binge-watch all 12+ hours of moving pictures with sound.  Just like with TWILIGHT 2 ½ years ago, I watched each of the previous installments over the course of a week & wrote a little something about each one before seeing FURIOUS 7 opening night solo.  Enjoy!

Spoilers ahead.  Continue with caution. 




Who am I kidding?  Are you really going to care if I spoil anything in these movies?  I mean, there’s no “Luke, I am your father” or Bruce Willis is dead the whole time moments.  So how spoilery can I really get?




Warning: Major spoilers for THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and THE SIXTH SENSE above.




THE FAST & THE FURIOUS

            Gearhead Brian (Walker) wants in on the illegal street racing scene.  To do so, he needs to beat/impress the king of the street, Dom Toretto (Diesel).  After a night of evading the police & a rival car gang, Brian meets the crew: Dom’s girlfriend Letty (Rodriguez), Dom’s sister Mia (Brewster), tech guy Jesse and muscle guys Leon & Vince.  Did I mention Brian is an undercover cop investigating a series of robberies of trucks by skilled drivers?
            One major theme of this series is how the quality of the beginning sequence, both as an individual scene and as how it relates to the rest of the movie.  The opening sequence of the series is quite thrilling as we see the band of auto bandits steal a truck of recently imported electronic goods.  As you sit through the remaining 100+ minutes, you can clearly see the tone is established wonderfully by the opening scene.  There is another great truck robbery sequence to open the third act that’s even more thrilling.  The car races are enough to keep the viewer satisfied, even if you have the check your understanding of the laws of time & space at the door.
            As for the drama provided by the screenplay, it is low on horsepower.  The struggle Brian has with himself between his personal relationship with Dom & his professional obligation as a cop exists but lacks the necessary kick to really jump the movie to the next level.  All the actors try their best but their acting chops are average at best (Walker’s best performance, hands down, will forever be in 1998’s PLEASANTVILLE) and the dialogue does little to assist them.  And the music cues are at times laughable.  One of the opening scenes features a confrontation between Brian & Vince wherein Vince comes from behind Brian to shove him into his car.  All the while, a synthesized chorus on the soundtrack warns the viewer (and, I assume, Brian) to “Watch yo, watch yo, watch yo back!”  I lost it.
            Eventually, I regained my composure to, much to my surprise, enjoy this first installment.  I wanted to see what happen to these characters.  I wanted to see why, in the eyes of critics & the audience, these movies failed where this one succeeded.

***1/2


2 FAST 2 FURIOUS
            Brian is now in Miami, off the force and racing cars.  After the opening racing sequence, which has little significance to the rest of the plot, Brian is arrested and given a deal to get out of it.  Brian, along with ex-childhood friend Roman (Tyrese), are tasked with co-operating with undercover agent Fuentes (Mendes) to bring down drug kingpin Carter Verone (Hauser).
            A big issue with this movie is that everything is standard, subpar elements of movies that you have seen before.  The drug dealer is your everyday extravagant living snoozefest of a guy with minions to carry out all his dirty work.  The black best friend is a wisecracking, gun-toting hothead.  Everything on the young Japanese girl has everything covered in pink and generic anime characters.
            Worst of all, all the action scenes are showoffy without advancing the plot.  The movie features the most shifting of vehicles of any movie released prior to 2013’s GETAWAY.  And the third act features the recreation of a scene from The Dukes of Hazzard or SMOKEY & THE BANDIT with about 1/20 the joy.
And the movie is so forgettable I don’t feel like continuing to talk about it.  It still exists, it’s in color, it’s in focus.  That’s all.

½*


THE FAST & THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT
            And now for something completely different.  Mostly.
            High school senior Sean (Black) is in deep with the law.  After destroying portions of an in-construction luxury housing development, it looks like a stint in prison is in his future.  But his mother works out a deal: he’ll finish out his high school career with his Naval officer father…in Japan.  There, Sean falls under the spell of the underground racing scene in Tokyo and a mafioso’s nephew’s girlfriend.  Under the arm of the mysterious Han, can Sean survive the ire of the Yakuza and thrive in the driving world?
            At first glance, TOKYO DRIFT has even less to do with the first movie than the second one.  Sure, there’s street racing & a bland white guy in the lead role but that’s about it.  The basic story is formulaic with the typical hero in a strange land needing to survive with the help of the wise, mysterious guide and the young “damsel in distress” being ruled by the tyrant.  The real problem here is the movie is too crowded.  Alongside the hero’s journey & the street racing, there’s a large chunk of the movie devoted to the villain & his connections to the Japanese mafia.  The movie slides into his subplot so often that I couldn’t help but feel the movie was a Japanese mafia movie first as opposed to how the movie was gift-wrapped & marketed: a FAST & FURIOUS sequel.
            The over-stuffing becomes a major and hilarious problem in the third act.  After Han’s death in a car wreck after being outed as a thief inside the Yakuza, Sean decides to pay off Han’s debt.  After being rejected, he resorts to Plan B: …wait for it…CHALENGING THE VILLAIN TO A STREET RACE AND THE YAKUZA ACCEPTS.  A subplot that was played so deathly seriously that you’d swear the movie were trying for Academy Awards now turns in a way that is so absurd it makes me wonder why the Yakuza didn’t sue.
            And the race itself is even more laughable (if it didn’t take itself so seriously).  First, the race takes place in the dead of night, on a public, hillside road, is at least, in my estimation, 3.5 miles long and contains about 40 turns.  They don’t call the villain “D.K.” (Drift King) for nothing I guess but to run this track would be impossible on the clearest day in the history of Japan, let alone on a foggy, soggy night.  There is little room for spectators on the track.  Luckily, with the (apparent) abundance of HD-quality, live-streaming cell phone video technology (I wish I was kidding) in Japan in 2005, viewing the race is crystal clear.
            Apart from the Vin Diesel cameo and the end credits tie-in in FURIOUS 6, TOKYO DRIFT is little more than the run-of-the-mill, over-serious, poorly-acted, unfocused action flick.  But at least I remember some of it.

*


FAST & FURIOUS

            The on-the-road heist-masters (plus Han) from the original are back.  After stealing and selling six tanks full of fuel the Dominican Republic, Dom disbands the group and go their separate ways.  Months later, Letty is killed in a car accident in LA and the group is determined to find the culprit.  Meanwhile, Brian is on the powerful side of the law again.  This time, he is on a team baffled by the trail of drug kingpin Arturo Braga.  Eventually, Dom & Brian, separately, become runners in Braga’s gang, determined to bring him down.
            This fourth installment suffers from the same issues as the second.  Every scene is bogged down by a single, bland, overreaching drug running plan.  Because the end game is so narrow & specific and the specifics of the world created by the script (the US-Mexico border at one point has a high & wide mountain range that the only way across is through an unlit, man-made, rickety tunnel with automatic garage doors that US Customs hasn’t discovered) are so inexplicable that the movie gets really boring, really quickly with the lack of interesting action sequences.  Driving through a tunnel never looked so boring.  And with that boredom hanging over the proceedings, the climax, despite the ridiculous world described above, is taken so serious you’d swear Mike Leigh were in the director’s chair.
            In the end, you could say this movie only exists to introduce the world the actress who would play Wonder Woman and to create the cliffhanger that opens…

*


FAST FIVE
            After the events of the fourth installment, Dom is sentenced to hard, long time in prison.  Luckily, his “family” arrives to break him out.  Once freed, the crew heads down to Rio for sanctuary.  After a job stealing cars off a train, Dom & Brian draw the ire of the cars’ owner, drug kingpin Hernan Reyes.  Soon, Dom & Brian discover the scope of Reyes’ influence on Rio and with the help of DEA Agent Luke Hobbs (Johnson), plan to end his empire.
            For the first time since the original, there is a sense of joy in these characters and to the script.  Unlike the second & fourth installments, we see the potential for a more open storyline as the “family” looks at the drug cartel from the outside.  Trying to stop a criminal from the outside is more interesting than inside out unless you have the best of the best screenwriters on the payroll.
            FAST FIVE also features the best action sequence of the series.  I know I said I was going to spoil a lot of this series but the third act here needs to be seen to be believed.  For the first time, the mantra “it’s so bad it’s good” applies here.  The setup is absolutely bonkers and the execution is nearly perfect as well.  If you want to watch as little of the series as possible, watch the third act of this one.  It is worth every second.
            Despite the joyous third act, the movie suffers at little from its length and its meandering and forgettable second act.  You’ll enter the end credits satisfied but the journey there is arduous at times.

***


FAST & FURIOUS 6
            After the events (& profits) of the previous movie, the “family” once again have gone their separate ways.  But soon enough, they are brought together for one last job.  Owen Shaw is a slick, ex-Special Forces criminal with a talented crew.  If Shaw is caught by Dom & his crew, Hobbs can guarantee they can all go home, their records wiped clean.  Just one twist: Shaw’s number two is the presumed-dead Letty.
            To be honest, I remember very little in the four days since watching it, outside of the third act of this unremarkable movie.  The only thing I remember is the juxtaposition of the two crews.  The heroes act like a family, always there for each other even eating together.  Shaw’s crew members are just in it for the money.  A fascinating detail to throw into this movie.
            But the entire movie is nothing more than padding to set up the final, ludicrous action sequence.  After obtaining the MacGuffin (if you don’t know what that is, please look it up), Hobbs & his crew try to get away via cargo plane.  Dom & his crew stop them by grounding the plane.  Literally.  Using military-grade harpoons, the non-muscle members of the team shoot the flaps on the wings and used their cars as weights to keep them on the longest runway in the universe.  All the while, Dom, Hobbs and a converted Letty steal the MacGuffin then escape before the plane crashes.
The final action scene is impressive but the movie stills lacks that dramatic kick necessary to move this, or any other movie, along.

*1/2

SUMMARY
            To put it simply, I don’t get it.  With a title like FAST & FURIOUS, the action should be that and occasionally it is.  But most sequences fall short of the high bar set not only the nomenclature of the title but also by how the first scene of the first movie.  That first heist is fun, exciting and somewhat original.  The cars & the driving abilities of the characters actually mean something in that scene and in the other heist scene early in the third act of the same movie.  Apart from opening scene of the fourth film and the climatic scene of FAST FIVE, at no other time does the ability to maneuver the cars by any of the characters mean anything to the plot.  It is also telling that the most interesting character of the series is chasing them, played by The Rock & is not introduced until FAST FIVE.
And what’s most shocking of all is that this series only get more popular.  I do not understand the movie-going public’s fascination with these uninteresting characters, the horrible dialogue and the (mostly) subpar action sequences.  It both shocks & saddens me that FURIOUS 7, which I have seen & will write about later, will be seen by more people in three days than will ever see WHIPLASH or DRIVE.  SPRING BREAKERS has a more satisfying gun play than anything these screenwriters could ever conceive.

Quantity does not mean quality.  It never has and never will.  The FAST & FURIOUS series is no different.  The lack of drama & intrigue sinks the series.  Movies should not go in one ear and out the other.  Movies are special, unique and precious.  But that’s a different story for a different day.  The series is a mess.  Pure & simple.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The #TFS100 and 'Favorite' vs. 'Greatest'

     We movie-lovers, film-buffs, cinephiles, what have you, we are an eclectic bunch.  From all walks of life, from full-time writers to accountants, we come together to share our love of cinema with each other & the world.  And since its inception, we have thrived on Twitter.  So much so that one of us started an even smaller & more passionate community called the Talk Film Society (formerly the Tweet Film Society).  It's mission is simple: to talk & celebrate the best of the cinema.
     It's founder, Marcelo J. Pico, decided to do something ambitious this past June: create a list of the best 100 films as voted on by the Society's members.  We were each asked for our lists of the "25 Greatest Movies". Hundreds of you (I say "you" and not "us" because I didn't submit a list, having taken a Twitter break for a few weeks.  Oh, the stuff I miss...) sent in ballots.  And the results were, in short & in my opinion, disappointing.
     We all have a movie collection.  And by all of us, I mean everyone who watches movies.  Usually within that collection, we have a few DVDs with scratches from playing them numerous times.  For me, there are four specifically in that condition: DR. STRANGELOVE, BOOGIE NIGHTS, AIRPLANE! and WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY.  These are the four movies that I consider my favorites.  If I have just finished a terrible, waste of my time movie, I usually put one of these in to make me feel better.
     That is what a favorite should be: something you never get tired of.  I would love to proclaim the glory, beauty & greatness of these movies.  Just one problem: I only think two of these movies are "great".  The other two are just "good" or "highly watchable".  But which ones?
     Let's begin with the one by Kubrick.  Simply put, DR. STRANGELOVE is a masterpiece.  It's dark satire about the possibility of nuclear war and its effects on man is just as biting now as (I assume) it was 50 years ago.  I hope to go into greater detail about this in the future.  P.T. Anderson's sophomore effort is still, to me, his finest (2.5) hour(s).  A glorious story of finding fortune, "fame" & "family" in the dark underbelly of the adult entertainment.  We feel for these characters.  We know these characters.  We hope for them to find some sort of happiness.  Again, I will love to get deeper into this later.  These two would probably land on my Top 25 somewhere.
     Let me repeat that: DR. STRANGELOVE and BOOGIE NIGHTS would probably land on my Top 25.  These are my favorites movies.  I think they are perfect movies, right?  Wrong.  I could nitpick these if given the time to re-watch and fully focus on them.  But I have seen better than both.  SCHINDLER'S LIST would be my #1 movie of all time.  It's harrowing look at one man's quest to save potential Holocaust victims is beautiful & disturbing at the same time.  CITIZEN KANE, my would-be #2, is a technical marvel and arguably the most influential film of all time.  The amount of praise I could place on these movies could be endless.  The total number of viewings: Two, each.  Why?  I am not afraid to admit it, both of my top 2 are tough watches.  The former because of subject matter & length.  The latter due to its almost academic nature.  
   Which finally leads me to the #TFS100 itself.  The first movie to grab my attention was #93 SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD.   As a celebration of geek culture, I kinda get the appeal.  But top 100?  Ehhh...  Then two movies 17 spots apart caught my attention.  Cult favorite DONNIE DARKO is #71 over Big 5 Oscar winner ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST at #88.  This really put chill down my spine.  I became worried that the Talk Film Society had recreated the IMDb Top 250.  As the list was revealed more & more, I noticed the same pattern: a blockbuster, followed by a cult favorite, then a oft-repeated action flick, then a revisionist masterpiece with the occasional modern masterpiece.  The same movies were appearing in virtually the same places.
    Then, #16 was revealed: THE BIG LEBOWSKI.  And that confirmed it.  The Tweet Film Society voted the Coen Brothers' 1998 cult hit as their best movie.  Not NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (#47).  Not FARGO (#24).  No.  The Dude is deemed the best.  That placement is proof positive that a majority of voters picked their favorites.
    At best, you could say each member voted for their biggest influences in becoming the film buff they are today.   But that is just spin.  A euphemism.  Their favorites were placed on a pedestal years ago.  Whether they be the movies their brother made them watch (DIE HARD), movies they grew up on (FIGHT CLUB) or a movie they discovered on its opening night (INCEPTION), nostalgia gets the best of us sometimes.  I don't mean to criticize anyone's opinion.  I just want to start a conversation about why THE GRADUATE is a better, but not necessarily more enjoyable or watchable, movie than TITANIC, THE PRINCESS BRIDE or DIE HARD.
    The best films leave that lasting impact that influence all of your love of cinema.  Especially on your favorites.  Our favorite movies are that comfort food that you reheat in the microwave and devour in 90 minutes.  But the best of the best are like a fine wine: preserved in a vault, just waiting to caress your palette.

Monday, May 5, 2014

THE (not so) AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (opening weekend)

When a movie earns $91.6 million over a three day period, a celebration commences at a studio.  But today, in the board room of Columbia Pictures, a Sony Entertainment company, no one should be celebrating.  I mean, champagne may have been uncorked, but it certainly shouldn't have been flowing.

Simply put, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (TASM2) underperformed this past weekend.  Sure, $91.6 million won the weekend by about $75 million over the dreadful THE OTHER WOMAN.  But look beyond the real money.  You find the tracking projections, ranging from $95-100 million.  Swing and a miss there.  What is "tracking"?  Tracking is, simply put, the awareness of a movie's existence with the general public and their possibility that John Q. Moviegoer & family will buy a ticket opening weekend.  An inexact science, yes, but most of the time is very accurate.

I know what you're thinking right now: Almost, you just want to bury the movie because you hated it and aren't a real Spider-Man fan.  Well, it is true that I'm not a comic book guy (never have), I loved the original Raimi/Maguire trilogy and hated the reboot two years ago but I certainly didn't hate this installment.  Don't get your fanboy panties in a bunch.

Anyhoo, projections are just one part of the equation.  Box office receipts are just like a CEO's wallet, the larger the better.  Let's start with the original trilogy.  The first SPIDER-MAN, released in 2002 and seen by yours truly at 16, blasted opening weekend records with $114.85 million.  At the time, opening weekend meant something but movies with legs were still common.  SPIDER-MAN 3 performed even better, bringing in $151.1 million opening weekend; of which, $6.00 coming from then 21-year-old, colIflege junior me.

Aha!, you say.  You discovered 2004's SPIDER-MAN 2 and its $88.1 million weekend.  But, as 18-year-old me will remind you, I saw SM2 twice: on a Friday night with friends...(wait for it)...on Wednesday, June 30 at my hometown drive-in with my family.  That's right, SPIDER-MAN 2 opened on a Wednesday.  And, as we all know, official opening weekends are always recorded on the first Friday-Sunday.  Therefore, the first $64.25 million earned but SM2 doesn't count in this record.  There's more to this story, but I'll get to that soon enough.

But, you say defensively, TASM2 has the biggest weekend this year and kicked off the summer.  You're half right, it did kick off the summer.  But let's take a look at CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER.  Sure, this weekend it didn't do that well ($7.775 million), but what do you expect for a fifth weekend at the box office?  Let's look at my brother's birthday weekend, April 4-6.  $95 million.  Not a typo there.  The sequel to the reboot of the most popular Marvel comic book character was defeated by the maybe the fifth most popular one; in my opinion, rightfully so.  And did I mention Steve Rodgers had 300 fewer screens than Peter Parker?

The disappointment of TASM2, however, underlines a major issue facing the movie business today.  There are three advantages TASM2 had over the original trilogy a decade ago.  First, ticket prices.  Compared to the first sequel, SPIDER-MAN 2, TASM2 had an $2.25 higher ticket price.  If you adjust for inflation, SPIDER-MAN 2 goes from $4.5 million down to a whopping $31.4 million advantage.  Second item in TASM2's favor are the 3-D & IMAX upcharges.  Let's say I log onto my favor theatre's website and try to purchase tickets.  To go to the mid-afternoon matinee, that's $6.50.  Not too bad.  For the 3-D showing, $9.50.  OK, tolerable.  But the IMAX 3-D?  $13.50.  That will empty the wallet quickly.  But what if you have a dayjob and have to go at night?  Prepare yourself for $8.50, $11.50, or $13.50, respectively.  For context, my dad took 5 people to see SPIDER-MAN in 2002 and spent $25 for tickets.  A couple seeing TASM2 in IMAX 3-D at 7:30 on a Friday night spent more on two tickets than my now-retired father spent on five 12 years ago.

Which leads to this scary conclusion: When you factor in everything, SPIDER-MAN 3 ($174.8 million adj. opening weekend) sold TWICE AS MANY TICKETS opening weekend than TASM2.  And it's not just SPIDER-MAN with the problem.  It's an epidemic in all of Hollywood.  2012's MARVEL'S THE AVENGERS, the third highest domestic grosser of all time, is only 27th when adjusted for inflation, behind GREASE.  GREASE!  Audience sizes are going down.  The factors, from prices to quality of product to audience behavior, are too numerous and complex for this article.

TASM2 has its moment in the sun now.  With the weak competition, it will probably win next weekend too.  But with GODZILLA and X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST coming up in the following weekends, TASM2 will disappear into the background.  But how far back?  Sure the 56% on Rotten Tomatoes doesn't help, but fanboys don't listen to critics like me (or so they say).  But the CinemaScore (a polling of opening night audiences by an independent party) of 'B+' means word of mouth is mixed, at best.  Today, 50% second weekend drop-offs are normal.  Anything higher than 55% could be considered a disaster.  At worst, TASM2 needs a $43.5 million next weekend against the likes of an R-rated comedy and a poorly marketed animated flick.  After the worst first weekend of the summer since 2006, the summer movie season can only get better.  Well, at least until TRANSFORMERS 4...

Thursday, May 1, 2014

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2


I do not own the above image.  Copyright Sony Pictures Entertainment.  All rights reserved.

As I sit here writing this, it has been about an hour since the end of the end credit crawl.  And since I don't have a working computer right now, I sit in front of my Kindle Fire HD my wife bought me two Christmases ago.  I also sit in the dark, alone, my wife having gone to bed as soon as we returned from the screening.  As she lays her head down, wandering off into Dreamland or Slumberland (whichever her preference), I know her last thought tonight is "My sweet & wonderful husband...HOW THE F$&^ DOES HE NOT LOVE THIS MOVIE?!"

Well, it's a bit complicated.  See, I don't hate all of Marc Webb's second installment of the rebooted Spidey comic book series.  For instance, the final 45 minutes: nearly phenomenal.  But let's not get ahead of ourselves, TASM2 is 142 minutes long.  Nearly two and a half hours that go by in a flawed blur.

Peter (Garfield) & Gwen (Stone) have graduated high school and are ready to move on with life together.  That is, as long Peter can get over the ghost of Gwen's father following him.  Meanwhile, Peter's childhood friend Harry Osborn (DeHaan) re-enters the picture to run OsCorp after his father's death.  An accident on Harry's first day appears to have irreversibly changed the life of Max Dillon (Foxx).  All the while, Peter is in constant but harmless conflict with Aunt May (Field) over the legacy and mystery of his parents.

All these stories but which one will carry the film and the audience?  Unfortunately, the answer is none.  None of these stories answer the call and come forward to dominate the narrative.  Instead, every story, at one time or another, tries it's best but is always overshadowed by another plot.  Every story, that is except the story that opens the movie, the mystery of Peter's parents.  Why start a movie like that if it's not going to be the main storyline?  Two more 8-10 minute sequences felt unsatisfactory.

Speaking of disappointment, I give you Electro.  Foxx plays Dillon like if Michael Strahan had never heard of football in his life.  Science nerd with a pocket protector, glasses, tapped teeth and circus-like theme music?  Sure why not.  Pre-accident, we feel sympathy for him but not as much as we should.  Dillon is angry with OsCorp for not giving him credit for the design of the new power plant.  However, instead of showing us a irritating event, screenwriters Kurtzman, Orci and Pinker use one of many stock characters to blurt standard exposition.  Would it have been that hard to show us Max being disrespected by cutting one of the ineffective storylines?

Post-accident isn't much better.  After what feels like an eternity, the moment in Times Square finally arrives where Dillon realizes what he has become is massacred by the aforementioned circus theme.  We realize Electro used to be regular guy Max. But the score, both in this scene and as a whole, is just terrible.  What's more, Dillon also never gets his miniature revenge on the aforementioned stock character.

TASM2 really shines when Peter & Gwen share the screen.  Their relationship, just like Garfield's & Stone's in real life, grows on you.  They are the center of the movie and the third act allows them to shine.  And when [REDACTED] happens, it is the real payoff of the movie.

All that said, the first 90-ish minutes plus flashes of the snarky Spider-Man I loathed so much in the 2012 edition creates a real mess.  It's only after the movie becomes a typical comic book movie that the movie becomes not only watchable but fun & interesting.  If you enjoyed the 2012 reboot, you'll love this.  If you're like me and didn't, you'll be all over the place on this.  If you're a fanboy, the comment thread is below and you need a Google account to scream at me about how this movie wasn't for me.

**1/2

Monday, April 21, 2014

THE OTHER WOMAN

I do not own the above image. Copyright Twentieth Century Fox.  All Rights Reserved.

            Ladies: If you found out your husband was cheating on you when you thought he was on a business trip, what would you do?  A normal woman (like my wife) would perform a castration on that man’s wallet & genitalia.  If you’re screenwriter Melissa Stack and director Nick Cassavetes, you make a would-be comedy about three women seeking juvenile revenge.
            Carly Whitten (Diaz) has it all.  A great job with a personal assistant at a top law firm in NYC.  An apartment every law student dreams of.  And, most importantly, a successful man Mark who fulfills every want and desire.  One night, Carly arrives at Mark’s house to surprise him, only to be met at the door by Kate (Mann), Mark’s wife.  From there, Carly & Kate (slowly) join forces to get to the bottom of Mark’s deceitful ways, eventually being joined by mistress #3 Amber (Upton).
            THE OTHER WOMAN has a setup that, if in capable hands, could be amusing.  Unfortunately, Stack’s screenplay (her first) is a mess and Cassavetes has less talent in his entire body than his late father, John, had in his left pinky finger.  Stack makes the fatal error of letting the audience know by the end of the opening credits that Mark is a cheater.  Regardless of how a movie is marketed, THE OTHER WOMAN (or any movie for that matter) would be better served with a sense of surprise.  Instead, after a montage of Mark & Carly moments, we are treated to a scene of Kate in bed on the morning after one of Mark’s trysts with Carly.  All this leaves the audience impatiently waiting for the 12-15 minutes it takes for the two women to meet.
            Cassavetes’ lack of comic talent behind the camera is easiest to see in the scene where we meet THE OTHER WOMAN herself, Amber.  Making their way to Martha’s Vineyard in “comedic” fashion, Carly & Kate stake-out Mark & Amber behind some sand dunes.  Now, Cassavetes decides to alternate between binocular lens close-ups of Upton and medium shots of Mann looking at her.  During this sequence, Diaz is not on-screen but can be heard talking with Mann.  After about 30 seconds of this, Diaz is finally seen in a medium shot that shows her lazily half-sunbathing, half-posing for the camera instead of searching for Amber that I guess is supposed to be from Mann’s perspective.  While it does match the sequence of shots before it, the shot become the model of the failed bits of humor throughout the movie.  A better alternate shot would have been a wide shot showing Kate looking for Amber while Carly is fully laid out, soaking it all in.
Sure it’s not “Who’s on First?” in quality, but it would have been the funniest moment of the movie.  I’m not exaggerating; I sat stone-faced most of its 110 unfunny minutes.  I cringed when Carly tackled Kate while running after Amber.  I was bug-eyed when Carly helped Mark reenact the “instant diarrhea” scene from 3 NINJAS in a bar.  I was flabbergasted when the movie shifted to the Bahamas for the ridiculously complicated third act.  Finally, I just held my head in my hands, watching in horror as the movie finally reached its climax in cheap fashion.
Mann tries her best for about an hour to make the movie tolerable.  But the material is so terrible, I can’t help but feel (in as little of a sexist manner as I possibly can) that Mann never went over her lines with her husband Judd Apatow, a man who knows unfunny when he sees it.  Upton could be watchable in a movie with the director of someone like Apatow.  But in Cassavetes’ hands she’s an injured puppy on the Beltway, just hopelessly lost.  Upton looks better in her weekly Fark.com comment thread.
But the real issue is Diaz.  If she’s such a huge star, why does she have an agent, a stylist and a plastic surgeon that hate her?  Does Diaz read these scripts before she signs on?  And why is she beginning to look like Ellen Barkin?  Not that there’s anything wrong with the 60-year-old Barkin.  But it’s almost as if Diaz is trying anymore, if you believe she’s even been trying in the first place.  Sure she’s had her moments, but they’ve all been in supporting roles.  With a resume that includes “movies” like this, THE SWEETEST THING and WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS, Diaz needs the female version of a McConaissance ASAP.
            Even as I sit here, writing this review 11 days later, I can still smell the stench of THE OTHER WOMAN on my body.  And it’s the pungent smell of stale clichés, lame attempts at humor and lazy filmmaking.  The movie is being marketed as a wonderful “ladies night out” kind of movie.  Ladies, you deserve better.


½*

Friday, February 28, 2014

2014 Academy Award Predictions

Gravity ties Cabaret with 8 Oscars without winning Best Picture.  American Hustle and 12 Years a Slave win 3 each.  Frozen wins two.
Best Picture
12 Years a Slave
*American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
Her
Nebraska
Philomena
The Wolf of Wall Street
Best Actor
Christian Bale (American Hustle)
Bruce Dern (Nebraska)
Leonardo DiCaprio (Wolf of Wall Street)
Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)
*Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
Best Actress
Amy Adams (American Hustle)
*Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
Sandra Bullock (Gravity)
Judi Dench (Philomena)
Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)
Best Supporting Actor
Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips)
Bradley Cooper (American Hustle)
Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)
Jonah Hill (Wolf of Wall Street)
*Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)
Best Supporting Actress
Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)
*Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave)
Julia Roberts (August: Osage County)
June Squibb (Nebraska)
Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)
Best Director
Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street
David O. Russell (American Hustle)
*Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity)
Alexander Payne (Nebraska)
Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave)
Best Adapted Screenplay
*John Ridley (12 Years a Slave)

Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke & Richard Linklater (Before Midnight)
Terence Winter (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Billy Ray (Captain Phillips)

Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope (Philomena)
Best Original Screenplay
*David O. Russell and Eric Singer (American Hustle)
Bob Nelson (Nebraska)
Spike Jonze (Her)
Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack (Dallas Buyers Club)
Woody Allen (Blue Jasmine)
Best Foreign Film
Denmark, The Hunt
Belgium, The Broken Circle Breakdown
*Italy, The Great Beauty
Palestine, Omar
Cambodia, The Missing Picture
Best Documentary Feature
*20 Feet from Stardom

The Act of Killing
Dirty Wars
The Square
Cutie and the Boxer
Best Animated Feature
The Wind Rises

*Frozen
Despicable Me 2
The Croods
Ernest & Celestine
Film Editing
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
*Gravity
12 Years a Slave
Best Song
"Happy" (Despicable Me 2)
*"Let It Go" (Frozen)
"The Moon Song" (Her)
"Ordinary Love" (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom)
Best Original Score
John Williams (The Book Thief)
*Steven Price (Gravity)
Alexandre Desplat (Philomena)
Thomas Newman (Saving Mr. Banks)
William Butler and Owen Pallett (Her)
Best Cinematography
Philippe Le Sourd (The Grandmaster)
*Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity)
Bruno Delbonnel (Inside Llewyn Davis)
Roger Deakins (Prisoners)
Phedon Papamichael (Nebraska)
Costume Design
*American Hustle
The Grandmaster
The Great Gatsby
The Invisible Woman
12 Years A Slave
Makeup and Hairstyling
The Lone Ranger
*Dallas Buyers Club
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
Production Design
American Hustle
*Gravity
The Great Gatsby
Her
12 Years a Slave
Sound Editing
All is Lost
Captain Phillips
*Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Lone Survivor
Sound Mixing
Captain Phillips
*Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Lone Survivor
Inside Llewyn Davis
Visual Effects
*Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Iron Man 3
The Lone Ranger
Star Trek Into Darkness
Short Film, Live Action
Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn't Me)
Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything)
*Helium
Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?)
The Voorman Problem

Short Film, AnimatedFeral
Get a Horse!
*Mr. Hublot
Possessions
Room on the Broom
Documentary Short Subject
CaveDigger
Facing Fear
Karama Has No Walls
*The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life
Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall

Monday, February 24, 2014

Stephen A. Mikalik, Academy Voter

I do not own the above image. Copyright Warner Bros. Pictures.  All Rights Reserved.
Best Picture
1. Gravity
2. Her
3. 12 Years a Slave
4. The Wolf of Wall Street
5. Nebraska
6. Captain Phillips
First, I believe only movies I give ****1/2 or more deserve to be Best Picture.  So, Dallas Buyers Club, American Hustle & Philomena are out.  My 3-6 are actually my personal 6-9 for the year.  As great as the nearly everything in Her was, Gravity, after a second viewing, holds up physically & emotionally.
Best Actor
Christian Bale (American Hustle)
Bruce Dern (Nebraska)
Leonardo DiCaprio (Wolf of Wall Street)
*Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)
Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
This was way closer of a race than I thought it would have been.  DiCaprio & Ejiofor were the heart & souls of their movies, but without the perfect subtlety from Ejiofor, 12 Years A Slave would have been almost unwatchable.
Best Actress
Amy Adams (American Hustle)
*Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
Sandra Bullock (Gravity)
Judi Dench (Philomena)
Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)
Like I said, everything in Gravity held up the second time, with Bullock at the forefront.  But, who are we kidding, Blanchett put on a clinic this year.
Best Supporting Actor
Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips)
Bradley Cooper (American Hustle)
*Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)
Jonah Hill (Wolf of Wall Street)
Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)
In any other year, I could have voted for any 4 of these guys (sorry, Bradley).  In fact, as I was typing this, I changed my mind.  I changed from Leto to Fassbender.  The middle-of-the-night confrontation by lantern did it for me.
Best Supporting Actress
Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)
*Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave)
Julia Roberts (August: Osage County)
June Squibb (Nebraska)
Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)
As close as the race appears to be, in my mind, there is no debate.  Nyong'o is pitch perfect in the last half of 12 Years A Slave.
Best Director
Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street
David O. Russell (American Hustle)
*Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity)
Alexander Payne (Nebraska)
Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave)
If only one of my votes could count, it would be here.  If any little bit of Gravity was off, the entire movie crumbles.  Cuarón. Was. Perfect.
Best Adapted Screenplay
John Ridley (12 Years a Slave)
*
Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke & Richard Linklater (Before Midnight)
Terence Winter (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Billy Ray (Captain Phillips)

Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope (Philomena)
12 Years is great, but my goodness, I gotta give my personal #1 of 2013 something.  So why not give it to its best (and only nominated) element.
Best Original Screenplay
David O. Russell and Eric Singer (American Hustle)
Bob Nelson (Nebraska)
*Spike Jonze (Her)
Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack (Dallas Buyers Club)
Woody Allen (Blue Jasmine)
Not going to mince words: Only two of these scripts are Oscar-worthy.  My pick and Nebraska.
Best Animated Feature
The Wind Rises

*Frozen
Despicable Me 2
The Croods
Ernest & Celestine
Only saw three of these.  Not an anime guy and foreign stuff barely comes to Pittsburgh.  DM2 sucks and The Croods starts off terribly before ending up ok.  Frozen was the lone bright spot in the animation world last year.
Film Editing
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
*Gravity
12 Years a Slave
Seamlessness is a thing of beauty.
Best Song
"Alone Yet Not Alone" (Alone Yet Not Alone)
"Happy" (Despicable Me 2)
*"Let It Go" (Frozen)
"The Moon Song" (Her)
"Ordinary Love" (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom)
No explanation necessary.  Best movie song since "Falling Slowly".
Best Original Score
John Williams (The Book Thief)
Steven Price (Gravity)
Alexandre Desplat (Philomena)
Thomas Newman (Saving Mr. Banks)
*William Butler and Owen Pallett (Her)
Gravity is close, but Her was consistently fantastic throughout.
Best Cinematography
Philippe Le Sourd (The Grandmaster)
Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity)
*Bruno Delbonnel (Inside Llewyn Davis)
Roger Deakins (Prisoners)
Phedon Papamichael (Nebraska)
Gravity was mostly special effects.  Inside Llewyn Davis is mostly spectacular.
Costume Design
*American Hustle
The Grandmaster
The Great Gatsby
The Invisible Woman
12 Years A Slave
Best element of the most nominated movie.  Easily.
Makeup and Hairstyling
The Lone Ranger
Dallas Buyers Club
*Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
Don't really care.  So why not?!
Production Design
American Hustle
Gravity
The Great Gatsby
Her
*12 Years a Slave
Toughest decision.  Again, Gravity was mostly digital.  This was all real.
Sound Editing
All is Lost
Captain Phillips
*Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Lone Survivor
Where's Rush?
Sound Mixing
Captain Phillips
*Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Lone Survivor
Inside Llewyn Davis
Seriously, where's Rush?!?!
Visual Effects
*Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Iron Man 3
The Lone Ranger
Star Trek Into Darkness
Like I said, everything had to be perfect.  These had to be the most perfect.  They were.