The Oscar Project
This is probably one of the categories that I have the least insight on so far this Oscar season. As of this writing I have only seen two of the three films, but hoping to catch Elvis and Banshees this weekend as both are available on HBOMax.
Looking into some background on this category for this post, I learned that there was a 33-year period from 1981 to 2013 where every Best Picture winner was also nominated for the Best Film Editing category, with about a third of them winning the Editing prize as well. This year the category is filled with first time nominees, with only one receiving their second nomination.
The Banshees of Inisherin
Mikkel E. G. Nielsen is now a two-time Oscar nominee in the Best Film Editing category, after winning the aware on his first nomination two years ago for Sound of Metal. Nielsen is only on his fifth feature as film editor and first with Banshees director Martin McDonagh.
From what I’ve seen of this film, I can tell why it was nominated for this category. Matt Villa and Jonathan Redmond and receive their first nomination for editing and some of the fast-paced cuts are something else. Timing those cuts to many of Elvis’s best loved songs was surely no small feat and both Villa and Redmond worked with director Baz Luhrmann on The Great Gatsby.
Everything Everywhere All at Once
I can attest to the tremendous editing of this film firsthand. There are some amazingly fast sequences cut together within a single universe, but even more impressive are the sequences cut together with multiple perspectives in play on screen at the same time. I also have to mention the restraint during sequences like the conversation between Evelyn and Joy in the rock universe, allowing the scene to play out with just the “conversation” telling the story. I would love to see editor Paul Rogers take home the Oscar for Best Film Editing.
Perhaps the longest working name on this list is Monika Willi with editing credits going back to 1997. This is her first recognition by the Academy though she previously worked on the Academy Award nominated film The White Ribbon.
Top Gun: Maverick
If anyone on the list has made a name for editing fast-paced action flicks, it’s Eddie Hamilton. He has worked on the two most recent Mission Impossible films as well as Kingsman: The Secret Service and Kingsman: The Golden Circle. He also edited for Guy Ritchie’s film Swept Away. Even with that vast body of work, this is his first nomination from the Academy and I think another strong front runner to receive the award with all of the quick cutting aerial battles in this film.
Part of what I want to do with this challenge this year is chronicle my experiences through watching the movies that I select for each of these categories. In certain circumstances, the timing of watching the films will play a part in my feelings on it. My choice to watch Platoon on the evening of January 6, 2021 certainly had an impact.
As I write this post, we are in the midst of a strange time in our nation's history. While there is still much to be figured out about the events of January 6, 2021, it is sure to be a date that finds a place in history books of the future, not unlike July 4th, 1776, December 7th, 1941, and September 11th, 2001. I bring up those dates not to compare the recent events to those famous events. The scale and ultimate loss of life that resulted from the events on those days goes far beyond what we saw this week. However, there was a sense of January 6th being a turning point in history, just as those dates were.
But what does this have to do with Platoon? Well, nothing really. The only connection is that I spent the afternoon watching continuous news coverage of the events then watched the film. Usually I would turn to a comedy to cleanse the palate. But I had committed to doing this challenge and needed to get my film in before the end of the week, planning to watch it on Wednesday evening, before all the chaos erupted. So I sat down and pulled it up on Netflix as planned and tried to focus my attention on the movie for a few hours.
This was easier said than done and I fear it may have detracted a bit from the viewing experience. That said, the violence and chaos I saw in the film were definitely more serious than what was on television news earlier that evening. But, it was a very interesting juxtaposition.
What about the film?
As someone who has loved films for a long time, I have read, seen, and heard many people's opinions on this film. It is often cited as one of the best films about war ever made and given the fact that Oliver Stone was himself a Vietnam veteran, the entire film feels extremely real and genuine. However, I have to admit to being a little less enthralled with this film than I was with Apocalypse Now (the Redux version). That is not to say that it's a bad film. It is fantastic and still worthy of all the praise it has received over the years. Perhaps the fact that I have heard continued hype about it over the years meant that whatever the film was would fail to live up to expectations. Perhaps if I'd seen this earlier in life, before I settled down and had a family, maybe then I would have been able to connect even more with the characters, all being young teenage and early 20s men.
One thing I will say as a huge positive about the film is that it didn't feel bloated the way war films often do. It was a tight two hours and didn't even feel that long because the pacing was great. There were times for quiet and introspection, punctuated by the fire fights and chaos of the guerrilla warfare faced in Vietnam. Continuing the comparison to Apocalypse Now, that film clocks in at just over two and a half hours in the director's cut, but often feels like three hours or more. That film tends to have more extended periods of introspection and rumination, and feels much more like a psychological study than a snapshot of a short period in history in a small part of the jungle like Platoon.
I can't let the comparisons end there with the obvious one left unstated. While Platoon was made nearly a decade later than Apocalypse Now, they feature father Martin (Apocalypse Now) and son Charlie (Platoon) Sheen in the leading roles. One could argue that Charlie's is less of a lead since Platoon's cast is much more of an ensemble, but both actors are the featured voice in the film and provide narration at different points.
Interestingly, both Martin's Captain Willard and Charlie's Chris Taylor undergo a transformation during the time that we are with them in Vietnam. Willard is already a seasoned veteran at the beginning of the film, but progress more and more towards going native as he progresses up river over the course of the film. Taylor on the other hand is a brand new soldier, fresh off the plane from the States. Initially he is a fish out of water, the only man who volunteered in a unit full of draftees. But when he is accepted by some of his peers, he begins to blossom and ultimately shows levels of courage and bravery, along with at least one bout of insanity along the way.
Keith David (King) has enjoyed a prolific career since the 1980s with appearances in blockbusters like Pitch Black, There's Something About Mary, and Mr. and Mrs. Smith while also providing voice work for a number of films. Forest Whitaker (Big Harold) appeared in Fast Times at Ridgemont High a few years prior to Platoon, and returned to the subject of Vietnam with Robin Williams in Good Morning, Vietnam before winning an Oscar for his role in The Last King of Scotland in 2006.
Two more cast members to note are John C. McGinley (Sgt. O'Neill) who would go on to land a role as Dr. Perry Cox on the comedy series Scrubs and Johnny Depp (Lerner) who you may know best as Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Depp's role in Platoon was minimal, but McGinley figured prominently as Sgt. Barnes's right hand man.
The final word
I plan to post an official review of this film under the Reviews section, but to summarize my feelings on the film, it nearly met my expectations. I was looking for a story about a group of soldiers in Vietnam and that's what I got. There were relationships built and strained, as I'm sure really happened on the ground there. There was plenty of chaos, a sprinkle of weed and alcohol, lots of f-bombs, and what felt to me like genuine military jargon (I'll leave the actual veterans to fully judge that point).
In the end, Platoon lives up to the tag line from the trailer and posters: "The first casualty of war is innocence."
Be sure to come back next week for the next film in the challenge. Week to is all about "classic" films.
A film that is visually striking to you
I absolutely love this film and was happy to find a spot for it on my list. It’s probably my second favorite “real” space film behind Apollo 13. By real space, I mean set roughly in the current reality of our ability to travel in space, and not set in some far off future or distant far-flung past. It has a great pace to it and truly makes you feel like you are in the various space bound environments with Sandra Bullock.
With Bullock playing the majority of the film on her own in space, fighting for her own survival and trying desperately to figure out a way to get back to Earth safely, it truly give the feeling of a suspense thriller that just happens to be set in space. One of the main points of pride, but also pain points is the scientific accuracy of the film. While even director Alfonso Cuarón admits some liberties were taken in the interest of the film, it is incredible to me how well they depicted the movement in space and how things interact with one another in that environment. There are several moments where Bullock just barely manages to save herself from certain doom. Typically, in an Earthbound film, we would see this as falling over a cliff or off the side of a mountain, but in zero gravity, we get that in the form of potentially being flung off into the void of space. It’s a different look at something tried and true in survival films.
One of my absolute favorite pieces of trivia related to this film is its running time. The film runs at 91 minutes, which by no coincidence is almost exactly the amount of time that it takes for the ISS to complete an orbit around the Earth. In a similar way that Titanic runs for the same amount of time as it took for the boat to sink after it hit the iceberg, Gravity is as long as it would take for Bullock’s character to be forced to find a way home. In that way, we are on the journey with her and feel the tension in as close to real time as possible.
And finally, returning to the visuals which prompted the selection of this film for this category, the views in the film are truly stunning. You certainly get the feeling of being in the emptiness of space and far away from our home planet, but also get the feel of the scale of Earth when looking at it from low orbit on or near the ISS. As the action moves around the planet and away from sunlight that we get at the beginning of the film, the palette changes form very bright to very dark, and back again. We get interiors of various space vehicles along with the splendid exterior space shots. All in all, it’s a fantastic voyage and visually stimulating the entire time.
If you haven’t checked out Gravity, I urge you to go rent or download it today. You won’t be disappointed.
Day 26 – A film you like that is adapted front somewhere | Day 28 – A film that made you feel uncomfortable
A film you wish you saw in theaters
Despite my desire to stray away from Star Wars films in this list, I didn’t have much of a choice when picking this category. It was a no-brainer for me to pick the original Star Wars. Not Star Wars: A New Hope, as it is now known, but just Star Wars. Unfortunately, the film was release in 1977, a few years before I was born, so I was never able to see the original version when it was in theaters. Even the version I had on VHS tape in the mid-90s was slightly different than the original 1977 version and there is plenty of changes that have been applied to the film since that time.
The first time I was able to see the film in the theater was in 1997 when Lucas released his Special Editions of the original trilogy, priming the pump with audiences for the 1999 release of Episode I: The Phantom Menace. There have been entire libraries written, mainly on the internet, about the positives and (mostly) negatives of the Special Editions. Yes, they are different than what was originally shown in the late 70s and early 80s, but certain aspects I can understand updating, especially when it comes to visual effects shots that just weren’t possible until computer technology caught up with the vision.
But back to the original film. Star Wars is a classic hero’s journey story. You have a cast of characters that are immediately memorable. From the affable farm boy turned Jedi in training Luke Skywalker and his mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi, to the evil Darth Vader, the beautiful yet headstrong Princess Leia to the charismatic Han Solo and his alien co-pilot Chewbacca. And let’s not forget the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of the story, R2-D2 and C-3PO, as well as a cast of hundreds of aliens populating bars, spaceports, scavenging vessels and warrior tribes.
And with all those characters, I haven’t even mentioned the spaceships. Between the Rebel X-Wing fighter and Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon, you have two of the most iconic spaceships in movie history. Add to that the Empire’s TIE Fighters with their distinctive screeching sound and of course the Death Star itself, and you have the makings of an entire universe.
And I still haven’t gotten to the lightsabers! This film is one that just keeps on giving. Just when you think there isn’t any more cool stuff to cram into a movie, it surprises you yet again. If not for Star Wars, empty paper towel tubes would be just that. But thanks to Star Wars, they become laser swords in the imagination of just about every adolescent boy in the last 40 years.
I know there is a section of the population that doesn’t care for Star Wars, and they are allowed to be wrong. I kid, sort of. No matter what your feelings on the films that came after Star Wars, there is no denying that the original film redefined the genre, bringing it solidly into the mainstream and in the process, cementing the concept of the summer blockbuster, pioneered a few years before with Jaws. If you’ve never seen any Star Wars film, I urge you to try and find an old copy of the original film and watch it as it was originally intended to be seen. If you’re a huge Star Wars fan, use this as your excuse to go watch the original again. Even as many times as I’ve seen it in my life, I always try and find something new when I watch it.
Here’s hoping I’ll be able to catch the next groundbreaking film in the theater and as always, may the Force be with you.
Day 23 – A film made by a director that is dead | Day 25 – A film you like that is not set in the current era
A film that changed your life
There is a book that came out last year by Brian Raftery called Best. Movie. Year. Ever. How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen. In it he documents the stories behind some of the biggest films of 20 years ago (OK, 21 years ago) and argues the idea that 1999 is the best year in films, at least in recent memory. Some of the films he covers include The Blair Witch Project, Office Space, American Pie, Cruel Intentions, The Sixth Sense, Eyes Wide Shut, Fight Club, Being John Malkovich, and Magnolia. That’s only about a third of the films he covers, yet any one of those could be included in a list of top ten favorite films for many people.
The movie that I’ve picked for this category though is The Matrix. While some of the films mentioned above are revolutionary in their own way (Blair Witch gave us the “true-story” horror film, American Pie gave us a great look at the struggles of teenagers and the importance of friendships) none of them quite stood out like The Matrix. Seeing this for the first time at the end of my junior year of high school, my mind was completely blown by the story that they Wachowskis has invented and ultimately delivered to the screen.
I always had mild aspirations of being some sort of computer hacker when I was younger. Granted, I never really had the skills to make that dream a reality, but when I heard about the movie where a guy finds out he’s permanently wired into a computer and has to break out into the real world, I was hooked. Pile on top of that a huge action film with plenty of great action set pieces, and it was a no-brainer for a teen like myself to flock to this movie.
The film is well known for the introduction of the filming technique called “bullet time” that used still cameras positioned around the actor(s) to achieve the illusion of the camera moving around the action in super slow motion. And while this technique was only used in a handful of shots in the finished film, you’ve probably seen dozens of other films, television shows, and even commercials that use the concept this film pioneered.
Beyond the stunning visuals and the fantastical story, The Matrix stayed with me in an emotional and even metaphysical way long after I first saw it. There is a scene where Neo is waiting to meet The Oracle and speaks with a young child bending spoons with his mind. The boy hands Neo the spoon and tells him not to try and bend the spoon as it’s impossible. Instead, he must realize the truth, that there is no spoon at all. Since they are in the matrix at the time, the spoon is not real. Now, I don’t have time to expound on this concept here, but there is plenty of analysis of this one scene (and more) on the internet if you are interested in it. You can check out the scene here.
The Matrix spawned several sequels along with short films, comics, and other media, but the original is the only one that counts in my book. It has everything you need in it and tells the complete story.
Day 19 – A film made by your favorite director | Day 21 – A film that you dozed off in
A film where a character had a job you want
For someone who grew up wanting to go to space (and still does), Apollo 13 made that a reality, even if only on screen for a few hours. Ever since I was old enough to know what a “job” was, I wanted to be an astronaut. I didn’t really know what the job entailed, but the idea of floating around in space, free of anything else, was so inviting to me.
I’m often amazed at how well certain films about true events keep you on the edge of your seat, even though you know what’s going to happen. Case in point, I remember a certain member of my family (who will remain nameless) asking me in the middle of this film whether the astronauts make it back alive. I was the source for this information in our family, having read every book on space from my school library and attending space camp during spring break a few years before the film was released. I assured my relative that the men did make it back, since the film was based on a book by one of the characters, Jim Lovell.
For those who don’t know, Apollo 13 tells the true story of Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise as they carry out the third mission to land men on the surface of the moon. En route to the moon, there is an explosion onboard their ship which leaves them with a limited supply of oxygen. The disaster forces the astronauts to abandon their landing and the men and women on the ground at NASA to find a way to keep the astronauts alive with enough breathable air to get them back to Earth safely.
I think one of the things that makes this such a great movie for me is the all-star cast. Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, and Bill Paxton are fantastic as the three astronauts, with support from Gary Sinise as Ken Mattingly, the grounded Command Module Pilot who’s spot was taken by Swigert and my favorite supporting role of the film, Ed Harris as famous NASA flight director Gene Kranz. If you’ve ever seen interviews with the real Kranz, it’s clear that Harris nailed his performance.
The film was made 25 years ago now (which incidentally is the same amount of time from the events to the film’s release) and I was pleasantly surprised at how well the visuals hold up today. Key moments of the film including the rocket launch and the segments in space where the three astronauts float around inside the craft are well done and captured the feeling of being in space. As I mentioned before, the film holds the tension of the experience, and while the actual events took place over the course of nearly six days, the film does an excellent job of compressing those events into a run time of just over two hours.
While not entirely accurate from the perspective of all the historical nuances, the film tells the story of the brave men both in space and on the ground that seemingly achieved the impossible.
Day 4 - A film with a number in the title | Day 6 - Your favorite animated film
I hope you enjoyed yesterday's prediction post focused on Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects.
Today I'm looking at the categories of Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, and Best Film Editing. Unfortunately for me, none of these three categories have been shortlisted yet so there is a big batch of films to pull from, but some that have established themselves as front runners.
Be sure to come back tomorrow for a look at four categories including Best Original Score, Best Original Song, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, and Best Costume Design.
I'm just a film buff who wants to watch great movies. Where else to find the best, than the list of those nominated by the Academy each year?