The Oscar Project
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 like that is not set in the current era
There was plenty to choose from when I picked this category, but I had to go with a film that I absolutely love, and I have seen probably two dozen times or more over the years. It’s one of those that I usually watch to the end whenever it comes on TV, which sometimes takes up several hours of my afternoon/evening/night.
I have to say, this film is one of the best I’ve seen when it comes to immersing the audience in the time period and the world it exists in. From the opening sequence in Germania, we are thrust into a gritty hellscape of how war was waged two thousand years ago, give or take a century or two. The opening battle is brutal, and they don’t get any tamer from there.
It’s easy to say that the battle and fight scenes are some of the best parts of Gladiator, yet I find many of the best parts are in the quiet intimate moments between the chaos. The personal interaction between Russell Crowe’s Maximus and his owner Proximo (Oliver Reed) about how he can win the crowd and potentially win his freedom is one of those moments. Another is Maximus’s interaction with the young prince Lucius before one of his fights. He speaks with the boy I think because he sees his own dead son in the boy and wants to connect with someone that age once again. And speaking of his son, one of the most incredible scenes is when Maximus returns to his farm to find his wife and son dead. The anguish that Crowe displays is part of the reason he was crowned Best Actor by the Academy for his work in the film.
The film also won an Oscar for Best Costume Design, and this goes back to my initial point about immersing you in the world. There are thousands of costumes in this film that make you feel like you are in ancient Rome. Everything is here from the obvious gladiator gear, to the soldiers in the army, the simple robes of the senators, and the elaborate robes of the royalty. The last time we were watching the film, my wife and I both remarked that Lucilla’s (Connie Nielsen) costumes are some of the most beautiful in the film and fit her character perfectly.
But the costumes alone don’t make this film feel like a part of history. There are plenty of scenes in the markets, the countryside, and of course, in the gladiatorial arenas themselves. The way the story progresses, Maximus fights his way through several lesser arenas throughout the Roman Empire, before venturing to Rome itself and competing in the Super Bowl of gladiatorial arenas, The Colosseum. It’s quite a scene when Maximus and his fellow slaves see the edifice for the first time and once they get inside, it’s hard to distinguish where the live replica of the building ends and the digital version begins.
All in all, Gladiator is a fantastic film. Yes, there are some historical inaccuracies, but you get that with any film based on historical events. That’s the beauty of film. It’s a chance to tell a story set in a real time and place, but with some elements of fiction woven in. It’s hard to say that there are no wasted shots in a film that stretches over two and a half hours, but I feel that this is about as close as one might come, with nearly every moment on screen contributing to and moving the story forward.
Take a moment this holiday weekend and visit ancient Rome in Gladiator. You won’t regret it.
Day 24 – A film you wish you saw in theaters | Day 26 – A film you like that is adapted front somewhere
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 made by your favorite director
I had such a hard time picking a favorite director for this category, so I landed on Steven Spielberg. I already had two Christopher Nolan films on the list and had selections from some greats like Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, George Lucas, Ridley Scott, and Peter Jackson but I only had one Spielberg film (Jurassic Park) way back on day 2. And if you’ve been playing along all month, you’ll know that a few of those names I just mentioned are teasers for upcoming films in the last few days.
Obviously, Spielberg has such a vast catalog of films he has directed over a nearly 50-year career, I had many options to choose from. Some other choices that were near the top of my list included Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Schindler’s List, and Minority Report. But if I had to pick one movie that only Spielberg could have made, it would be E.T. The Extraterrestrial.
There is so much to love about this film. He clearly moved on from Close Encounters of the Third Kind and wanted to make a different kind of alien movie and succeeded in that. From the instant E.T. appears on screen, anyone watching the film loves him. Granted, the film was released three months after I was born, but I would guess that the love for E.T. hasn’t been matched in the nearly 40 years since then, with the exception of the recent addition to the Star Wars universe, Baby Yoda.
I think it’s a credit to the enduring legacy of this film that it even inspired a short film/commercial last holiday season that featured Henry Thomas, the actor who portrayed Elliott in the original. You can watch that short film here. I dare you to watch even this short 4-minute clip without tearing up just a little.
We all want a little part of E.T. in our life, something from completely outside our imagination that we can believe in and be connected to. And deep down, we probably all understand that we may not get to keep that strange thing for long, but that it will always be a part of our experience and remain in our heart forever.
Day 18 – A film that stars your favorite actor/actress | Day 20 – A film that changed your life
Your favorite superhero film
There are so many films to choose from in this category, and thankfully the superhero genre has gone through a bit of a renaissance in the last decade or so. Many people credit Iron Man with updating the superhero films and bringing them a bit more into the mainstream, but I honestly think 2005’s Batman Begins set the stage even more.
When Christopher Nolan took over the Batman franchise, he placed it in a world that felt more real than anything else in superhero films of the past. There were some elements of fantasy at work, and Batman Begins is probably the most “comicbooky” of his three Dark Knight films, but it was a different way of looking at the character that many people enjoyed.
Fast forward to 2008 and the release of The Dark Knight. If you thought the story in Batman Begins was dark and gritty, Nolan took things to an entirely different level with his second installment. This film has it all. While the first film featured Bruce Wayne’s ascension into the role of Batman, while this featured him wrestling with the need to retain the Batman persona, while also running his millionaire empire. There is the love triangle of Bruce, Rachel and Harvey, whom we all know becomes Two Face. And there are the dual father figures of Michael Caine’s Alfred and Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox.
There are so many strings to pull on with this film, and I haven’t even mentioned Heath Ledger yet. One of the few actors to receive an acting Oscar posthumously, his work on this film was rightly praised. While Cesar Romero portrayed the Joker as a prankster in the 1960s Batman television show and Jack Nicholson turned Batman’s nemesis a bit darker in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, it was Ledger who truly transformed the character into a sinister psychopath. It is a shame that he didn’t live to receive the acclaim for the role, but his Oscar is well deserved.
Ultimately, the story unfolds, and we discover, along with Bruce, that he and The Joker are two sides of the same coin. As throughout the comics, they almost can’t live without each other. While in prison, Ledger’s Joker even throws out a Jerry Maguire reference when he tells Batman, “You complete me.”
I had several films in my final grouping before selecting The Dark Knight as my favorite superhero film. Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse was an option, as was Logan, for very different reasons. Avengers: Endgame also landed near the top for the way it was able to pull together storylines from dozens of different characters and almost as many writers and directors into one grand finale. Even the first Iron Man and Thor: Ragnarok came to mind, but in the end, my choice was clear.
The Dark Knight is currently available on HBOMax.
Day 9 – A film you hate that everyone liked | Day 11 – A film you like from your least favorite genre
A film that you will never get tired of
My first of two Christopher Nolan films on this list comes with Inception. I could probably populate this list with even more of his films, but I’m trying to keep things spread out a bit, giving love to as many possible films, directors, and actors as I can.
Inception is certainly not a perfect film. It leaves many people very confused and there is a whole corner of the internet focusing on finding ways to visualize the various levels of dreams that the characters go through during the third act of the film. To call it the third act isn’t even really fair. The whole second half of the film represents the heist that Leonardo DiCaprio’s crew is trying to pull off, while the first half sets the stage and give as much exposition as you’re going to get for a mind-bender like this.
For a quick recap, well, I’m not going to try and explain it. You just have to watch the film. The basic idea is that a team of corporate espionage experts have to hack into someone’s dreams to plant an idea deep in the victim’s subconscious in order to get them to do what the client wants. I’m not sure how someone even comes up with an idea like that, but it’s truly wild ideas like this that make many of Nolan’s films so memorable.
I have to give an honorable mention and shout out here to the first Nolan film I saw, Memento. Released in 2000, Memento tells the story of a man who suffers from short term memory loss and relies on a complex system of notes and tattoos to remember who he is, who he can trust, and why he is where he is. Another truly mind-bending concept, executed to perfection by Nolan.
But back to Inception. I love this film many of the reasons outlined above, in addition to the great cast. DiCaprio is cool and calm (most of the time) while his team made up of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, and Dileep Rao provide a good group to pal around with for two hours. Add in Ken Watanabe as their client Saito and Cillian Murphy as the mark, and Marion Cotillard as DiCaprio’s deceased wife, you’ve got a phenomenal cast that knocks this story out of the park.
I used this as the film I never get tired of and it’s true. The number of times I have stayed up until 2 or 3 in the morning watching this because I caught it on TV late at night is more than I care to admit. I think I’ve only seen it from beginning to end once or twice, but the entire heist sequence is one I can’t tear myself away from and I just have to watch it to the end.
Inception is currently available on Amazon Prime.
Day 6 - Your favorite animated film | Day 8 - A film where you like the soundtrack more
A film you like that starts with the first letter of your name
Thankfully my name starts with J because I’m not sure where else I would've put Jurassic Park in this challenge. There are a few spots it could have landed, but this is probably my favorite “J" movie. Some others that nearly made the cut were Jumanji (the original with Robin Williams), The Jungle Book (original animated feature), and of course, Jaws.
I find it interesting that three of the four films I considered in this category dealt with special effects. Jaws is famous for the shark even though we see only a few minutes of actual footage of the shark in the film. Jumanji came after Jurassic Park by a few years and utilized much of the technology that Spielberg’s groundbreaking film pioneered, but not with the same attention to detail.
Jurassic Park was, and still is, a masterpiece of storytelling, brought to life on the screen by advanced technology that made seemingly impossible visions a reality. I’m still not quite sure how my pre-teen self managed to sift through Michael Crighton’s 448-page book that the film is based on, but I did, and I was so excited to see the dinosaurs on screen. And while some people remember their fright at seeing Jaws for the first time, that film for me is Jurassic Park. It wasn’t so much the T-Rex, but the raptors that did it for me. Especially near the end of the film when those raptors are after prey that was much the same age I was at the time, I guess it hit just a little too close to home.
Now, you surely know that an entire franchise has sprung up around Jurassic Park, complete with theme park rides, video games, LEGO sets, and a new animated series on Netflix. Probably not what Crighton had in mind when he put pen to paper in the 1980s or when Spielberg decided to adapt the book into a film.
And while the most recent entries in the franchise have done better at the box office even than the original, the first film will always hold a special place in my heart, just as it has cemented its legacy in the history of film. Seeing the herd of dinos running across the island as they’re being chased by the T-Rex or feeling the adrenaline of Grant, Sattler, and the kids being chased by computer generated velociraptors was something that had never been seen on screen before. We take these visual effects tools for granted today, but at the time they were state of the art and cutting edge. I would estimate that 95% of the effects work you see on screen today can be traced back to the technologies created to make Jurassic Park.
The last thing I must talk about with Jurassic Park is the music. It’s one thing to see the dinosaurs on the screen, moving in their environment and even interacting with the human actors on occasion, but it’s another thing entirely to feel the grandeur of those enormous creatures when you hear the swell of John Williams’s incredible score for the film. I spent many hours when I was younger practicing my assigned piano pieces as quickly as possible so I could get a chance to play the Jurassic Park theme on my piano. While my piano never quite did the same justice as a full orchestra, I always loved playing that music just as much as I love listening to it. If you are a lover of soundtracks as I am, I recommend you check out two episodes of The Soundtrack Show podcast dedicated to an analysis of the music of Jurassic Park. (Episode 1, Episode 2)
Day 1 - The first film you remember watching | Day 3 - A film that has more than five words
While Star Wars is coming to Disney+ in full force, the larger set of Marvel Cinematic Universe films is not joining the platform wholesale.
Only about a third of the MCU films released to date will be available on Disney+ when it releases in a few weeks. Of those, only two have been nominated for Oscars in the past. They are covered in this post.
If you've missed the last few posts about the Oscar nominated films coming to Disney+ next month, I urge you to check them out.
So far I've covered live action films, animated films, and Pixar films.
My last two posts after this one will cover Marvel films and the one Oscar nominated documentary that will be available on the service.
We're on to a smaller batch of films that are coming to Disney+ next month and taking a look at the list of Pixar animated films.
If you haven't already checked out the previous posts in this series, please go back and look at the list of live action films and animated films coming to Disney+ when the service kicks off in a few weeks.
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?