Friday, February 26, 2016

My Oscar Picks for 2016

This year I decided to embark on a challenge to see as many Oscar-nominated movies in the top categories as possible before the awards ceremony.  One of my employees suggested we do this last year, but being in the midst of my MBA, I didn't have the bandwidth to binge on movies.  I told him, "next year, I'm in."  And boy was I.

You may want to carve out some time and grab a beverage because this blog post will most likely be a long one.  I'll start by saying I had a similar experience that I had when I joined a book club seven years ago.  I watched movies I'd never have chosen on my own, but was so glad I saw them.  It'll change the way I watch movies going forward.  Read: I'll be more adventurous.  I'll only be picking Best Picture and the Best Actor/Actresses (and Supporting), though I have a printout to predict all the categories so I can enjoy the Oscars from start to finish.  If I'd started sooner, I would have gone on a social media campaign to go as Michael Keaton's date, but finding an outfit now would be less than optimal.  So, without further ado, here we go!

Best Supporting Actress: 
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight          Rooney Mara, Carol

Rachel McAdams, Spotlight                           Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

I've only seen two of these nominees, which doesn't give me a full view of the competition.  I have seen Rachel McAdams and Kate Winslet's performances and though both did a great job, Kate is the clear winner.  Rachel did an amazing job but her character, along with the rest of the ensemble, moved as one actor, so it's hard to separate her performance from the others.  Kate was almost unrecognizable in her role and was a constant in Steve Jobs' life during the years covered in the film.  Kate isn't recognized for the acting work she's done.
My Pick:  Kate Winslet
Long Shot Pick: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

Best Supporting Actor:

Christian Bale, The Big Short          Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight                   Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Sylvester Stallone, Creed
I've seen every performance in this category which makes me feel very informed in my choice.  As mentioned in the last category, Mark Ruffalo was great, but as a part of the ensemble, not as an individual actor.  Tom Hardy as the evil Fitzgerald is a formidable contender, but I don't think he'll be the winner.  Mark Rylance's performance, much like Spotlight's ensemble, was enhanced due to this connection to the lead actor, Tom Hanks, and his role in the film.  Sylvester Stallone did a great job rekindling his role as Rocky.  What stood out to me was his ability to take a role that has been around for 30+ years and let that character age properly into Rocky of old. His performance with the cast and alone were both well done. His strongest competition is Christian Bale.  His role in The Big Short was quite opposite of anything he's done and although I knew it was him, I didn't think about him being Christian Bale at all.  He was Michael Burry.  
My Pick: Sylvester Stallone
Long shot Pick: Christian Bale

Best Actress:
Cate Blanchett, Carol          Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy        Charlotte Rampling, 45 years
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn      
In this category, I've only seen two performances - Brie Larson and Saoirse Ronan.  Cate Blanchett predictably did well, but the movie isn't getting the hype that normally follows with an Oscar.  I'd say something similar for Charlotte Rampling - not enough hype.  I've heard mixed reviews on Jennifer Lawrence's performance, but she could have an outside chance.  I love Saoirse in Brooklyn, but the role wasn't a strong performance to gain attention.  I read the book, so my love of everything Brooklyn runs deep.  That leaves Brie Larson.  I have to admit I wasn't extremely impressed with her performance.  Or the movie, for that matter.  I thought it was well done, given the tough content matter, but I really didn't see anything extreme in her performance.  She played the role well, but not award-winning.  But, she'll most likely win.
My Pick: Brie Larson
Long shot Pick:  Jennifer Lawrence 

Best Actor:
Bryan Cranston, Trumbo                    Matt Damon, The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant       Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
The only movie I haven't seen in this category is The Danish Girl.  This is a great year for Best Actor performances!  I'm sorry Eddie, dressing up as a woman doesn't qualify you for Best Actor.  Plus you won last year.  Matt Damon did a good job in his role, but I wouldn't consider it Best Actor worthy.  I was impressed with Michael Fassbender.  His portrayal of Steve Jobs was a very worthy performance.  Bryan Cranston was excellent in his role as Dalton Trumbo, blacklisted screenplay writer in the 1940s/50s.  This is his first Oscar nomination, and it is well deserved.  Leo is the winner of this category, hands down.  And not because he's been overlooked before.  He deserves this win merely on this amazing performance.  I'd love to see he and Kate win.  Two performers who have been overlooked and deserve recognition...and a little tribute to Titanic.  
My Pick:  Leonardo DiCaprio
Long Shot Pick: Bryan Cranston

Best Picture:
The Big Short         Bridge of Spies          
Brooklyn                Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian            The Revenant
Room                     Spotlight
I've seen every picture in this category, fulfilling the biggest part of my challenge.  Mad Max is a visually artistic creation, but far from a Best Picture.  How it made it there over some others is amazing to me.  Brooklyn was a beautiful film to watch and a lovely story based on an even better book.  The backdrop of Ireland and Brooklyn in the 1950s made this film exquisite.  But I don't think it has the steam to win.  The Martian is much like Interstellar meets Castaway and it's seems a bit "already done that."  Enjoyable movie, but not original enough for Best Picture.  Room was a bit of a disappointment since I heard great reviews.  It was a good movie, but nothing earth shattering.  A few levels above a Lifetime Original Movie.  The last four were my favorites.  Bridge of Spies was excellent and Tom Hanks is so good that he didn't get nominated for actor given he has a bar so high he'd have to knock it out of the park to get noticed.  The Big Short was wonderfully made taking a crushing topic - the housing crash of 2008 - and making it understandable, and somewhat enjoyable to watch on the screen.  The ensemble cast didn't hurt.  Spotlight was another great movie.  Subtle in its presentation of a very difficult topic, I felt the screenplay and acting was so well done and focused on the topic.  It didn't veer off into the lives of the writers for the Boston Globe, giving the perspective that their lives were swallowed up in this coverage.  I was moved by this movie.  When I saw The Revenant, I had just been through a horrible day at work and wasn't all that keen on watching this movie.  But I did.  And was pleasantly surprised.  From the first scene to the last I was enthralled.  The story on the screen and that which was implied was strong.  And Leo's performance was outstanding.  After watching Leo fight a bear, my day at work didn't seem so bad.  I'd be shocked if this one doesn't take a lot of Oscars.
My Pick:  The Revenant
Long shot Pick:  Spotlight

So there you have it.  My picks.  I'm keeping a scorecard with all my picks (even Best Sound Mixing) so I can see how I fare.  Roll out the Red Carpet, I'm ready for my close up!       

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Snow on Robinson Mountain

After a long dry spell, I finally had reservations to return to Robinson Mountain.  For those of you who follow my blog, you know exactly where Robinson Mountain's wherever my sweet friends, Mark and Sharon Robinson live.  My last visit was the summer of 2013, and with MBA studies the next two years, my travel was limited.  I knew, and felt, it was time for a return visit.

Equally as exciting was being able to visit their new home.  About a year ago, they moved from Brentwood, TN, to Gallatin, TN, to a cozy home that I was thrilled to experience.  We made plans and as providence would have it, the biggest snowstorm of the season was to hit that very weekend.  Again, as a follower of my blog, you know I'm the Jim Cantore traveler. 

As the weather forecasters kept upping the accumulation, and the treacherous conditions that would occur right down my route to Robinson Mountain, caused me to think my weekend would be a bust.  Thankfully, once I knew my travel day was going to be questionable, Sharon suggested I come down the night before to avoid the weather.  I scrambled together, packed, and off I went.  It was smooth sailing and no issues at all, and I arrived with some rain sprinkling but temperatures above freezing.

Their new home is precious!  The Robinsons would be the perfect owners of a Bed and Breakfast, because they make you feel like you are tucked away in the Von Trapp Lodge in Vermont.  Their new home has a "guest suite" area where there are two bedrooms flanking the guest bathroom.  One bedroom has twin beds for the children who visit.  My bedroom came with all the comforts of home...a lovely gift on the bed, which included a box of Nashville-favorite Goo-Goo Clusters, and a sign on the bureau that said "Free WiFi" and how to connect.  

We went to bed, knowing the snow was coming and upon waking in the morning, I found a note in the bathroom that said, "Welcome to Robinson Inn Snow Day!  No makeup and let's enjoy the day!"  Sharon worked from home that day and Mark's company had closed after the area got about 5-6 inches.  Sharon and Mark are northerners, so they chuckle at the response of snow in the south, but we enjoyed being snowed in and the snow continued to fall. Sharon keeps the birds fed, so we could watch out their glass doors as the birds hovered around the feeders to get food.  

On Saturday morning, Mark got up and shoveled the drive and walkway, and the neighbor's drive and walkway.  We ended up having Day Two snowed in and it was glorious!  We talked, read, colored (yes, Sharon and I had our adult coloring books) and ate.  Mark and Sharon cooked, and I enjoyed the fruits of their labor (pun intended).  About midday we learned church was canceled the next day and the pastor sent an outline for a family worship time.  Although I was excited to attend their new church, I was equally excited to have this sweet, special time at Robinson Inn.  Before we turned in for the evening we drank hot chocolate and watched old movies - and an episode or two of Chuck.  My kind of day.

Sunday morning worship was great!  We sang while Sharon accompanied on the piano and we looked at the life of Peter, as their church was preparing to start a new series on 1 Peter the following week.  After enjoying lunch together, I left for home around 4pm my time.  By this time, the roads were mostly clear and it was a great drive home.

We never left the house, but it was a sweet three days of quality time with two of my favorite people.  I never understand the mysteries of how God brings people together, but I'm certainly glad He brought us together.  This is a friendship that is timeless...even into eternity.  

One of my favorite places to be snowed in is with the sweet Robinsons.  I'm glad God providentially allowed for that time of seclusion together to cherish our friendship.