Category: Film Reviews

the skinny on all the films nominated for the oscars: best picture.

Fresh Scratch, Kelli Samson, Shelby Payne Photography

It’s a first: as of this afternoon, I have officially seen each of the eight films nominated in the best picture category for the 2016 Oscar ceremony…before the ceremony takes place. It’s been a gluttonous time for this movie-goer.

Last Saturday I saw four {4! FOUR! f o u r!} of them in one sitting with my college bestie Shara and her mom. So fun. So much popcorn. So many junior mints. So many kleenex.

Because it’s me, you know I have thoughts on each for you:

The Martian

It’s weird to me that it was in the comedy category at the Globes. It is not a comedy. It’s funny at times, yes, because even in trying times – such as being abandoned on the planet Mars – we need humor, but it’s no comedy! Matt Damon just keeps getting it right, doesn’t he? He really transformed himself for this role. In the beginning, some said it was like Castaway on Mars, but it’s not. Damon’s character has a lot more to work with than Hanks’ character did, fo’ sho’. And Jessica Chastain? She is amazing in every role always.

I learned so much about science by watching this – and that is thanks to the author, Andy Weir, who took his time to do his research. This story was a true labor of love for him, and, as a writer, I salute him.

The Revenant

Not gonna lie: this was my favorite of the eight. Leo had better finally get his Oscar, because he was amazing. When I first saw the preview, I had decided there was no way I’d go see it. It looked too brutal. I thought it would tank because the previews weren’t giving enough enticement to get people to the theater {people like moi}. Boy, was I wrong! My brother and I went to see it one chilly January night, and I left just feeling frigid – it was all so real that I felt like I was in the middle of a Wyoming winter. My feet were so cold!

This was quite possibly the most beautiful movie I have ever seen in my life. I am not lying when I say this. It was stunning. Even though it was about loss and vengeance, it felt like a tribute to the triumph of the human spirit. There were so many quiet scenes of twilight and dusk that just left me in awe and quieted my soul. In case you haven’t heard, the entire thing was filmed in natural light. No shiny reflectors, nothing. Just real light. So it was hard – things had to happen at exactly the right times to catch the perfect light or to keep consistency. Amazing! And when they ran out of snow in Canada {they couldn’t film in the American west where it takes place because the terrain is too altered due to the damming of rivers} , they finished up in Argentina, where the terrain is much like that of the American west. What?!

And in the middle of all that survival was my favorite moment: Glass {Leo’s character} and a Pawnee sitting under a bush in a snowstorm, catching snowflakes on their tongues and smiling shyly at each other.

So, yes, Glass was a real man. This is not his completely true story, but it’s based upon it. That’s a fancy way of saying the screenplay could veer from the truth without having people get mad. And, yes, it was a very violent film, but all of the brutality was warranted given the situation and the time period.


Given that this is a film about the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists who broke the truth open about the Catholic Church’s history of covering up priests’ acts of child molestation, I figured this would be really difficult to watch. It wasn’t. From a writer’s perspective, the process of investigative journalism and the dedication that this team showed to their story was beyond impressive. It was inspirational.

Mark Ruffalo’s performance was so nuanced – his character had tics and subtly distinct physical characteristics that even the journalist whom he was playing did not notice about himself. Ruffalo deserves an Oscar for his work here. He is one of the most talented actors of our time, and I feel like this is his best work. Why Rachel McAdams was nominated is beyond me. Her character did not stand out to me at all.

One thing I really enjoy about films that are non-fictional is that they truly teach me about their subject matter. I learn well in this visual manner. When this story about the Catholic priests broke, I wanted to bury my head in the sand. This film sort of jerked me back by the hair. The level of cover-up was disgusting. The number of victims {probably way more than we will ever know} ALL OVER THE WORLD is also disgusting. This film really sheds light on something we should all be aware of.

Bridge of Spies

Tom Hanks, I love you. I mean, need I say more than “Hanks and Spielberg” for you to see this film? They did it again, man.

This is cold war espionage at its best, but Hanks’ character is an unlikely spy. The film takes us from New York during the Red Scare to behind the Berlin Wall just as it was getting sealed up. Hanks plays a lawyer who becomes a tool for the government in securing a prisoner swap with the Soviet Union {based upon a true story}. Along the way, he befriends his client, a captured Russian spy, and the way in which they manage to see one another’s humanity during this time in history really touched me.

Plus, I loved the simple spy tactics: “Memorize this phone number, then I am going to burn it,” or sitting on a park bench and reaching beneath it for a message…that kind of thing. I was on the edge of my seat, but crying by the end. I can’t wait to get to Berlin again this summer – I will see it in a new way.


Ugh. Very difficult to watch both as a woman and as a mom, but very well done. The Oscar buzz around Brie Larson is warranted. She plays a mom to a 5-year-old son. Her character was abducted at 17, and this boy is her child with her captor. She has been locked in a crude garden shed for seven years. It has a small sky light, a bed, a sink, a toilet, a bathtub, a tv, and a makeshift kitchen. It also has a digital keypad for opening the door; a keypad to which she does not know the code.

To protect her small child, she raises him to think their situation is normal. He thinks everything from tv is fake, that their room is the only thing that exists. It’s heartbreaking. Eventually, she uses him to escape, but in a way her harrowing experience just takes on a new chapter.

It was crushing to watch. We cried all the way through. It kind of takes your breath away by making you think about all the things we don’t like to think about as parents.

Mad Max: Fury Road

{SPOILER ALERT!! WARNING! IT’S COMING!} I just don’t get it. This movie sucked. It sucked worse than the first Mad Max movies, and those sucked pretty badly. This is just not my kind of film. It has freaky characters, boring scenery, and terrible music.

Just when I felt like there was nothing to grab on to, Tom Hardy’s Mad Max rinsed off with some water, and I was like, “Hello, Tom Hardy! Nice to meet you. You are a handsome fella.” But that was it. Even the fact that Elvis’ granddaughter was in it couldn’t keep my interest. And just when the characters reach their destination…THEY TURN AROUND AND GO ALL THE WAY BACK. What the Dickens?! I have a co-worker {a dude} who has been talking about this all school year. He loved it. We do not understand each other’s opinions on it at all. I am convinced he is from another planet. That, or everyone who likes it is full of crap and part of some kind of weird conspiracy to see if such a terrible movie can dupe people into giving it some awards.

The Big Short

Awesome. The ensemble cast thing is a big draw for me. You’ve got Ryan Gosling playing a fake-and-bake banker, Steve Carrell looking like a spokesperson for Sun-In, Brad Pitt as a Wall-Street-guru-turned-tree-hugger, and Christian Bale as a math whiz who doesn’t understand why people are idiots. The best part? They’re all based upon real people – the people who first saw the 2008 housing crisis and “economic downturn” coming. They bet on all those bad loans, and they made a killing. Which is a pretty crappy thing to do when you think about it, so don’t think about it.

I learned so much. It was explained perfectly for someone like me who hates to think about economics. I had a lot of moments of, “Ooooh! So THAT’S why my friend lost his job,” and, “Dang! I am so glad I did not let that builder of my dream house swindle me into actually going for it on a house that was way more than I knew we could afford, just because he said we could get a great sub-prime mortgage and have really low payments for a while before they started to balloon {but we could save for that, he said! haha!}” Sadly, though, I was left with this thought, “It is going to happen again.” It left me feeling dirty and uneasy, but oddly kind of high on the fact that this story is getting out there.


This was just a lovely, lovely film, with a layer of complexity that I didn’t see coming, but sure did appreciate. It follows a young Irish immigrant as she journeys to Brooklyn to start a life for herself in the 1950’s. She lives in a boarding house, works at a department store, takes night classes in book keeping, cries because she is so homesick, and she meets a nice Italian boy who sort of makes you wish you were younger so that you could hold hands with him, too. Is she going to make a go of it in America with him, or will guilt bring her back to Ireland?

It was a beautiful story to watch unfold because it was very real. It’s a true coming-of-age story; Eilish learns that the simple things in life really aren’t all that simple. And she does it all in a gorgeous 1950’s wardrobe.

This was the first time I took Annabelle to see a more grown-up movie. I figured, PG-13 for a mild sex scene? No biggie. She knows about this stuff, and we could talk about it on the way home. I felt some guilt when she looked at me with those big brown eyes as our main character, Eilish, lost her virginity. So on the way home I asked her why she looked scared during that scene — soooo glad I asked, because it was not at all why I thought. She said she has read so many science fiction and fantasy books where the boy the girl falls in love with can’t be trusted that she thought for sure the reason why our main character was breathing so hard was because she was worried she would be knifed or something by this boy whom she thought was the one. Wow. Just, wow. I couldn’t have seen that answer coming if I’d tried. Thank you, fine literature, for making my daughter think this way. Kidding.

There you are. I’m hoping this helps you put these films into some sort of order on your Netflix. I’d say skip Mad Max unless you are one of those people whom I really do not understand. Don’t watch Room without a lot of tissues. And be careful with any new mortgages you are about to acquire.

Have fun watching the Oscars!


“the age of adaline,” “cinderella,” and more – oh my!

**Many of you have been contacting me to see if everything’s alright since my blogging has been quite absentee for the past couple of weeks – you’re so sweet! While I have been just fine, good old has not. My blog kind of seized up on me, and my helper is working hard on getting it back to its old self. I have so much to tell you! So many pictures to show you, too, but unfortunately the picture part is a big part of what’s broken. So I am crossing my fingers this morning and pressing “publish” in the hopes that just a little something gets out to you all….Thanks for your patience!**

This summer, I think, will be the summer of movies at my house. In the past when I’ve decided this, it’s meant that Matt and I watch a movie nearly each night, getting through lots of our titles on Netflix {anyone else have a queue of nearly 300 films? Please say yes…}. But this year, I want to pull away from the decidedly kid-esque movies we’ve been watching with the girls {think….Rio} and spend a couple nights a week introducing them to the classics of my generation – Back to the Future, Big, The Goonies. Which ones am I forgetting?

Here’s a round-up of what I’ve watched lately:

The Age of Adaline

I’ll tell you the worst of it first: there’s a corny narrator. It’s a smidge predictable. The theater never really melted away while I was watching it.

But here’s why it’s worth watching: Blake Lively’s wardrobe as Adaline – stunning! I want all of the clothes! So classy. This film actually has gotten me following Ms. Lively on Instagram, if you want the confession. She is so fashionable. She’s like an off-shoot of Sarah Jessica Parker or something! I’ve honestly never seen Gossip Girl; maybe the only thing I’ve seen her in was Ben Affleck’s The Town, where she plays a pretty skanky woman.

Other reason it’s worth watching: Hello – Harrison Ford! The night my mother-in-law and I went to see this, I had just been watching The Empire Strikes Back with the girls; I went from young Harrison to old Harrison. So surreal. I love him at any age. He brought a tenderness to his small role in this film. And the young man who plays him in his 20’s? Hard to believe he’s not a blood relative!

The final reason it’s worth watching: The guy who plays her love interest – who is named Ellis in the film. Michiel Huisman. I don’t even know what to say about him, other than I can’t wait to see him in something else. I may even start watching Game of Thrones just because I’ve heard he is on it.


This was pretty harmless. I took both girls, and they enjoyed it. I was entertained. The scariest part was when the step-mother {played with menace by Cate Blanchett} was waiting for Cinderella in her room, holding the glass slipper, basically like, “Busted, Dearie.” She can be so intimidating!

The prince was a dork, but it was still sweet to watch them falling in love at the ball. And I loved seeing Rose and Daisy from Downton Abbey in different roles. Scene stealer: Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother – such a fun scene!

This would be a good film to watch outside on a projector one night this summer, for sure.

And now for some we’ve rented over the last couple of months. I’m still having a love affair with Netflix, 13 years after our first delivery to our mailbox. It’s one of my favorite things about technology, for sure!

My Best Friend

This is a French film with subtitles: warning!

What happens when a man realizes he is friendly but has no friends? He decides to find a bestie, that’s what. This is equal parts humorous, sad, touching, and cringe-worthy, depending on the moment. But it’s definitely a ride worth taking. Especially if you don’t mind subtitles. And I don’t.

Mockingjay, Part I

Costumes: check.

Peeta: no check.

This was not as good as #2. Then again, the third book in this series was not my favorite, either. But you’ve gotta see it – don’t you? – if you’re planning to watch the last film when it comes out…

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Sweet, harmless, visually stunning. Pretty much I am retiring here. I loved seeing some of my favorites acting here, and it was fun to have two ladies from Downton Abbey together in something else, acting entirely differently.

Honestly, I was very excited to see this recently in my preparation to see the second one {because – hello! – Richard Gere is in it!!}, but it fell a little short of the hype. Still fun, though.

The Night at the Museum Series

Like I said at the top, I’m interested in getting my girls away from all the kiddie-movies. This series was a fun start. Matt wasn’t so interested, but you know I am a die-hard Ben Stiller fan, so the girls and I had three very fun, Junior-Mints-and-Popcorn-packed nights watching all of these.There were lots of giggles and, believe it or not, lots of great discussions about people in history. AND! Now when Clementine talks about wanting to travel to NYC, it is strictly because she wants to visit the Museum of Natural History. Holla’!

What are some good ones – new or just new to you – that you’ve watched lately? Any recommendations for my official upcoming “Summer of Reading Lots of Books and Watching Lots of Movies?!” Do tell.