The Big Short Review

I have never understood the notion of “Deleted Scenes” being put on the Special Features of a DVD or Blu-ray release of a film. I, myself, don’t bother with any of the Special Features and think they’re just a waste of time, but the “Deleted Scenes” is what confuses me the most out of all of them. Why would I want to watch scenes that weren’t good enough to make it into the final cut of the film? The only deleted scenes I’ve semi-enjoyed watching was the Redux version of “Apocalypse Now” and even then I still prefer the original work. “Deleted Scenes” are akin to buying an album and having the artist give you the opportunity to listen to a couple other songs even though they weren’t good enough to make it on the final track list. I’d tell him to get lost and let me listen to the regular album in peace.

Now, some of you may be asking if this is just one of my seemingly never-ending rants about little things in life that annoy me, but the concept of “Deleted Scenes” applies perfectly to “The Big Short.” One of my biggest problems with “The Big Short” is that it ran way too long; with a run time of 130 minutes, it drags on for about 20-30 minutes longer than it should. There isn’t enough engaging content in this story to have it run longer than two hours, yet the creators tried as hard as they could to make it as long as possible. Watching this film, I got the sense that I was watching a cut where they simply hadn’t bothered to remove the deleted scenes.

There are three main story arcs occurring in this film. The first involves Christian Bale’s character, the man who discovers the potential downfall of the housing market and has the idea to short, or bet against, the system. The next story arc is Ryan Gosling and Steve Carell’s story, involving a banker who discovers Bale’s character’s idea and wants to cash in, henceforth bringing in Carell and his quirky accounting team in the process. The third storyline consists of two younger entrepreneurs guided by the assistance of an ex-banker, played by Brad Pitt, who wish to cash in on the opportunity as well. Of these three storylines, however, only the one involving Steve Carell’s and Ryan Gosling’s characters holds any narrative depth. The story involving the young men with Brad Pitt is completely irrelevant and disjointed from the rest of the story and should have been completely removed for time’s sake. Bale’s character is only important because he discovers the potential downfall that is essential to the story, but past the opening sequences, his character doesn’t bring anything substantial to the movie either. If the movie had only told the arc with Carell’s and Gosling’s characters, then it would’ve been more efficient and direct.

Also, the movie doesn’t do itself any justice, especially in terms of adding validity to the storylines involving Pitt and Bale, because all the characters, except for Carell’s, are given little to no background. We don’t know anything about these characters, nor do we care about them as a result. Carell’s character is given a solid background story that explains his nature and what motivates him, adding to the relevance of his storyline. It didn’t take too much time for Carell’s character to be given depth and could have been accomplished without dragging the film out any longer than it needed to be.

My biggest problem with this film, however, is its inability to decide on a tone and stick with it consistently. The first hour and a half of this film is played out like a comedy, and it does this quite well when it’s all said and done, almost like it is striving to be a mini “Wolf of Wall Street.” Surprisingly, for the last forty minutes or so, the creators decided that they actually wanted some of their characters to have a conscience and it becomes a guilt-ridden preach fest about the lunacy behind the entire situation. It’s too drastic of a tone change to work well. If it had remained a black comedy the entire time it would have been much better, or even if it decided from the get go that it wanted to be a serious drama then that would have worked as well. This attempt at portraying two tones simply doesn’t work out as well as it could have done. There was no attempt to mix the comedy and sobering harsh reality of it all either. It simply hit a time in the film where everything took a U-turn and became a completely different animal as a result.

This review isn’t going to be all fire and brimstone because they are some positives about this film. Carell’s performance is very good, and I’m starting to see him more as a serious actor rather than a comedy performer. He actually portrays serious characters much better than comedic ones now after this role and his performance in “Foxcatcher.” The first hour and a half of this film, the portion that is focused on black comedy, is well written with sharp humor and is entertaining despite the aforementioned pitfalls. It’s really the final third of the movie, when it tries to get serious, that ruins it for me. Also, the film manages to explain complicated terms and concepts to the audience in an entertaining way by getting celebrities to provide metaphoric definitions for various key words. Having Margot Robbie (the wife in Wolf of Wall Street) sit in a bath and explain the housing crisis is far more entertaining than having a random banker or narrator explain the concept to me. Some people may view it as condescending on the director’s part, but I think it’s quite cool. Sadly, all the sharp dark humor and celebrity appearances can’t make up for the lack of cohesion in the story’s main themes and irrelevance of certain storylines that ultimately ruin this film. A film that seemed like such a good idea but ultimately came crashing down to the ground due to too much confused jumble. Oddly metaphoric of the housing market situation, isn’t it?

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The Big Short (2015): 2.5/4 stars

Spotlight Review

Whenever I see that Quentin Tarantino will be blessing us with another film in a given year, I always pin him to at least be a contender for Best Screenplay awards across the various platforms from the Golden Globes to the Oscars. Luckily for those who are a fan of his wild and violent way of making films, his eighth entry “The Hateful Eight” will be coming out in the coming days. Despite Tarantino’s unrelentingly consistent talent at producing amazing screenplays, I just see his newest creation being able to surpass the brilliance that is the screenplay for “Spotlight”. The screenplay in this film is unrivaled to anything else I have seen this year, with dialogue so vivid and sharp that it dares you to pay closer attention and then ceases to release you from its grasp, once it has succeeded in reeling you in. Picking its words and conversation so carefully, you can clearly see the effort that went into making sure this script was crafted around an exact vision, one that wasn’t too forceful or preachy about the subject matter, yet one that was harsh and deep enough to mediate the gravity of the situation discussed throughout the film. It’s a serious topic that demands serious respect especially in terms of writing, and “Spotlight” knocks it out of the park.

Following the team of writers comprising the Spotlight section of the Boston Globe, this film centers around those individuals that were honored with a Pulitzer Prize for their work in uncovering the sexual abuse scandal of the Catholic Church in Boston during the 1970s and 80s. It’s a demanding story, one created in a fashion similar to “All the President’s Men,” that requires a strong cast in order to really make the story come to life in the eyes of the viewer. “All the President’s Men” benefitted from having the impeccable Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford as the leads, but “Spotlight” needed something different; it needed to have depth across the board, and they managed to cast the film perfectly. Michael Keaton (Birdman), Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher, Avengers), and Rachel McAdams (Midnight in Paris, Sherlock Holmes) lead the way for the Spotlight writing team, accompanied by John Slattery (Mad Men) and Liev Schreiber (Lee Daniels’ The Butler) as other authoritative support figures working within the Boston Globe. Throw in an unwavering supporting performance from Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games) and you have an overall cast that is by far the best ensemble collection this year. What’s best about these actors’ performances is that each does a very solid job without one person stealing the show from the other actors. This allows the story to grow for each character and allow it to feel more real, allowing us to connect to the journalists as real people rather than if one of the actors turned in a performance far greater than the rest. The actors may not win any awards individually, but that is for the best of the film.

The list of things that are phenomenal about this movie goes on: the directing is absolutely remarkable, the character development is subtle yet effective, the score is supportive on multiple levels, and the characters aren’t made out to be heroes. One of the easiest slip ups for a movie such as this one is that it may begin to put its main characters on a pedestal and make them appear to be better than they are, or even worse, bigger than the story itself. No matter what, the story remains the centerpiece for the film, and the characters are expressed in their most human way possible, taking advantage of any flaws they may have in order to preserve that element of realism. Boston is a proud city with honorable people, and the movie captures the spirit of the Boston native so well, creating this culture and atmosphere completely unique to the location, similar in a way to “The Town.” This film is a celebration of the endearing struggle to do what is right and to create journalism that is not only honest and crisp, but that is beneficial to the community as a whole. No matter what your stance on the Catholic Church is, this film is an enjoyable and almost required viewing for all people. It doesn’t go out of its way to attack the Church; it recognizes that the Church itself is a system created by man, therefore inherently flawed, which only adds to the level of integrity of the filmmakers. Despite the possibility of failing at many different points, this film ultimately manages to portray its story and message to absolute perfection in this rightful front-runner for best picture of the year. It is my favorite movie of the year, and I can’t see “Joy,” “The Hateful Eight,” or “The Revenant” knocking it from its mantle. It does unbinding justice by the situation at hand, the writers, and the victims.

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Spotlight (2015): 4/4 stars

 

The Force Awakens Review

 

How does one start a review about a “Star Wars” reboot film that is arguably the most anticipated film since the turn of the century? There’s no need to preface the “Star Wars” franchise because its reputation precedes it. Even those who aren’t film nerds have probably seen “Star Wars” and those few who haven’t seen any of the films still know the iconic names such as Han Solo, Darth Vader, and Skywalker. Quite possibly the most essential piece of cinema pop culture since the first film’s release in 1977, the “Star Wars” franchise is one of the most popular, yet pressured, series ever conceived. The original trilogy stands with “Toy Story,” “Godfather,” and “Lord of the Rings” as one of the best trilogies of all time (just got a brilliant idea for a new list I can create), however, the George Lucas directed prequels fell far short of expectations. Jar Jar Binks is one of the most intolerable characters ever to grace the silver screen and the writing in all three films was as if they had given a pen to a five year old. The prequels fell victim to the concept that special effects and big actions scenes are more important that a memorable, solid story arc. Granted, there were some quality moments in the third film, with the battle between Anakin Skywalker and Obi-won Kenobi in the volcano being one of my favorite scenes from any of the films in terms of how brilliantly choreographed and epically shot it was. It’s safe to say that “The Force Awakens,” the 7th installment in this storied franchise, had a lot of work to do to get the series back on track with the original creations. Luckily for “Star Wars” fanatics and regular audiences alike, it manages to meet those expectations.

What the franchise really needed out of this film was a movie that had strong, yet not excessive special effects sequences and a charming storyline with loveable characters similar to the original trilogy. This film isn’t overladen with special effects, but it does enough to look sleek, modern, and enhance the feeling of awe when watching the film. It seamlessly weaves in CGI sequences with real life puppets characters and actors to create a world that seems authentic and wonderful to really engage the audience. But really, it is the characters that make this film so reminiscent of the magic from the first three films. We are introduced to an entirely new set of characters: a Storm trooper turned good, a lonely female pilot struggling to get by on the planet Jakku, a droid similar in personality to R2D2, a villain desperate to emulate the actions of Darth Vader, and a hot shot pilot that acts like Han Solo 2.0. What’s so great is that we also see the return of C3PO, Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Chewbacca. There’s a brilliant blend of old and new in a story that could almost be a modern day remake of the original 1977 film.

As always, there are some things I have issues with. First off, the film is scarily similar to “A New Hope”, with the first 45 minutes being almost an identical knock-off of the first film. I was worried there was going to be a lack of originality in the plotline, but it gets better as the film goes on. It’s a safe move that makes it easier to emulate the magic of older films, but safe choices aren’t always the best and I would’ve appreciated some risks in the plot. It also gets a bit cheesy with the script at times with some corny one-liners, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t have too much of an effect on the overall product. Also, without ruining too much of the story for those that haven’t seen the film yet, I would’ve liked for Kylo Ren to be a little bit more, I hate to say it, villainous. When the original film came out, Darth Vader became the staple for evil of that generation and is still a quintessential bad guy in cinema history today. Kylo Ren, on the other hand, seems a bit childish at times and just isn’t as menacing as I would expect for a core Star Wars villain operating under the Dark Side.

Overall this film is a good entry in the Star Wars universe and probably ranks as the third best, right behind “A New Hope” and “The Empire Strikes Back.” The plot of most of this film revolves around trying to find a disappeared Luke Skywalker, which seems oddly metaphoric of the film trying to find the lost magic of old. It manages to recreate that atmosphere and will make many people excited for what’s to come next. What makes it truly great is the fact that it does right by a wide range of audiences. Younger kids, who may be having their first Star Wars experience with this film, will love it. It will be a sigh of relief for those who grew up with the prequels, and is a sweet return to form for an older generation that idolized the original trilogy. I’m excited to see where it goes from here.

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Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015): 3/4 stars

Macbeth Review

I think it’s fair to say that I wasn’t the only person who hated reading Shakespeare in English classes growing up in middle through to high school. I didn’t understand a single thing he wrote down, and the only reason I got by was because of the glorious invention of Spark Notes. As I have grown older, however, my appreciation for Shakespeare has started to grow and there are some of his plays that I am able to fully enjoy and can finally see why we still read his plays even to this day. As much as I enjoy reading some of the plays, I still much rather enjoy watching the film version of the plays, especially when they are modern adaptations of the classic stories. It all started with Baz Luhrmann in 1996 when he brought us the teen hit classic “Romeo + Juliet” featuring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. It took the story of “Romeo and Juliet” and transformed it into an experience that had never been envisioned before. Since then, there has been a string of modern adaptations of these famed plays, including the great “Much Ado About Nothing” and the incredibly well crafted “Coriolanus.” When I had heard that my favorite Shakespeare play, “Macbeth,” had been turned into a movie, my excitement could hardly be contained.

The three aforementioned films are essentially exact replications of the play but put in a modern setting. “Romeo + Juliet” takes place in a modern city with cars, guns, and helicopters instead of what would normally be used in old Verona. “Coriolanus,” a war play, has war depicted in a modern sense rather than what would’ve been the norm in Shakespeare’s day. “Macbeth,” however, isn’t modern in terms of its setting; the characters still ride around on horses and use swords to fight instead of guns and other modern weapons. It is modern in the way it is filmed, but other than that it stays true to the setting of the original play. I like this choice by director Justin Kurzel because it allows the mood of the original play to stay the same, making it more intense and dramatic in its cinematic flair. Grim, depressing, and almost woefully melodramatic, this adaption takes any resemblance of joy from the source material, removes it, and creates a vast amount of intense desolation in its wake. Violent in the most purposeful sense, this adaption accentuates everything that is depressing about the story, but portrays these struggles and evil events with such style that it can only be awed at on the big screen.

While the depressing, intense atmosphere may not be everyone’s cup of tea (my mother wasn’t a fan), it is one of the things that I do quite enjoy about the film. It gives such a raw and powerful feeling to it that I can’t help but love. The cinematography is absolutely astonishing with such brilliant use of colors and shot editing to really enhance the emotion of the moments. The brilliance with adapting Shakespeare is you don’t have to worry about writing a good story because you already have one, meaning you can spend most of your energy on the acting and style of the film, two areas that “Macbeth” excels in. Using excellent editing to make the monologues more engaging and brilliant cinematography to draw the audience in further, “Macbeth” is impossible to turn away from at certain moments. Also, they couldn’t have picked a better a better leading duo in Marian Cotillard and Michael Fassbender as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. It is almost as if each was made for this role.

I will admit, it does get a bit melodramatic at times, almost to the extent where it could be slightly annoying. There is a slight drop in pace in the middle act, but that can somewhat be forgiven with the incredibly engaging beginning and ending acts. Fair warning with all Shakespeare adaptions: it is much easier to understand if you have background knowledge of the source material since you can’t stop and reread a passage of Shakespeare’s poetic verse when it’s in movie form. What’s most important about a movie version of a Shakespeare play, however, is its ability to create images and moments that can’t be performed on a stage, and with its pronounced editing and cinematography, “Macbeth” presents an experience different from reading or seeing the play that makes it all worthwhile in the end.

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Macbeth (2015): 3.5/4 stars

Golden Globe Nomination Thoughts

Oh how I love awards season.  I don’t, however, like it for the red carpet, the who wore it better specials, or other trash fashion shows.  I, unlike most people it seems like, actually enjoy awards season for the nominations and to see who goes home the winner.  I love the nominations almost as much as watching the shows because it presents the perfect platform for me to complain about those who were selected for the shortlists and those who were left out.  Now, I have the utmost respect for those who choose the nominees and understand that everyone has their own opinion, but as a stubborn British young adult, I like to think my opinion is the right one and people should listen to me.  Plus, what would be the point of these awards if it didn’t open the door to potential debate, right?

For this article, I’m going to go down the list of nominations and at the end of each section I’ll make comments on my thoughts of each of the categories.  I won’t make any predictions for the winners because I will do that in a different article that I will write later on this week.  I’m also restricting myself to commenting on the movie categories since I don’t watch enough TV to be comfortable making reputable judgments.  So without further ado, let’s take a look at the nominations for the 2016 Golden Globe Awards.

Best Motion Picture (Drama): Carol, Mad Max, The Revenant, Room, and Spotlight

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My thoughts: This is an overall solid list with some great films and no real clunkers (albeit I haven’t seen the Revenant yet since it won’t be released until January, but the reviews so far have been very positive).  I am intrigued by the “Mad Max” nomination, however.  “Mad Max” is a great film and one that I have adored from this year, but I’m not convinced it is a film that belongs on this list.  There are other “Drama” films that have been released this year that could have been nominated such as “Creed”, “Bridge of Spies”, “Sicario” and my personal favorite “Beasts of No Nation.” “Mad Max” is a great film, but I don’t think it should have been nominated over these options, especially “Beasts of No Nation.”

Best Motion Picture (Comedy):  The Big Short, Joy, The Martian, Spy, Trainwreck

My Thoughts: I’m not the world’s biggest fan of the Best Picture nomination being broken up for Drama and Comedy but I tend to not have an issue with it at the Golden Globes since the Academy Awards extended their nomination list to exceed five films.  Still, I have more issues with this list than the Drama category.  “Joy” hasn’t been released yet so I can’t comment but most of the reviews that have come in so far have been very average.  Also, while Spy and Trainwreck are decent films it does seem a bit of stretch for me to nominate these films.  There are other comedy films out there that are better such as “Inside Out”, “Slow West”, and “Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl.” If we’re basing these movies solely on how funny they are, I can understand “Spy”, but then “The Martian” being nominated wouldn’t make sense since it is a drama with some funny moments.  This category should evaluate comedy films on how good they are overall, and in this case the three aforementioned films that didn’t receive nominations should all have been nominated over “Joy”, “Trainwreck”, and “Spy.”

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Best Director:  Todd Haynes (Carol), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (The Revenant), Tom McCarthy (Spotlight), George Miller (Mad Max), Ridley Scott (The Martian)

My Thoughts: I don’t have many issues with this list.  While I don’t agree that “Mad Max” should be a Best Picture nominee, George Miller did a fantastic job directing the film and should be recognized.  I would’ve liked to see Cary Fukunaga (Beasts of No Nation) on this list but I can live without it. I am glad to see Inarritu on this list after hearing that “The Revenant” was shot with all natural lighting…God bless his soul for attempting that.

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Best Actress in Motion Picture Drama: Cate Blanchett (Carol), Brie Larson (Room), Rooney Mara (Carol), Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn), Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)

My Thoughts:  This list is exactly right.  Good job Golden Globes!

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Best Actor in  Motion Picture Drama: Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl), Will Smith (Concussion)

My Thoughts: Are we still on a “Theory of Everything” high for Eddie Redmayne? Potentially, but I can’t argue too much with the nomination, despite the film being overwrought with awards cliches.  I haven’t seen “Concussion” since it hasn’t been released yet, but it’ll be interesting to see how Smith’s performance stacks up to Jonny Depp (Black Mass), the actor who was definitely snubbed in this category.  Also, I am surprised to not see Tom Hardy in this category after his dual performance in “Legend.” Tough year for male acting.

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Best Actress in Motion Picture Comedy: Jennifer Lawrence (Joy), Melissa McCarthy (Spy), Amy Schumer (Trainwreck), Maggie Smith (The Lady in the Van), Lily Tomlin (Grandma)

My Thoughts: Now, I can understand the Best Picture nominations being broken up into those for Drama and those for Comedy since it allows the Golden Globes to give more recognition to various films, but it seems a bit redundant to continue this categorical separation through to the actors’ awards. None of these female nominations (besides potentially Jennifer Lawrence) are particularly noteworthy or comparable in any way to the talent that has been pulled in the Drama section. Yes, it is easier to act in a Drama and to be recognized as more influential so it is tough for the Comedy actors to compete, however, when the options are so slim, such as they are for this year, it doesn’t make sense to keep the award. Every now and then they may be a phenomenal performance in a Comedy film and that is great, but they can be recognized in a general acting award rather than splitting the group up. These nominations are fine for the category, but the category itself seems unnecessary and redundant, with its weaknesses very visible during this round of nominees.

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Best Actor in a Motion Picture Comedy: Christian Bale (The Big Short), Steve Carell (The Big Short), Matt Damon (The Martian), Al Pacino (Danny Collins), and Mark Ruffalo (Infinity Polar Bear)

My Thoughts: While this set of nominees is slightly stronger than their female counterparts, I still have the same argument that I made above. The Supporting Actor/Actress award isn’t divided into two categories based on Drama or Comedy, so neither should the main acting awards. Get rid of these categories, I don’t want to see them ever again.

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Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture: Jane Fonda (Youth), Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight), Helen Mirren (Trumbo), Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina), Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)

My Thoughts: Not an overwhelming abundant category of talent this year, but still a decent enough list to make things interesting. No standouts, but a lot of great performances all around make this one of the more competitive categories of this season. Congratulations to Alicia Vikander for being nominated twice for two different movies. Also, I love seeing “Youth” and “Ex Machina” getting some recognition since they were two great films that flew under the radar this year.

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Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture: Paul Dano (Love and Mercy), Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation), Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies), Michael Shannon (99 Homes), Sylvester Stallone (Creed)

My Thoughts: I think this list is great and that the Golden Globes did a great job of recognizing some performances in lesser known films such as Paul Dano in “Love and Mercy” and Michael Shannon in the great “99 Homes.” Idris Elba and Mark Rylance should be the frontrunners for this award after each were brilliant in their respective roles. Stallone is an interesting one for me though. While he is actually quite good in “Creed” I would argue that Seth Rogen’s performance in “Steve Jobs,” Jason Segel’s performance in the great indie film “End of the Tour,” and Benicio Del Toro’s thrilling role in “Sicario” all could have jumped Stallone for a spot on this list.  Jacob Tremblay also did a phenomenal job in “Room.”

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Best Screenplay: Emma Donoghue (Room), Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer (Spotlight), Charles Randolph and Adam McKay (The Big Short), Aaron Sorkin (Steve Jobs), Quentin Tarantino (Hateful Eight)

My Thoughts: Despite it not being released to the general public yet, is anyone really surprised to see Tarantino on this list? He is the master of screenplay writing and most have to think he is a favorite for this award another time around. I thought the screenplay for “Bridge of Spies” or “End of the Tour” could have made a push here but all in all I’m pretty content with the quality of the list.

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Best Animated Motion Picture Award: Anomalisa, The Good Dinosaur, Inside Out, The Peanuts Movie, Shaun the Sheep

My Thoughts: The Best Animated Motion Picture Award is always terribly under appreciated in my opinion because animated films can be some of the best of the year. “Inside Out” should have been nominated for the Best Picture Comedy award at this year’s Golden Globes and I would be willing to make an argument that it should be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars as well. Overall, though, this is an incredibly stacked group from the creative brilliance of “Inside Out” to the narrative strengths of “Shaun the Sheep” to the apparent excellent animation in “Anomalisa.” This has been one of the best years for animated films in some time. Not since 2009 when we were gifted with “Up,” “Coraline,” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox” have we been so spoilt, and I think this year may be even better in terms of overall, consistent quality.

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Best Foreign Language Film: The Brand Testament, The Club, The Fencer, Mustang, Son of Saul

My Thoughts: If “Son of Saul,” the winner of the Grand Prix at the Cannes film festival, didn’t make this list I would be done with the Golden Globes entirely so good for them for getting at least that right. While I can’t judge a lot of this list since I haven’t seen the four other entries, I still believe I hold the right to be utterly baffled by the decision to leave “Timbuktu” out of this list. “Timbuktu” currently sits in my Top 10 films of the year and will be tough to knock it down, so it blows my mind that it didn’t receive a nomination.

Which movies did you hope to see but didn’t? Any movies or performances you are happy to see nominated? Do you think I’m talking a bunch of nonsense? If so, leave me a comment and let me know your thoughts on this year’s Golden Globe nominations.