Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

14 May 2017

Snowtown a/k/a The Snowtown Murders

This is a grisly Australian serial-killer film. This might actually have been too fucked up even for me. Also, I was troubled by the film's gaze, which was... intrigued by its main character, a bit like Tony Kaye's point of view in American History X, a film with which Snowtown actually has much in common. The film actually agreed with the serial killer at the film's center, at least for much of its length. And I am not sure I understand or appreciate this kind of gaze. I did think the young actor at the film's center (not the serial killer), Lucas Pittaway, was interesting to watch, and I can see why filmmaker Justin Kurzel was interested in him, as well. But the film just doesn't have much to say, after all, shocking and surprising though it is.

28 April 2017

Florida Film Festival 3 of 5: The Strange Ones

Finally I saw a movie at the FFF that I loved.

Pettyfer & Freedson-Jackson
Christopher Radcliff and Lauren Wolkstein's The Strange Ones is not a strange film, really, but the people in it certainly have done (and are doing) something strange. The Strange Ones is a mystery. A boy – 13 or so, I'd say – and a grown man in his late thirties are seemingly on a road trip or running from the law or something. We don't really know what is happening or what has happened, and it is unclear what the two men's relationship actually is. They keep saying that they are brothers, but it is sort of clear from the beginning of the film that they are not.

The Strange Ones is expertly crafted and rewards close watching. Its mysteriousness is captivating, and if most of the time I was wondering what was going on, I also sincerely enjoyed this bafflement. The characters in The Strange Ones are compelling and fascinating; I wanted to know what was going on with them. This has everything to do with the excellent central performances, by James Freedson-Jackson and Alex Pettyfer, as well as the superb scripting and filmmaking by Radcliff and Wolkstein, who adopt just the kind of David Gordon Green / Daniel Patrick Carbone style and pace that I love (lush, rural, humid). More than anything else, The Strange Ones is a fascinating homage to Deliverance, visually quoting the film several times and updating and modifying its themes in clever, sensitive ways.

I am not going to say anymore because I don't want to give it away, but if you're interested in puzzles, you'll be interested in The Strange Ones.

By the end of the movie I was pretty sure what had occurred, but after it was over my companion and I could not agree on what we had just seen. He was wrong and I was right, of course, but the viewer must watch very very carefully. The Strange Ones is beautiful.

27 April 2017

The Ardennes

Robin Pront's The Ardennes is not worth watching. This was advertised as somehow related thematically or cinematically to Bullhead. But Bullhead this ain't. This is just a generic Euro crime thriller with nothing else to say for itself. No thanks.

26 April 2017

Florida Film Festival 2 of 5: A Stray

There isn't much to say about Musa Syeed's A Stray, I'm afraid. It's only ok, the acting is not that great, and the film doesn't really have much to say. It settles for the modest goal of giving people a portrait of a world they might not know much about and presenting some of the struggles (very minor, according to this film) in that world. When the woman announcing the film at the Festival said "We chose this film because when I saw it I was just blown away! I didn't realize that this community existed in my world!" I already knew we were in trouble.


A Stray is a U.S. American film in English, Somali, and Arabic about an older teenager living in Minneapolis's Somali refugee community. Adan has stolen some of his mother's jewelry as well as $50 so she has kicked him out of their apartment in the projects. He could return the jewelry and be forgiven, but he doesn't want to (or something), so he goes to live on the street. Adan is hungry and tired, but a very charismatic and fun person. Played by Barkhad Abdirahman (who was the youngest of the pirates in Captain Phillips), Adan is charming and immediately lovable.

And then he finds a stray dog and gets more lovable. For someone who is mostly homeless, the dog causes even more trouble.

But... all of this trouble has been contrived by the film's writer-director Musa Syeed. A Stray feels like a manipulative narrative from the first. The director puts Adan in a series of situations that comprise the plot of A Stray, but Syeed does not explain the material conditions that put Adan and his mother in those situations, and Syeed doesn't let us into Adan's own decision-making processes enough to explain how or why he gets himself out of those situations. So, Adan is homeless and has no job and he wants to pray but can't figure out how and is being manipulated by the FBI, fine. But all it takes is a stroke of Syeed's pen and Adan can have a home, a job, and a religion again. And the FBI can go fuck themselves. No biggie. The stakes are all just so low.

Adorable.
A lot of this, too, has to do with the choice to tell the story of a person who is mostly a kid. The stakes really are lower for someone who is dependent on his mother for housing and food and who doesn't have to worry about feeding a family or sending money back home to Somalia or dealing in a more serious way with the violence of U.S. American law enforcement. Adan doesn't even really deal with structural U.S. American racism in A Stray. The struggles just aren't that serious. I have spoken before about my vague disinterest in stories about children and teenagers. (My recent viewing of Edge of Seventeen confirmed this yet again.) I am just less interested in stories from these simplified perspectives. For a much more interesting story of immigration and refugees, see Dheepan or Mediterranea. Both are great!

What's sort of a shame about A Stray is that I am sure the Somali refugee community in Minneapolis and in other places in the U.S. has all kinds of real crises and issues, not the least of which, I am sure, is related to being Muslim in a nation whose laws and culture are overwhelmingly biased toward Christians. But A Stray is not really interested in that. For A Stray, there is no ill in the world that can't be solved with the simple addition of an adorable puppy.

25 April 2017

Florida Film Festival 1 of 5: Pushing Dead

Last night I saw my first film from the 2017 FFF. I am excited for these movies.

The FFF is usually big on comedies. Most of the films they bring to screen are funny in some way, even movies that are potentially serious wind up being quirky or have some humorous take on the material. I tend to avoid most of these movies, I have to say – I focus instead primarily on the "International" selections.

Tom E. Brown's Pushing Dead is a self-styled "AIDS comedy", so it obviously fits the usual FFF mold – the one that I would normally avoid. But I was excited that there was going to be a movie about gay subject matter, and Danny Glover is in it. So I went. (The title, incidentally, is a play on the idea that someone could be pushing 40. In this case our protagonist is only forty or so, but he's pushing dead. This is the character's sense of humor about his own mortality – something that doesn't really translate into a movie title.)

But Pushing Dead is very, very funny. I laughed a lot, in fact. The premise is that an HIV+ poet in his early 40s, through an odd little event, gets pushed off of his insurance and needs to try to figure out how he is going to pay for his drugs. There is a bunch of other (delightful) nonsense happening, but this is the premise of the movie.

I really liked this film. It's silly and hilarious, the script is clever, and the main performances – by James Roday, Robin Weigert, Danny Glover, and Khandi Alexander – are all very funny.

The weird part for me is that Pushing Dead is just not very gay. Like, so strangely not gay. At one point early in the film I remember thinking Oh maybe the quirkiness here is that this is a straight guy living with HIV. And then I thought about it for a bit and figured out that he was actually supposed to be a gay character. But there are only three gay characters in the film, and the main character (played – of course he is – by a straight actor) has no gay friends at all. This allows for the whole thing to be "universal" or something, I guess? But it also seems to have no connection to the real world.

Object of desire Tom Riley – also not played by a gay actor
Even more than just the interactions between characters, the filmmaking is not very gay. For example: Although our main guy goes on two dates, and although we see him in flashback with a past relationship, the men never kiss. And breaking from all the rules of gay filmmaking, there is literally not one shot of a guy without a shirt. This is not actually a problem with the filmmaking, of course, I'm just noting that the film didn't feel very gay. It clearly, in other words, was not intended for a gay audience. Even worse, one of the gay characters is presented as a kind of curiosity or surprise. This isn't done in an offensive way, at least as far as I could tell, but in a film with so few queer characters, it seems an odd way to use one of its three queer folks.

Pushing Dead does have some really beautiful poignant moments, and these occur when the film (paradoxically) ventures into non-"universal" territory, like when it discusses living with HIV for a long time, or dating with HIV, or the early years of HIV in club culture, or young people like our protagonist struggling with mortality. But the film seems less interested in these things; they seem rather to be a kind of backdrop for the film's humorous antics.

Pushing Dead left me fairly cold.

19 April 2017

The Ox-Bow Incident

The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) is a movie about lynching, by which I mean another movie about lynching from this period of time.
Of course the victims of this lynching were two white men and a Latino and not a black man from the Jim Crow south, but it seems like Hollywood did try in its oblique way to tell lynching stories.

Other lynching movies from the period, see Fury (1936) and Barbary Coast (1935).

16 April 2017

Frantz and François

I loved the new François Ozon film, Frantz. The movie stars Paula Beer and Pierre Niney and is mostly in black and white. It is a mystery of sorts. It takes place in Germany in 1919 after WWI and concerns a strange French mourner, Adrien, who has come to weep at the grave of Anna's dead fiancé.

The mourner haltingly develops a relationship with Frantz's family and Frantz's fiancé. He was Frantz's friend in Paris, he tells them. But it is clear from the very beginning that Adrien is taking Frantz's death much harder than he ought to be taking it. We will find out what their real relationship was as the film continues, but Frantz is a film consisting of a series of parallels. Images, situations, languages are doubled in the film, ghosting each other. There is always another side to every situation in the film, there is a second ghost for every one we meet. Frantz is divided neatly in half by the revelation of Frantz and Adrien's real relationship midway through the film, and from there Ozon has more surprises in store.

Frantz, it should be noted, is not an action film. It is a slow, sad, romantic film that is more about the ghosts of World War I than it is about anything else. But Ozon is doing wonderful work, and his use of color in Frantz is absolutely astounding.

The rest of this post will have spoilers. 
* * * *
What I love about Frantz is the way everything in the movie is doubled. When we're first in Germany we feel sorry for Adrien and Hans Hoffmeister as they try to talk sense to the Germans who hate the French and spit at them. Their singing and nationalism seem scary but also ignorant and stupid. How easy it is to look down on the Germans, who, after all, would start the next war. But when Anna goes to Paris she encounters precisely the same thing. The train car attendant glares at her, the French woman with her children looks at Anna in disgust. And then in the bar all the patrons stand and sing "La Marsellaise". It's actually terrifying. And we are not in a tiny German town. This isn't a little burg somewhere: this is Paris.

The French and the Germans are doubled in Frantz, certainly, as Adrien is Frantz's double, but Ozon also doubles the dead for whom we are asked to mourn. Frantz himself, whom we grow to love, even as he fades more and more persistently from the film, but then when we meet Fanny, we find that her brother, too, was killed in the war, a boy even younger than Frantz who, of course, is named François. The film is insistent that we understand World War I not as a series of aggressions in which France and Germany fought one another but as a disaster that befell a generation of men because their fathers willed it so. What is France? What is Germany? the film asks, other than the happiness of its young people?

Ozon's use of color and black-and-white is, perhaps, Frantz's most striking feature. Ozon is a theatrical director, and it is here where his film betrays his flair for excess, but in Frantz this is understated and subtle, and Ozon uses it to such perfect effect. The work here is a kind of gorgeous tribute to Douglas Sirk, and Frantz is certainly a melodrama. The very first shot of the film is in color, even though it looks like it is in black-and-white. We see pale pink flowers as we look at the image of a nearby town in a gray morning sunshine. It is a trick of the light – the kind Melville pulls in Le Samouraï. Then we meet Anna and the film is firmly in black-and-white. But the film becomes a color film when the oppression of grief lifts momentarily. As Adrien first tells the Hoffmeisters about his trip to the Louvre with Frantz, we see the boys run and cavort in the palace, and the film soars in color as we watch them. We return to the present and return to black-and-white, of course, but the next time Adrien tells a story about Frantz we are again in color as Adrien lovingly moves Frantz's hands as he teaches him violin technique.

The first time the present day switches into color took everyone in the theatre by surprise. Anna and Adrien walk through a shadowy underpass and as they emerge, we are in color. The switch is so subtly done that the people next to me only figured it out forty seconds in, at which point they gasped. It's a gorgeous sequence of events, and Anna's happiness is made beautifully evident. We've been desperate for her happiness for most of the film and we hadn't realized it. After we have found out the truth and Adrien has gone back to France, Anna walks that same path on the way to commit suicide. The shots are doubled. She covers the same area alone, paces a field, crosses through the underpass, and when we didn't switch to color this time, I couldn't help but cry. It is all black-and-white for Anna.

There are more doublings in the film – the entirety of Frantz hinges on a kind of double story of possibility: what might have happened if the war hadn't existed, if Adrien hadn't killed Frantz, if Adrien hadn't been French and Anna German, or if those things didn't matter, if Adrien had married Anna instead of Fanny. These worlds exist in the film, though, because we are told about them; all of these worlds are described beautifully to the Hoffmeisters, who believe them. But the film plays with these fantasies and allows us to project our own desires onto these characters as well. I will confess that I hoped that Frantz and Adrien had been lovers. This mysterious, beautiful man, who wept so easily, so copiously while talking about Frantz. Surely, I thought, their relationship had been sexual. In the fantasies Adrien spins for the Hoffmeisters, the first painting we see in the Louvre appears to be one of Sebastian, that patron saint of queer men. In these beautiful, colorful fantasies, Adrien looks at Frantz with such absolute love that it is heartbreaking, and after he kills him, he lays on top of the other man like a lover, caressing his face.

Le Suicide
Ozon plays with these fantasies, and we project them continually. I came to feel that our projections were the very purpose of Frantz, who is, after all a projection himself.

Adrien finally kisses Anna and it seems that, perhaps, the two might make a life together. My heart followed that fantasy, hoping it could be possible. No, Anna says, it is too late. But then she writes to the Hoffmeisters precisely the opposite. She has met Adrien in Paris, she says, and he is playing with the Orchestre de Paris, and she is accompanying him on the piano. We know it isn't true. Or do we? At the film's end, Anna returns to the Louvre; she walks toward the two Manet paintings on the wall, the Dejeuner sur l'Herbe and Le Suicide, and we see the back of a young man's head. It is Adrien, we think! They are together again. He has left Fanny, and she is meeting him at the Louvre. All will be well. It is not him, of course, and what becomes clear to me is that it is I who am living in the fantasy world, here. It is I who wish for reality not to matter, hoping the pair can find each other, dreaming that out of the pain of the war something beautiful can be created. 

Dejeuner sur l'Herbe (Le Bain)
One last double. Above the Manet painting with which Frantz ends is another, more famous Manet canvas, the Dejeuner sur l'Herbe. This is not the focus of Anna's happiness, apparently, but it is a double of Le Suicide. Indeed, Ozon replicates the image of the painting in his own film. Adrien – in color, although the image above is in black-and-white – comes out of the water like the woman in the back center of the painting, and he lies, as you can see above, mostly naked with one knee up, like the woman in the foreground of the image, while Anna, fully clothed and wearing a hat, sits and looks at him. Manet's painting was originally called Le Bain, and Frantz hints at this swim as an image of togetherness for Anna and Adrien, as she asks him to teach her to swim. "I was waiting for you," she says. It is an image of happiness and life that is the opposite of the suicide she chooses when she walks into the water.

But what of the ending? The Louvre is oddly empty, so perhaps we are, again, in a fantasy. Who is the weeping young man with Anna staring at Le Suicide? Is it François, a dead man slightly younger than Adrien? Or is it someone we do not know at all? Perhaps she is dead. Le Suicide, Anna says, makes her happy, and, indeed, the film switches to color again for a last look at Anna and then the painting. (Well, mostly color. The painting is framed on both sides by a gray wall. It is a color shot that is also partially a black-and-white shot, an echo of the trompe l'œil of Frantz's first frame.) If the film has moved back to color, Anna is, truly, happy, but all we have are our fantasies about what might have happened. Has Anna committed suicide – that is, after all, the painting's own title – or has she simply left behind the Hoffmeisters, Frantz, Germany, and Adrien, attempting to make a life for herself in Paris on her own? Is her letter about living in Paris and playing the piano partially true after all?

27 March 2017

Kink, Identity, and "Sexuality"

I have been thinking a lot, for the last two weeks, about kinky sex practices, domination/submission, violent or painful sexual activity, leather, and identity. This has been spurred by two different friends and their careful promptings. (I am surrounded by smart folks and, as always, I am grateful for that.) One shared this article – "Is Kink a Sexual Orientation?" by Jillian Keenan – saying, incidentally, that he thought the piece was "poorly written garbage nonsense". Another asked me what I thought about the large amount of violence in gay pornographic films. (I will post on a different day about this.)

Leatherdyke Dorothy Allison
Meanwhile, I have been reading, for the last week or so, the collection of essays called Leatherfolk, edited by Mark Thompson. Thompson's book was a groundbreaking collection in gay and lesbian studies when it was originally published. I had read essays from it before (Gayle Rubin's "The Catacombs: a Temple of the Butthole" is a classic!) it was just something I had never got around to reading from start to finish. Leatherfolk is part theory, part history, part politics, and part spirituality. I loved the first three sections and was almost completely bored by the fourth (For the record: I have nothing against people deciding to explore existential or universal truth through fisting – fist for whatever reasons you like! And in fact I have no doubt that a person can reach a higher plane through pain just as she could reach a higher plane through hallucinogens. I just find that the people who actually want to talk about this – who, incidentally, all call themselves shamans or faeries or words like that – speak in a language that doesn't connect with me. Get your spirituality however you like, but I've come to understand that this is not for me.)

And this weekend, for a course I'm teaching, I reread Rubin's "Thinking Sex", that game-changing essay that articulated new theories of sex-positivity and benign sexual variation during the culture wars of the 1980s.

* * *
Is kink a sexual orientation? The answer is obviously. What is orientation except the direction in which one is oriented? I don't understand why Keenan has chosen this term to begin her inquiry. It seems to me that her real question is Is kink a sexuality? In other words, should kink be given the same status in our culture as homosexuality and heterosexuality – a status now in some ways protected by the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges?

Keenan cites Dan Savage as one person who mostly disagrees with the idea that kink might be a sexuality. She quotes him as saying, "While some kinksters identify strongly with their kinks and are open about their sexual interests, being into baby bonnets or bondage isn't about who you love, it's about how you love."

I find this line of reasoning completely incoherent. Frankly, I do not define sexuality as having any relationship to love. Let me make a change that I hope will be helping Savage out: If we rephrase him so that he's saying "[kink] isn't about who you fuck, it's about how you fuck", then we get closer to the heart of the matter, and we get to the stakes of this question that is, in fact, central to mainstream LGBT politics.

The LGBT movement has carved itself a niche whereby it claims ownership of something called "sexuality", and this movement claims that a person's sexuality is only a small part of who one is. (Sometimes this part is considered the most important component of who someone is – as when they call on an actor to come out of the closet – and sometimes this part is referred to as an almost totally inconsequential attribute – as when they say that someone, usually an athlete, "just happens to be gay".) In any case, for the mainstream LGBT movement, sexuality (homo or hetero) is something essential, unchanging, and biologically given; it is also something that is deeply oneself, in many cases explaining the self.

And no matter how many people stand up and say "no that isn't how sexual desire works for me", no matter how many people say they have chosen their homosexuality, no matter how many people identify as bisexual or pansexual or asexual, no matter that historians have shown that across time sexualities have differed widely, and no matter how many straight people have occasional sex with same-gender partners, the LGBT movement tells us: no, actually, we are all born this way. And you are either born this way or born that way.

In other words, the movement has opted for this unchanging, biologically given version of sexuality instead of one more closely linked to reality. I guess this essentialist version of sexuality makes more sense to some people (the police, non-denominational ministers, your parents). More importantly, the movement has done this because they assumed it would be easier to get acknowledgement and concessions from the conservative state this way. And they have succeeded. This has been a way to get recognition from the state. That is all good and well. But most queer people (and lots and lots of straight people) know that this essentialist tale is simply not true. (Anyone who has ever experimented with a sexuality other than his or her own ought to be able to attest to that.) But as they propagated this essentialist story, they also shored up the gender binary and (worse yet) lied about how desire actually works in human bodies. Jillian Keenan's own bisexuality and kinky queerness point up the lie in this LGBT position.

We have a political term for this, of course. It is called strategic essentialism. Those who opt for strategic essentialism know that we are not all essentially one certain way, but we opt for this story in order to achieve political change. But it seems to me that many in the LGBT movement actually believe the essentialist story that we thought we were using strategically. And if we believe this lie, and teach it as orthodoxy, it will become essentialism itself. In fact, if the U.S. Supreme Court is saying it, it seems to me that essentialism has arrived.

I don't know who these people are, but they seem fine.
You may actually see your sexuality as something with which you were born. That is fine for you. But it is absurd to look at someone who says she wasn't born gay and tell her that oh yes of course you were. While there may not be as many sexualities as there are queer people. It is important to remember – as Eve Sedgwick reminds us in Epistemology of the Closet – that we are all very different from one another. We see our sexualities in different ways, we explain the origins of our sexualities in different ways, and we engage in all sorts of sexual practices that differ from one another. In fact, I'm willing to bet that you have done one or two things with one of your sexual partners that you never did and never would do with one or other of your partners. Any identity we claim with one another is bound to be strategic, contingent, temporary – certainly the identity claimed between gay men and lesbians must be!

So: Is kink a sexuality? Yes. Certainly as much as heterosexuality and homosexuality are sexualities. Kink is a mostly inexplicable, possibly acquired, orientation toward particular erotic behaviors. I fail to see how being erotically interested in leather or tennis shoes or denim is any different from being interested in penises or vaginas or breasts. (Incidentally, most of us have asses and mouths and fingers, not to mention ears and eyes and armpits.) Still, the truth as I see it, is that there really is no such thing as either homosexuality or heterosexuality except as practices. What the question underlines is that the frame of sexuality is a weak one for explaining actual human behavior.

Dan Savage and others, the judicious keepers of the LGBT movement, can't grant "sexuality" status to other modes of queerness because this would undermine the essentialist position. Was a kinkster born this way? That is how the movement understands what sexuality is, so that is what they would have to argue. (The idea is absurd. Even if I was born liking, say, racially mixed guys with hairy chests of a certain age, society expects me – since it values marriage – to change my orientation over time to racially mixed guys with hairy chests of a different age.) As Keenan notes in her essay: "Some friends have told me that kink should not be considered an orientation since that could open the door for any deeply felt sexual identity to claim that status. Is sexual orientation a slippery slope? Are we two clicks away from a strong preference for nerdy-Jewish-tech-guys-with-dark-hair-and-an-athletic-streak being called an 'orientation'?" But arguing that these sexualities are essential opens up a whole other can of worms; it leaves open the possibility that someone might want to categorize rape-fantasy as a sexuality and someone else might want to categorize cross-generational attraction as a sexuality. Who knows what proliferation of unspeakable sexualities we might unearth? Who knows what protections we might have to ask the government to grant. My two examples are designed to point up just how much the LGBT movement's position is actually wedded to the same old hierarchy of sexuality that was in place long before its own arrival. The LGBT movement still wants to be able to discriminate between bad sexualities and good sexualities, proper sexualities and improper sexualities. They can't help judging, and they most assuredly haven't heeded Gayle Rubin's thirty-year-old call for a theory of benign sexual variation. The granting of "sexuality" status to kinksters would undermine the main thrust of the LGBT movement's position, to wit: that white gays are well behaved citizen-subjects who want to vote and get married and purchase sofas and time-shares and lawn mowers just like everyone else.

Fakir Musafar
There must be other paths to increased sexual liberty. The essentialist one has (apparently) been the easiest one, although obviously it has not been easy! But it is also a path that has re-confirmed the power of the state/church. It is a path that grants government more power, a path that asks for the government to recognize us and not to recognize others. This request for recognition, in addition to excluding explicitly those whom we have decided we do not wish to be recognized, also has the effect of giving the state itself more power. Why are we arguing that the state that has the authority to recognize what is and is not acceptable sexual behavior? Why have we decided that what we all want is the government to grant us our humanity? Not only is this a terrible political practice for anyone who believes in liberty, but it is also a terrible politics for anyone who believes in sexual freedom. And if we pin our hopes to government recognition of humanity, we are bound to be disappointed when the government changes and other, more hostile rulers, take the place of the benign ones we believe we've convinced. We are granting the government more power because we believe that it will do the right thing. But governments do not do the right thing, they do what is politically expedient. And even if they do the thing that you think is right for a little while, that doesn't mean that they'll do it indefinitely, and the voting public can always change its mind, stirred to action by the next ridiculous politician in a baseball hat.

The folks from Fifty Shades Darker
It is worth asking why Jillian Keenan wants kink to be granted sexuality status. The benefits that have, in the United States, accrued to essentialist sexuality have been great indeed... for a select few. But serious leatherfolk were already complaining 25 years ago that S/M practices had gotten too soft, too bourgeois, too respectable. When Keenan answers Savages comment that "[kink] isn't about who you love, it's about how you love" with the retort that "kink is how I love my husband", I have to admit to shaking my head at the absurdity of the claim. Perhaps there are leatherfolk who could read such a sentence without laughing, but I assume that any domina worth her salt would feel her gorge rise or burst out laughing or both. Love? Husband? This is radical sex? It sounds a lot like Leave It to Beaver. 

I propose that we begin actually to believe that sexual variation is benign. I propose that we make it a project to convince people not that we are all the same but that we are all different and that that is ok. I propose that we begin to believe that people should be free to make their own sexual choices – and that people actually make those choices and not that they are driven, through some genetic or chromosomal compulsion, to do those things. 

This would mean taking ownership of our desires and pleasures.
It would mean that we stopped asking whether this or that sexual practice was good for society.
It would mean that we stopped worrying about why someone was into a particular sexual practice and worried instead about how to make it better for her and the sexual partner or partners involved. 
I am no utopian, as you probably know if you know me, but it seems to me that these ought to be the terms of any fight for sexual equality. Trying to convince congressional republicans and our sexagenarian aunts and uncles that the kinky sex we're into or the non-committed, non-monogamous sex we're into, or the porn we like, or the particular ways we like to be touched, choked, stroked are just like the sex grandma and grandpa used to have is a battle that we will lose even if we win. We'll only wind up using kink "to love our husbands more". And in order to keep our positions in society, we'll find ourselves in the reprehensible position of needing to judge the "weirdos" whose sex isn't as respectable as ours.

08 March 2017

Paterson

Lovely and poetic and quirky in that uncanny Jarmusch way. I think it is his best film in many years.

22 February 2017

Oscar Noms 2017: Predictions

My predictions for this year. I don't feel super-confident about all of these, but here they are. The ones I feel shady about, I'll explain below.

Tearjerker alert!
Best Documentary Short Subject: Joe's Violin. I'm going with the one that is vaguely about The White Helmets and Watani: My Homeland, will split the votes there.
Holocaust. Smart money says that films about the Shoah generally do best in this category. There are three documentaries about the Syrian crisis in this category, and it seems like it makes sense that, especially

Best Documentary Feature: O.J.: Made in America. I didn't watch any of the documentaries, but everyone says this is gonna win.

Best Animated Short Film: Piper. I was not into this, but it is going to win. See my discussion on this category here.

Best Live-action Short Film: La Femme et le TGV. I am feeling less confident about this than I was. It is possible that maybe Sing can win this. Still, I'm going with this one.

Are you shining just for me? (Best part of this movie.)
Best Animated Feature: Zootopia

Best Original Song: "City of Stars" from La La Land

Best Makeup & Hairstyling: Harlow & Alonzo, Star Trek Beyond. It has to be them, right? It just can't be the guys who did Suicide Squad. It just can't.

Best Sound Editing: Mackenzie & Wright, Hacksaw Ridge. I am going to do a last-minute switcheroo and say that Hacksaw is gonna take this one. I feel like La La Land winning everything, especially an award like this, just seems unlikely. There has to be a little backlash. And Hacksaw, with its amazing editing, really deserves this one.
Give these explosions an Oscar, please.

Best Sound Mixing: Nelson, Lee & Morrow, La La Land

Best Visual Effects: Corbould, Hickel, Knoll & Lee, Rogue One. Apparently most people think this is going to go to The Jungle Book. Eh. Perhaps I think it just makes sense to give it to the movie that made the most money. The Jungle Book was fine and all, but, like, Rogue One was really good, and shouldn't we all be grateful to have an actual good Star Wars movie?

Best Foreign Language Film: Toni Erdmann. Yet another one where I am going to vote against conventional wisdom. I hear folks saying that Iran will win this award. Asghar Farhadi's film The Salesman is very good, but Toni Erdmann is an absolute delight from start to finish, and I think it makes more sense for voters to choose this one. Plus, it is going to be remade quite soon by a Hollywood studio and will star Jack Nicholson and Kristen Wiig. The Farhadi push does make sense. He is in the news a lot right now because he and his cast will not be attending the Oscars due to the Trump administration's attempted travel ban on visa-holders from Iran. I know it sounds crazy, but I still think it will go to Toni Erdmann. Just know, that this is not conventional wisdom when you fill out
While we're here, I just want everyone to know
how cute I think Justin Hurwitz is.

Best Original Score: Hurwitz, La La Land

Best Film Editing: Cross, La La Land

Best Production Design: Vermette & Hotte, Arrival. If you want to win your office poll, you should probably choose La La Land here, but I just can't bear to keep writing La La Land. 

Best Costume Design: Zophres, La La Land. If someone else can win, I think that person is Madeline Fontaine for Jackie.

Best Cinematography: Sandgren, La La Land

Best Supporting Actress: Davis, Fences. Category fraud or no, Viola is getting this Oscar.

This man deserves an Oscar.
Don't fuck it up, Academy!
Best Supporting Actor: Ali, Moonlight

Best Original Screenplay: Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

Best Adapted Screenplay: Jenkins & McCraney, Moonlight

Best Actor: Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Best Actress: Stone, La La Land

Best Director: Chazelle, La La Land

Best Picture: La La Land

21 February 2017

Oscar Noms 2017: 13 of 13

Part 1 - La La Land, Moonlight, Arrival
Part 2 - Manchester by the Sea, Hacksaw Ridge, Lion
Part 3 - Fences, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, Jackie
Part 4 - Florence Foster Jenkins, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Passengers, Rogue One
Part 5 - Deepwater Horizon, Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana, A Man Called Ove
Part 6 - Captain Fantastic, Elle, Loving, Nocturnal Animals
Part 7 - The Lobster, 20th Century Women, Silence, Hail, Caesar!
Part 8 - Live-action Short Films
Part 9 - Animated Short Films
Part 10 - Toni Erdmann, The Salesman, Land of Mine, Tanna
Part 11 - Allied, The Jungle Book, Doctor Strange, 13 Hours
Part 12 - Sully, Zootopia, The Red Turtle, My Life as a Zucchini

Trolls
1 Nomination
  • Original Song: "Can't Stop the Feeling!"
Director: Mike Mitchell
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Zooey Deschanel, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Christine Baranski, Russell Brand, Gwen Stefani, John Cleese, James Corden, Jeffrey Tambor, Ron Funches, Aino Jawo, Kunal Nayyar, Quvenzhané Wallis, Caroline Hjelt

I have already written about this very stupid movie. But let's just say that although this movie was very dumb, in fact, we might consider it to be the year's most insistently asinine film, it was not without its pleasures, and I actually rather enjoyed myself. By the way, the reason why Justin Timberlake's troll in the picture above is fifty shades of gray instead of brightly colored like the pink thing to his right and the glitter bomb directly behind him and that llama-muppet at the far right is because Justin's troll is a sad troll who doesn't like to sing or snuggle. He will be, by the end of the film, cured of this unfortunate malady, as you might have been able to predict. The real question of Trolls is: what color will Justin's troll turn when he becomes colorful? If you never watch this film you will never know.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #62 out of 96

Jim: the James Foley Story
1 Nomination
  • Original Song: "The Empty Chair"
Director: Brian Oakes

This is an interesting story about a guy named Jim who was a freelance journalist in Benghazi and then later in Aleppo. I really didn't know anything about James Foley before, but he apparently gained national attention as a hostage of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. This is a film about a filmmaker, and it is made with great attention to detail, but it is mostly a film that is designed as a way to mourn a man who did a lot of good during his life. Much of the film consists of interviews with family members – these are touching but sort of confuse the film itself. Foley's family members don't really understand why Jim did what he did, and they mostly use their interviews to sort of collectively puzzle out who this man that they loved was. The most interesting portions of the film to me were the interviews with men who were imprisoned with Foley in Syria. Foley was imprisoned and tortured by ISIL for nearly two years before they executed him publicly. So what happened to Foley while he was in prison had the potential to be the most exciting part of the film. This act of the film is told so strangely, though, that while it should have been the most intriguing section of the movie, it was the least filmic. Most of these sequences are very dark, and the movie includes hazy re-enactments that make this most violent section of the movie seem less real than the other stuff. If you know my work, you know I study torture and violence, and so this movie's refusal really to deal with this frustrated me a lot. As for the song... I checked it as one of the most interesting of the 91 eligible tunes, but there were a lot of better songs up for this award. If you want to listen without seeing the movie, go here.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: Unranked (Documentary)

Star Trek Beyond
1 Nomination
  • Makeup & Hairstyling
Director: Justin Lin
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Sofia Boutella, Idris Elba

I had a great time at this movie. I wouldn't really say that I love Star Trek as such, but I freaking love James Tiberius Kirk. So as long as Captain Kirk is running things, I am here for it. This movie is so much better than all of the other superhero/fantasy movies I saw this year (except Rogue One – I really liked Rogue One). It does crib a couple of things from Guardians of the Galaxy, to be fair, but I was on board even for that. And, finally, Star Trek Beyond turns its focus toward the crew of the Enterprise as a team. The movie is really about how a group of seven people who are devoted to one another can work together to solve a problem. I was buying whatever this movie was selling. I even really liked the Rihanna song that played over the credits. Will it win? I hope so, becaause the other option is Suicide Squad, more on which below.
Will Win: Makeup & Hairstyling
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #28 out of 96

Suicide Squad
1 Nomination
  • Makeup & Hairstyling
Director: David Ayer
Cast: Margot Robbie, Will Smith, Viola Davis, Joel Kinneman, Jay Hernandez, Jai Courtney, Jared Leto, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Cara Delevingne, Ben Affleck, Ike Barinholtz

This is beneath contempt. It has no script whatsoever. In fact, I kind of can't believe this was made. The makeup is kind of great, I will have to admit, and the Joker and Harley looks really have become iconic. But this thing is terrible and completely fucking incoherent. And I can't believe David Ayer, who made my beloved Fury made this piece of trash. Honestly what is Warner Brothers doing?
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Makeup & Hairstyling

20 February 2017

Oscar Noms 2017: 12 of 13

Part 1 - La La Land, Moonlight, Arrival
Part 2 - Manchester by the Sea, Hacksaw Ridge, Lion
Part 3 - Fences, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, Jackie
Part 4 - Florence Foster Jenkins, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Passengers, Rogue One
Part 5 - Deepwater Horizon, Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana, A Man Called Ove
Part 6 - Captain Fantastic, Elle, Loving, Nocturnal Animals
Part 7 - The Lobster, 20th Century Women, Silence, Hail, Caesar!
Part 8 - Live-action Short Films
Part 9 - Animated Short Films
Part 10 - Toni Erdmann, The Salesman, Land of Mine, Tanna
Part 11 - Allied, The Jungle Book, Doctor Strange, 13 Hours

Part 12:

Sully
1 Nomination
  • Sound Editing
Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Valerie Mahaffey, Jamey Sheridan, Mike O'Malley, Laura Linney, Holt McCallany, Anna Gunn, Delphi Harrington, Ahmed Lucan

I hated this film. But mostly it was just because this was a bad film. It is, apparently, based on a true story. A pilot loses both of his engines soon after taking off from a New York airport. He decides that he can't get back to JFK, La Guardia or Teterboro, so he will land the plane in the Hudson. He does this. But then people start questioning things: should he have landed in the Hudson? Why didn't he go back to one of the airports? Had the plane really lost both of its engines? Was the pilot drunk? Showing off? Proud? This movie shows the crash at least four times. Five? I can't remember. I have already tried to block it out. This is also the whitest movie of the year (and that includes A Man Called Ove, which takes place in Sweden). There are moments where the camera just looks over a sea of white faces. Sully is supposed to be about New Yorkers working together and uniting to solve a problem as a kind of team. But what it is really about is this older white man doing the right thing and then an insurance company (because of cynical greed) accusing him of not doing the right thing. In other words – and I don't think this is a stretch – Sully is a giant metaphor in which the old white guy knows how to take care of the people, but then instead of thanking him everyone complains and the old white guy (he's a hero after all!) could lose everything. Except that Eastwood's own metaphor doesn't work, even in the movie he directed: it's big business that is trying to crush the old white man's dreams, not other people. I disliked the politics of this movie, obviously, but more importantly I disliked the filmmaking. This movie replays the same thing over and over. There just wasn't enough plot in this tale for a full-length film.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #91 out of 95

Zootopia
1 Nomination
  • Animated Feature
Cast: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Nate Torrence, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, Tommy Chong, J.K. Simmons, Octavia Spencer, Alan Tudyk, Shakira

This felt generic. Why does everyone like this so much? I mean, I get it: Biological justifications for racist behavior are bad. None of us has anything hard-wired into our systems. You get no argument from me there, but, like... you got anything else? I knew that already. In fairness to this film, it is designed as an allegory to teach children not to judge the kids they meet by the color of their skin, not to make snap judgments about people because of their weight, their size, their facial features, their skin color, etc. But here's the thing: is this really a problem that children have? Seems to me it's more of an issue for adults. I'm pretty sure this is still going to win when they hand out the award, though. 
Will Win: Animated Feature
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #67 out of 95

La Tortue Rouge (The Red Turtle)
1 Nomination
  • Animated Feature

This film is perfect – just perfect. It is a film without dialogue, but it tells a beautiful, fantastic story. A man is stranded on a deserted island, and he is prevented from escaping the island by a very large, red turtle. The turtle is plainly enchanted in some way, and in fact the entire film functions as a kind of dream, in which the man cannot be sure whether or not what he is seeing is real. The entire thing is gorgeous. It is worth noting, too, that Michael Dudok de Wit is the first non-Japanese director to make a film for Studio Ghibli. They chose beautifully. I adored this film. It is one of my favorite films of the whole year. (And it is in theatres now, so go catch it on the big screen.)
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #10 out of 95

Ma Vie de Courgette (My Life as a Zucchini)
1 Nomination
  • Animated Feature
Director: Claude Barras
Cast: Gaspard Schlatter, Sixtine Murat, Paulin Jaccoud, Michel Vuillermoz, Raul Ribera, Estelle Hennard, Elliot Sanchez, Lou Wick, Brigitte Rosset


This film is the only film I will not be able to see before the Academy Awards. It is a stop-motion animation movie about a little orphan named Courgette (Zucchini). It is a fairly short film (66 minutes) and it is worth noting that it was also chosen as Switzerland's offical selection for Foreign Language Picture – and that it made the 9-movie shortlist. So it was almost nominated in that category, as well.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A

18 February 2017

Oscar Noms 2017: 11 of 13

Part 1 - La La Land, Moonlight, Arrival
Part 2 - Manchester by the Sea, Hacksaw Ridge, Lion
Part 3 - Fences, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, Jackie
Part 4 - Florence Foster Jenkins, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Passengers, Rogue One
Part 5 - Deepwater Horizon, Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana, A Man Called Ove
Part 6 - Captain Fantastic, Elle, Loving, Nocturnal Animals
Part 7 - The Lobster, 20th Century Women, Silence, Hail, Caesar!
Part 8 - Live-action Short Films
Part 9 - Animated Short Films
Part 10 - Toni Erdmann, The Salesman, Land of Mine, Tanna

Part 11:

Allied
1 Nomination
  • Costume Design: Joanna Johnston (Lincoln)
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Cast: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Matthew Goode, Lizzy Caplan, Simon McBurney, Anton Lesser, August Diehl, Camille Cottin, Charlotte Hope, Marion Bailey, Thierry Frémont

I pregamed this film, thinking that it might, on an off chance, snag a costume nomination... and it did. This nomination for such a bad movie actually quite surprised me. You can read my original thoughts if you follow the link, but let's just leave it at me telling you that this movie makes no actual sense. A shame, too, because the parts in act one when Cotillard and Pitt are doing spy shit like randomly killing SS officers and upending tables in order to more easily see the enemy before grabbing a machine gun and cutting Nazis in half. That part is all quite cool. The second half is very boring.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #76 out of 95

The Jungle Book
1 Nomination
  • Visual Effects
Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Neel Sethi, Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong'o, Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken, Giancarlo Esposito

This was pleasant enough, but I guess I'm not really sure what the point of making it was. The visual effects look cool, although to my mind the animals don't look like animals so much as they look like very good CGI version of animals. In other words, visual effects are the purpose of this movie, so it is fitting that The Jungle Book got nominated for precisely that. But the new Jungle Book is no more realistic than the 1967 cartoon – it's still filled with talking animals, silly jokes, and the same songs as the original. Or at least a couple of them. And it is here where the film really can't find its footing. The new movie has not figured out a way to make The Jungle Book the live-action extravaganza it wants while also keeping "The Bare Necessities" and "I Want to Be like You". Favreau has the animals sing "Bare Necessities" half-heartedly, as a way of splitting the difference between a musical and a regular film, but then when Christopher Walken appears as King Louie, he sings his own song in full voice like it's a musical number. The whole thing felt uneven, and I was left thinking why they bothered at all. It wasn't a bad movie, but its not different enough from the original to matter at all.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #68 out of 95

Doctor Strange
1 Nomination
  • Visual Effects
Director: Scott Derrickson
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, Michael Stuhlbarg

This was another of my pregames that paid off. I complained in my original post that all of these Marvel movies are about the potential destruction of the known universe and that every single time the entire universe manages to be saved by the Marvel hero. As one reader pointed out, this isn't precisely true. There are plenty of Marvel movies where total apocalypse is not threatening the human race, but that doesn't stop Doctor Strange from being perhaps the most formulaic of the Marvel films yet. There have been so many of them, and this one comes so late, so I get that the well is running a bit dry, but they really need to ask more of these films. Doctor Strange has a great number of cool visual effects, but it hasn't a thing to say about anything. I was fairly bored.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #69 out of 95

13 Hours
1 Nomination
  • Sound Mixing
Director: Michael Bay
Cast: John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Pablo Schreiber, David Denman, Dominic Fumusa, Max Martini, David Costabile, Alexia Barlier, Peyman Moaadi, Matt Letscher, Toby Stephens, Demetrius Grosse, David Giuntoli


And then there's this steaming pile of garbage. First off, this bloated action movie (like all of Bay's overstuffed action movies) refuses to trim itself down to a normal action-movie length. Instead, we are treated to what felt like 13 hours of footage. It just kept going! But it wasn't the length that made 13 Hours so distasteful. I don't know enough about what actually happened in Benghazi to speak to this film's interpretation of events vis-à-vis history, but I can easily say that if this is what happened, I don't understand why everyone has been talking about Benghazi for the last year and a half. The film follows four or five mostly interchangeable macho, fratboy assholes, played mostly by Schreiber, Krasinski, Dale, and Denman, as they swagger around Libya and act like they own the place. As far as I can tell they do not work for the military, but are hired guns who work for the CIA's secret base in Benghazi. So far so bro. But these guys have no desire to work for their actual bosses. They know how things are supposed to be done here in Libya, and they're interested in telling everyone else what to do. I thought all of them were assholes from the absolute get-go. From the very beginning of the film they follow no orders at all and, from what I gathered, they break the secret base's cover by deciding (the film thinks heroically) to go save the U.S. ambassador's life after he is attacked at a mansion where he and his security detail are staying. The ambassador is dead already, and our fratboys disobey orders to go to the compound to try to save him and his guys. Fine. But then the saved guys and the swaggerers with guns lead their attackers directly to the no longer secret CIA base where they endanger the lives of some 75 operatives who had been working in secret in Libya but who are now exposed as U.S. spies. Then the bros defend the base for the last hour or so of the movie. This anti-intellectual film (a Harvard degree is an indication of total cluelessness in this movie) is photographed more than anything else like a single-person shooter video game, and the effects look comparable to one of them. It's designed to celebrate blowing things up, to take pleasure in shooting nameless and mostly faceless Africans, and to justify U.S. presence in North Africa. Perhaps what is most interesting about 13 Hours is its own blindness to the fact that it caused its own problems. The characters wouldn't have needed to be saved if they hadn't have been swaggering idiots in the first place. And Americans wouldn't be dead if they weren't holed up in a secret CIA base in North Africa to begin with. What is so extraordinarily distasteful about a movie like this is that it believes that no one in the military knows anything about what to do in a situation like the one the film describes. Apparently the only people who know anything at all are the men with the guns. And they know what to do simply by virtue of having guns. Because the right thing to do is always to shoot. When the right thing to do is always to kill people, it is the men with the guns who always seem to be able to do the right thing. I hated every second of this.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A

16 February 2017

Oscar Noms 2017: 10 of 13

Part 1 - La La Land, Moonlight, Arrival
Part 2 - Manchester by the Sea, Hacksaw Ridge, Lion
Part 3 - Fences, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, Jackie
Part 4 - Florence Foster Jenkins, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Passengers, Rogue One
Part 5 - Deepwater Horizon, Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana, A Man Called Ove
Part 6 - Captain Fantastic, Elle, Loving, Nocturnal Animals
Part 7 - The Lobster, 20th Century Women, Silence, Hail, Caesar!
Part 8 - Live-action Short Films
Part 9 - Animated Short Films

Part 10:
Toni Erdmann
1 Nomination
  • Foreign Language Film: Germany (The White Ribbon, The Baader Meinhof Complex, The Lives of Others, Sophie Scholl: the Final Days, Downfall, Nowhere in Africa, Beyond Silence, Schtonk!, The Nasty Girl)
Director: Maren Ade
Cast: Sandra Hüller, Peter Simonischek, Thomas Loibl, Michael Wittenborn, Trystan Pütter, Lucy Russell, Ingrid Bisu, Hadewych Minis, Victoria Cocias

This is going to win the Foreign Language Oscar, and it should. The trailer for Toni Erdmann is a little confusing, and I have to admit that I wasn't really sure what I was getting into when I arrived to see it. The trailer has quotations that say things like it is "pure cinema" and is going to"save the movies" and things like that. But Toni Erdmann is a comedy. And – much more importantly – it is very, very funny. My companion and I laughed out loud many times throughout the movie. The plot is this: a hard-working career-driven woman living in Bucharest is visited by her father. She is trying to focus on her job; he decides she needs to loosen up and so he starts to disrupt her life in various ways. The chief technique for disruption is the invention of a persona – Toni Erdmann – that he introduces to her friends and colleagues as a consultant and coach. Of course people start inviting him to things. This is a hilarious comedy, but it is also about life–work balance, the soullessness of capitalism, and it is also very much about how capital functions in EU countries like Romania. And Toni Erdmann balances its political critique very nicely with its sympathy for its central, soulless characters. An English-language remake has already been announced, with Jack Nicholson and Kristen Wiig in the lead roles. There's no way it will be as good as the original. Go see this one. (Oh one last thing: the image above is from an extended sequence in which the main character sings Whitney Houston's "The Greatest Love of All" to a living room full of complete strangers. As my friend Walter Kmiec pointed out years ago, there is no song that better represents the explosion of global capitalism: You learned that the greatest love of all was learning to love yourself? Yes. Of course you did.)
Will Win: Foreign Language Film
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #14 out of 94

The Salesman (فروشنده)
1 Nomination
  • Foreign Language Film: Iran (A Separation, Children of Heaven)
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Cast: Shahab Hosseini, Taraneh Alidoosti, Farid Sajadhosseini, Babak Karimi, Mehdi Koushki, Emad Emami, Mina Sadati, Maral Bani Adam, Mojtaba Pirzadeh, Sam Valipour, Sahra Asadollahi, Ehteram Boroumand, Shirin Aghakashi

This is Farhadi's second nomination in this category and his third nomination overall. His most recent two films (The Past and A Separation) are absolutely brilliant, so I am glad he has appeared here again. You might also know that Farhadi has said he will not be attending the Oscars this year because of the travel ban that the Trump administration attempted to put in place keeping visitors with green cards from certain countries out of the United States. But The Salesman is in theatres right now, so now would be a great time for you to go out and see this great movie. The Salesman is called this because its central characters, played beautifully by Shahab Hosseini and Taraneh Alidoosti, are playing Willy and Linda Loman in Arthur Miller's mid-century masterpiece A Death of a Salesman in Iran. An early scene in the film finds us at a rehearsal of the play, where we see the cast giggling at the fact that a character who is supposed to be naked wears a raincoat completely covering her body – this is a film that will be about Iranian social mores, propriety, and privacy. The structure of The Salesman is like Farhadi's other films. They unravel: an event that might seem easily remedied leads to decision after decision that complicates the lives of the central characters, until by the end – in addition to the viewer's loyalties changing a couple of times – the problems seem completely impossible to be solved. The Salesman is not as heart-wrenching or brilliant as Farhadi's other films, but it's very good all the same. This is an excellent movie.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Foreign Language Film
My Rating: #31 out of 94

Under Sandet (Land of Mine)
1 Nomination
  • Foreign Language Film: Denmark (A War, The Hunt, A Royal Affair, In a Better World, After the Wedding, Waltzing Regitze, Pelle the Conqueror, Babette's Feast, Harry and the Butler, Boy of Two Worlds, Qivitoq)
Director: Martin Zandvliet
Cast: Roland Møller, Louis Hofmann, Joel Basman, Emil Belton, Oskar Belton, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Laura Bro, Oskar Bökelmann, Leon Seidel, Karl Alexander Seidel

Let me just start by saying that I think this is the only movie from 2016 in which I ugly-cried. (I've yet to see Suicide Squad, so who knows.) Something just hit me near the middle of Land of Mine, and I found myself uncontrollably sobbing. The plot of the film is that after WWII German prisoners of war are sent to a beach in Denmark to dig up and disarm landmines planted there by the German army. The prisoners are the responsibility of a Danish captain who violently hates Germans, but when the soldiers arrive we find that they are boys, some of whom are very young. It is these children who must dig up and count thousands of landmines. The film's main character is the Danish captain, but the film spends a great deal of time with the boys, and we come to love them. In many ways this is a kind of updated version of Die Brücke, and I found it just as emotionally devastating as Die Brücke. I have been hot and cold on the films Denmark has been sending to the Academy – I really hated last year's A War, which was basically an elaborate apology for Danish soldier killing civilians in Afghanistan – but I really liked this movie.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #27 out of 94

Tanna
1 Nomination
  • Foreign Language Film: Australia
Director: Martin Butler, Bentley Dean
Cast: Mungau Dain, Marie Wawa, Marceline Rofit, Lingai Kowia, Albi Nagia, Charlie Kahla, Dadwa Mungau, Linette Yowayin, Mikum Tainakou, Kapan Cook

This film is unique for a couple of reasons. First off, it is Australia's first nomination in this category. It is a film made by two Australian directors on a tiny island called Tanna (thus the film's title) in Vanuatu about a tribe called the Yakel. The film is about subject matter that happened thirty years ago on this island, and is performed by actors from the tribe itself. It is a beautiful film that has an active volcano as its centerpiece, and Butler and Dean shoot this volcano lovingly and sensuously. In fact, the film is this most of all – a kind of sensual feast, examining the love between two young people while also examining the phenomena around them: the jungle, their families, the fruit, the fish, the food, and that gorgeous volcano. This movie was released in the U.S. last year and is available for rental on Amazon. It almost never happens, but this year all five foreign language nominees also had 2016 release dates in the U.S. This year, we have four very good movies among the nominees. I have to say, I think the Academy is honestly doing a lot better with this category.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A