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

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

14 February 2017

Oscar Noms 2017: 9 of 13 (Animated Short Films)

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:

Piper
1 Nomination
  • Animated Short Film
Director: Alan Barillaro

I honestly think this is the only film that can really win this award. This film is not that great, really. It is also, perhaps, the most clichéd of the animated films this year. A little sandpiper (the piper of the title) learns not to be so afraid of its world. That is really what there is to this little Pixar movie, but it is charming and doesn't ask for very much, and it went down very pleasantly with the mostly older audience with whom I saw the movies this year. Pixar wins this award a lot, but Barillaro has yet to win the award, so I guess it's his turn this year.
Will Win: Animated Short Film
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #4 out of 5

Pear Cider and Cigarettes
1 Nomination
  • Animated Short Film
Director: Robert Valley
Cast: Valley

This one is really great, although I don't think the audience with whom I saw it liked it very much. At 35 minutes, it was over four times as long as any of the other short films, and, in fact, longer than all four of the other nominated shorts combined. In a way, this movie's length seems a little unfair compared to the others. Valley takes his time telling his story, and because of the length he's chosen, he really delves into his narrative in beautiful ways. This is an accomplished documentary. It is a story of a man and his affection and admiration for his friend – a man he doesn't understand very well but a man whom he loves. I thoroughly enjoyed this film, and I liked it much better than any of the other animated shorts this year (which are, as a whole, a rather weak bunch). Don't expect it to win, though. A win for this would be a real surprise. It's just altogether so much more serious than the usual winners in this category. I think when people see an animated short film what they really want is a little shot of charm and magic. I don't think anything other than that can really win.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Animated Short Film
My Rating: #1 out of 5

Pearl
1 Nomination
  • Animated Short Film
Director: Patrick Osborne
Cast: Nicki Bluhm, Kelley Stoltz

This is a 2D version of a virtual reality film initially designed for 360-viewing (as far as I know). The one that is nominated for the Oscar is a two-dimensional version that is part music video, part memory piece that I found engaging and lovely. If the film tells a perhaps familiar story, it does so in a way that I appreciated a great deal. This is a father-daughter story set in a car where the two live. The film takes first the father's point of view and then switches to the daughter's as she gets older. This change in perspective, which is gradual and so not striking or surprising, doesn't even feel gimmicky; instead, it feels as a kind of natural progression – as if the perspective we're actually following is the car's own perspective. Osborne has won this award before – for his film Feast only a couple years ago – so he doesn't need to win this, but if he did the Academy would be honoring some really new developments in animation.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #2 out of 5

Blind Vaysha
1 Nomination
  • Animated Short Film
Director: Theodore Ushev
Cast: Caroline Dhavernas

Theodore Ushev's strange meditation on the way we look at things – the plot is about a girl who can only see the past in one of her eyes and can only see the future in the other eye – feels like a bit of a surprise nomination, but I am glad it was nominated. It's an odd movie, and it is animated in a kind of very old style that resembles medieval woodcuts. This makes for a visually intriguing film, and its interest in the past is perfect for the themes of the short, which are related to our own blindness to the present. The film addresses the viewer directly at the end of the film, and even asks viewers to close their eyes. I found all of this very interesting.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #3 out of 5

Borrowed Time
1 Nomination
  • Animated Short Film
Director: Andrew Coats, Lou Hamou-Lhadj
Cast: Greg Dykstra, Nick Pitera, Steve Purcell

This was silly to me. It was the first film in the program, though, so maybe I needed to be warmed up or something...? Who knows. An old sheriff remembers his dad and tries to deal with the memories of a terrible accident that happened one day. But to my mind the film doesn't really go anywhere. This Pixar film has the usual Pixar uplift/cheese factor, but here that attempt at a feel-good turn that assures viewers that the world is actually a place of magic and wonder struck me as even more desperate than usual. I was not having this film.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #5 out of 5

Back to:
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

11 February 2017

Oscar Noms 2017: 8 of 13 (Live-action Short Films)

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:

La Femme et le TGV
1 Nomination
  • Live-action Short Film
Director: Timo von Gunten
Cast: Jane Birkin, Lucien Guignard, Mathieu Bisson, Manuela Biedermann, Gilles Tschudi

This is a charming fairy tale, but its pleasures were mostly lost on me because... this is yet another film about an old curmudgeon who learns to be a nice person and stop being such an old pill. She's living in the past and learns to come haltingly into the modern world. It's a story you have heard before about a thousand times. Still, La Femme et le TGV has lots to recommend. It moves nicely and its lead actress is Jane Birkin (for whom the famous Hermès bag is named) so lots of Academy members will be predisposed to love it.
Will Win: Live-action Short Film
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #4 out of 5

Mindenki (Sing)
1 Nomination
  • Live-action Short Film
Director: Kristóf Deák
Cast: Dóra Gáspárvalvi, Dorka Hais, Zsófia Szamosi

Young Zsófi joins a new school and makes a friend, but really wants to sing in the choir. When she joins, though, she runs up against an unsuspected snag. Mindenki is really clever. And it also has a beautifully unexpected twist at its end. I adored it. Furthermore, this is a story of young girls and friendship that isn't about young girls being mean to one another, but is instead about dealing with an awful teacher.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Live-action Short Film
My Rating: #3 out of 5

Silent Nights
1 Nomination
  • Live-action Short Film
Director: Aske Bang
Cast: Malene Beltoft Olsen, Prince Yaw Appiah, Vibeke Hastrup, Ali Kazim, Hassana Sampah

This one is just awful. But every year we are treated to at least one film with white saviors solving the problems of the developing world. Academy voters seem to love this kind of bullshit. I don't get it. This Danish film is about a young woman who falls in love with a homeless Ghanaian man. She's basically a kind of saint, and she helps her new lover Kwame get on his feet financially. Silent Nights – aside from having nothing to do with either the song "Silent Night" or silence or night or Christmas or infants sleeping in heavenly peace – is also a ridiculously contrived piece of filmmaking. It has about four surprise reversals in its 30 minutes, and none of them makes much sense in relation to the real world. Is this a movie about laborers from the developing world coming to Europe to earn money? Is this a film about a lonely, rich white woman? Is this a story of cross-cultural love and understanding? Silent Nights manages to say nothing about any of these things.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Live-action Short Film
My Rating: #5 out of 5

Timecode
1 Nomination
  • Live-action Short Film
Cast: Lali Ayguadé, Pep Domenech, Vicente Gil, Nicolas Ricchini

Magic. This is silly and surprising and funny. It also manages to be romantic and rather sexy. Timecode was the second best of the bunch, but its shorter running time will make it seem less substantial to voters. Timecode is also a quirky film, which makes it great fun to watch but won't help it win any awards. Still, I'm delighted I saw this. And it is worth saying, too, that this year's live-action shorts are much, much better than last years. This is a pretty great selection. In any case, I look forward to Juanjo Giménez Peña's next movie. I expect we will see some great things from him.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #2 out of 5

Ennemis Intérieurs (Internal Enemies)
1 Nomination
  • Live-action Short Film
Director: Sélim Azzazzi
Cast: Hassam Ghancy, Najib Oudghiri, Stéphane Perrichon

Azzazzi's film is about a French Algerian teacher who is applying (after living many years in France) for French citizenship. The movie is his interrogation by an inquisitor who is asking him questions about his nationality, his family, his friends, Islam, etc. It's interrupted by flashes of memory and images from the man's past. This movie is very smart. A characteristic exchange from early in the film: Inquisitor: "You said you were born in France but this says you were born in Algeria." Applicant: "I am in my sixties. When I was born Algeria was France." This kind of difficult, intelligent discussion of what it means to be European, a citizen, and subject to French state power is enjoyable from start to finish. Ennemis Intérieurs is even further complicated by the ethical questions it asks about aligning oneself with the state in order to gain various advantages. I loved this movie and can't recommend it enough. This was easily my favorite of the five movies, but judging from the response in the movie theatre, this was the audience's least favorite. (They were applauding the films after they were over – who does that? – but applause for this one was slow to start and never really took off.)
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #1 out of 5

Back to:
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!

09 February 2017

Oscar Noms 2017: 7 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
1 Nomination
  • Original Screenplay: Efthimis Filippou & Yorgos Lanthimos
Director: Lanthimos
Cast: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Léa Seydoux, John C. Reilly, Olivia Colman, Ben Whishaw, Angeliki Papoulia, Garry Mountaine, Ariane Labed, Jessica Barden, Imelda Nagle Ryan

I am a big fan of The Lobster and I am so happy that it was nominated in this category. Lanthimos's work is so interesting, and his voice is truly unique. This is a complicated, funny, extremely weird movie that – the more you think about it – isn't really all that weird. It's one of the best movies of the year and not to be missed. Come to think of it: you know, the original screenplay category is often where the Academy really shines. It chooses some of the oddest scripts in this category, but really can shine a light on new voices in filmmaking. Just look back through some of the films that have been nominated in this category – Ex Machina, Straight outta Compton, Nightcrawler, Her, Margin Call, A Separation. It really is a category the Academy can be proud of, I think. And this year's choices (except for La La Land, really) are all very deserving.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #12 out of 92

20th Century Women
1 Nomination
  • Original Screenplay: Mike Mills
Director: Mills
Cast: Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning, Lucas Jade Zumann, Billy Crudup, Allison Elliott, Thea Gill

This was my #2 film for the year. I absolutely loved this movie. I loved its central performance by Annette Bening (she was robbed of a nomination), but actually 20th Century is a true ensemble piece with five great performances at its center and lots of memorable smaller characters. I loved 20th Century's exploration of a different kind of motherhood than we're used to seeing. I loved that it was a coming-of-age film that wasn't through the kid's point of view, and then wasn't a coming-of-age film after all. It's a movie about parenting that doesn't pretend to be a movie about growing up! (I'm looking at you, Boyhood.) But it's also this amazingly feminist movie about the decisions our mothers make as they raise us and how someone might go about raising a boy so that he doesn't grow up to be a jackass. And it's about the connections we make with people in our lives that last only for a little while but can have an enormous impact on us. It's about getting old. But it's also about living in a world of uncertainty, trying to make sense of a world that doesn't really make sense anymore, trying to understand the way our kids see the world even though we don't see it that way at all. And at the same time, 20th Century is this portrait of a woman who doesn't always tell the truth, who has lots to hide because she is afraid of a lot of things, but who still wants to be open and generous with this kid she loves and wants to raise as best she can. It's so complex and beautiful and funny and quirky, and I absolutely loved it.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #2 out of 92

Silence
1 Nomination
  • Cinematography: Rodrigo Prieto (Brokeback Mountain)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Kubozuka Yōsuke, Issei Ogata, Tsukamoto Shin'ya, Adam Driver, Asano Tadanobu, Liam Neeson, Ciarán Hinds, Komatsu Nana, Yoshi Oïda

I didn't really dislike Silence, per se, but this film does not work. It's beautiful, of course, and this is due in large part to Rodrigo Prieto's nominated cinematography here. The production design of the film is also beautiful, and the acting is moving and intriguing (Garfield's performance here is surely one thing that pushed him over the edge for his nomination for Hacksaw). But Scorsese's film makes some very strange – even awkward – filmic choices. Much of the film involves speaking to a god who does not speak back (this is the eponymous silence, the god's silence after a prayer), but then, surprisingly, at a point late in the film the god does speak to Garfield's character. What? Something shifted in me when this happened and the film sort of lost me. It felt like a rule that had been set up for the audience over the long hours of the film had been suddenly and inexplicably broken for a reason I couldn't really understand. One of the reasons I found this choice so troubling is that the majority of Silence is about ethics: What are the choices I should make when faced with terrible violence? What are the choices I should make to save others, even though my decision might force me to do something I wouldn't normally do? What is my duty to my fellow man vs. my duty to my faith? But once the god does talk to a person, those questions are easily resolved. Can't the god just tell you what to do? And why has the god been silent for so long when it had the power of speech up its proverbial sleeve the whole time? This is, perhaps, the film's oddest choice, but there is yet another! The film's third act (which is structured like an epilogue), is actually quite a lengthy plot entirely its own that could be a film in its own right. We jump forward in time several times, and the film's central character, with whom we have spent so much time and whom we understood so well, makes a series of decisions that do not accord with what we know of him. For this third act, the film keeps its distance from the main character, never inviting us into his thoughts the way the first two acts did. This is so weird. We are not asked to dislike this character, we have followed him for too long for that,we are only asked to watch what he has done, but are no longer let into why. In fine, Silence is a complex, very long film that is interesting in its exploration of ethics, but awkward in its execution. Lots to recommend, lots to fault.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #55 out of 92

Hail, Caesar!
1 Nomination
  • Production Design: Jess Gonchor (True Grit) & Nancy Haigh (True Grit, Dreamgirls, Road to Perdition, Forrest Gump, Bugsy, Barton Fink)
Cast: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Channing Tatum, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Veronica Osorio, Jonah Hill, Allison Pill


This is so much fun. I can't recommend this enough. It is a silly little film, slight even, but it is so good at its own nonsense that it succeeds perfectly. This is a film set in old Hollywood that is really neither ironic nor nostalgic. It is a send-up of Hollywood, but not an ironic one. Instead, it's a fond send-up of Hollywood, one that genuinely loves Hollywood and can laugh at its silliness while taking pleasure in it at the same time. The stars, the glamor, the backstage gossip! The Coen Brothers' look into this is a kind of Chekhovian bit of brilliance that laughs at it all but can't help loving it. Best in show – amid a large number of great actors – turns out to be the relatively unknown Alden Ehrenreich, who is hilarious as an action star who can't act his way out of a paper bag. It's laugh-out-loud hilarious. This is also a really smart movie that involves a surprise cameo from a member of the Frankfurt school and an articulation of some of the goals of twentieth-century American Communism but with a Coen Brothers spin, off course. It's so much fun. Trust me.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A

07 February 2017

Oscar Noms 2017: 6 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
1 Nomination
  • Actor: Viggo Mortensen (Eastern Promises)
Director: Matt Ross
Cast: Mortensen, George MacKay, Frank Langella, Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso, Nicholas Hamilton, Shree Crooks, Charlie Shotwell, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, Ann Dowd, Trin Miller, Erin Moriarty, Missi Pyle, Elijah Stevenson, Teddy Van Ee

I am rather surprised that Matt Ross wasn't nominated in the Original Screenplay category, as well. This was one of my favorite movies of the year, though, so I will take what I can get. It is not perfect, but I didn't care about any of this movie's flaws. I was only paying attention to what I loved about it. But let's talk about Viggo Mortensen and how this is only his second nomination ever. His performances in The Road, The Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring, A Dangerous Method, and A History of Violence have all had some awards buzz around them, but this is only his second Oscar nomination, despite the chatter. This is pretty stunning when you think about it. In any case, I am glad more people are talking about this movie, and I sure hope more people see it. The truth is that Captain Fantastic is an ensemble picture, and this lead performance, although it is clearly the lead of the movie, often takes a backseat to the work done by the ensemble as a whole.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #11 out of 91

Elle
1 Nomination
  • Actress: Isabelle Huppert
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Cast: Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, Charles Berling, Anne Consigny, Jonas Bloquet, Christian Berkel, Judith Magre, Virginie Efira, Alice Isaaz, Raphaël Lenglet, Vimala Pons, Arthur Mazet, Lucas Prisor, Stéphane Bak

I really really liked this movie, but it is a very troubling film and I have really recommended it to no one. This is primarily because Elle is a film about rape, it is a smart film about ethics and rape and desire, and it asks the audience to do a lot of thinking. The central character is as complex as most Huppert characters; in fact this is a kind of classic Huppert performance – the kind we are used to seeing in more recent Huppert films like The Piano Teacher, Merci pour le Chocolat, and Gabrielle. It is odd, really, that this film has finally scored her her first Oscar nomination. After appearing in numerous Oscar-nominated films (from 1980-1991 that includes Heaven's Gate, Coup de Torchon, Entre Nous, and Madame Bovary), she is only now being recognized by the Academy, even though she has, since then, become an enormous star internationally (nominated for 16 César Awards). In any case, this is her first nomination and it is well deserved – especially since she was also so great this year in L'Avenir. But back to Elle for a second, just so you who haven't seen it have a bit of an idea of what this film is: Huppert's character is raped very early on in the film in a scene that is very difficult to watch. She then decides to take revenge on her rapist. She must figure out who her rapist is first, but meanwhile she is attempting to seduce her married next door neighbor (or is he attempting to seduce her?). There are also plenty of other things with which she must deal: an ungrateful son, a theatrical mother, the remarriage of her ex-husband, an affair with her best friend's husband, sexual harassment at work. This is a complex, fascinating character study that thrills with Hitchcockian levels of suspense. It is also filled with mysterious surprises until the very end.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Actress
My Rating: #20 out of 91

Loving
1 Nomination
  • Actress: Ruth Negga
Director: Jeff Nichols
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Negga, Terri Abney, Sharon Blackwood, Will Dalton, Alano Miller, Chris R. Greene, Nick Kroll, Michael Shannon, Jon Bass

I really enjoyed this movie. This is the first Oscar nomination for a Jeff Nichols movie, which I don't think I understand given his amazing output. (Nichols had two films out this year and I liked the other one even better.) But I am glad Negga is getting attention for her performance. Loving is not your typical Nichols movie, either. It has no real science fiction qualities to it, and it is not really a mystery, but it is essentially a story of the South, which is what Nichols does, and it is also – for a movie whose outcome we already know – a film absolutely chock full of suspense. This is, of course, also one of the things Nichols does really, really well, and he uses his techniques of suspense here excellently. It is worth noting, too, that Loving's script and photography are also both very good, and the film's central performance – by Joel Edgerton – was also one of the best of the year.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #26 out of 91

Nocturnal Animals
1 Nomination
  • Supporting Actor: Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road)
Director: Tom Ford
Cast: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Ellie Bamber, Armie Hammer, Andrea Riseborough, Michael Sheen, Laura Linney, Karl Glusman, Robert Aramayo, Jena Malone

I adored this movie. It is my #3 for the year. It is a really difficult film, and I understand why so many people had so much trouble with it, but I both really enjoyed the movie and thought it interrogated many interesting things. In fact, I loved it. It's creepy and mysterious and violent, but it is also sexy and unsparing and sad. Nocturnal Animals is a film about revenge, about being unfair to the people in our lives and then about suffering the consequences of that unfairness. Nocturnal is also about art or about trying to make something that expresses how the artists (or non-artist) feels. Let's just be honest and say that I have a lot of trouble articulating why I loved this movie as much as I did, but I thought it was brave and intriguing and gorgeous, while also being very difficult – which is why I've really not recommended it to anyone. As for Michael Shannon's nomination, this came as rather a big surprise to everyone, I think, but it is well deserved. Isn't it odd that Shannon now has two nominations and that they're for Revolutionary Road and this movie? So strange.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A