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Monday, April 24, 2017

Review: The Lost City of Z (2017)

* * * 1/2

Director: James Gray
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller

To obsess over something for years, to work so hard, to be so close and find that it is just beyond your reach - it would be enough to drive a person mad. The Lost City of Z, based on the non-fiction book of the same name by David Grann and centering on Percy Fawcett's search for a lost civilization in the Amazon jungle, does not treat Fawcett as though it thinks he was mad for continuously returning to the jungle, but makes a fairly compelling case for how he might have been driven mad by everything outside of the jungle. The film features touches that are reminiscent of such films as Apocalypse Now, Fitzcarraldo, and, especially, Aguirre: The Wrath of God, all films that know madness well, and reunites writer/director James Gray with cinematographer Darius Khondji after 2014's The Immigrant. Mesmerizing and often soulful, The Lost City of Z is a beautiful and bewitching story about one man's unconquerable desire to know the unknown.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

21st Century Essentials: Frances Ha (2013)

Director: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Greta Gerwig
Country: United States

Frances Ha might well be subtitled “A Woman in Transition.” It’s a story all about a period in the life of its protagonist when everything is up in the air: her professional artistic ambitions have stalled and she’s facing the possibility of having to give up her dream in order to support herself; her living situation is in a constant state of flux and she shuffles from one home to the next; and her most important relationship – the one she has with her best friend – appears to be failing, though she doesn’t understand why. At 86 minutes, it might sound like a slight piece of work, but it’s slight in running time only. A finely attuned character piece, Frances Ha is so brilliant and charming that it even manages to use to its advantage all the “New York hipster” trappings that, in a lesser movie, would be too annoying to overcome.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Friday's Top 5... Crazy Lady Movies

#5: The Roommate

The Roommate is not a good movie, but it is a hilarious watch if you're with the right people. Full points to Leighton Meester for her total commitment to playing a college girl who becomes obsessed with her roommate.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Review: The Fate of the Furious

* * 1/2

Director: F. Gary Gray
Starring: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Charlize Theron, Jason Statham

Even when grading on the generous curve you have to allow for the movies from the Fast and Furious series, which aim for nothing more than the simplest entertainment and the most instant of gratifications, the latest entry is just a bit of a disappointment. The Fate of the Furious (how is it not called The F8 of the Furious? Was that too obvious even for this series?) is an over-stuffed entry in a series that was already pretty well-stuffed and which pretty thoroughly disappears up itself by playing around with its mythology rather than continuing to build it out - to say nothing of the fact that its villain is such a non-entity that it almost seems like Charlize Theron just popped by over a weekend to film some scenes for the hell of it. But, still, it's about the action, right? The action is pretty good, though it leaves you wondering where, if each entry in the series is to have bigger action than the last, the series has left to go with the two (at least) films it has planned for the future.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Review: Passengers (2016)

* * *

Director: Morton Tyldum
Starring: Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence

Passengers has a 31% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 41 rating on Metacritic. Is it secretly a great movie? No, but is it the terrible movie that those ratings would imply? Not nearly. Those ratings would suggest something borderline incompetent, something shoddily made with little to recommend it. But Passengers is an entertaining movie with more than enough to make it worth taking the time to watch, even if it is thematically problematic. Thinking about it afterwards, I was reminded of something I once read about Jerry Maguire (I can't remember the exact wording and couldn't find the review, so I'm stuck paraphrasing), that it's a movie that knows a great deal about sports but very little about relationships. Similarly, Passengers is a film that knows a great deal about how to spin an adventure yarn, but very little about women and relationships. It suffered for the latter, but it deserves praise for the former.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Netflix Recommends... Basic (2003)

* 1/2

Director: John McTiernan
Starring: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Connie Nielsen

I'll give Basic this much: it lives up to its title. It's so basic that it appears not to have been developed beyond its very ideas for the plot and the characters, let alone beyond the first draft of the screenplay. Basic is the cinematic equivalent of a kid who gets to school and realizes that he has a project due, so he throws something together in the five minutes before the bell rings just to have something to hand in. It's bad. It's not even bad in the "so bad, it's entertaining" way. It's bad in the "so bad it's a total waste of time" way. But thanks to the new algorithm launched by Netflix, it was recommended for me with an 90% match - which isn't to say that Netflix hasn't always recommended bad movies for me, it's just that it used to recommend movies even as it acknowledged that it didn't think I would rate them highly. Anyway, on with the show:

Monday, April 10, 2017

Review: Personal Shopper (2017)

* * * 1/2

Director: Olivier Assayas
Starring: Kristen Stewart

It's far too early in the year to say whether Personal Shopper will end up on my list of the year's best, but I feel like I can confidently say that it's going to be one of the films I feel compelled to revisit later in the year, possibly more than once. It's a film that engrosses and fascinates and maybe frustrates just a little bit thanks to writer/director Olivier Assayas' refusal to play by movie rules as we know them and thanks to the questions which linger afterwards like a spirit determined to make its presence known. The film re-teams Assayas with Kristen Stewart after Clouds of Sils Maria and if anything it's even more enigmatic than that film and makes even better use of Stewart's skill set as a performer, leveraging that tranquility that sometimes plays like flatness by shaking it up so that even something as simple as the little blue bubble of a text message on a phone screen takes on a world of meaning and tension just because of how close it pushes her to the edge. Personal Shopper is the definition of a film that does a lot with a little.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Review: Five Came Back (2017)

* * * 1/2

Director: Laurent Bouzereau

I'm not sure if Five Came Back qualifies as a proper film, since Netflix is selling it as a series and it's split into distinct episodes, but I figure if a 10 part ESPN series can win the Best Documentary Oscar, then surely definitions are fluid enough that this story about five of old Hollywood's great directors putting their careers on hold in order to document WWII qualifies as a film. Adapted from Mark Harris' book of the same name (which is very much worth the read, whether you're a film buff or not), Five Came Back is an often affecting look at how the experience of the war had a lasting impact on the directors - Frank Capra, John Ford, William Wyler, George Stevens, and John Huston - not just as men, but as filmmakers whose careers and work would be markedly changed. Running at just a little over 3 hours, Five Came Back isn't as comprehensive as a film as it is as a book, but it's nevertheless a moving and engrossing piece of work.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

21st Century Essentials: House of Flying Daggers (2004)

Director: Zhang Yimou
Starring: Andy Lau, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhang Ziyi
Country: China/Hong Kong

Zhang Yimou’s House of Flying Daggers is the kind of cinematic feast that Hollywood used to churn out with semi-regularity but seems to have become disinterested in of late. Fortunately for viewers there are filmmakers working outside of Hollywood, like Zhang, who are there to pick up the slack and are still interested in making films with sumptuous production elements, epic narratives full of grand adventure, and with just a bit of romance. On a purely superficial level, House of Flying Daggers is a bold, visual masterpiece that truly goes for broke in its costumes, production design, and its cinematography. On a deeper narrative level, it’s a film that perfectly balances character work with ambitious action setpieces. An instant classic of its kind on its release in 2004, it remains one of the most beguiling and engaging films of the century so far.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Tales From the Black List: 50/50 (2011)

* * *

Director: Jonathan Levine
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogan

"That doesn't make any sense though. I mean, I don't smoke, I don't drink, I recycle..." Cancer is the great equalizer. You can do everything right and live an entirely unimpeachable life, you can be young or old, male or female, be anyone anywhere, and still get the news. Loosely based on screenwriter Will Reiser's experience with cancer 50/50, which was part of the 2008 Black List (a list which also included such films as Inglorious Basterds, Up in the Air, The Descendants, Easy A, Foxcatcher and Sherlock Holmes), doesn't linger on the shock of the diagnosis. It comes fast, is given a moment, and then the film carries on, cycling through the stages of grief as it follows its protagonist, whose story is as much about him learning to deal with his diagnosis as it is him learning how to deal with the people around him as they deal with his diagnosis. It's a film that finds the comedy in tragedy, alternately funny and moving, and ultimately very humane.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Review: Nocturnal Animals (2016)

* *

Director: Tom Ford
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon

I was a great admirer of Tom Ford's debut film, A Single Man, which was not only incredibly stylish but also managed to be a moving portrait of a man struggling to grieve a loss that the mores of the time keep him from openly acknowledging. I'm considerably less keen on Nocturnal Animals, which is also stylish and even, in moments, expertly made, but overall reeks of fraud. Nocturnal Animals is a movie that doesn't actually seem to have anything to say, save for the most superficial and banal things possible, but revels in empty symbols that give the appearance of profundity. It's unfortunate, because the film actually contains some pretty incredible performances (including that of Michael Shannon, which received an Oscar nomination), but even the fine work of the actors can't disguise how vapid an enterprise this is.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Review: Certain Women (2016)

* * * 1/2

Director: Kelly Reichardt
Starring: Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Lily Gladstone, Kristen Stewart

Over the course of six feature films, writer/director Kelly Reichardt has become a master of the small-scale story, narratives where the stakes are slight and deeply personal, driven by character more than plot. In Certain Women "plot" barely even registers; things happen, but what happens seems almost incidental. It's a film that's all about reaction, about how the women in the film respond to things they hadn't anticipated and how they're changed, or not changed, by them. It's an expertly told, intuitive film that tells three tenuously connected stories, each one anchored by a different actress. Most films struggle to find room for one good female character; this one features four and makes it look so easy that you're left wondering what the problem is with other movies.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

21st Century Essentials: No Country For Old Men (2007)

Director: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem
Country: United States

Most artists are lucky if they create one bona fide masterpiece - such things are special precisely because they are rare. Having made both Fargo and No Country For Old Men, Joel and Ethan Coen have made two (one might even argue that they've made three, including Blood Simple). An instantly iconic film, thanks in part to Javier Bardem's villain, Anton Chigurh, the most dangerous person ever to sport a Dorothy Hamill haircut, No Country For Old Men was one of the most hyped movies of 2007 and would become the Coen brother's most successful film at the box office (until being supplanted in 2010 by True Grit) and be nominated for 8 Oscars, winning 4 (including Best Picture). That's not always a recipe for longevity - plenty of movies have raked in the money and won Oscars only to be forgotten afterwards, and if anything a lot of hype tends to hurt a movie in the long run as it sets expectations impossibly high, but No Country For Old Men is a film that can withstand that kind of pressure. It's the real deal, a film that continues to mesmerize after a decade and multiple viewings.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Friday's Top 5... Movies Based on Graphic Novels (That Aren't About Super Heroes)

#5: Ghost World

Dry as a bone, Ghost World, Terry Zwigoff's adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name, is about a teenage girl who is very smart, but maybe not as mature as she is intelligent, and the breakdown in the relationship with her best friend as their interests begin to diverge. It's a funny, complex look at that weird transition between adolescence and adulthood, and it features great performances from Thora Birch, Steve Buscemi, and Scarlett Johnasson

Sunday, March 19, 2017

My Week with Marilyn: The Misfits (1961)

Director: John Huston
Starring: Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift, Eli Wallach, Thelma Ritter

The marathon comes to an end, appropriately enough, with The Misfits, a film which has "the end" written all over it. It's the final film that Marilyn Monroe completed, the final film of Clark Gable, its production was the final nail in the coffin of Monroe's marriage to Arthur Miller (who wrote the screenplay), and its story is all about things ending and people struggling to accept it. There's something funereal about The Misfits, something which makes it as poignant as it is upsetting (on the whole I wouldn't describe the film as "upsetting," but that last 20/30 minutes is pretty hard to watch). It's a melancholy film about very sad people, but it's a great film and I don't think Monroe was ever better than she was here, even if the making of this movie took everything she had left.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

My Week with Marilyn: Some Like It Hot (1959)

Director: Billy Wilder
Starring: Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe

A great movie is the result of a lot of elements coming together in just the right way. There's no formula to it - what works in one film won't necessarily work in another, what doesn't work in other films might work marvelously when guided by the right hand - and great works of art tend to be great in their own specific, unique ways. But if there's any one thing that great movies, of any genre and from any time period, tend to share, it's a strong ending. Casablanca, The Godfather, Fargo, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - wildly different films, but each possessed of a perfect ending. Some Like It Hot is another member of the perfect ending club, its final two words arguably the greatest comedic payoff in cinema history. Everything that comes before that is pretty great, too, but damn what an ending. A classic among classics and a highlight in the careers of all of Marilyn Monroe, Billy Wilder, Tony Curtis, and Jack Lemmon, Some Like It Hot is one of those enduring films that just works no matter when you see it and which reconfirms itself as a masterpiece with few equals every time you see it.

Friday, March 17, 2017

My Week with Marilyn: The Seven Year Itch (1955)

Director: Billy Wilder
Starring: Marilyn Monroe, Tom Ewell

If I had to define the difference between a movie star and a movie icon, I would argue that a movie star is someone that people are familiar with because of their movies, while a movie icon is someone with whom a majority of people are familiar because of isolated moments and images from their movies. Everyone knows the image of Marilyn Monroe standing over the subway grate, but outside of film buffs, Monroe fans, and Billy Wilder fans, how many people who know that image know what film it comes from? And if they can name the film, can they describe the context of the scene? The moment is bigger than the movie, having taken on a life of its own in the 62 years since the film's release, and in the popular imagination it's now considered less a moment from a film than it is a part of Monroe's identity. If most people are only familiar with the subway grate scene in isolation, and not from having seen The Seven Year Itch, that's kind of a shame because the film is a highly entertaining farce - even if it works for precisely the reason that Wilder felt it ultimately didn't.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

My Week with Marilyn: There's No Business Like Show Business (1954)

Director: Walter Lang
Starring: Ethel Merman, Donald O'Connor, Mitzi Gaynor, Marilyn Monroe

This will be a short one, because there's frankly not all that much to say. Of all the films I'm watching for this series, There's No Business Like Show Business is the only one that I had absolutely no familiarity beforehand. I actually hadn't even heard of it before, which is odd considering it's a film from right in the thick of the years when she was a super star, with just about every role a notable one. A fairly unremarkable film, There's No Business Like Show Business has got some decent song and dance numbers to it (though it would have to, with this cast), but it's kind of a bland and formulaic "showbiz" movie, even by the standards of showbiz movies. If you're a Donald O'Connor fan or an Ethel Merman fan, then it's worth a watch to get to see them do the things they do best; but with respect to Marilyn Monroe, this is a film for completionists only.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

My Week with Marilyn: River of No Return (1954)

Director: Otto Preminger
Starring: Robert Mitchum, Marilyn Monroe

And now for something completely different. From the frothy, female-centered comedy of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire, to the rugged western/adventure of River of No Return, a movie brimming with testosterone. How manly is River of No Return? It opens with Robert Mitchum chopping down a tree so that he can build a log cabin all by himself, and then proceeds to have him get into three hand-to-hand combat fights, prove himself an expert marksman, captain a rickety raft down the eponymous river whose rapids are supposed to be unconquerable, capture and kill a deer while rafting down that river, wrestle a cougar, and single-handedly fight off a war party. If River of No Return was a person instead of a movie, you'd think it was overcompensating for something.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

My Week with Marilyn: How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)

Director: Jean Negulesco
Starring: Lauren Bacall, Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable

Carrying on with the biggest hit of Marilyn Monroe's star-making year, How to Marry a Millionaire, in which Monroe is teamed with fellow icons Lauren Bacall and Betty Grable. All told, this one doesn't age quite as well as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, primarily because its strategy for creating conflict is to have one of the women act like a complete cow to whatever guy she's with at the moment and to have him react not by dropping her (as any reasonable human being would) but by wanting her more. That being said, it does have more than a few moments that are sharp and funny and a couple that are just downright strange (such as an early scene in which the three women discuss the kind of men they're willing to associate with, who will only be the best of the best in terms of class and wealth, while sitting around eating hot dogs, the classiest of all food), and any movie that features scenes of Monroe, Bacall, and Grable, each an icon in her own right, is worth a look at the very least.

Monday, March 13, 2017

My Week with Marilyn: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

Director: Howard Hawks
Starring: Jane Russell, Marilyn Monroe

I'm kicking a week-long Marilyn Monroe marathon with Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the film which features, courtesy of the "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" number, the second most iconic moment in Marilyn Monroe's film career (the first being the grate in The Seven Year Itch, naturally). Starring Monroe and Jane Russell as two little girls from Little Rock, one of whom is out to close the deal by marrying her wealthy suitor, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a delightful comedy that adheres to the principle of K.I.S.S. - Keep It Simple, Stupid. The plot is about as straightforward as it comes, even when the potential twists are right there waiting to be used, and the pacing is zippy, as befitting a film from the expert hands of Howard Hawks, but perhaps the most surprising thing about this comedy is how generally unobjectionable its gender politics are. It's amazing that a 64 year old film about a woman trying to land a rich husband can manage to do so much better in terms of depicting women than many studio films released today.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Review: Toni Erdmann (2016)

* * * *

Director: Maren Ade
Starring: Peter Simonischek, Sandra Huller

There are things about Toni Erdmann which, sight unseen, might seem daunting. It's a non-English language film, which is a dealbreaker for a number of people. Don't let that be a deterrent - a sizable portion of the dialogue occurs in English, surprisingly enough. It's two hours and forty-five minutes long, a positively unseemly length for a film that bills itself as a comedy. Believe me, you won't feel it. It starts a little slow but once it builds up steam, it zips by. Paramount is already gearing up to remake the film with Jack Nicholson and Kristen Wiig. Don't wait for it, see the original first. Not only is this movie brilliant and unrestrainedly bizarre, it is genuinely very funny. I honestly cannot remember the last time I saw a movie with scenes so outrageously funny and surprising that people in the audience literally shrieked with laughter, but that happened when I saw Toni Erdmann. Seriously, just see it.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

21st Century Essentials: The Look of Silence (2015)

Director: Joshua Oppenheimer
Country: Denmark/Finland/France/Germany/Indonesia/Israel/Netherlands/Norway/Taiwan/United Kingdom/United States

Taken separately or together, Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentaries The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence are the most intimate look at the banality of evil ever captured on film. Taking as their subject the Indonesian killings of 1965-66, a purge that resulted in the deaths of between 500,000 to 1 million people, the films go right to the source, with the first getting some of the men who carried out the killings to describe in detail what they did, where they did it, and how they did it, and the second following the efforts of a man whose brother was a victim of the purge as he attempts to get the families of the killers to acknowledge the evil that was done to his family by theirs. They are not easy films; they are often chilling, they are sometimes sickening, and they are ugly for what they reveal about humanity and how easily brutality can become normalized and embraced by a community. The Look of Silence is an enormously powerful film, the kind that makes an immediate and lasting impact.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Friday's Top 5... My Most Anticipated Movies of Summer

#5: The Beguiled (June 23rd)

I'm not really a fan of Sofia Coppola, but the trailer looks atmospheric and promising (though Colin Farrel's wailing at the end about "vengeful bitches" immediately made me think of the Nicolas Cage version of The Wicker Man, which maybe isn't a great sign).

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Ten Years Later... 300 (2007)

Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Gerard Butler, Rodrigo Santoro

Blood. Abs. Scenery, thoroughly chewed. This is history as seen through the eyes of Frank Miller and Zack Snyder, two artists who for a hot minute 10 years ago had some people convinced that they might be visionaries, but who have since been brought down to earth by proving to be, respectively, a one-trick pony (at least in terms of his work in film) and the man who has made Ben Affleck depressed about playing Batman. 300 was definitely a landmark film in terms of a certain visual style that spawned many imitators (though one might argue that it merely continued the work started by Sin City), but with all that imitation comes a watering down of what was once so impressive. Without that shock that comes from seeing something visually exhilarating, is there anything left to recommend 300?

Monday, February 27, 2017

89th Oscars: Best & Worst

Lets get this out of the way first: Holy shit, I cannot believe that happened. I'm not counting this as a "best" or "worst" because while I think that Moonlight was the best of the nominated films and I'm glad it won, I feel bad for the La La Land team who thought they won only to have it snatched out of their hands in the most public way possible, and I feel bad for Warren Beatty because this moment will be infamous and there are probably people out there who will only know him for this and not for Bonnie and Clyde or any of the other great movies he's made.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

89th Oscar Winners

As they're announced:

Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini, Christopher Allen Nelson, Suicide Squad

Best Costume Design: Colleen Atwood, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Best Documentary Feature: O.J.: Made in America

Best Sound Editing: Sylvain Bellemare, Arrival

Best Sound Mixing: Kevin O'Connell, Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie, Peter Grace, Hacksaw Ridge

Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis, Fences

Best Foreign Language Film: The Salesman (Iran)

Best Animated Short Film: Piper

Best Animated Feature: Zootopia

Best Production Design: David Wasco, Sandy Reynolds-Wasco, La La Land

Best Visual Effects: Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones, Dan Lemmon, The Jungle Book

Best Film Editing: John Gilbert, Hacksaw Ridge

Best Documentary Short Film: The White Helmets

Best Live Action Short Film: Mindenki (Sing)

Best Cinematography: Linus Sandgren, La La Land

Best Original Score: Justin Hurwitz, La La Land

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

Best Original Screenplay: Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester By the Sea

Best Adapted Screenplay: Barry Jenkins, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight

Best Director: Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Best Actor: Casey Affleck, Manchester By the Sea

Best Actress: Emma Stone, La La Land

Best Picture: Moonlight

89th Oscars Predictions

My predictions:

Best Picture: La La Land

Best Director: Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Best Actress: Emma Stone, La La Land

Best Actor: Casey Affleck, Manchester By the Sea

Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis, Fences

Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Best Original Screenplay: Manchester By the Sea

Best Adapted Screenplay: Moonlight

Best Film Editing: La La Land

Best Cinematography: La La Land

Best Production Design: La La Land

Best Costume Design: La La Land

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Star Trek Beyond

Best Visual Effects: The Jungle Book

Best Sound Mixing: Arrival

Best Sound Editing: Arrival

Best Original Score: La La Land

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

Best Foreign Language Film: The Salesman

Best Animated Feature: Zootopia

Best Documentary Feature: O.J. Made in America

Best Documentary Short: The White Helmets

Best Animated Short: Borrowed Time

Best Live-Action Short: Mindenki

Saturday, February 25, 2017

21st Century Essentials: Young Adult (2011)

Director: Jason Reitman
Starring: Charlize Theron
Country: United States

In 2007 writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman combined forces to bring the world Juno, a warm-hearted comedy about a pregnant teenager that took the box office and the critics by storm, earning an Oscar for Cody and a nomination for Reitman (in addition to earning nominations for Best Picture and Best Actress for Ellen Page). In 2011 Cody and Reitman would re-team for Young Adult, a film as acid as Juno is sweet, replacing its lovably na├»ve protagonist with one who is dangerously delusional and misanthropic. That it would fail at the box office and gain nary an Oscar nomination seems almost appropriate given that it is a nasty little portrait of piled up disappointments and dreams that have died – it just means that it had the same bitter experience with life as its protagonist did. But, also like its protagonist, Young Adult is a film that endures. It may be one of the meanest comedies of the last decade, but it possesses such a crystal clear vision and such sharp fangs that it will age better than most. Hostility is apparently a masterful preservative.

Friday, February 24, 2017

89th Oscars: Best Picture

The nominees are:


Plot: When aliens touch down on earth linguist Louise Banks is brought in to help determine the purpose of their arrival, but it's the lack of communication between humans themselves that put the fate of the world in jeopardy.

Nominated Producers and Oscar History:

* Shawn Levy - first nomination

* Dan Levine - first nomination

* Aaron Ryder - first nomination

* David Lynde - first nomination

Total Nominations for Film: 8 - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing

Thursday, February 23, 2017

89th Oscars: Best Director

The nominees are:

Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Oscar History: 1 previous nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay for Whiplash (2014). Also nominated for Best Original Screenplay.

Total Nominations for the Film: 14 - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Original Score, Best Original Song (2), Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

89th Oscars: Best Actress

The nominees are:

Isabelle Huppert, Elle

Role: Michele Leblanc, a woman who is raped and, due to a negative experience with police in her childhood, opts not to report the crime and instead takes matters into her own hands, becoming fascinated with her assailant in the process.

Oscar History: first nomination

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

89th Oscars: Best Actor

The nominees are:

Casey Affleck, Manchester By the Sea

Role: Lee Chandler, a man still grappling with the tragedy of his past when he's called upon to become the guardian of his teenage nephew after the death of his brother.

Oscar History: 1 previous nomination for Best Supporting Actor for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Monday, February 20, 2017

89th Oscars: Best Supporting Actress

The nominees are:

Viola Davis, Fences

Role: Rose Maxson, a wife and mother who believes that she's living a happy life with her husband, only to have the rug pulled out from under her, leaving her trying to pick up the pieces of her shattered world.

Oscar History: 2 previous nominations for Best Supporting Actress for Doubt (2008) and Best Actress for The Help (2011)

Sunday, February 19, 2017

89th Oscars: Best Supporting Actor

The nominees are:

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Role: Juan, a man who takes the film's protagonist under his wing and becomes his father figure, but whose occupation as a drug dealer has contributed to the hostile and unstable home environment that makes him suffer so much.

Oscar History: first nomination

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Review: 20th Century Women (2016)

* * * *

Director: Mike Mills
Starring: Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning, Lucas Jade Zumann

Annette, you were robbed. You too, Greta. 20th Century Women opened right at the very end of 2016 for an Oscar qualifying run (playing in just 4 theaters from December 28th to January 5th, and then expanding to a few hundred theaters in January) and I can't help but wish that instead of doing that, the distributor had held it back for a mid-year release this year. With a last minute qualifying run, 20th Century Women never really stood a chance (though it did manage to net one Oscar nomination, for writer/director Mike Mills for Best Original Screenplay). It's too small, too intimate, to be able to make an impact with that kind of release. It's the kind of film that needs a chance to marinate a bit and build an audience, not unlike Mills' previous film, Beginners, which received a June release and for which Christopher Plummer won an Oscar. But art is ultimately its own reward, and though it doesn't have a chance to walk away with the slew of awards it richly deserves, 20th Century Women will nevertheless go down as one of 2016's finest films.

Friday, February 17, 2017

89th Oscars: Best Original Screenplay

The nominees are:

20th Century Women

Nominated Writers and Oscar History:

* Mike Mills - first nomination

Thursday, February 16, 2017

89th Oscars: Best Adapted Screenplay

The nominees are:


Nominated Writers and Oscar History:

* Eric Heisserer - first nomination

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

89th Oscars: Best Film Editing

The nominees are:

Tom Cross, La La Land

Oscar History: 1 win for Best Film Editing for Whiplash (2014)

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

89th Oscars: Best Cinematography

The nominees are:

Greig Fraser, Lion

Oscar History: first nomination

Monday, February 13, 2017

89th Oscars: Best Production Design

The nominees are:

Stuart Craig & Anna Pinnock, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Oscar History:

* Stuart Craig - 3 wins for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration for Gandhi (1982), Dangerous Liaisons (1988), and The English Patient (1996); 7 previous nominations for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration for The Elephant Man (1980), The Mission (1988), Chaplin (1992), and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001), and Best Art Direction for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010), and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)

* Anna Pinnock - 1 win for Best Production Design for The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014); 4 previous nominations for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration for Gosford Park (2001), for Best Art Direction for The Golden Compass (2007), and for Best Production Design for Life of Pi (2012) and Into the Woods (2014)

Sunday, February 12, 2017

89th Oscars: Best Costume Design

The nominees are:

Colleen Atwood, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Oscar History: 3 wins for Best Costume Design for Chicago (2002), Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), and Alice in Wonderland (2010); 8 previous nominations for Best Costume Design for Little Women (1994), Beloved (1998), Sleepy Hollow (1999), A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007), Nine (2009), Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), and Into the Woods (2014)

Saturday, February 11, 2017

21st Century Essentials: Elephant (2003)

Director: Gus Van Sant
Starring: John Robinson, Alex Frost, Eric Deulen
Country: United States

Tragic days start out as ordinary days. Gus Van Sant’s Elephant is about a school shooting that bears more than a passing resemblance to the Columbine massacre, and it fashions itself as a story about how a day begins in typical fashion only to end in horror, the change occurring suddenly and altering everything forever. Like many films based on real tragedies where the turnaround between the actual event and the release of the fictionalized version is short, Elephant was controversial when it came out. Critic Todd McCarthy decried it as “irresponsible” in his review for Variety, which seems a bit histrionic now but maybe in 2003, just four years removed from Columbine, the tragedy still felt too sacrosanct for a fictional depiction. Then again, maybe McCarthy’s reaction was just a result of disorientation since Elephant doesn’t behave in the way that you might expect it to. It’s not an emotional film, but one which stands at a distance from its subject, presenting its violence in a matter of fact way and making no attempt to understand why it is happening. Answers and catharsis are comforting, bald recounting of tragic events are not, and maybe that’s why Elephant seemed so alienating in 2003 and why it feels so powerful now.

Friday, February 10, 2017

89th Oscars: Best Makeup and Hairstyling

The nominees are:

A Man Called Ove

Nominated Team and Oscar History:

* Eva Von Bahr - 1 previous nomination for The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (2013)

* Love Larson - 1 previous nomination for The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (2013)

Thursday, February 9, 2017

89th Oscars: Best Visual Effects

The nominees are:

Deepwater Horizon

Nominated Team and Oscar History:

* Craig Hammack - first nomination

* Jason H. Snell - first nomination

* Jason Billington - first nomination

* Burt Dalton - 1 win for Best Visual Effects for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008); 2 previous nominations for Best Visual Effects for Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

89th Oscars: Best Sound Mixing

The nominees are:

13 Hours

Nominated Team and Oscar History:

* Greg P. Russell - 16 previous nominations for Best Sound for Black Rain (1989), The Rock (1996), Con Air (1997), The Mask of Zorro (1998), Armageddon (1998), The Patriot (2000), Pearl Habor (2001), and Spider-Man (2002), and for Best Sound Mixing for Spider-Man 2 (2004), Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), Apocalypto (2006), Transformers (2007), Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009), Salt (2010), Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011), and Skyfall (2012)

* Gary Summers - 4 wins for Best Sound for Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1992), Jurassic Park (1993), Titanic (1997), and Saving Private Ryan (1998); 6 previous nominations for Best Sound for Return of the Jedi (1983), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), and Backdraft (1991), and for Best Sound Mixing for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009), Avatar (2009), and Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

* Jeffrey J Haboush - 3 previous nominations for Best Sound Mixing for Spider-Man 2 (2004), Salt (2010), and Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

* Mac Ruth - 1 previous nomination for Best Sound Mixing for The Martian (2015)

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

89th Oscars: Best Sound Editing

The nominees are:


Nominated Team and Oscar History:

* Sylvain Bellemare - first nomination

Monday, February 6, 2017

89th Oscars: Best Original Score

The nominees are:

Nicholas Britell, Moonlight

Oscar History: first nomination

Sunday, February 5, 2017

89th Oscars: Best Original Song

The nominees are:

"Audition (The Fools Who Dream)," La La Land

Music and Lyrics By: Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul

Oscar History: first nomination for Hurwitz, also nominated for Best Original Score; first nomination for Pasek and Paul (all three also nominated for "City of Stars")

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Review: Hidden Figures (2016)

* * * 1/2

Director: Theodore Melfi
Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner

Given the opportunity, people can do extraordinary things. How unfortunate then that opportunities are so limited to the few, rather than open to the many. Hidden Figures, based on the book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly, is the story of three women - Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson - who broke barriers of color and gender to help send a man into space and it's as rousing and as crowd pleasing as its box office success would suggest. As biographical/historical movies go, it hits that sweet spot between being important and being highly entertaining, and manages at once to be very direct about its primary theme (racism), while still being subtle in the distinctions it draws between the different forms that racism can take, as well as the different means through which it can be combated. While certainly not the most technically sophisticated movie I saw from 2016, Hidden Figures is nevertheless one for the ages.

Friday, February 3, 2017

89th Oscars: Best Foreign Language Film

The nominees are:

Land of Mine

Country: Denmark
Director: Martin Zandvliet
Plot: A group of German POWs are forced by the Danish government to defuse millions of land mines buried on Danish beaches at the conclusion of WWII.

Director's Oscar History: first nominated film

Thursday, February 2, 2017

89th Oscars: Best Animated Feature

The nominees are:

Kubo and the Two Strings

Director: Travis Knight
Plot: A young boy must find his father's magical suit of armor and defeat a vengeful spirit from the past.

Director's Oscar History: 1 previous nominated film for Best Animated Feature for The Boxtrolls (2014)

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

89th Oscars: Best Documentary Feature

The nominees are:


Director: Ava DuVernay
Subject: The prison industrial complex in the United States.

Director's Oscar History: first nomination