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Friday, December 23, 2016

The Week in Awards

The critics groups weighing in during the past week: Black Film Critics Circle, Detroit Film Critics Society, Indiana Film Journalists Association, Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards, Las Vegas Film Critics Society, Nevada Film Critics Society, Phoenix Critics Circle, Phoenix Film Critics Society, Southeastern Film Critics Association, St. Louis Film Critics Association, Utah Film Critics Association, Vancouver Film Critics Circle, Alliance of Women Film Journalists, and Florida Film Critics Circle.

Their picks:

Best Picture

Moonlight: Black Film Critics Circle, Indiana Film Journalists Association, Phoenix Critics Circle, Southeastern Film Critics Association, Alliance of Women Film Journalists

La La Land: Detroit Film Critics Society, Las Vegas Film Critics Society, Phoenix Film Critics Society, St. Louis Film Critics Association, Utah Film Critics Association

Manchester By the Sea: Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards, Vancouver Film Critics Circle

Hell or High Water: Nevada Film Critics Society

The Lobster: Florida Film Critics Circle

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Netflix Recommends... John Wick (2014)

* * *

Director: Chad Stahelski & David Leitch
Starring: Keanu Reeves

I'm not sure who is more cruel. The villains in John Wick who are so irredeemable that they can't be satisfied with simply beating up the title character, but have to kill his dog, too, or the filmmakers of John Wick for introducing that adorable puppy, making the viewer watch it frolic adorably with Keanu Reeves, and then snuff it out. Admittedly, it's a pretty effective way to get viewers on the side of a protagonist who is going to spend the next hour or so taking lives left and right, but damn that dog was so cute. Netflix's recommendations seem to lead me wrong more often than not, but I probably wouldn't have gotten around to John Wick if not for Netflix and, despite the dog death, I rather enjoyed it. It's a slick bit of business in which a great many people die and a lot of blood is shed in very stylish fashion and it's basically everything that an action movie ought to be, but very few actually are.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (2016)

* * *

Director: Tim Burton
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Eva Green, Samuel L. Jackson

The pairing of Tim Burton and Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children - a story about kids with special abilities who are kept hidden away from society - is so obvious it almost feels like parody to actually see it. All that's missing are Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp, replaced here by Eva Green and Samuel L. Jackson. While the film, adapted from Ransom Riggs' novel of the same name, is pretty much exactly what you would expect it to be - full of whimsical misfits, grand spectacles of costume and production design, and, requisite for all big studio pictures, an ending that invites sequels - it's also the most that I've enjoyed a Burton film since probably Corpse Bride. It may not be a masterpiece, but it's a pretty decent entertainment.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Ten Years Later... Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)

Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Ken Watanabe

2006 was a major year in the career of Clint Eastwood, who would tell the story of the Battle of Iwo Jima over two films, each told from a different side of the conflict. The first was Flags of Our Fathers, which turned on the famous photo of the American flag being raised on Mount Suribachi. The second was Letters from Iwo Jima, which doesn't have the same kind of "moment in time" to act as its fixed center, and is instead more about the battle in general. The films are opposite sides of one coin, and though one was ultimately much more warmly received than the other, their strengths are about equal. Ten years on, removed from the context in which it was released, Letters from Iwo Jima plays as a very fine film. I don't think that it's quite the masterpiece it was hailed as being in 2006, but it's a good movie.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

21st Century Essentials: The White Ribbon (2009)

Director: Michael Haneke
Starring: Christian Friedel
Country: Germany/Austria/France/Italy

Michael Haneke loves to unsettle. If the audience feels comfortable, then the film isn’t working to maximum effect. His are films that simmer with tension, that ominous feeling of a shoe about to drop, and often deny the sense of catharsis that can come from that drop, raising questions and then withholding the answer, resolving the story without dissipating the tension so that for the characters that feeling of menace will just be part of their lives going forward. Certainly that is the case with The White Ribbon, a film which is not directly about the rise of National Socialism in Germany, but which is about the societal dynamics that laid the foundation for Fascism. It’s a haunting film both for its beautiful craftsmanship and for its steadfast refusal to “solve” itself, and it’s one of the most fascinating films of the last ten years.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Week in Awards

In addition to the handing out of the Critics Choice Awards and announcements of the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations, there were a slew of critics awards given out over the last week. The awarding bodies include the New York Film Critics Online, Boston Society of Film Critics, Toronto Film Critics Association, San Francisco Film Critics Circle, African American Film Critics Association, Chicago Film Critics, Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association, and San Diego Film Critics Society. Here are their picks (spoiler alert, everyone is going for Mahershala Ali as Supporting Actor):

Best Picture

Moonlight - Toronto Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Online, San Francisco Film Critics Circle, African American Film Critics Association, Chicago Film Critics, Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association

Hell or High Water - San Diego Film Critics Society

La La Land - Boston Society of Film Critics

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Review: Miss Sloane (2016)

* * *

Director: John Madden
Starring: Jessica Chastain

Like a number of recent entertainments, how you feel about Miss Sloane may be dependent on your feelings about the current political climate. This isn't even necessarily because of the cause at the heart of the film's narrative (gun control), but because of the film's ending and whether you're able to view it as the triumph the film clearly intends it to be. Personally, I can find little joy in a situation where victory belongs to the person most willing to burn it all to the ground (their own life included), though on the whole I rather enjoyed Miss Sloane. A rarity among films in that it not only centers on an unapologetically unlikeable female protagonist, but doesn't make any effort to soften her before the end, fleshing her out over the course of the story but letting her retain her sharp edges, Miss Sloane is anchored by a wonderful performance from Jessica Chastain that allows it to (mostly) transcend the overplotting designed to make her as Machiavellian as possible.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Screen Actors Guild Award Nominees

Announced earlier today:

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
Captain Fantastic
Hidden Figures
Manchester By the Sea

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Review: Triple 9 (2016)

* * 1/2

Director: John Hillcoat
Starring: Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet

Since 1995, all heist movies have existed in the long shadow of Heat, Michael Mann's defining word on the genre. Every once in a while there will be a film like The Town, which struck a deep enough chord to stand somewhat apart, but that's the exception, rather than the rule. Most of the films that have followed Heat have to be content with paling in comparison and John Hillcoat's Triple 9 is no different. A heist movie centering on dirty cops and the Russian mob, Triple 9 features a lot of really good actors playing some pretty stock characters, making for a film that's fairly entertaining most of the time, but ultimately a forgettable entry in the filmographies of all involved. Rarely has such a great cast been assembled for a such a deeply okay movie.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Golden Globe Nominees

Announced earlier today:

Best Motion Picture Drama
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Manchester By the Sea

Best Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
20th Century Women
Florence Foster Jenkins
La La Land
Sing Street

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Critics Choice Award Winners

Announced earlier this evening:

Best Picture: La La Land

Best Director: Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Best Actor: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Best Actress: Natalie Portman, Jackie

Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis, Fences

Best Young Actor/Actress: Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea

Best Acting Ensemble: Moonlight

Best Original Screenplay: (Tie) Damien Chazelle, La La Land & Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

Best Adapted Screenplay: Eric Heisserer, Arrival

Best Cinematography: Linus Sandgren, La La Land

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

Best Editing: Tom Cross, La La Land

Best Costume Design: Madeline Fontaine, Jackie

Best Hair & Makeup: Jackie

Best Visual Effects: The Jungle Book

Best Animated Feature: Zootopia

Best Foreign Language Film: Elle

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

Best Score: Justin Hurwitz, La La Land

Best Comedy: Deadpool

Best Actress in a Comedy: Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

Best Actor in a Comedy: Ryan Reynolds, Deadpool

Best Action Movie: Hacksaw Ridge

Best Actor in an Action Movie: Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge

Best Actress in an Action Movie: Margot Robbie, Suicide Squad

Best Sci-Fi/Horror Movie: Arrival

Tales From the Black List: The Judge (2014)

* *

Director: David Dobkin
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall

Back in the days before movies lived and died by their opening weekends, films like The Judge were Hollywood's bread and butter. A mid-budget drama where the stakes are emotional more than anything, as opposed to the now commonplace massive budget behemoths where the stakes are no less than the survival of the world itself, and where a big star gets to flex his muscle as an actor, The Judge is the kind of movie that used to be a no-brainer. Times change, of course, and now projects that used to seem risk free on paper struggle to recoup even their modest budgets (though The Judge might have helped itself by cutting 30 minutes from its running time and making the first casualty its weird and wholly unnecessary incest plot). The market is no longer particularly favorable to movies like this, but I can understand why they tried and why this would have seemed like a good idea when the script hit Hollywood. Old habits die hard, after all.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Week in Awards

Following the rapid fire announcements from the National Board of Review, and the New York and Los Angeles Film Critics, things slowed down last week with only the Washington, D.C. Area Film Critics Association, Atlanta Film Critics Society, and the Boston Online Film Critics Association making their selections. Here are their picks for the year's best:

Best Film

La La Land - Washington, D.C. Area Film Critics Association, Atlanta Film Critics Society

Moonlight - Boston Online Film Critics Association

Monday, December 5, 2016

Review: The Handmaiden (2016)

* * * 1/2

Director: Park Chan-wook
Starring: Kim Min-hee, Kim Tae-ri, Ha Jung-woo, Cho Jin-woong

Lurid. Nasty. Darkly funny. Park Chan-wook's The Handmaiden is a lot of things, but it's certainly never boring. A somewhat faithful, but also somewhat loose, adaptation of Sarah Waters' novel Fingersmith, The Handmaiden is an elaborate contraption of a movie that transports the original narrative from Victorian England to the 1930s in Japanese occupied Korea and stuns with its sumptuous costuming and production design, gorgeous (and playful) cinematography, its merciless violence, frank eroticism, and its ability to deftly navigate the turns and multiple turnabouts of its story. The Handmaiden is a savage beauty of a film and it's probably just as well that South Korea didn't make it their submission for the Best Foreign Language Film race at the Oscars since the Academy tends towards the conservative and films this twisted and explicit only rarely get nominated (and pretty much never win).

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Los Angeles Film Critics Winners

The Los Angeles Film Critics (who are always good for a surprise or two) voted today, here are their picks for the year's best:

Best Picture: Moonlight

Best Director: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

Best Actress: Isabelle Huppert, Elle

Best Actor: Adam Driver, Paterson

Best Supporting Actress: Lily Gladstone, Certain Women

Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Best Screenplay: Efthymis Filippou and Yorgos Lanthimos, The Lobster

Best Animated Feature: Your Name

Best Documentary: I Am Not Your Negro

Best Cinematography: James Laxton, Moonlight

Best Editing: Bret Granato, Maya Mumma, Ben Sozanski, OJ: Made In America

Best Music Score: Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul, La La Land

Best Production Design: Ryu Seong-hee, The Handmaiden

Saturday, December 3, 2016

21st Century Essentials: Under the Skin (2014)

Director: Jonathan Glazer
Starring: Scarlett Johansson
Country: United Kingdom/United States/Switzerland

Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin is the sort of film that unsettles on such a deep and durable level that you might never be able to fully shake it. Cold but graceful, inaccessible but hypnotic, it’s the kind of film in which none of the characters are named and nothing is overtly explained, but it’s so full of striking, brutal images that it leaves one so entranced that the “whys” that the narrative might inspire become unimportant. You simply drift along its jagged, treacherous current until you get to its destination. Many shocking things occur during the course of its 108 minutes, but perhaps the most shocking thing about it is that a film that seems so preoccupied with the experience of being a woman in a world so hostile to femininity could be written and directed by men.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

New York Film Critics Circle Award Winners

The New York Film Critics Circle announced their winners earlier today. Chalk one up for La La Land:

Best Film: La La Land

Best Director: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

Best Actress: Isabelle Huppert, Elle and Things To Come

Best Actor: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Best Supporting Actress: Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

Best Screenplay: Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

Best Cinematography: James Laxton, Moonlight

Best Animated Film: Zootopia

Best Documentary: O.J.: Made in America

Best Foreign Film: Toni Erdmann

Best First Film: (Tie) The Edge of Seventeen and Krisha

Critics Choice Nominees

Here are the nominees for the 22nd Critics Choice Awards, chosen by the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Winners will be announced December 11th:

Best Picture
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea