Sunday, December 4, 2016

"Moonlight" Continues To Shine As It Dominates The LAFCA Awards

The Los Angeles Film Critics Association isn't often predictive of the Oscars yet they still are instrumental in a film's Oscar momentum much like the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Board of Review which announced their winners as well. While there are some surprises to be found below, you can see which films and performances are still gaining traction in this race.

Best Picture: Moonlight
(Runner-up): La La Land

Moonlight continues its slayage. La La Land may be a frontrunner but the race is far from over. Especially after it didn't win in a critics circle based in

Best Director: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
(Runner-up): Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Jenkins' dominance continues once more. He is now three for three, having won here, the New York Film Critics Circle, and the National Board of Review.

Best Actor: Adam Driver, Paterson
(Runner-up): Casey Affleck, Manchester By The Sea

I was so sure Casey Affleck would take this because of the run he's been having. But while Paterson might be too small, Driver's win here should at least help his Supporting Actor bid for Silence. 

Best Actress: Isabelle Huppert, Elle & Things To Come
(Runner-up) Rebecca Hall, Christine

Huppert's reign continues....Gotham Awards, New York Film Critics, and now this. I feel like it's going to happen for her. Also, I really have to check out Christine now.

Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
(Runner-up): Issei Ogata, Silence
Ali continues to steamroll his way through awards season. Ogata picking up mentions is quite interesting, though, considering you have Adam Driver and Liam Neeson also competing for Supporting Actor and I figured because of their star power, they

Best Supporting Actress: Lily Gladstone, Certain Women
(Runner-up): Michelle Williams, Manchester By The Sea

Lily Gladstone!!! Yes!!!!! I am so glad she is getting such recognition. I thought she was the MVP of Certain Women and I hope she can not only be a dark horse in the Supporting Actress race but that Hollywood takes note of her tremendous talent.

Best Screenplay: Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou, The Lobster
(Runner-up): Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester By The Sea

Very deserving. As terrific as Lonergan's script is, The Lobster has the most original and inventive screenplay this year.

Best Foreign Language Film: The Handmaiden
(Runner-up): Toni Erdmann

This is a very neat win. The Handmaiden won't make it to this category because South Korea didn't select it to represent them for Best Foreign Language Film. But I love seeing it get cited and hopefully, it'll make it in some craft categories.

Best Documentary: I Am Not Your Negro
(Runner-up): O.J.: Made In America

Very interesting given the fact that O.J. won Best Film Editing. Have to see both of these.

Best Animated Feature: Your Name
(Runner-Up): The Red Turtle

Apparently, Your Name was a big hit in Japan. Never heard of it until now. Zootopia is probanly going to steamroll its way into

Best Music/Score: Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul, La La Land
(Runner-up: Mica Levi, Jackie)
No surprise here. It is a musical about Hollywood. This trend will likely continue throughout the season.

Best Cinematography: James Laxton, Moonlight
(Runner-Up: Linus Sandgren, La La Land)

Excellent choice. It has the best cinematography I've seen all year thus far. Haven't seen La La Land yet but judging by the beautifully shot trailers, it looks like it'll put up a good fight for the Oscar. Also, Moonlight picking up citations for its cinematography means it should contend for below-the-line categories as well as Picture, Director, etc..

Best Editing: Bret Granato, Maya Mumma, Ben Sozanski, O.J.: Made In America
(Runner-up): Tom Cross, La La Land

Very interesting win. But La La Land at least being a runner-up in the techs indicates its strength as an overall contender.

Best Production Design: Ryu Seong-hee, The Handmaiden
(Runner-up): David Wasco, La La Land

Absolutely no complaints about this win.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

"Manchester By The Sea" Is The Most Realistic Family Drama In Years

    Grief is something that follows us around in numerous ways. Whether we are grieving the loss of a loved one, grieving over a breakup, or grieving over the fact that we have to get up every morning to do the same tired routine. It is also the main theme for Manchester By The Sea which also successfully deals with the both the humor, joy, and the heartbreak that comes with life itself.

    Manchester By The Sea follows the story of a misanthropic janitor named Lee, played by Casey Affleck, who finds his life in turmoil when his distant brother Joe, played by Kyle Chandler passes away. Lee is left to be the guardian to his young nephew Patrick, played by Lucas Hedges, while he also tries to confront demons of his past.

    One main reason this film works so well is Casey Affleck who successfully carries it on his shoulders. Rather than portray his grief-stricken character with caricatural histrionics, Affleck plays Lee as a neurotic everyman. Someone who just wants to fight his way from one day to the next and not worry about emoting his inner turmoil while avoiding any connection to those around him.

    As terrific as Affleck is though, Lucas Hedges is a scene stealer as Patrick. For such a young actor at about 19 years old, he matches his veteran co-star tit for tat while possessing a potent mix of light youthful charm with dramatic vulnerability. Thanks to the chemistry that he and Affleck have, even as their characters are at odds with one another, I still wanted them to find some kind of happiness in the end. I look forward to what the future holds for this amazing young talent.

    There's also a lot of awards hype around Michelle Williams for her brief work as Lee's ex-wife Randi. While she has a small amount of screentime, whenever she is on screen, she does have an impact so i'd say her buzz is pretty warranted. Especially during her penultimate scene where she expresses shock, sadness, and regret in just a span of minutes.

    Not only do the actors make their characters true to life, but writer/director Kenneth Lonergan writes the film close to life as well. His writing flourishes in its simplicity, showcasing a portrait of dealing with grief along with a portrayal of normal family life. Lee and Patrick fight, make up, and then have a few laughs the way a regular family does. Lonergan even manages to weave in constant flashbacks that deal with Lee's backstory. Some of them weren't always necessary yet they still reveal why Lee is the way he is.

   Overall, Manchester By The Sea is a masterful and subtlely complex portrayal of dealing with grief and the power of family love brought to life by its naturalistic performances by Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, and Michelle Williams along with the screenplay by Kenneth Lonergan. It shows the tears, laughs, joys, and heartbreak of life itself and does it seamlessly.

Grade: A

Thursday, December 1, 2016

"Manchester" and "Moonlight" Win Big At NYFCC, But "La La Land" Nabs Top Prize

The New York Film Critics Circle has announced their list of winners today and even though they don't vote in the actual Oscars like people in the industry do, they do have a major influence in the awards race. For example, when Marcia Gay Harden made her march to win her surprise Oscar for Pollock, one of the few awards she won beforehand was the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress.

Anyhow, this list of winners has given an interesting demonstration of how the race is shaping up.

Best Film: La La Land

Very interesting win. I'm guessing they want to spread the wealth since Manchester By The Sea and Moonlight were already quite taken care of. But now that this won Best Film here, Manchester won Best Film at the National Board of Review, and Moonlight won Best Feature at the Gotham Awards, it should be a three way battle between those three for the top prize at this point in the race.

Best Director: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

Jenkins' second directing award thus far. He already won Best Director at the National Board of Review and Screenplay at the Gotham Awards. He's probably Damien Chazelle's biggest competition unless Martin Scorsese has something to say about it.

Best Actor: Casey Affleck, Manchester By The Sea

No surprise here. Affleck is probably going to sweep through the critics awards. So expect this trend to continue. We could see a critical/industry divide between him and Denzel Washington for Fences, though. Early word on Washington is very strong.

Best Actress: Isabelle Huppert, Elle & Things To Come

Huppert is looking stronger and stronger each day. She's already won at the Gotham Awards, is an Independent Spirit nominee, just got a Critics Choice nomination and now this. The fact that they awarded her for her one-two punch of Elle and Things To Come, signifying the banner year she's having, will only help her cause. Worked for Marion Cotillard a few years ago when she won this award for both The Immigrant and Two Days, One Night.

Best Supporting Actor: Mahershalal Ali, Moonlight
Nice win. He's looking stronger for a nomination. I don't knpw if he'll win because he doesn't have a big emotive scene that often clinches an acting win for some people. But a nomination is looking like it'll be in the cards.

Best Supporting Actress: Michelle Williams, Manchester By The Sea & Certain Women

After missing out at the Independent Spirit Awards, this was a much needed boost that Williams needed. I will say, though, that I don't fully agree with her also winning for Certain Women because Lily Gladstone was much better and it would've been nice to see her honored here.

Best Screenplay: Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester By The Sea

This one will probably battle it out with Moonlight for Best Original Screenplay. But as of now, it seems positioned to be the frontrunner.

Best Animated Feature: Zootopia

Awesome choice!!!! I figured they would go for something artistic like The Red Turtle from Sony Pictures Classics. But this looks to only help Zootopia's case to win Best Animated Feature at the Oscars.

Best Documentary Feature: OJ: Made In America

Still have to see it. But it may be looking likely to at least make the final shortlist if it can overcome the fact that it's technically a TV movie.

Best Foreign Language Film: Toni Erdmann

The Cannes sensation starts to make waves with critics stateside.

Best Cinematography: James Laxton, Moonlight

Soooo well-deserved.

Best First Film: (TIE) Edge of Seventeen & Krisha

Neat tie. Still need to see both films, though. Frustratingly, despite its aggressive marketing, Edge of Seventeen never made its way near me. But Krisha is now available on streaming. So I'll likely catch it soon.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Kathleen Kennedy Wants More Experienced Women Directors For Star Wars

The recent Star Wars films have made plenty of progress in terms of representation in front of the camera. But representation behind the camera has proven to be very difficult. Recently, Kathleen Kennedy, the president of Lucasfilm which is the studio behind all the upcoming Star Wars films, has spoken about why there aren't any female directors in line to helm a Star Wars film, saying that they're waiting to hire a woman director with more experience.

Having read those comments, I found them to be rather unfortunate. Mainly because we have recently seen plenty of male directors with little studio experience or directing experience make an immediate jump to blockbusters. For example, Marc Webb landed the Amazing Spider-Man films right after 500 Days Of Summer, Colin Trevorrow got Jurassic World after the Sundance wonder Safety Not Guaranteed, David Lowery went right from Ain't Them Bodies Saints to the more commercial Pete's Dragon, Joe and Anthony Russo landed the Captain America sequels after directing episodes of the series Community, and even Cedric Nicolas-Troyan who is a visual effects supervisor helmed The Huntsman: Winter's War which was his directing debut.

So if men with little or no directing experience can make the jump to blockbusters, why can't women do the same? It shouldn't feel like that much of a challenge to find a right director because the Star Wars franchise is tevlon. Those movies will always have big openings and make boatloads of dough. So even if they got an inexperienced woman director, she'll at least be allowed more opportunities going forward because she had that guaranteed box office win on her resume.

Also, we are starting to see female directors with little blockbuster experience make that transition. Patty Jenkins, whose previous credits include Monster and a few episodes of The Killing, will be coming out with Wonder Woman next year while Ava DuVernay has just become the first African-American woman to direct a $100 million film with A Wrinkle In Time for Disney (And FYI, Lucasfilm is a part of The Walt Disney Company). So for Kennedy to say that they're waiting for a woman with more experience just makes her look bad.

While representation in front of the camera is very important and is something that Kennedy and co. have worked on as mentioned in the beginning of this post, representation behind it is just as important. For example, Shonda Rhimes, a woman of color who is a TV executive producer, is behind shows like Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder which center around women of color.

What do you guys think? Are you as saddened by these comments as I am? Please be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

'Manchester By The Sea" Wins Big At The National Board Of Review Awards


    The National Board Of Review Awards, which are a pretty key critical precursor, have announced their winners today and shown what films or performances we should keep an eye on. Last year's Best Film winner here, Mad Max: Fury Road, went on to become an Oscar juggernaut while all of the acting winners (Matt Damon, Brie Larson, Sylvester Stallone, Jennifer Jason Leigh) went on to become Oscar nominees. So they do have an influence on the awards race.

    Manchester By The Sea went on to win big, scoring Best Film, Best Actor for Casey Affleck, Best Original Screenplay for Kenneth Lonergan, and Male Breakthrough Performance for Lucas Hedges. However, Moonlight which dominated the Gotham Awards last night still did pretty well here, winning Best Director for Barry Jenkins and Supporting Actress for Naomie Harris.

   There were quite a bit of surprises to be found, though, like current Best Picture frontrunner La La Land only getting a Top 10 mention while other contenders like Jackie, Loving, and Lion got completely shut out. Also, despite the National Board of Review's adulation for Clint Eastwood, whose films have often done well here, Sully only got a Top 10 mention. Plus, Kubo and The Two Strings managed to win Best Animated Feature over Zootopia. That was a pretty neat surprise because while I love Zootopia, Kubo has the best animation I've seen all year.

Take a look at the full list of winners down below:

Best Film: Manchester By The Sea

Best Director: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

Best Actor: Casey Affleck, Manchester By The Sea

Best Actress: Amy Adams, Arrival

Best Supporting Actor: Jeff Bridges, Hell Or High Water

Best Supporting Actress: Naomie Harris, Moonlight

Best Original Screenplay: Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester By The Sea

Best Adapted Screenplay: Jay Cocks, Silence

Best Animated Feature: Kubo And The Two Strings

Best Breakthrough Performance (Male): Lucas Hedges, Manchester By The Sea

Best Breakthrough Performance (Female): Royalty Hightower, The Fits

Best Directorial Debut: Trey Edward Shults, Krisha

Best Foreign Language Film: The Salesman

Best Documentary: OJ: Made In America

Best Ensemble: Hidden Figures

Spotlight Award: Creative Collaboration of Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg

NBR Freedom Of Expression: Cameraperson

Top 10 Films:
Hacksaw Ridge
Hail, Caesar!
Hell Or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Patriots Day

Top 5 Foreign Language Films:
The Handmaiden
Land Of Mine

Top 5 Documentaries:
De Palma
The Eagle Huntress
Life, Animated
Miss Sharon Jones

Top 10 Independent Films:
20th Century Women
Captain Fantastic
Creative Control
Eye In The Sky
The Fits
Green Room
Hello, My Name Is Doris
Morris From America
Sing Street

Monday, November 28, 2016

"Moonlight" Dominates The Gotham Awards

Moonlight is continuing its strong march in the Oscar race. It scored the most nominations at the Independent Spirit Awards and now, it swept the Gotham Independent Film Awards, winning Best Feature, Screenplay, the Audience Award, and the Jury Prize Award for Best Ensemble. 

Distributor A24 Films not only managed to pick up a Moonlight sweep but also a win for Anya Taylor-Joy for Best Breakthrough Actor for The Witch along with the Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director for Trey Edward Shults for Krisha.

Other notable wins include Casey Affleck for Best Actor for Manchester By The Sea and interestingly Isabelle Huppert for Best Actress for Elle. If you combine her win here along with her Independent Spirit Award nomination, her campaigning, and her likely critics wins, Huppert has become a force to be reckoned with in the Best Actress category and is on the verge of receiving her first ever nomination. 

Lastly, the ESPN documentary O.J.: Made In America managed to win Best Documentary and could challenge Oscar frontrunner 13th if it doesn't fall victim to "TV movie" bias. 

In closing, I think Moonlight has proven itself a force to be reckoned with this awards season. It not only is scoring in awards groups devoted to independent film but it has strong critical raves and is an arthouse hit, already having made about $8m. If it appears on the slate of nominees for the SAG Awards and the Golden Globe Awards, its box office numbers could start to grow. 

What do you guys think? How do you feel the Gotham Awards affect the awards race and what do you think of the slate of winners? Please feel free to write your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks for reading!

Friday, November 25, 2016

"Allied" Is A Flawed Yet Ambitious Star Showcase

Robert Zemeckis is someone who's responsible for such classics as Back To The Future, Forrest Gump, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? As you watch this film, you get the sense that Zemeckis is trying to create another classic by making a film with a period setting and its movie star romance, joining the ranks of films like Casablanca and The English Patient. It does so with admirability yet also to its own detriment.

Allied follows the story of a Canadian spy named Max Vatel played by Brad Pit who is assigned to assassinate a Nazi general
with the mysterious Marianne Beausejour played by Marion Cotillard. As they pretend to be a married couple, they eventually fall in love and start a family. But thingst take a turn for the worse when Marianne is accused of being a Nazi spy.

Now Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard are both perfectly casted. They both have the right old school movie star aura that fits a period film such as this. It helps that their performances are good as well. While the film centers more on Brad Pitt's character, Marion Cotillard makes the most of what she's given, always keeping up with the various tonal shifts that take place throughout the film as she gets to be sensual, enigmatic, and frail. Another great performance from a very consistent actress.

Another major highlight is the costume design, in particular on the character of Marianne, which is absolutely spectacular. I loved how luscious and otherworldly the design on Marianne's clothes was because it helps capture her mystique.

Speaking of tonal shifts, the film starts off as a sexy actioner and then it starts to have more Hitchcockian flare towards the second act once Max becomes suspicious of his wife. While it is neat to see a film weave in as many genres as it can, at the same time, the film loses its momentum once its pace becomes smoother.

Personally, I think the film would've been better if maybe the film builded up to the Nazi general's assassination at the very end. It would've made the tone more consistent and pulsating throughout. I also would've left out the mystery surrounding Marianne out because, and hopefully I'm not spoiling anything, but by the time the reveal took place at the end, it felt like such a big copout. So I think the filmmakers would've maybe benefitted from ommitting that storyline entirely.

Also, while Pitt and Cotillard are able to shine in their performances, pretty much everybody around them is underutlized. The supporting players like Matthew Goode, Lizzy Caplan, and Jared Harris all see their talents go to waste. In fact, Matthew Goode literally has like 2 minutes of screentime.

So overall, while Allied tries so hard to become another Casablanca with its depiction of glamorous star actors falling in love against the backdrop of WWII, ultimately it ends up being faulted by its aspirations. I do applaud Robert Zemeckis for trying to recapture a golden age of filmmaking. But if it had more rewrites, it could've perhaps been a classic for the history books.

Grade: B-