Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Looking Ahead Into Next Year's Oscars

The 89th Academy Awards are officially behind us. But as of right now, I'm sure the studios, publicists, etc., are already gearing up contenders for next year's Oscars. Here's a look into what the 90th Academy Awards could offer us.

Academy loves WWII films and this year offers up two WWII films that show plenty of promise. First off is Dunkirk by Christopher Nolan who looks to FINALLY get respect from his directing peers after getting ignored for Best Director thrice for Memento, The Dark Knight, and of course, Inception. Dunkirk will be a summer release so this could end up being Nolan's Saving Private Ryan. It also features Oscar club members Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, and Mark Rylance.

The next film is the biopic Darkest Hour that stars Gary Oldman as the famed Winston Churchill and focuses on a crucial moment in his battle against Hitler in World War II. It also co-stars Emmy winner Ben Mendelsohn, Kristen Scott Thomas, the late great John Hurt, Lily James, and Stephen Dillane. The only potential handicap for Gary Oldman, and the film in general, is that John Lithgow is already collecting awards for playing the same role on the TV series The Crown. But if the picture has the right quality, it should still be able to make an impression.

Typically in the Oscar race, there are smaller, festival discoveries like our recent Best Picture Moonlight and Sundance favorite Whiplash. This year, we have Call Me By Your Name which got positive buzz out of Sundance and was acquired by Sony Pictures Classics. The film is based on a novel by Andre Aciman about an American teen living in Italy (Timothee Chalamet) who falls for an older student living at his family's house (Armie Hammer). Even though it has the likely critical backing, it could go the way of Moonlight or end up being another Carol. It is being co-written and co-produced by industry veteran James Ivory (Howard's End, The Remains Of The Day, A Room With A View, etc.). So his veteran status could earn the film at least an Adapted Screenplay nomination.

Another film that earned positive buzz out of Sundance is The Big Sick which was purchased by Amazon Studios and is being positioned for a June release. The film is based on the real-life courtship of Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon who wrote the screenplay and depicts how their respective families have embraced their relationship. Its cultural clashing storyline could easily make it this year's My Big Fat Greek Wedding. 

After missing out on a Directing nomination for Zero Dark Thirty, Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow looks to throw her hat back in the Oscar ring with the currently untitled film about the 1967 Detroit riots which boasts an impressive cast that includes Anthony Mackie, John Boyega, John Krasinski, Jack Reynor, Kaitlyn Dever, and Jason Mitchell.

As for other members of the Oscar club, Alexander Payne looks to make a return with sci-fi dramedy Downsizing that stars Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig as a couple that looks to shrink themselves down to a more utopian society only for the wife to back out at the last minute; Paul Thomas Anderson will reteam with Daniel Day-Lewis for an untitled film about the fashion industry in 1950's London; Aaron Sorkin will be making his directorial debut with Molly's Game which stars Jessica Chastain as an Olympian who stages a high-stakes poker game; Todd Haynes will make his return after his egregious Directing snub for Carol with Wonderstruck which stars Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams and is also based on a novel about two children from different time periods who choose to escape their humdrum lives.

After the success of La La Land, we will be getting another musical in the Oscar race with The Greatest Showman, starring Hugh Jackman as the founder of the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus P.T. Barnum. Jackman has proven himself a master at musicals so he could really do wonders with this film. He did already get nominated for another musical with Les Miserables. Can the same magic strike twice?

So that's a quick overview as to what next year's Oscars may have in store. Please be sure to share your thoughts in the comments section on what you think and throw in other films that you think might be in store as well. Thanks for reading!!

Monday, February 27, 2017

How "Moonlight" Won The Oscars In More Than One Way

As we know, Moonlight not only emerged victorious on Oscar night, winning Best Picture, but overcame a major snafu involving presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway reading from the wrong envelope. In a shocking upset, Moonlight was revealed as the Best Picture winner from the right envelope. While everyone is wrting thinkpieces and commenting on the newly infamous mixup, I want to take this opportunity to talk about what Moonlight winning Best Picture represents because to me, that is much more important.

First off, Moonlight is the first LGBT film in Academy history to ever win Best Picture. After the infamous loss of Brokeback Mountain, the snubbing of Carol, and the losses of other LGBT films that have been nominated for Best Picture, queer cinema has finally been given its due. Also, it is a film that depicts the African American experience that isn't about racial oppression and doesn't fall victim to the "white savior" narrative thanks to its all-black cast. Typically, when films about the African-American experience get cited for Best Picture, they are often films about racism and oppression like 12 Years A Slave, The Help, and Selma. So for a film like Moonlight to win is a more progressive change of pace.

Lastly, the film is budgeted at about $1.5 million, making it one of the lowest budgeted Best Picture winners ever. It goes to show that if a filmmaker has enough creativity and can get a good amount of funding, they can make it all the way to not only compete with heavyweighted films in the Best Picture race but triumph over them as well. Especially a movie like La La Land which is a mainstream love letter to Hollywood, starring two reliably charismatic movie stars. Given how Hollywood loves to honor itself, that makes this film's win over it even more awe-inspiring. Hopefully, Moonlight's win shall inspire more incoming filmmakers to dream bigger as they thinking smaller in terms of scale.

So that is why I think it is more important to talk about what Moonlight winning means rather than the circumstances of how was announced as the winner. Finally, I want to say that as much as I admired the charm of La La Land, I am glad that the Academy gave Best Picture to the actual Best Picture of 2016.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

"Moonlight" Emerges Victorious Over Frontrunner "La La Land," Winning Best Picture At 89th Academy Awards

The 89th Academy Awards just took place and it was a VERY interesting turn of events. For starters, it was "A Lovely Night" for La La Land which took home 6 Academy Awards, including Director for Damien Chazelle and Actress for Emma Stone. But the top prize ended up going to critical underdog Moonlight which also won Adapted Screenplay and Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali. It was such a shocker that when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway announced La La Land as the winner, it turns out they mistakenly read from Emma Stone's envelope for Best Actress and the true winner was Moonlight. Both a surprising and historic moment in Oscar history. Surprising because Moonlight emerged a dark horse for Best Picture and historic because of how it is a small film by a smaller distributor depicting both the African-American and LGBTQ+ experience that stars relativeky unknown talent up against a safer mainstream crowdpleaser featuring reliable star power.

Honestly, the fact that La La Land had lost categories like Original Screenplay, Film Editing, and the two Sound categories was an indication that it wasn't as strong amongst voters as I thought it was. Hacksaw Ridge winning Film Editing over La La Land is probably one of the few shocks of the night along with Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them winning Costume Design, making it the first film in the Harry Potter universe to ever win an Oscar. Also, even though he had the precursors on his side, Casey Affleck winning Best Actor over Denzel Washington was a slight surprise given the understated nature of his performance, his lack of enthusiasm in his speeches, and the sexual harassment allegations that clouded his awards campaign. But Affleck managed to overcome all of that to pull out the win.

As for the ceremony itself, I thought Jimmy Kimmel did a very nice job hosting. He was a step above both Neil Patrick Harris and Chris Rock and even though the show got political at times, it didn't go as overboard as I thought it would go. There was a skit involving tourists meeting the celebrities that I thought dragged on for too long but other than that, I thought Jimmy Kimmel managed to deliver as a host.

The only other egregious negative regarding the ceremony I can think of is this: Academy Award Winner Suicide Squad. Granted its Oscar was for Makeup & Hairstyling. But still. It was an embarassing win.

But on a lighter note, I will say that I am so glad that we can say these words: Academy Award Winner Viola Davis. She finally claimed her overdue trophy and as always, delivered in her powerful speech. Other highlights include Arrival winning Sound Editing, Manchester By The Sea winning Original Screenplay, and Zootopia winning Animated Feature as expected.

Here are the full list of winners down below:

Best Picture: Moonlight

Best Director: Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Best Actor: Casey Affleck, Manchester By The Sea

Best Actress: Emma Stone, La La Land

Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis, Fences

Best Original Screenplay: Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester By The Sea

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

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

Best Foreign Language Film: The Salesman

Best Animated Feature: Zootopia

Best Film Editing: Hacksaw Ridge

Best Cinematography: La La Land

Best Original Score: La La Land

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

Best Costume Design:  Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them

Best Sound Editing: Arrival

Best Sound Mixing: Hacksaw Ridge

Best Production Design: La La Land

Best Visual Effects: The Jungle Book

Best Makeup & Hairstyling: Suicide Squad

Best Live Action Short: Sing

Best Documentary Short: The White Helmets

Best Animated Short:

Saturday, February 25, 2017

"Get Out" Is Sharp, Funny, And Eerily Relevant

Sketch comedy actor Jordan Peele from Key and Peele as well as MADtv makes an interesting leap behind the camera to bring us us a satirical horror film that brings out plenty of laughs but atypical scares. There aren't any jump scares and there's no boogeyman because it relies heavily on horrors of the real world, mixing colorful wit with depictions race relations in America.

Get Out follows the story of a mixed race couple, a photographer named Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend Rose (Alison Williams) who go to visit Rose's parents, Dean and Missy Armitage (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener). While her parents seem welcoming at first despite Chris' worries at first over whether they'll be accepting despite the fact he is black, over the course of the weekend, Chris begins to sense that something is amiss in the more affluent community he is amongst. Especially when two black servants in the Armitage household, Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and Walter (Marcus Henderson), act strangely.

While there is a strong directing voice from Jordan Peele, his greatest strength lies in his screenplay. The conversations amongst the characters is what helps gives the film its sharpness. For example, when Chris first meets Dean, Dean goes "I would've voted for Obama a third time!" as his way of saying "I'm not racist!" Also, Chris expresses his anxiety over meeting Rose's parents because of how she doesn't tell him that they are unaware of the fact he is black. So the dialogue by Peele is what helps the film's depiction of racial tension unfold.

Aside from the satire, there are moments that are actually laugh out loud hilarious thanks to a performance from Lil' Rel Howery as Chris' TSA friend Rod Williams who does his own investigation into the mysterious community that Chris is residing with. But lead actor Daniel Kaluuya carries the film very well, expressing both realistic anxiety and charismatic magnetism. He is a talent to watch and thankfully somebody we will see in bigger things thanks to his involvement in the upcoming Black Panther movie for Marvel.

As witty as the film gets, there are a few homages to horror films of the past. There's elements of the original The Stepford Wives because of how the story involves a person in a seemingly sugary community with something sour bubbling underneath the surface. There is even a bit of Rosemary's Baby because of how our main character gets the sense that almost everyone is against him mixed with a screechy 60's-style musical score.

So Get Out is a very unique experience with how it offers hilarity mixed with horror and shock value in the form of real-world issues that weave in powerful social commentary as well. I would say "Get Out" and go see this!!!

Grade: A

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Final Oscar Predictions For 89th Academy Awards

We are getting closer and closer to the big night. The Oscars are on Sunday and here are some of my predictions for the major categories. Take a quick look:

Best Picture:

Hacksaw Ridge
Hell Or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Manchester By The Sea

Will Win: La La Land
Could/Should Win: Moonlight

There is hardly a way that La La Land loses this. It's a crowdpleasing movie about show business and it won every Best Picture award it needed to. But that doesn't mean it should because Moonlight is the best film of the year and deserves to take it.

Best Director:

Denis Villeneuve, Arrival
Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge
Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester By The Sea
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

Will Win: Chazelle
Should Win: Jenkins

Damien Chazelle is unstoppable along with his film. There's no way he loses unless Barry Jenkins has something to say about it as he should.

Best Actor:

Casey Affleck, Manchester By The Sea
Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington, Fences

Will/Should Win: Washington

I know Casey Affleck has dominated the precursors (BFCA, Globe, and BAFTA). But I feel like Denzel Washington is out in front because he won SAG and no Lead Actor winner at SAG since Johnny Depp has lost the Oscar. Also, there's the nature of the performances themselves. Washington displays a sense of grandeur that is the kind of performance voters like to gravitate towards as opposed to Affleck's subtlety. So even though this would be Washington's third, I don't think voters will care that it's his third.

Best Actress:

Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Ruth Negga, Loving
Natalie Portman, Jackie
Emma Stone, La La Land
Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

Will Win: Stone
Should Win: Huppert or Portman

Emma Stone is likely going to be swept along with the La La Land love and win this category. While I'm not against Stone winning an Oscar, it's a bit of a shame that she's such a lock because Natalie Portman and Isabelle Huppert give such powerhouse performances that demand recognition.

Best Supporting Actor:

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Jeff Bridges, Hell Or High Water
Lucas Hedges, Manchester By The Sea
Dev Patel, Lion
Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

Will Win: Ali
Could Win: Patel
Should Win: Hedges

Mahershala Ali is still out in front to win Best Supporting Actor for Moonlight. He won SAG and he's also in Hidden Figures to increase his familiarity. While I would give the win to Lucas Hedges, I would have no arguments with Ali winning. Watch out for BAFTA Winner Dev Patel, though. It's evident with his win there that there is passion for his film.

Best Supporting Actress:

Viola Davis, Fences
Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Nicole Kidman, Lion
Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams, Manchester By The Sea

Will/Should Win: Davis

Case closed. Done deal. Moving on.

Best Original Screenplay:

Taylor Sheridan, Hell Or High Water
Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimus Filippou, The Lobster
Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester By The Sea
Mike Mills, 20th Century Women

Will Win: Lonergan
Should Win: Lanthimos and Filippou

Since Manchester By The Sea is unlikely to win Best Picture and Casey Affleck isn't a lock to win Best Actor, this would seem like a good place to reward the film. As deserving as Kenneth Lonergan would be, I would love to see the writers of The Lobster win for the most original film of the year. But their nomination itself is a win.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Eric Heisserer, Arrival
August Wilson, Fences
Theodore Melfi and Alison Schroeder, Hidden Figures
Luke Davies, Lion
Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight

Should/Will Win: Jenkins and McCraney
Could Win: Heisserer

Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney are in a strong position to win Best Adapted Screenplay. They won Best Original Screenplay at the Writers Guild Awards and the USC Scripter Award which is often a strong predictor for Best Adapted Screenplay. But Arrival won Adapted Screenplay at the Writers Guild. If it loses everywhere else, it could nab a win here as a consolation for losing Best Picture.

Best Animated Feature:

Kubo And The Two Strings
My Life As A Zucchini
The Red Turtle

Will/Should Win: Zootopia
Could Win: Kubo And The Two Strings

Zootopia will almost certainly take this. Partially because of the category's love for Disney and also because no animated film this year is more deep and timely than Zootopia which expertly depicts themes of prejudice and bigotry. If any film will derail it, it'll be Kubo. But who knows how big its fanbase will be.

Best Foreign Language Film:

Land Of Mine (Denmark)
A Man Called Ove (Sweden)
The Salesman (Iran)
Tanna (Australia)
Toni Erdmann (Germany)

Will Win: The Salesman
Should/Could Win: Toni Erdmann

The Salesman is likely out in front due to the publicity its garnered over D***** T****'s controversial Muslim ban and Asghar Farhadi not attending the ceremony because of it. So if voters are going with their hearts as they fill out their ballots, it could result in a win for Farhadi. But Toni Erdmann has been catching fire with its recently announced American remake that'll star Jack Nicholson and Kristen Wiig. So a case could be made for either one winning.

Best Documentary:
Fire At Sea
I Am Not Your Negro
Life Animated
OJ: Made In America

Will/Should Win: 13th
Could Win: O.J.: Made In America

I'm going out on a limb and saying 13th might be out in front to win Best Documentary over presumed frontrunner O.J.: Made In America which I fear will suffer from "TV movie" bias due to how it's 7 hours and divided into different episodes as opposed to 13th which tackled racial issues as well but at a feature film's length.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

"Toni Erdmann" Thrives In Its Anomalous Nature

Toni Erdmann is the German entry for Best Foreign Language Film at this year's Oscars and rightfully so. It has also caught such fire that there's already a Hollywood remake in the works with Jack Nicholson and Kristen Wiig. Perfect casting in a remake that in my opinion is unneeded because it'll be hard to top the absurdity mixed with poignancy that the original Toni Erdmann offers.

Toni Erdmann is about a divorced father named Winfried, played by Peter Simonischek, who looks to bond with his career-driven daughter Ines, played by Sandra Huller, after his dog passes away. The eccentric bond they create comes in the form of Winfried undergoing the persona of the titular character, donning a wig and fake teeth. But through all that eccentricities lies a father and daughter realizing their inner loneliness and emotional need for one another.

The main reason the film works so amazingly well is because of the two main actors. Peter Simonischek helps bring the film's funniest moments as Winfried yet he also flawlessly portrays his character's earnest nature. Winfried is an unorthodox figure with how he roleplays and dresses up in costume but he is a man with a heart of gold. Sandra Huller is equally as astonishing as Ines, a character that in lesser hands, could've been written as another cliched shrewd career-driven woman. But in the hands of Huller and director/writer Maren Ade, Ines is given more dimensions. Huller's Ines is prickly and showcases acerbic wit yet she is also very earthly, sexual, and vulnerable. There is a scene where she sings a rendition of "Greatest Love Of All" by Whitney Houston and Huller rather expertly performs the song with comical yet soul bearing deadpan.

Now I'm going to go into something that is likely going to divide a lot of people: the length. This movie is about 163 minutes which didn't bother me TOO much but at ths same time, it could've been a lot shorter. Though if it wasn't for the energetic performances by the two main actors and the writing by Maren Ade that aides their humanistic performances, I probably would've fallen asleep.

In spite of it being pretty overlong, I was absolutely enthralled by Toni Erdmann. I loved the two complex performances by the lead actors and I loved the writing from writer/director Maren Ade who provides a colorful yet poignant demonstration of family love that had me chuckling. By the end of this film, it made me want to sing "Greatest Love Of All" and if you guys check it out, hopefully you will too.

Grade: A-

Whitewashing Controversy Of "Ghost In The Shell" Resurfaces

Ever since the first still of Ghost In The Shell with Scarlett Johansson was released last year, the film has been subjected to major scrutiny due to the whitewashed casting of Johansson as a Japanese woman. We've heard from the filmmakers about the issue since then but nothing from Johannson herself. Until now that is.

Recently, she gave an interview with Marie Claire where she claimed how she never intended to take the role away from an Asian woman and essentially said how she emphasized feminism over race when taking the role. Here's an exerpt from the interview:

"Diversity is very important in Hollywood, and I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive. Also, having a franchise with a female protagonist driving it is such a rare opportunity."

Now, I can sort of get where she's coming from. While she's been involved in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Black Widow, she's not the main lead and she still doesn't have her own solo movie despite proving with Lucy that she can carry a film on her own. So Ghost In The Shell is an opportunity to lead her own franchise. I'm sure that is one reason why she chose to sign on. A woman leading her own franchise is a pretty rare opportunity. But at the same time, an opportunity for an Asian actress to lead her own franchise has never happened and the casting of Scarlett Johansson as the lead in Ghost In The Shell shows how Asians may never get to be the lead in a Hollywood movie unless Hollywood is willing to take a chance.

It also shows how Asians are neglected to the point where they can't even play themselves. It's just like with the casting of Eddie Redmayne as trans woman Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl. When the first still of the film with Redmayne in costume was released, it became an object of controversy and justifiably so. Redmayne being cast shows how trans actors in Hollywood are neglected to the point where they can't even play themselves or be able to tell their own stories.

It's no mystery as to why Scarlett Johansson got cast. She brings a lot of star power and can get a movie made. It's likely the chief reason why they inserted Matt Damon as the lead in The Great Wall. While Damon isn't playing an Asian character, the film still falls under "The Last Samurai" syndrome: A white male as the lead savior in a movie pertaining to Asian culture.

If people like Scarlett Johansson really care about representation and diversity, then they would turn down offers to play roles like these. Yes, it is important to have women in more leading roles. But it is also very important for women of color in more leading roles. If Hidden Figures being the highest grossing Best Picture nominee, with $135m domestically, taught us anything, it's that people want to see stories with women of color at the forefront. Heck, when Hidden Figures opened wide, it bumped out STAR WARS!!!!! And Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was also female-led with a diverse cast.

While I'm not attempting to make Scarlett Johansson a scapegoat for the whitewashing controversy surrounding Hollywood at large, I'm only saying that if actors like her want to see more representation, they should put their money where their mouth is and use their A-list clout to help out diverse talent. Start screenwriting/directing labs for female, minority, and LGBTQ+ filmmakers, produce films with diverse casts, and again, turn down roles intended for ethnic actors.

If the box office receipts of whitewashed films like Exodus: Gods And Kings, Pan, Gods Of Egypt, and Aloha taught us anything, it's that audiences are taking a stand against this practice and films that aren't diverse are really bad for business.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

"La La Land" Emerges Victorious At BAFTAs

La La Land continues its dominance even though it won only 5 BAFTAs: Best Film, Direction, Actress, Cinematography, and Score. We know now that after winning the Globe, PGA, and now this, La La Land has Best Picture in the bag. The question now is how many Oscars it will win and not whether it will win.

Other major takeaways include Lion and Manchester By The Sea holding strong with 2 awards a piece. Lion shockngly won Adapted Screenplay and managed a Supporting Actor win for Dev Patel, making him a formidable challenger to frontrunner and SAG Winner Mahershala Ali. Last year's Supporting Actor winner, Mark Rylance, won the BAFTA before winning the Oscar so a similar pattern could be formed. Also, Moonlight walked away empty handed and I think any hope it would upset La La Land has been dashed. It might not go home empty handed at the Oscars but it's unlikely to win Best Picture. Other takeaways include Kubo And The Two Strings winning Animated Feature over Zootopia, Hacksaw Ridge winning Film Editing over ACE winners La La Land and Arrival, and Arrival managing to win Best Sound. If La La Land doesn't sweep the Oscars, winning nearly everything, the tech winners here in the BAFTAs could easily translate to wins at the Oscar ceremony.

Check out the full list of winners down below:

Outstanding British Film: I, Daniel Blake

EE Rising Star: Tom Holland

Best Makeup & Hair: J. Roy Helland and Daniel Phillips, Florence Foster Jenkins

Best Original Music: Justin Hurwitz, La La Land

Best Costume Design: Madeline Fontaine, Jackie

Best Sound: Claude La Haye, Bernard Gariepy Strobl, Sylvain Bellemare, Arrival

British Short Animation: A Love Story

British Short Film: Home

Best Editing: John Gilbert, Hacksaw Ridge

Best Production Design: Stuart Craig and Anna Pinnock, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them

Best Documentary: 13th

Best Film Not In The English Language: Son of Saul

Best Adapted Screenplay: Luke Davies, Lion

Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis, Fences

Best Animated Film: Kubo And The Two Strings

Best Special Visual Effects: The Jungle Book

Outstanding Debut By British Writer, Director, Or Producer: Babak Anvari, Emily Leo, Oliver Roskill, Lucan Toh, Under The Shadow

Best Supporting Actor: Dev Patel, Lion

Best Original Screenplay: Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester By The Sea

Best Cinematography: Linus Sandgren, La La Land

Best Leading Actor: Casey Affleck, Manchester By The Sea

David Lean Award for Directing: Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Best Leading Actress: Emma Stone, La La Land

Best Film: La La Land

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Everything Is Pretty Awesome With "The Lego Batman Movie"

After The Lego Movie made a huge splash at the box office and after Will Arnett emerged a standout thanks to his voice work as Batman, it would seem to make sense that they would make a Lego Movie spinoff centered around Batman. Spinoffs can often have mixed results. For every Bourne Legacy or Machete, there's a dreadful Minions lurking in the corner. How does The Lego Batman Movie fare, though? Well, it is enjoyable. Admittedly not great. But it is worth the price of admission.

The Lego Batman Movie centers around the life of Batman who lives a life of crimefighting in Gotham City and solitude with his only companion being his butler Alfred Pennyworth (Ralph Fiennes). But he finds himself trying to juggle being both a vigilante, fighting off the Joker (Zach Galifanakis) in the process, and being a surrogate father to an orphaned boy named Richard "Dick" Grayson (Michael Cera). 

The film's greatest asset lies in Will Arnett's voice work. He nails the arrogance that Batman displayed in The Lego Movie while slowly giving him layers of sympathy that lie beneath his deep, gravelly voice. If his voice work were to falter, then the movie would but thankfully, that is not the case. Also, Michael Cera is perfectly cast as the very jittery and optimistic Dick Grayson who's the opposite of the more reclusive, straight-laced Batman. Aside from Arnett, another reason the movie works so incredibly wells is thanks to their chemistry.

While this film manages to be as self-referential as The Lego Movie, what sets this film apart from The Lego Movie is how it focuses more on referencing the DC Comics Universe rather than the Lego toy brand that The Lego Movie does. Lego Batman has a lot of fun with elements to Batman's general storyline. For example, Batman may live a life of loneliness yet it includes watching romantic comedies. Also, the film focuses deeply on the dynamic between Batman and The Joker but incorporates interesting and surprising homoerotic subtext within the dynamic they both have. The film even pokes fun at the different Batman films with Alfred referring to them as various "phases" in Batman's life. Even if the self-referencing tends to go overboard, it still had me chuckling from time to time.

Not only does Lego Batman carry the self-referential style of its predecessor and humor, but it carries the same kind of heart as well. The bond that Batman and Dick possess gets very deep as it reveals a lot about Batman's character and how part of the reason he avoids any connection is so he doesn't lose another family like when he lost his parents. So the film delves into the themes of family and loneliness, allowing plenty of poignancy to be found as well as fun humor. Adults will love the self-referential gags to the DC Comics Universe while kids will get a kick out of a few physical gags, like ones involving the two main heroes having a lack of undergarments, as well as the thrilling action scenes that take place. So it definitely has something for everyone.

While I find The Lego Movie to be superior due to its refreshing originality, I still think The Lego Batman Movie is certainly worth the price of admission. It has action, humor, heart, and wit. Everything is still awesome!!

Grade: A- 

Top 10 Worst Oscar Snubs Of The Past Decade

In the spirit of Oscar season, I figured as we wait to see what names will be read from each envelope on Sunday, February 26th, I'd reflect on what I thought were some of the biggest Oscar snubs over the past decade.

10. Amy Adams for Best Actress (2016): Now I know that Best Actress was super competitive this year. But even though Arrival has 8 Oscar nominations, it feels wrong to nominate it across the board while ignoring the main actress who is the heart of the film. The film injects a lot of deep feeling and all the emotion comes from Amy Adams' earnest performance. But I'm guessing they wanted to save her the agony of losing a 6th time.

9. Let The Right One In for Best Foreign Language Film (2008): Vampires have become a thing in pop culture thanks to Twilight. While Twilight has made vampires into a parody, the Swedish language film Let The Right One In, about a bond between a 12-year old boy and a centuries old vampire trapped in a girl's body, showed that vampires can still be complex. The fact that it's horror and that it eschews very young might've worked against it. But they did give Pan's Labyrinth 3 Oscars. I'm sure they could've made some room for Let The Right One In.

8. Jake Gyllenhaal for Best Actor (2014): Here are a few things Academy voters like: A physical transformation, an actor-driven picture, and performances with juicy Oscar clip after Oscar clip. So, if I may ask, why the heck did Jake Gyllenhaal get ignored? He undergoes a physical transformation, his performance IS the movie, and it consists of Oscar clip after Oscar clip. Granted, Best Actor was competitive that year and they have a history of ignoring Jake Gyllenhaal (See his Prisoners and Nocturnal Animals snub). But still. His performances towers over the actual competition.

7. Gugu Mbatha-Raw for Best Actress (2014): Nowadays, each year, there's an actress that comes out of nowhere and catches everyone's eye. In 2009, it was Carey Mulligan. In 2011, it was Jessica Chastain. In 2014, it was Gugu Mbatha-Raw who broke through with two magnetic, and completely opposite, lead performances. One is Belle where she plays a mixed race Victorian aristocrat and another is Beyond The Lights where she plays a modern tormented pop star who struggles to please both those around her and herself. Granted, Gugu Mbatha-Raw was a longshot to be nominated for Best Actress. But judging by Beyond The Lights getting nominated for Best Original Song, it's evident that voters were familiar with it and I think room could've been made for her in what was a very barron Best Actress field.

6. Tom Hanks for Best Actor (2013): After a slight career slump from the early 2000's to 2012, Tom Hanks managed to rebound by delivering his best work in years in Captain Phillips. His emotional final scene alone should've at least guaranteed him a nomination. All that panic and fear he experiences throughout the picture culminated into that one cathartic scene.

5. Carol for Best Picture (2015): My biggest issue with Carol getting ommitted for Best Picture is that it prevented signs of progression. When films about LGBTQ+ people get nominated for or win Oscars, they are often issue movies. But rather refreshingly, Carol doesn't have a political agenda and a Best Picture nomination for it would've meant so much. Also, it was much better than at least half the competition. So there's that.

4. Michael Fassbender for Best Actor (2011): Back in 2011, who's star shined brighter than Michael Fassbender's? He was Rochester in Jane Eyre, Carl Jung in A Dangerous Method, Magneto in the first entry in the X-Men prequel trilogy, and was a subtle tour-de-force as a struggling sex addict in Shame which won him the Best Actor Award at the Venice Film Festival. But on Oscar Nomination Day, what does he get? Nada. As sex addict Brandon Sullivan, Fassbender gives a flawless performance that deserves to be ranked among the likes of Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver. He was just THAT good. Thankfully, Fassbender would go on to be a 2-time nominee. But his snubbed work in Shame is what helped launch his prolific career.

3. Gone Girl for Best Adapted Screenplay (2014): I've already talked about a few snubs from 2014. But Gone Girl missing out for Best Adapted Screenplay REALLY takes the cake and was without a doubt the biggest miss of the year. Gone Girl not only should've been nominated. It should've easily won. It was the best screenplay of the year, original or adapted, and easily towers over the mechanical writings of Oscar bait like The Imitation Game and even the rather chaotic Inherent Vice. This snub will continue to sting.

2. "The Wrestler" For Best Original Song (2008): As devastating as The Wrestler is, the song by Bruce Stringsteen named after the title always nearly reduces me to a puddle. Even if you took the song out of the film, it never loses its emotional gut punch. I don't know what it is about it. Maybe it's the power in Springsteen's voice. Something about the melody. Whatever it is, something about this song never fails to break me.

1. Christopher Nolan For Best Picture/Director (2008) & Director (2010): Christopher Nolan has become a new face for genre fare, reinvigorating the superhero genre with the now iconic The Dark Knight and proving how potent original science fiction can still be with Inception. What has the Academy done to honor what he, as a director, contributed to that area of cinema? Practically nothing. Yes, he did get nominated for his screenwriting on Inception and for producing it. But he is the directing maestro who made everything in the film happen. Nolan proved how sophisticated superhero movies can be with The Dark Knight but he ended up with literally nothing. No Picture nomination. No Directing. No. Nothing. Turns out he may have the Spielberg effect: Do something more traditional and AMPAS friendly and they'll just give him the trophy. Until then, we have to live in a world where Three 6 Mafia and Eddie Redmayne are Oscar winners while a game-changing and filmmaking master like Christopher Nolan has NIL.

What do you guys think? What do you think are some of the biggest Oscar snubs this past decade? Please be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments section down below and thanks for reading!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

"The Salesman" Is Humanistic Yet Often Too Meditative

When news got out of the unfortunate and very racist travel ban on people from Muslim countries, I wanted to go out and see this film to support director Asghar Farhadi who is unable to attend the Oscar ceremony due to the travel ban even though his film that he worked on is nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. While I think people should go see it out of support for Farhadi, I would also suggest that people should go check it out because it is a well-crafted picture.

The Salesman is about a couple named Emad and Rana, played by Shaheb Hosseini and Taraneh Alidoosti, who are actors playing the lead roles in Death Of A Salesman. They becomd forced to move into a new apartment after their old apartment building literally falls apart. But as they get settled in their new apartment, its past tenant, who was a prostitute, begins to cast a large shadow over Emad and Rana once Rana gets assaulted.

Even though the crime committed on Rana is made clear, Farhadi manages to weave in plenty of intrigue. Eventually, we realize who did it and what happened. But the severity surrounding the crime is never made clear and that kind of ambiguity not only allows the audiences to fill in the pieces but it fuels the main arc of Emad.

Emad, played brilliantly by Shahab Hosseini, is portrayed initially as an average everyman yet through the actor's delivery and ever changing eye expressions, slowly peels away his humanity, revealing his thorny and brutish nature. He also leaves the audience wondering how far he may go on his pursuit of vengeance until they're shocked by how far he does go.

Special mention should also go to Taraneh Alidoosti as the battered wife Rana. Even though Rana ends up a victim, Alidoosti veers away from giving her a victim complex. She becomes more weary and fearful of her surroundings yet she still stubbornly tries to fight her way through another day. Plus, even when she is keeping still, Alidoosti always managed to hold my attention when she was on screen.

Other than the brilliant performances by the lead actors and the web of intrigue surrounding the film's most critical event, the cinematography by Hossein Jafarain is expertly done. At times, the camera gets very shaky yet it manages to work because it captures the film's chaotic tone and likely what the main characters are feeling from within. They appear all calm and collected, but deep down, they feel like they are crumbling.

But the film's biggest Achilles heel has to be the pacing. Its meditative pacing may work for some but for others that want high octane thrills, it'll be like watching paint dry. It is a vengeance tale with plenty of suspense but it is also a slow character study about a crumbling marriage.

Other than the slow pacing, I would recommend going to see The Salesman. It has bravura performances by its two main actors mixed with subtle intrigue and it is out in a time where the voices of diverse filmmakers deserve to be heard.

Grade: B+