Wednesday, March 29, 2017

AFT Awards: Best Documentary


This is the eighteenth category of the 10th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Honorable mentions:
OJ: Made in Amerca - this was an incredibly-constructed project, but I’m not convinced it should be classified as a film.

The winner:
13th succinctly and effectively presented its case and defended it with solid, convincing evidence assembled together for maximum impact.

Other nominees:
Wrestling Jerusalem
Life, Animated
Supergirl
The Settlers

AFT Awards: Best Animated Feature


This is the seventeenth category of the 10th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order in which I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Runner-up:
Moana

The winner:
Zootopia was an instance of classic animated fun, a comedy far more intelligent than it might appear to be at first glance and capable of extraordinary multigenerational entertainment.

Other nominees:
Finding Dory
Kubo and the Two Strings


*My choice to win the Oscar this year, My Life as a Zucchini, will contend for next year’s AFT Awards as it was released and screened by me in 2017.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

AFT Awards: Best Visual Effects


This is the sixteenth category of the 10th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Honorable mentions:
Deadpool, Deepwater Horizon, Suicide Squad

The winner:
Doctor Strange presented a mesmerizing world able to be manipulated by those around it, telling so much of its story with its imagery and its remarkable ability to transform to its powerful characters’ wil.

Other nominees:
The Jungle Book
Star Trek Beyond
Arrival
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

AFT Awards: Best Makeup and Hairstyling


This is the fifteenth category of the 10th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Honorable mentions:
Florence Foster Jenkins, Suicide Squad

The winner:
Star Trek Beyond made its expansive universe of aliens of all forms from so many planets continually interesting in another epic installment of the saga.

Other nominees:
A Man Called Ove
Deadpool

Monday, March 27, 2017

AFT Awards: Best Sound Editing


This is the fourteenth category of the 10th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Honorable mentions (in alphabetical order):
Deadpool, Doctor Strange, Game of Aces, Hacksaw Ridge, La La Land, Star Trek Beyond, The Jungle Book

The winner:
Sully highlighted the intensity of its defining scene, retold countless times throughout the film, by focusing on extraordinarily effective sound editing.

Other nominees:
Deepwater Horizon
Hell or High Water
Arrival
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

AFT Awards: Best Sound


This is the thirteenth category of the 10th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Honorable mentions (in alphabetical order):
Deadpool, Deepwater Horizon, Game of Aces, Hacksaw Ridge, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, The Jungle Book

The winner:
La La Land was defined by its sound, mixing marvelous music with the tune of a terrific romance.

Other nominees:
Arrival
Sully
Star Trek Beyond
Doctor Strange

Sunday, March 26, 2017

AFT Awards: Best Original Song


This is the twelfth category of the 10th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category. I’ve decided again to include one nominee from a movie I didn’t see since the song was such a big part of the year and awards season.

The winner:
City of Stars (La La Land) captured a wonderful simplicity of a grand story and the emotions felt by its two protagonists.

Other nominees:
Audition (La La Land)
Can’t Stop the Feeling (Trolls)
Try Everything (Zootopia)
Drive It Like You Stole It (Sing Street)

AFT Awards: Best Original Score


This is the eleventh category of the 10th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Runners-up:
Arrival, Hell or High Water, Pelé: Birth of a Legend, The Light Between Oceans

The winner:
La La Land (Justin Hurwitz) had a wonderful, memorable melody to it that made its story all the more whimsical, ranging from melancholy to furiously exciting.

Other nominees:
Nocturnal Animals (Abel Korzeniowski)
Moonlight (Nicholas Britell)
OJ: Made in America (Gary Lionelli)
Lion (Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka)

Saturday, March 25, 2017

AFT Awards: Best Film Editing


This is the tenth category of the 10th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Runners-up:
20th Century Women, American Honey, An Eye for Beauty, Elle, Equals, Fences, Game of Aces, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, In a Valley of Violence, Julieta, Lion, Moonlight, Pelé: Birth of a Legend, Snowden, The Birth of a Nation

The winner:
Hell or High Water (Jake Roberts) paced and framed its narrative as a taut thriller, slowly churning and assembling its intriguing and involving story.

Other nominees:
La La Land (Tom Cross)
Manchester by the Sea (Jennifer Lame)
Sully (Blu Murray)
Arrival (Joe Walker)

AFT Awards: Best Costume Design


This is the ninth category of the 10th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Runners-up:
None

The winner:
La La Land (Mary Zophres) outfitted its characters with colorful modern-day outfits that made them feel infinitely more jovial and full of timeless life.

Other nominees:
High-Rise (Odile Dicks-Mireaux)
Jackie (Madeline Fontaine)
Hail, Caesar (Mary Zophres)
Florence Foster Jenkins (Consolata Boyle)

Friday, March 24, 2017

Movie with Abe: Wilson


Wilson
Directed by Craig Johnson
Released March 24, 2017

Some people just have a problem with the way the world works. It’s a frequent joke – not far from the reality in many cases – that those currently among the older generation strive for a return to simpler times before the advent of texting and screens that diminish the desire for good old-fashioned human interaction. Grandparents may prohibit their offspring from using their phones at the table and institutions may bar electronics or selfie sticks from public places, but an effort to combat modernity and whatever advances, good or bad, that it has brought are usually futile, no matter how determined the person trying to reverse the course of history is.

Wilson (Woody Harrelson) is the kind of man who purposely chooses the seat next to the one person sitting on an otherwise empty bus and strikes up a conversation even though that person is wearing headphones and listening to music. Unhappy with just about everything around him, Wilson’s life takes a turn in a new direction when he finds the ex-wife, Pippi (Laura Dern), who left him years earlier and discovers that she did in fact have the baby he thought she gave up. Neither Wilson nor Pippi is a particularly positive role model for their misfit teenage daughter, Claire (Isabella Amara), yet they both find it immensely difficult to let her go after missing out on so many years of her childhood, eager to help her embrace her individuality.

Wilson is an instantly memorable character who couldn’t have been played by a more fitting actor. Harrelson has a way of speaking that often makes his lines inherently funny, and indulging in the absurdity of the impossibly stubborn and eternally inappropriate Wilson yields excellent results. Harrelson is clearly having fun, and he does a great job portraying a man who’s hard to like but easy to root for. Dern, as the completely frenzied and ungrounded Pippi, is a solid match for him, and Amara complements them both nicely with a good deal of personality and disdain for the world. Margo Martindale, Judy Greer, and Cheryl Hines contribute memorably in small roles.

This project feels very much like a Fox Searchlight film, telling the story of one loner whose outlook on life makes him a unique outlier and an equally fascinating protagonist. It’s the latest in an impressive line of independent films produced by the distribution company, adapting a graphic novel character and bringing him to terrific, hilarious life. Some might find Wilson to be too detestable to be entertaining, but it’s not too hard to find Wilson charming in his own unfriendly way and to really enjoy this experience.

B+

Thursday, March 23, 2017

AFT Awards: Best Art Direction


This is the eighth category of the 10th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Runners-up:
A Bigger Splash, Arrival, Doctor Strange, Equals, Hail, Caesar!, Hell or High Water, Star Trek Beyond

The winner:
La La Land (Austin Gong, Sandy Reynolds-Wasco, David Wasco) made an energetic, lively musical come to life with unforgettable, eye-popping colors and vivid, whimsical scenery.

Other nominees:
20th Century Women (Aimee Athnos, Chris Jones, Traci Spadorcia, Neil Wyzanowski)
High-Rise (Heather Greenlees, Nigel Pollock, Paki Smith, Mark Tildesley, Frank Walsh)
American Honey (Kelly McGehee, Lance Mitchell, Graham Wichman)
Moonlight (Mabel Barba, Hannah Beachler, Regina McLarney)

AFT Awards: Best Cinematography


This is the seventh category of the 10th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Runners-up:
20th Century Women, Arrival, Embrace of the Serpent, In a Valley of Violence, Julieta, Moonlight, Sully, The Birth of a Nation, The Light Between Oceans

The winner:
American Honey (Robbie Ryan) made simple moments and backdrops look and feel incredibly poignant, contributing tremendously to the aesthetic of the film and its protagonist’s journey.

Other nominees:
La La Land (Linus Sandgren)
Hell or High Water (Giles Nuttgens)
Pelé: Birth of a Legend (Matthew Libatique)
Lion (Greig Fraser)

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

AFT Awards: Best Adapted Screenplay


This is the sixth category of the 10th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Honorable mentions (in alphabetical order):
None

Runners-up:
Lion
Arrival
Deadpool
Hidden Figures
The Family Fang


The winner:
Julieta (Pedro Almodovar) was a layered, involving story with a fantastic central character and supporting players, thoroughly prepared on paper before being brought to life by terrific performers.

Other nominees:
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waititi and Te Arapa Kahi)
Elle (David Birke)
Fences (August Wilson)
Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)

AFT Awards: Best Original Screenplay


This is the fifth category of the 10th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Honorable mentions (in alphabetical order):
An Eye for Beauty, AWOL, Captain Fantastic, I, Daniel Blake, Maggie's Plan, Pelé: Birth of a Legend, The Hollars, Women Who Kill

Runners-up:
Adult Life Skills
In a Valley of Violence
Sand Storm
American Honey
Little Boxes


The winner:
Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan) was a devastating drama that managed to be just as funny as it was poignant, showing the true range of human emotion in unthinkable situations.

Other nominees:
Hell or High Water (Taylor Sheridan)
La La Land (Damien Chazelle)
20th Century Women (Mike Mills)
The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou)

*I suppose I should consider it a badge of honor to have one of my categories match up 5/5 for the first time ever with the Oscar list. Or just good selection on the part of Oscar voters!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

AFT Awards: Best Actress in a Supporting Role


This is the fourth category of the 10th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them and drawn from a pool of approximately 117 films. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Honorable mentions:
Anna Kendrick (The Hollars), Assi Levy (Wedding Doll), Azita Ghanizada (Complete Unknown), Carla Gugino (Wolves), Christine Estabrook (Is That a Gun in Your Pocket?), Christine Taylor (Little Boxes), Dakota Johnson (A Bigger Splash), Elisabeth Moss (High-Rise), Gillian Jacobs (Dean), Giulia Lazzarini (Mia Madre), Greta Gerwig (20th Century Women), Hayley Squires (I, Daniel Blake), Helen Mirren (Eye in the Sky), Janeane Garofalo (Little Boxes), Janelle Monae (Moonlight), Jessica Barden (The Lobster), Julianne Moore (Maggie's Plan), Karen Gillan (In a Valley of Violence), Kathryn Hahn (The Family Fang), Lauren Bowles (Is That a Gun in Your Pocket?), Léa Seydoux (The Lobster), Lucy Boynton (Sing Street), Malin Akerman (The Ticket), Margo Martindale (The Hollars), Marie-Josée Croze (An Eye for Beauty), Maryann Plunkett (The Family Fang), Mili Eshet (Beyond the Mountains and the Hills), Naomi Watts (Demolition), Naomie Harris (Moonlight), Naruna Kaplan de Macedo (Is That You?), Nicole Kidman (Lion), Nicole Kidman (The Family Fang), Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures), Rachael Deering (Adult Life Skills), Rachel Brosnahan (The Fixer), Rachel Weisz (The Light Between Oceans), Rachel Weisz (The Lobster), Rima Te Wiata (Hunt for the Wilderpeople), Sheila Vand (Women Who Kill), Shiree Nadav-Naor (Beyond the Mountains and the Hills), Teresa Palmer (Hacksaw Ridge)

Runners-up:
Janelle Monae (Hidden Figures)
Viola Davis (Fences)
Taissa Farmiga (In a Valley of Violence)
Olivia Colman (The Lobster)
Kerry Bishé (The Ticket)

The winner:
Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea) did a magnificent job of inhabiting a character defined by her connection to others whose circumstances go from one extreme to another in this equally excellent film.

Other nominees:
Elle Fanning (20th Century Women) was completely on point as a young woman with a distinct idea of what she wants and how she doesn’t want to be defined by anyone else’s expectations of her. Rooney Mara (Lion) reserved little recognition for her part in a powerful story, supportive of the main man in her life despite not being able to understand his experience. Riley Keough (American Honey) was a leader to those with no particular aims, lording her power over her minions just because she could. Breeda Wool (AWOL) drove her film’s energy as an alluring enigma who represented everything that a lost young woman could have wanted but never seemed to be quite within reach.

AFT Awards: Best Actor in a Supporting Role


This is the third category of the 10th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them and drawn from a pool of approximately 117 films. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Honorable mentions:
Aaron Paul (Eye in the Sky), Alan Rickman (Eye in the Sky), Alan Tudyk (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), Amir Tessler (A Tale of Love and Darkness), Armani Jackson (Little Boxes), Barkhad Abdi (Eye in the Sky), Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), Ben Wishaw (The Lobster), Billy Crudup (20th Century Women), Daniel Grao (Julieta), Dario Grandinetti (Julieta), Ethan Hawke (Maggie's Plan), George MacKay (Captain Fantastic), Gil Birmingham (Hell or High Water), Gilad Kahana (A Tale of Love and Darkness), Hitham Omari (Sand Storm), Hugh Grant (Florence Foster Jenkins), James Purefoy (High-Rise), James Ransone (In a Valley of Violence), Jason Butler Harner (The Family Fang), Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water), Jeremy Irons (High-Rise), Jerome Holder (Dough), John C. Reilly (The Lobster), John Travolta (In a Valley of Violence), John Turturro (Mia Madre), Laurent Lafitte (Elle), Lucas Jade Zumann (20th Century Women), Luke Evans (High-Rise), Matthias Schoenaerts (A Bigger Splash), Michael Chernus (Complete Unknown), Mykelti Williamson (Fences), Nanni Moretti (Mia Madre), Oliver Platt (The Ticket), Ozzy Meyers (Adult Life Skills), Ralph Fiennes (A Bigger Splash), Richard Jenkins (The Hollars), Russell Hornsby (Fences), Sharlto Copley (The Hollars), Shia LaBeouf (American Honey), Stephen Henderson (Fences), Tomer Kapon (A Week and a Day), Werner Daehn (Game of Aces)

Runners-up:
Timothy Spall (Denial)
Sam Neill (Hunt for the Wilderpeople)
Brett Goldstein (Adult Life Skills)
Christopher Walken (The Family Fang)
Taylor John Smith (Wolves)

The winner:
Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea) broke through with a very real, refreshing, and entertaining performance as a teenager going through a morning period with an unusual role model and allowing his experience to be shaped by his culture.

Other nominees:
Dev Patel (Lion) convincingly and emotionally demonstrated what it feels like to be relatively happy and well-off yet be reminded every day of a missing piece of your life. Ben Foster (Hell or High Water) had complete control over a character whose impulse in any given situation was to allow himself to be swayed by anger, aggression, excitement, and unpredictably. Andre Holland (Moonlight) and Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) contributed tremendously to a story about one incredible protagonist, adding depth to the two most influential men in their lives.

Monday, March 20, 2017

AFT Awards: Best Actress in a Leading Role


This is the second category of the 10th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them and drawn from a pool of approximately 117 films. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Honorable mentions:
Alice Braga (Aquarius), Alicia Vikander (The Light Between Oceans), Andrea Anders (Is That a Gun in Your Pocket?), Caitlin FitzGerald (Always Shine), Greta Gerwig (Maggie's Plan), Ingrid Jungermann (Women Who Kill), Isabelle Huppert (Things to Come), Kristen Stewart (Equals), Lily Rabe (Miss Stevens), Lola Kirke (AWOL), Mackenzie Davis (Always Shine), Margherita Buy (Me Myself and Her), Margherita Buy (Mia Madre), Melanie Lynskey (Little Boxes), Mélanie Thierry (An Eye for Beauty), Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins), Moran Rosenblatt (Wedding Doll), Natalie Portman (A Tale of Love and Darkness), Natalie Portman (Jackie), Nelly Tagar (Past Life), Rachel Weisz (Complete Unknown), Rachel Weisz (Denial), Ruth Negga (Loving), Sabrina Ferilli (Me Myself and Her), Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures), Tilda Swinton (A Bigger Splash), Victoria Summer (Game of Aces)

Runners-up:
Isabelle Huppert (Elle)
Amy Adams (Arrival)
Annette Bening (20th Century Women)
Lamis Ammar (Sand Storm)
Ruba Blal-Asfor (Sand Storm)

The winner:
Emma Stone (La La Land) was charming, sincere, and believable as an actress trying to make it in the business and encountering an epic love story with sweet song and dance.

Other nominees:
Emma Suarez (Julieta) and Adriana Ugarte (Julieta) were two parts of one incredible whole, a film-defining character with deep complexity and two unifying portrayals. Sasha Lane (American Honey) expressed an incredible lust for adventure and excitement as a young woman with her whole life ahead of her. Jodie Whittaker (Adult Life Skills) delivered a refreshingly honest and humorously endearing performance as a grieving sister unable to motivate herself to truly achieve anything.

AFT Awards: Best Actor in a Leading Role


This is the first category of the 10th Annual AFT Film Awards to be announced. The AFT Awards are my own personal choices for the best in film of each year and the best in television of each season. The AFT Film Awards include the traditional Oscar categories and a number of additional specific honors. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them and drawn from a pool of approximately 117 films. Click here to see previous years of this category.

Honorable mentions:
Alex Hibbert (Moonlight), Alon Aboutboul (Is That You?), Alon Pdut (Beyond the Mountains and the Hills), Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge), Ashton Sanders (Moonlight), Barkhad Abdirahman (A Stray), Chris Klein (Game of Aces), Colin Farrell (The Lobster), Dan Stevens (The Ticket), Dave Johns (I, Daniel Blake), Dominic Rains (The Fixer), Éric Bruneau (An Eye for Beauty), Ethan Hawke (In a Valley of Violence), Ferdia Walsh-Peelo (Sing Street), Gael Garcia Bernal (Neruda), Jake Gyllenhaal (Demolition), Jason Bateman (The Family Fang), John Krasinski (The Hollars), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Snowden), Jude Law (Genius), Kevin Spacey (Elvis and Nixon), Mads Mikkelsen (Men and Chicken), Mathieu Amalric (My Golden Days), Michael Fassbender (The Light Between Oceans), Michael Shannon (Complete Unknown), Michael Shannon (Elvis and Nixon), Nate Parker (The Birth of a Nation), Neel Sethi (The Jungle Book), Nelsan Ellis (Little Boxes), Nicholas Hoult (Equals), Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool), Tom Hiddleston (High-Rise), Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight), Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic), Vincent London (The Measure of a Man)

Runners-up:
Ryan Gosling (La La Land)
Julian Dennison (Hunt for the Wilderpeople)
Michael Shannon (Wolves)
Jonathan Pryce (Dough)
Demetri Martin (Dean)

The winner:
Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea) delivered an incredible, emotionally raw turn as a man unable to even imagine what his life used to be like after devastating loss.

Other nominees:
Chris Pine (Hell or High Water) received little praise for his nuanced starring role as a conflicted criminal dealing with a highly unpredictable partner. Tom Hanks (Sully) delivered classic reliability as a pilot impossibly cool under pressure and determined to prove the correctness of his actions. Sunny Pawar (Lion) was a wonderfully endearing part of a soaring story, with just the right amount of boundless energy and youthful determination for the part. Denzel Washington (Fences) directed himself in a tour de force performance as a father intent on making his mark as a patriarch.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Movie with Abe: Song to Song

Song to Song
Directed by Terrence Malick
Released March 17, 2017

Terrence Malick is the definition of an eclectic filmmaker. He made his first movie in 1973 and now releases only his eighth narrative feature nearly forty-five years later. He hit Oscar success twice – with “The Thin Red Line” and “The Tree of Life” – but those films are also known for their very distinctive styles that can be easily attributed to him. He even stipulates when making a movie that his image or likeness cannot be used, making him a true enigma, telling stories in a way that is equally fascinating and frustrating, and his latest release very much fits that description.

It’s not easy to summarize this film because it, like all his others, is so much less about plot than about aesthetics. The most accurate picture of the film is a purposefully disjointed exploration of romance and affection as it pertains to a number of intersecting individuals. Their names include Faye, Cook, and Amanda, but as a way of explaining the film, this reviewer couldn’t have identified a single one of their names immediately after watching it because the conversation is so pointed and directed at emotion rather than who the characters are – and as a result they could well be anyone.

The talent amassed in this film is impressive, and it’s worth noting that this film was made five years ago, before some of its players had earned their most recent Oscar nominations. It’s fair to say that all were on an excellent career track then and remain so now, with Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, and Michael Fassbender enjoying higher profiles since 2012 and Natalie Portman and Cate Blanchett remaining at the same already elevated level. These performances can’t really be compared to most of their other work, but it would be accurate to say that all adapt well to this unique universe Malick creates in his movies and assume the parts more than adequately.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this film’s original cut was over eight hours long, and it feels like that even though the film actually clocks in at two hours and nine minutes. Artsy cinematography and extended sequences that show close-up points of view and portray characters framed in a sexually alluring angle or light can be found incessantly throughout the film and, as usual, that overpowers any semblance of linear storytelling. There is beauty and poignancy to be found here, but it’s wrapped up in such dense and unhurried filmmaking that it’s hard to be completely entranced and moved.

B-

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Movie with Abe: Deidra and Laney Rob a Train


Deidra and Laney Rob a Train
Directed by Sydney Freeland
Released March 17, 2017

Movies that describe actions are often isolated to one specific event that transforms characters. In this case, it’s not just one verb or one character, but two protagonists performing an action. For them, it’s not a one-time thing, but rather a decision to start something that turns into a repeated process, something that does in fact change them and sets their life on a different course. This creative comedy presents a fun look at one solution to survival that two young sisters come up with which leads to unexpected developments presented through an enjoyable and entertaining ride.

After a meltdown involving the destruction of property outside the electronics store where she works, Marigold (Danielle Nicolet) is arrested, leaving her three children to fend for themselves at home. Deidra (Ashleigh Murray), the class valedictorian, already acts as a mother figure of sorts for her younger sister Laney (Rachel Crow), who struggles with popularity, and brother Jet (Lance Gray). With no help from their deadbeat father Chet (David Sullivan), Deidra hatches a plan to start robbing trains to sell goods to pay their mother’s bail and keep current on their bills, which attracts the attention of a relentless railroad cop (Tim Blake Nelson).

There is a sweet simplicity to the illegal behavior that Deidra and Laney begin to engage in, which begins with determining what trains run when and bringing along the proper tools to cut through the locks that guard each car. Their school attendance isn’t as consistent once they begin their extracurricular activities, but that doesn’t stop Deidra from being her guidance counselor’s great hope for success and Laney from doing her best to fit in to the beauty pageant in which she’s advanced, earning the contempt of her former best friend who had her eyes set on winning the contest. These sisters are just trying to make ends meet in a particularly bizarre situation that demands a bit of ingenuity and unlawful behavior on their part.

Murray and Crow are both superb as the determined sisters, delivering mature and endearing performances. Nicolet is a standout of the supporting cast as their animated, expressive mother, and both Sullivan and Nelson have fun with exaggerated roles. The film’s script is fun and its styling appealing, and there’s actually a good deal of drama to be found here, best represented in two particularly evocative scenes that summarize the film’s story and themes. I was sad to miss this film when it premiered at Sundance and I’m very happy to now recommend it to anyone with a Netflix subscription to check out when it makes its streaming debut on March 17th.

B+

Friday, March 3, 2017

Movie with Abe: Table 19


Table 19
Directed by Jeffrey Blitz
Released March 3, 2017

Almost everyone has experienced the feeling of showing up to a friend or family member’s wedding only to find themselves seated at what my parents endearingly refer to as a the “punishment table.” There are plenty of friends or other people in the same category at other tables nearby or closer to the action, yet for some reason, they’ve been deemed guilty of some unknown offense and relegated to the worst seats in the house with a handful of other allegedly random tablemates. The meaner way to put it is to refer to those people as those who should have known to RSVP no, and fortunately this concept proves a great premise for an entertaining comedy about the unexpected benefits of ending up at that table.

Eloise McGarry (Anna Kendrick) wouldn’t ordinarily be described as a misfit. In fact, she was supposed to be the maid of honor at her friend Francie’s wedding. When she got dumped by Francie’s brother Teddy (Wyatt Russell), she recused herself, making way for Nikki (Amanda Crew) to take her place. When she shows up to the wedding, she finds herself seated close to the bathroom with a strange assortment of attendees: bickering diner owners (Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson), an overeager teenager (Tony Revolori), a recently-released convict (Stephen Merchant), and the bride’s old nanny (June Squibb). As they realize just how little they mean to the happy couple, they develop a special bond that only outcasts can share.

Movies about weddings are usually fun, and while this one focuses a lot less on the bride (and barely at all on the groom) as compared with many others, it’s nice to see this atypical spotlight on those who don’t fit in and are forced to band together because they literally have no one else to talk to. This comedy does take the time to get to know each of its characters, allowing them a bit of backstory at the start and then giving them the chance to grow as a result of their experiences at this festive celebration. Eloise may be the main character, but this is really an ensemble effort both in terms of actors and characters.

Kendrick is a wonderful actress who has played roles like this before, and this part allows for her to really embrace the humorous nature of her situation. Those seated at her table are all terrific, with Kudrow and Robinson having fun together, Merchant playing weird just right, Squibb delivering a reliably formidable turn, and Revolori following up well on his memorable performance in “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” Russell contributes as well in an unexpectedly layered role, and while this film is prone to seemingly aimless and unadventurous drama, it pivots towards an affirming and endearing ending that makes attending feel much more worthwhile.

B

Monday, February 27, 2017

Oscar Night: The Morning After

It was well after 1am went I went to sleep last night, and therefore I chose to wait to post my reactions to the show until now. I started watching the show on DVR at around 9:15pm, and as a result I wasn’t posting live on social media or even holding on my phone so as not to have anything spoiled.

It turns out that recording this show wasn’t a great idea. The main reason for that is that we only extended the recording by thirty minutes, and the biggest moment of the show happened about thirty-three minutes after it was scheduled to end. While everyone who was watching live was scrambling to figure out what was going on with the Best Picture announcement, I was trying desperately to find a clip of it online to figure out who had actually won. There’s nothing like this that’s happened before at the Oscars, and it was an interesting ending to the night that would have been much more meaningful and impactful had it not gone down the way it did.

I woke up to an e-mail sent to the Academy press list with an apology for what happened. It doesn’t matter why it happened, but there’s something, especially when the Best Picture winner isn’t guaranteed, about hearing your film’s name called at the end of the night and celebrating the rush of the awards experience. Multiple winners made mention of the fact that they’ve gotten to know other nominees and films throughout awards season, and, more than ever before, we’ve come to a point of competition where a whole bunch of people are rooting for one film to overtake another. I was rooting for the film that was dominating throughout all of awards season this year, whereas last year I was hoping that the original frontrunner, which wasn’t doing so well by that point, would pull through, which it did.

I still stand by the fact that “Manchester by the Sea” was the best movie of 2016 and intend to honor it when I begin my AFT Awards very soon. I’m very happy that it won Best Original Screenplay, with Matt Damon excitedly announcing Kenneth Lonergan’s name followed by a sweet speech from the director-writer. And it’s great that Casey Affleck won Best Actor despite a last-minute surge from Denzel Washington at SAG, since it truly was an incredible performance. As anyone I’ve spoken to recently knows, I was a big fan of “La La Land,” and I was pulling for it to win Best Picture since I thought that was more realistic than Lonergan’s film or “Hell or High Water,” which didn’t take home any of its four bids.

I did like “Moonlight” a lot and I think that its win is far more impactful, save for the fact that it’s tarnished by it not being originally announced. The end-of-night Best Picture announcement is supposed to signal that the film made it, after so long, and that it was crowned the best of the year. It was sweet of Jordan Horowitz to say that he was going to be proud to the hand the award to his friends from “Moonlight.” It’s an independent film with an all-black cast that deals with gender and sexual identity in a mesmerizing way, and the fact that it won Best Picture is really cool. Like last year, the film that won the most awards didn’t clinch Best Picture. It just could have been so simple and elegant, and the fact that Warren Beatty was given the wrong envelope was a real shame, and there’s nothing that can be done to repair it.

“La La Land” ended up with six wins instead of the eleven I predicted, and “Moonlight” scored three. The love was spread pretty well, though I would have preferred that “Arrival” take the awards that “Hacksaw Ridge” won. I was particularly happy about “The White Helmets” winning Best Documentary Short, and the other two short winners were good choices too, which I haven’t always felt in the time since I started watching all of them. Though I wouldn’t have selected “The Salesman” to triumph for Best Foreign Film, I still think that it was better than “Toni Erdmann” and is a more meaningful representation of international cinema for this year.

Speaking of the poignancy of the awards, Jimmy Kimmel did a great job making many funny jokes about Donald Trump without making it feel like he was beating a dead horse. Dropping candy from the ceiling on multiple occasions was silly but fun, and having a tour bus come in and meet some of the biggest stars in Hollywood was fun too. Starting with Justin Timberlake performing his nominated song was a great way to open the night, and I think the structuring of the evening, even though it went long, was very solid.

As usual, Oscar night wasn’t my favorite part of Oscar season but it was quite an experience and will be talked about for a while. I scored 14/24, which isn’t all that bad but not too great either.

I’m much more excited to begin my own honors, the AFT Awards, which I look forward to getting underway very soon. Stick around for my choices for the best of the year!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Your Guide to the Oscars


I came so close this year - scrambling to watch all of the shorts, finding time to screen all seven and a half hours of “OJ: Made in America” (I’ll be honest – as of this writing, I still have three hours left to watch this afternoon), and discovering a once-daily showtime at just one theater in New York City of “Passengers” only to see it cancelled when I showed up to buy tickets. As a result, I missed just two films – “Passengers” and “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” each nominated for two awards they probably won’t win.

I keep asking people what they think about “La La Land” since I loved it and continue to do so every day as I wake up to “Another Day of Sun” as my alarm and “Mia and Sebastian’s Theme” as my backup five minutes later. Lately, all I’ve been hearing is people, both critics at Sundance or at press roundtables and friends and family members, decrying how they couldn’t understand why everyone is so in love with it. The question is whether it’s unbeatable or not. Those who point to its SAG snub as a sign of its weakness aren’t considering that there really is no ensemble, and it probably never had a shot anyway. Had “Moonlight” triumphed in its absence, I’d be worried, but “Hidden Figures” doesn’t have enough nominations (three total) to take it on. For all those who hate “La La Land,” there are plenty, especially those in the industry, who love it.

We’re heading into the main categories with some decidedly uncertain races. Casey Affleck might lose to Denzel Washington, and Emma Stone and Mahershala Ali don’t have firm grips on their wins even though they’re likely to win. Viola Davis is the one performer who doesn’t have to worry at all. Out of all the other races, I’d say that the “La La Land” score, “Zootopia,” and “OJ: Made in America” are the only sure things. I think “The Salesman” will eclipse “Toni Erdmann” for Best Foreign Film and while I’m predicting lots of victories for “La La Land” though I’m not sure it will take them all.

What would make me happiest is if “Hell or High Water” won something. Screenplay or editing would be great, though Jeff Bridges pulling off a surprise win is probably likeliest and would at least represent something for the film. If “My Life as a Zucchini,” “Land of Mine,” or “13th” won, I’d be thrilled, but I don’t think there’s much hope of that in any of their races. Below, click on category headings to read detailed predictions for each race, and film names for full reviews of each contender. My predicted winner is in bold. Comment if you agree or disagree! Enjoy the show!

Best Picture
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Lion
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

Best Director
Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)
Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge)
Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea)
Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)

Best Actor in a Leading Role
Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)
Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge)
Ryan Gosling (La La Land)
Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic)
Denzel Washington (Fences)

Best Actress in a Leading Role
Isabelle Huppert (Elle)
Ruth Negga (Loving)
Natalie Portman (Jackie)
Emma Stone (La La Land)
Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water)
Lucas Hegdes (Manchester by the Sea)
Dev Patel (Lion)
Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Viola Davis (Fences)
Naomie Harris (Moonlight)
Nicole Kidman (Lion)
Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures)
Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea)

Best Original Screenplay
Hell or High Water
La La Land
The Lobster
Manchester by the Sea
20th Century Women

Best Adapted Screenplay
Arrival
Fences
Hidden Figures
Lion
Moonlight

Best Cinematography
Arrival
La La Land
Lion
Moonlight
Silence

Best Art Direction
Arrival
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Hail, Caesar!
La La Land
Passengers

Best Costume Design
Allied
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Florence Foster Jenkins
Jackie
La La Land

Best Film Editing
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Moonlight

Best Original Score
Jackie
La La Land
Lion
Moonlight
Passengers

Best Original Song
“The Empty Chair” (Jim: The James Foley Story)
“Audition” (La La Land)
”City of Stars” (La La Land)
“How Far I’ll Go” (Moana)
“Can’t Stop the Feeling!” (Trolls)

Best Sound
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Best Sound Editing
Arrival
Deepwater Horizon
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Sully

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
A Man Called Ove
Star Trek Beyond
Suicide Squad

Best Visual Effects
Deepwater Horizon
Doctor Strange
The Jungle Book
Kubo and the Two Strings
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Best Animated Feature
Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
My Life as a Zucchini
The Red Turtle
Zootopia

Best Documentary Short Film
Extremis
4.1 Miles
Joe’s Violin
Watani: My Homeland
The White Helmets

Best Animated Short Film
Blind Vaysha
Borrowed Time
Pear Cider and Cigarettes
Pearl
Piper

Best Live Action Short Film
Enemies Within
La Femme et le TGV
Silent Nights
Sing
Timecode

Best Documentary
Fire at Sea
I Am Not Your Negro
Life, Animated
OJ: Made in America
13th


Best Foreign Language Film
Land of Mine
A Man Called Ove
The Salesman
Tanna
Toni Erdmann

Predicted totals:
La La Land - 11
Moonlight - 2
Fences – 1
The Jungle Book - 1
Lion - 1
Manchester by the Sea - 1
Star Trek Beyond - 1

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Picture


The competition: Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Lion, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight

Previous winners: Spotlight, Birdman, 12 Years a Slave, Argo, The Artist, The King’s Speech, The Hurt Locker, Slumdog Millionaire
My winner: To be announced soon!
The facts: So, we’re finally here. “La La Land” leads with fourteen nominations and has won the top prize from the Golden Globes, DGA, PGA, BAFTA, and Critics Choice. It ties the record for the most nominations but can’t win all of them because two bids are for Best Song. Winning 12 would set a record. “Moonlight,” which won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture - Drama and is seen as the number one threat to topple the musical that isn’t winning everyone over, has eight nominations, as does “Arrival.” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Lion,” and “Manchester by the Sea” all have six bids and are each missing something helpful for a win - mentions in screenplay, directing, and editing, respectively. Films have triumphed in this category with those things missing most recently in 1997, 2012, and 2014, but it’s rare. “Fences” and “Hell or High Water” both have four nominations. The nominee with the least nominations (three), “Hidden Figures,” may have gotten a big boost from its recent SAG win for Best Ensemble. “La La Land” wasn’t nominated but honestly was never in the running, and “Moonlight” was expected to win. Since the SAG Awards started handing out the ensemble prize, only the first year saw an eventual Best Picture Winner - “Braveheart” - not nominated. Aside from the first decade of the Oscars, no film has won with fewer than five nominations. The last time a musical won Best Picture was in 2002.

Who should win: This is definitely a good year for this category. I didn’t love “Hacksaw Ridge” and “Hidden Figures” but they’re both still decent movies. My favorite film of the year was “Manchester by the Sea,” followed closely by “Hell or High Water” and then “La La Land.” I’d be most excited about “Hell or High Water,” but I’ll still be happy when the expected frontrunner triumphs.
Who will win: Sure, there’s lots of backlash against La La Land, but it looked like “Spotlight” wouldn’t be able to pull off a win last year and it still squeaked through. Buzz isn’t strong enough for “Moonlight” at the moment and I don’t think “Hidden Figures” is strong enough to topple it. None of the other six films will be able to muster enough votes to win, so I think a film that is being bashed as overrated is still going to be able to win over voters and take the top prize.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Director


The competition: Denis Villeneuve (Arrival), Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge), Damien Chazelle (La La Land), Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea), Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)

Previous winners: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (The Revenant), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman), Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity), Ang Lee (Life of Pi), Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist), Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire)
My winner: To be announced soon!
The facts: Gibson is the only returning nominee in this category, previously winning in 1995 for “Braveheart.” Both Chazelle and Lonergan were previously nominated for screenwriting and both contend there also this year, along with Jenkins. “Hacksaw Ridge” is the only film in this category without its screenplay nominated, and “Manchester by the Sea” is the only film without a Best Film Editing bid. The past two Best Director victors have won without one of those accompanying nominations, but it is rare.

Who should win: I love the work that Chazelle did staging such a great musical, and I think I’d choice him over Lonergan steering the best film of the year. Villeneuve is also a great choice, and I see why people like Jenkins, who I wouldn’t mind seeing win.
Who will win: I think Chazelle can hang onto a win after victories at the Golden Globes and SAG.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Documentary


The competition: Fire at Sea, I Am Not Your Negro, Life Animated, OJ: Made in America, 13th

Previous winners: Amy, Citizenfour, Twenty Feet from Stardom, Searching for Sugar Man, Undefeated, Inside Job, The Cove, Man on Wire
My winner: To be announced soon!
The facts: Every single filmmaker is a first-time nominee this year. Foreign nominees like “Fire at Sea” are common but don’t often win. “OJ: Made in America” runs almost eight hours - I can’t find definitive statistics, but I have to assume that it’s the longest film ever nominated in this category.

Who should win: I can’t understand how “OJ” can be judged alongside these much shorter films that actually feel like films. I’ll admit that I’m less than halfway through it and that I’m hoping to find another four plus hours before the Oscars air to finish - not sure a review is in the cards. It’s an intense and involving saga, but for me, “13th” was the indisputably effective standout of this category.
Who will win: I’d be the only person betting against OJ: Made in America if I didn’t predict it.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Live Action Short


The competition:
Enemies Within (B)
This French drama is fascinating from its start as a French-Algerian man finds himself questioned by a policeman about his entire background and whether he truly belongs in France. As it goes on, it tackles interesting territory but doesn’t manage to be quite as intriguing. This is a heavily dialogue-based short with some strong performances and a thought-provoking theme.

La Femme et le TGV (B+)
This sweet Swiss short centers on a lonely woman who runs a failing bakery and gets her daily joy from waving at the train that passes right by her window. When a train driver throws a letter out the window to her, she begins a correspondence that helps to reinvigorate her attitude and energize her life. Bonus: it’s based on a true story!

Silent Nights (B)
This Danish short tracks the development of an unlikely romance between an undocumented Ghanaian immigrant living in Cophenhagen and a local woman who spends her time volunteering at a homeless shelter. It’s not your typical romantic drama, with two endearing characters who may or may not be right for each other.

Sing (B+)
This Hungarian short finds a young girl starting to a new school and joining the choir, only to be instructed by its director not to sing out loud because her voice isn’t good enough to help them win the big competition in which they will soon compete. It’s a cool premise that leads to an endearing and great ending.

Timecode (B+)
This Spanish-language short’s title conjures up images of a fast-paced thriller with a countdown clock. It refers instead to the time displayed on the camera screens monitored by two security guards, one who works during the day and one who works at night, who develop an unexpected bond in this touching and truly funny film.

Previous winners: Stutterer, The Phone Call, Helium, Cufrew, The Shore, God of Love, The New Tenants, Toyland

Who should win: I liked “La Femme et le TGV” best, but I also see the case for voting for “Timecode” or “Sing.”
Who will win: I think La Femme et le TGV will win, though I understand why others think “Enemies Within” could take it too.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Documentary Short


The competition:
Extremis (B+)
This harrowing, heartbreaking film follows several patients in a hospital who are at the end of their lives. Unable to move and in some cases unable to communicate, the decisions are left to family members, who display incredible strength in their interactions with the doctors who face this kind of thing on a daily basis. It’s very well-done and extremely difficult to watch.

4.1 Miles (B)
This “Op-Doc” from the New York Times, which can be viewed online at their site, actually tackles the same topic as a feature documentary nominee this year, “Fire at Sea.” This take is set on a Greek Island during the European migrant crisis and serves as a more focused, and more upsetting, look at the difficult life of refugees.

Joe’s Violin (B+)
Count this one in as this year’s uplifting pick that still may have audiences reaching for the tissue box. A Holocaust survivor’s donation of the violin that he acquired in Poland at the end of the war turns out to be a wonderful new opportunity for a 12-year-old charter student in the Bronx. This is a heartwarming and deeply affecting about a truly unexpected and sweet connection. Watch it online for yourself!

Watani: My Homeland (B)
One of two movies about Syria, this one takes its central characters out of their native country as they are granted refugee entry into Germany. The juxtaposition of the youngest daughter carrying around a gun in their home in Aleppo and starting a new life, accepted by German children, in a new place, is powerful, and this film has its moments like that.

The White Helmets (A-)
If ever there was a topic that was relevant, it’s this one. At a time when Syrian refugees are no longer being admitted to the United States, this enormously compelling spotlight on those who stay in Syria and volunteer to run back into danger to rescue those who have been hurt any time violence occurs is truly astounding and inspiring.

Previous winners: A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, The Lady in Number 6, Inocente, Saving Face, Strangers No More, Music by Prudence, Smile Pinki

Who should win: “Extremis” and “Joe’s Violin” are both effective in their own ways, but I think that “The White Helmets” is on a whole different level.
Who will win: I can’t imagine how this doesn’t go to The White Helmets, but any of these could feasibly win.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Animated Short


The competition:
Blind Vaysha (B)
This isn’t so much a narrative short film as it is a life lesson, presenting a parable in which its protagonist can only see the past with her left eye and the future with her right eye. As a result, she is never able to live in and experience the present, and removing one eye would cut her off either from what has happened or what will. It’s thought-provoking but presents more questions in eight minutes than answers.

Borrowed Time (B)
It’s rare to find an animated film, short or feature-length, that’s also a Western. This dramatic piece finds a sheriff grappling with a traumatizing childhood memory that has deeply affected him. There’s not all that much to it, but it does tell a simple and powerful story featuring just two characters and some decent scenery.

Pear Cider and Cigarettes (B+)
This is by far the longest of all the nominees - longer than all the others combined, in fact - and tells a magnetically interesting tale of a man and the way his life was defined by that of his charismatic friend. It's gripping and involving for its full 35 minutes, even if it ends somewhat abruptly.

Pearl (B+)
This one is cool since it tells the story of a car and the family that tours that country using it. It’s a wonderful, whimsical look at formative events in the life of a daughter and her father, all creatively told from the passenger seat of the car. It’s also available to watch in VR, which adds even more dynamism to its perspective.

Piper (B)
This is the token entry that played before a popular feature-length animated film - “Finding Dory” in this case - and has therefore been seen by a much wider audience than is normal. This sweet story of a bird who is afraid of the water is enormously entertaining and cute, and will certainly please children if not most adults as well.

Previous winners: Bear Story, Feast, Mr. Hublot, Paperman, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, The Lost Thing, Logorama, Le Maison en Petits Cubes

Who should win: I think I’d choose “Pear Cider and Cigarettes” over “Piper,” both any of these would be fine.
Who will win: I suspect that Pearl will be the winner, but Goldderby odds suggest it has the least likely shot. I’ll stick with it anyway even though the shorts races are notoriously unpredictable.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Visual Effects


The competition: Deepwater Horizon, Doctor Strange, The Jungle Book, Kubo and the Two Strings, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Previous winners: Ex Machina, Interstellar, Gravity, Life of Pi, Hugo, Inception, Avatar, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
My winner: To be announced soon!
The facts: Last year I made a comment about there being a staggering three Best Picture nominees in this category - this year, we have zero. Sci-fi films often win unless there is a major frontrunner out there, which there really isn’t this year. Last year, “Ex Machina” pulled off a shocking victory, so who knows what will happen this year. This is the seventh nomination for a “Star Wars” film in this category, and the series won for its first three installments. “Kubo and the Two Strings” is the first animated film since 1993 to be nominated here. While Marvel has earned a number of nominations in the past, it has yet to win this award, and could do so for the first time this year with “Doctor Strange.” From the “Deepwater Horizon” team, Burt Dalton has three previous nominations and one win, for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” From the “Doctor Strange” team, both Stephane Ceretti and Paul Corbould were nominated two years ago for “Guardians of the Galaxy.” The team behind “The Jungle Book” collectively has four previous nominations and two previous wins, both for James Cameron movies (“Titanic” and “Avatar”). The “Kubo” team is all brand-new. The “Rogue One” crew collectively has twelve previous nominations, with wins for “Gladiator,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” and “Gravity.”

Who should win: I was pretty wowed by what I saw in the opening scene of “Doctor Strange” and I think that would be my pick. The rest are all good choices too!
Who will win: The consensus seems to be The Jungle Book, which I’ll also predict with “Doctor Strange” as my daring alternate.

Movie with Abe: Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange
Directed by Scott Derrickson
Released November 4, 2016

Superhero films are all the rage right now, with Marvel and DC racing to release more movies each year and both airing a handful of regular TV series across multiple networks. In addition to the umpteenth incarnations of Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, and the X-Men to hit the big screen, this newfound enthusiasm has allowed for the spotlighting of lesser-known comic book characters in their own showcases. “Deadpool” was the more talked-about Marvel movie of the year, but it turns out that “Doctor Strange” makes quite an impression too.

Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is an impossibly arrogant neurosurgeon in New York City. After his reckless driving habits send his car diving off a cliff, he is dismayed to learn that he can no longer use his hands. Desperate for a way to undo the damage, Strange is inspired by the story of a paraplegic who was able to walk again and travels to Kathmandu for answers. When he meets Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), Strange learns to see the world in a whole new way filled with astral planes and other dimensions, and through his training is warned of the corruptive powers that have made Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) obsessed with eternal life.

There’s always a degree of humor to be found in comic book movies, especially with the likes of Tony Stark and Deadpool anchoring them. Strange is no different, dryly cracking jokes for the entirety of the film with few people laughing in return. His name also provides entertainment, as he responds to being called “mister” with “doctor” and then, upon adding “strange,” receives the reply, “Who am I to judge?” That fun spirit actually works well with this film’s more mystical and magic-based plot, presented in dizzying fashion as Strange is exposed to a truly wild and unfathomable world.

Cumberbatch’s profile has been rising in recent years, and after an Oscar nomination for “The Imitation Game,” it’s fun to see him anchoring this kind of movie and putting his talents to a different but equally worthwhile use. Ejiofor, Swinton, and Rachel McAdams, as a fellow doctor, provide good support for this film’s front-and-center action. An Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects was well-earned since this film uses its backdrops and the way that people normally perceive things around them to eye-popping effect. This Marvel movie may be more fantasy than science fiction, but it’s still a hit.

B+

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Sound Editing


The competition: Arrival, Deepwater Horizon, Hacksaw Ridge, La La Land, Sully

Previous winners: Mad Max: Fury Road, American Sniper, Gravity, Skyfall/Zero Dark Thirty, Hugo, Inception, The Hurt Locker, The Dark Knight
My winner: To be announced soon!
The facts: “Deepwater Horizon” co-editor Wylie Stateman has been previously nominated six times, the most for anyone in this category without a win. Robert Mackenzie and Andy Wright, first-time nominees this year, are both also nominated for sound mixing for “Hacksaw Ridge,” and the same goes for Ai-Ling Lee for “La La Land.” “Sully” co-editors Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman are big names in this category, with nine nominations and two wins, and six nominations and two wins, respectively.

Who should win: I’m a big fan of “Sully” and think it should be nominated across the board, especially here, though I’d be fine with any of the other nominees except “Hacksaw Ridge” winning also.
Who will win: Consensus seems to suggest that “Hacksaw Ridge” will take this but I think it will go to La La Land instead.

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Sound


The competition: Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, La La Land, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Previous winners: Mad Max: Fury Road, Whiplash, Gravity, Les Miserables, Hugo, Inception, The Hurt Locker, Slumdog Millionaire
My winner: To be announced soon!
The facts: Many of this year’s nominees have been honored before, and some quick analysis indicates that it’s way too much information to filter and count. The most-recognized nominee is Kevin O’Connell, who this year earns his twenty-first nomination in this category as part of the “Hacksaw Ridge” team. Despite his many nominations, he has yet to win. Usually, sci-fi films, action films, and musicals do well here. From the “Star Wars” saga, episodes four and five won this award, and six, seven, and one were nominated.

Who should win: I think I’d choose one of three very different audial experiences: the quiet mystery of “Arrival,” the charming melodies of “La La Land,” or the space adventures of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.”
Who will win: Music movies like “Ray,” “Dreamgirls,” “Les Miserables” and “Whiplash” have done well in the recent past here, and I think that bodes well for La La Land.