Friday, December 29, 2017

Movie with Abe: Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
Directed by Paul McGuigan
Released December 29, 2017

A film’s title can communicate many things. A single word might refer to a memorable protagonist, central location, or important date or place in history. A longer title, like this film’s, is more of a phrase, one that can convey an overarching plot with quite a bit of specificity, like “Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself” or “James’ Journey to Jerusalem.” In the case of this drama, its title contradicts its story, with focuses on a film star who seems all but likely to die in Liverpool, chronicling the run-up to her final days spent with one particularly special person in her life.

Oscar-winning actress Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening) meets her much younger neighbor Peter Turner (Jamie Bell) while living in 1970s England, and one flirtatious introduction leads to a passionate and deep relationship. Though Gloria’s friends can’t bear to see another man leave her after so many marriages and Peter’s family isn’t prepared to let him through away a promising career to be with a woman much older than him, the two share a connection that seems impossible to break, especially when, following their breakup, Gloria seeks Peter out when she learns that she is dying.

This is a film that zeroes in on a particular part of Gloria’s life, choosing one iconic relationship as the way to sum up and present her life story. It’s an approach that has been employed previously by “My Week with Marilyn” and “Me and Orson Welles,” adding depth to the spotlight of a film star by telling the story from the perspective of someone who lives in a different world far from fame and celebrity. What this means is that we see precious little of Gloria’s past and heyday as an actress save for clips from some of her films, and the only Gloria we get to know is one who’s already isolated from the world and hanging on to just one new person in it.

Bening is a formidable actress, and most expected that this could be an Oscar contender for her. She does manage to make her seem like a different character than the typical – and beloved – Bening archetype, imbuing her with a simple, sweet voice and quiet charisma, but the actress doesn’t feel truly immortalized on screen. Bell, reunited with his “Billy Elliot” costar Julie Walters, portraying his mother, contributes but is less than memorable. This film looks lovely in terms of its colors and costumes, and it feels a bit like a dream, but not like a fast-paced or engaging one. Once it’s over, a greater understanding of who Gloria was doesn’t feel like it’s been established.


Friday, December 22, 2017

Movie with Abe: All the Money in the World

All the Money In The World
Directed by Ridley Scott
Released December 22, 2017

Money is a powerful motivator. Those who have a lot of it want to keep it that way, and very often those who don’t have much find particular joy in taking it from those who seem to have too much. Extortion and ransoming are unfortunate practices that have arisen from this desire to get rich, and while those who threaten to hurt people so that they can take money from those who love them rarely get away clean, it’s still possible for a great deal of damage to be to done to all parties involved in the process.

J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer) is the richest man in the world. The oil magnate, famous for having a phone booth installed in his home so that visitors would need to pay for their outgoing calls, is so obsessed with holding on to his money that he won’t even pay the ransom when his grandson John Paul (Charlie Plummer) is kidnapped, something that the boy’s mother, Gail (Michelle Williams) cannot believe and won’t accept, especially as the situation worsens and his abductors refuse to cave until they get what they demand.

This film has gained much publicity for the fact that Kevin Spacey was replaced by the elder Plummer a mere month ago after he was dropped from the film, and then it ended up with three major Golden Globe nominations earlier last week. Plummer, a natural choice for the part, certainly succeeds at convincing the audience of Getty’s singular desire to remain wealthy, and his screentime is quite expansive given the short shoot required for him to film his scenes. Williams is the only one in the cast actually acting, and it’s an overdone performance that feels out of place, especially next to Mark Wahlberg’s casual turn as Getty’s business manager and an unfortunately cast Romain Duris as the younger Getty’s primary abductor.

The film as a whole is dark, with the kidnapped Getty kept in dismal places while his grandfather spends hours walking throughout his vast home and barely even reaching each room. The commentary this film offers by telling this story about the disparity of wealth and the inexplicable need not to lose even one penny without purpose is far more compelling than the contents of the film itself, especially the ineffective dramatization of Getty’s time spent in captivity. There are moments in the film where the billionaire obsesses over his fortunes that seem so unbelievable that they’re laughable, but at least those scenes hit home more than the focus on his grandson, whose dire state isn’t painted in a particularly sympathetic light. Scott’s achievement in getting this film out with a replaced star is impressive, but this 132-minute film is still very clunky in a way that has nothing to do with Plummer’s performance.


Thursday, December 21, 2017

Movie with Abe: The Post

The Post
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Released December 22, 2017

The newspaper business really isn’t the same anymore. In an age where smartphones are at everyone’s fingertips, citizen journalism is rampant and it’s near impossible to keep a lid on a story for more than a few minutes. A retraction following improper reporting is also practically useless and meaningless since anything can be immortalized electronically with a screenshot. Revisiting a time when editors and publishers needed to decide whether or not to print a story and could debate it as they poured over printed pages of highly classified material is an appealing exercise that spotlights journalism at its most cutting-edge and boundary-pushing.

During and before the Vietnam War, Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) submits reports to his higher-ups in the United States government, only to see his findings ignored. Determined to tell the American public the truth and bring an end to the war, Ellsberg copies his research and sends it to newspapers. After The New York Times publishes part of what he sends and receives a court order to stop, editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and publisher Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) navigate whether to play it safe and bend to the pressure of censorship or to go ahead and print what they believe to be breaking news that must be reported to their readers.

Steven Spielberg is a renowned filmmaker who has been making acclaimed films for over four decades. His last big film, “Lincoln,” earned much praise, and his latest effort is sure to do the same. Pairing Oscar winners Hanks and Streep on screen is a clear success, with Hanks playing a more aggressive and fearless character than he often does and Streep employing her signature bold charm to this role. It’s not the most memorable performance for either of them, but they are clearly having fun together.

This film’s leads may get top billing, but its ensemble deserves a lot of the credit. In particular, Bob Odenkirk and Carrie Coon shine as reporters, Bruce Greenwood contributes well as the representative face of the government, and Tracy Letts is superb as Kay’s top advisor. Though it has its highs and finishes in emphatic, sweeping fashion, this film doesn’t hold a candle to “Spotlight” in terms of its effectiveness in telling a similar story of journalism that blows open a segment of society that previously wasn’t discussed. Given its story’s relevance today in regards to the White House trying to stifle the free press and news agents trying to reveal corruption at the highest level, it’s likely that this relatively ordinary film’s reception will be bolstered by its timeliness.


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Movie with Abe: The Greatest Showman

The Greatest Showman
Directed by Michael Gracey
Released December 20, 2017

Though it’s not nearly as prominent as it once was, the circus is a place where people go to enjoy themselves and marvel at things that they don’t usually see. As with many forms of entertainment that are popular today, it wasn’t always the case that the circus was viewed as something that would appeal to the masses, and certainly not to any elite audience that enjoyed opera and the theater. As with every such industry, there is a point in history where something that has never been done before is first tried and puts on its first show to decidedly mixed results.

P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) grows up as a poor boy in love with Charity (Michelle Williams), who comes from a wealthy family. After he convinces her to marry him, they enjoy a humble, unsophisticated existence until Barnum tries to realize his dream of creating a spectacle that all will come to see. The circus has a rocky opening, and its name comes from a harsh critic who refuses to view what he has created as anything other than the lowest form of garbage. Barnum presses on, determined to make his vision a reality, and the allure of success causes him to ignore what he has already achieved and gained.

This film has a boisterous opening thanks to its musical nature and the inclusion of a strong number to get the action started. Telling this story in this way proves very effective, since it makes the experience fun and energetic, incorporating some great music by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who made their mark on “La La Land” last year. What’s less spectacular is the lack of any true circus acts, since the introduction of the performers, seen as freaks and outcast all their lives and now rewarded for the peculiarities with which they’ve been born, suffices as the only real reference to its content. Including death-defying stunts and high-flying tricks might have made this experience all the more enticing.

Jackman is a born entertainer, though he’s hardly the real star of the show here. He portrays Barnum as an idea man, one who leaves the real show to the people he knows can do it best, even as he continues to aim higher, confident that what he presents can cast a wider net if it can evolve from its simple beginnings. The ensemble plays its part well, exhibiting its best work during musical numbers. The presentation of this engaging story is lavish and well-decorated, and the musical format definitely serves to enhance a film whose writing and structure doesn’t otherwise astound.


Sunday, December 17, 2017

Movie with Abe: The Disaster Artist

The Disaster Artist
Directed by James Franco
Released December 1, 2017

The 2003 film “The Room,” written by, directed by, produced by, and starring Tommy Wiseau, is widely considered to be one of the worst films of all time. The stories behind the making of some of the best films in history are interesting, as are those about films that didn’t exist at all, like “Argo.” It stands to reason that the making of a film that has been universally decried as terrible, achieving cult status due to how unintentionally entertaining watching it has become, would be worth making a movie about, and it turns out that it definitely is.

Young actor Greg (Dave Franco) meets the inexplicably odd Tommy (James Franco) in acting class in San Francisco, and is drawn to his ability not to care what anyone else thinks of him. Though he speaks with a heavy European accent, Tommy insists that he is from New Orleans, and he refuses to divulge his true age or the source of his considerable funds, which enable him to pay for a spacious apartment in Los Angeles where he invites Greg to live with him. His interest in acting and his mysterious money inspire him to make his dream movie a reality, much to the bewilderment of every person involved who can’t hope to understand his vision.

I haven’t seen the cult classic film whose creation serves as the subject matter for this film, in part because I was hoping that this would stand up all on its own. Fortunately, it does, and this is absolutely a story that deserves to be told. Its presentation is rather straightforward, since Tommy is such a magnetic protagonist that everything in which he’s involved proves to be completely watchable. It’s not clear throughout the film just how bad the end product will truly be, but the process of making it is full of hints that Tommy doesn’t see the world the same way as others, and his ideas aren’t necessarily coherent.

James Franco, who has received numerous award citations for his performance, disappears into this wild character, and he doesn’t seem at all like most of his other excitable roles. He maintains a focus on becoming Tommy throughout the film, and his success is most evident in how different he seems from his real-life brother Dave Franco, who plays the straight man part of Greg, who might have been able to be a good actor had he not been tethered to this unforgettably awful film. A handful of recognizable faces, including Paul Scheer, Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, Jacki Weaver, and Zac Efron contribute as members of the film’s cast and crew, but this film is first and foremost a look into Tommy’s brain made wonderfully possible by James Franco. A post-credits side-by-side comparison of some of the most iconic moments in “The Room” and their recreation with this film’s actors is stunning, confirming the fact that this wildly unbelievable story did (mostly) actually happen.


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

SAG Nominees: Best Ensemble in a Motion Picture

My predictions: 3/5, picking “The Post” and “The Shape of Water” over “Get Out” and “Lady Bird”
Who’s missing? The Post, The Shape of Water, Call Me By Your Name, The Disaster Artist, I, Tonya

Let me start by citing my excitement that, after being shut out by Globe voters earlier this week, The Big Sick is here for a wonderful ensemble that deserves so much praise. Though I didn’t predict it, I’m very happy for Lady Bird, whose ensemble is superb. I’m not on board the Get Out train though I’d argue that the acting is decent. This category, long seen as a necessary Oscar stop on the way to Best Picture, is most impactful for the snubs of three high-profile films that might have been seen as the frontrunners. I think they’ll all end up with Best Picture bids for sure, but this is a dent in the road to Oscar that I was predicting for “Call Me By Your Name.” Mudbound was always going to do well here and might enter the Best Picture race after little Globes love, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, once not a sure thing, has cemented itself as a lock for Oscar love and maybe even for a top win.

Who will win? Though “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” has the most individual acting nominees - three - I think this is going to Mudbound.

SAG Nominees: Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role

My predictions: 4/5, picking Spencer over Chau
Who’s missing? Octavia Spencer, Melissa Leo, Michelle Pfeiffer

So much for Leo’s chances - let’s hope she can rebound at the Oscars. Mysteriously, Hong Chau (Downsizing), one of just two nominees whose film I haven’t seen, is charging along for a film receiving no other support. Spencer is out after a Globe bid, replaced by Holly Hunter (The Big Sick), whose film did great today with a surprising (but predicted by me) ensemble bid. Mary J. Blige (Mudbound) also found herself in the company of her ensemble after going it alone with the Globes. Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird) and Allison Janney (I, Tonya) continue to be the frontrunners in this race, with the former having a slight edge thanks to her film’s ensemble bid.

Who will win? Unless Blige or Chau builds momentum, I think this is Metcalf’s.

SAG Nominees: Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role

My predictions: 4/5, picking Hammer over Carell
Who’s missing? Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Christopher Plummer, Michael Shannon

I’m thrilled - my longshot pick here was right! In a category where three films could have had double nominees, it was Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) who joined costar Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) for a performance I thought was actually very worthwhile and not as part of the awards conversation as it should have been. Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water) is alone again without costar Shannon, who I think will show up on the Oscar list anyway. Neither former nominee Hammer nor Stuhlbarg made the cut, which is troubling news for a film that I think will win Best Picture (though it’s not my choice). Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project) continues on trucking for what is my favorite film of the year, one which will hopefully crack the top category and other races for the Oscars. And then we have this year’s complete surprise: Steve Carell (Battle of the Sexes), repeating a move done by his costar Christian Bale in “The Big Short” from comedy actor at the Globes to the supporting race here. While Carell was good in the film, and certainly better than in “Last Flag Flying,” having him here when leading actress Emma Stone isn’t even in the equation seems strange. All told, this is a fantastic list of performances and I’m very happy with the quality of all of them.

Who will win? I think Dafoe takes it since I can’t imagine who else would.

SAG Nominees: Best Female Actor in a Leading Role

My predictions: 4/5, picking Streep over Dench
Who’s missing? Meryl Streep, Jessica Chastain, Michelle Williams, Emma Stone, Kate Winslet

I was listening carefully to the first name called during the nominations announcement and was surprised to hear Judi Dench (Victoria and Abdul). She’s one of just two nominees today whose films I haven’t seen, and I wonder whether she’ll make it all the way to Oscar. Streep is the surprise omission, but her film was shut out entirely, so I imagine she’ll be back. This is a blow for Chastain, though she might rebound with Oscar too. The other four are the expected nominees, with Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird) and Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) also earning bids as part of their ensembles. Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water) and Margot Robbie (I, Tonya) are both accompanied by one supporting player from their films as a fellow nominee. Which one of these four is vulnerable for the Oscar nominations?

Who will win? I’d say McDormand based on the enthusiasm shown for the film

SAG Nominees: Best Male Actor in a Leading Role

My predictions: 3/5, picking Day-Lewis and Gyllenhaal over Kaluuya and Washington
Who’s missing? Daniel Day-Lewis, Jake Gyllenhaal, Tom Hanks

This is certainly interesting. Day-Lewis’ omission isn’t a shock because the film isn’t out yet and late-breakers often don’t get in with SAG. I predicted Hanks being snubbed, but not that his film would be shut out, which may also be because it’s a late-breaker. Gyllenhaal not being here is sad, and this may well be the nail in the coffin for him, which is disappointing. It’s a good day for Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), whose film also scored for its ensemble (the only actor in this category whose film managed that), and I guess maybe he’s a stronger threat than I thought for Oscar attention. Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.) has now scored here and with Globe voters for a film everyone agrees wasn’t great and a performance that doesn’t compare to his previous work, so his inclusion feels unnecessary. Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name) made the cut despite his film getting snubbed in supporting actor and ensemble, which is bad news for the film I’ve been predicting to win Best Picture. James Franco (The Disaster Artist) being here means that he’s being taken seriously, and I’m perfectly fine with that. And then we have Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour), who remains our frontrunner despite his film missing out on an ensemble nod that I think it might have deserved but never really had a shot at anyway.

Who will win? I’m going with Oldman.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

SAG Predictions

The Golden Globe nominations came out yesterday, delivering with them a few surprise inclusions - namely “All the Money in the World” - and some unfortunate omissions, which we’ll get to in a minute. The Screen Actors Guild nominees will be announced tomorrow, but it’s not as if the groups actually influence each other. In the past, we’ve seen “The Martian” and “All is Lost” shut out by SAG and then rewarded by the Globes, whereas “The Butler” was a big player with SAG and received nothing from the Globes or the Oscars. New contenders are sometimes introduced by SAG, while others, like Bradley Cooper, Michael Shannon, and a few foreign nominees, haven’t shown up until the Oscar nominations announcement.

The biggest thing that differentiates SAG from the Globes is that it combines comedy and drama into one category for the lead acting races. Practically this gives us two nominees apiece from the comedy races: James Franco and Daniel Kaluuya in Best Actor, and Margot Robbie and Saoirse Ronan for Best Actress. Whether Denzel Washington and Jessica Chastain will go the distance is a question that may be partially answered, and we’ll see if Michelle Williams was a fluke or a legitimate contender. Hopefully we’ll see Jake Gyllenhaal in Best Actor for “Stronger,” but the question is who he’ll bump - Hanks or Day-Lewis? I feel like Kate Winslet could show up here for “Wonder Wheel” but I’m not confident about it. In Best Supporting Actor, I’d love to say that Michael Shannon is in, but I feel like Woody Harrelson is the more SAG-like choice, reminiscent of when Don Cheadle and Tommy Lee Jones joined their Oscar-nominated costars in “Crash” and “No Country for Old Men,” respectively. In Best Supporting Actress, I’m pulling for Melissa Leo, but I think that Mary J. Blige is probably more likely at this point. And then there’s Best Ensemble. In past years, we’ve seen inventive nominees like “Captain Fantastic,” “Trumbo,” “Beasts of No Nation,” “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” and “Bridesmaids.” If I’m really thinking about it, “The Disaster Artist” could be one of those this year, as could “I, Tonya,” but I’m going to go ahead and predict yesterday’s big snub, “The Big Sick,” to join “Mudbound” and the three top Golden Globe nominations getters, leaving “Call Me By Your Name” out in the cold. I could be very, very wrong, but this is what I’m going with. Reactions tomorrow - comment today below!

Best Male Actor in a Leading Role
Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name)
Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread)
James Franco (The Disaster Artist)
Jake Gyllenhaal (Stronger)
Gary Oldman (Phantom Thread)

Best Female Actor in a Leading Role
Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water)
Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Margot Robbie (I, Tonya)
Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird)
Meryl Streep (The Post)

Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role
Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project)
Armie Hammer (Call Me By Your Name)
Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water)
Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role
Mary J. Blige (Mudbound)
Holly Hunter (The Big Sick)
Allison Janney (I, Tonya)
Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird)
Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water)

Best Ensemble in a Motion Picture
The Big Sick
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Monday, December 11, 2017

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical

My predictions: 3/5, picking “Battle of the Sexes” and “The Big Sick” over “The Disaster Artist” and “I, Tonya”
Who’s missing? The Big Sick, Battle of the Sexes, Baby Driver, Downsizing

It’s really sad and just so puzzling to see “The Big Sick” shut out of all categories, and I’m also surprised that “Battle of the Sexes” didn’t make the cut. I did just see the two films I didn’t predict - The Disaster Artist and I, Tonya - this past weekend, and I’m fine with both being included even though they wouldn’t make my list. Get Out only scored here and for best actor, which is fine by me since I think the enthusiasm for that film was way too high. I just saw The Greatest Showman yesterday, and I know that my wife will be thrilled that it made the cut. Lady Bird is definitely the best film here, and its four nominations should indicate that. This is an interesting list - certainly some entertaining films!

Who will win? That’s a good question. I’m tempted to select Lady Bird but it could honestly be any of them.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Motion Picture - Drama

My predictions: 4/5, picking “Darkest Hour” over “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Who’s missing? Darkest Hour, The Florida Project, Mudbound, Phantom Thread

The results of this category don’t mean much other than to confirm that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is indeed a strong awards contender, whereas “Darkest Hour,” which was the type of film Globe voters like, may not make much of a splash aside from its lead star. Call Me By Your Name is, someone unexpectedly, the only film on this list that didn’t earn a Best Director bid, and Dunkirk is the only other one with no screenplay mention. The Shape of Water scored the most bids and The Post also did well. The latter is the only best picture nominee in comedy or drama that I haven’t seen - hoping to see it soon so I can comment.

Who will win? I think either The Post or “The Shape of Water.”

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Director - Motion Picture

My predictions: 3/5, picking Guadagnino and Gerwig over McDonagh and Scott
Who’s missing? Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name), Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), Jordan Peele (Get Out)

And here we have it - the biggest shock of the nominations. Ridley Scott (All the Money in the Word), nominated along with two of his actors for a film that was just recently reshot and has barely been seen by anyone, including me. I’m intrigued and now I’ll have to see it! Jordan Peele didn’t get in, as many expected, but neither did Greta Gerwig, which is a shame. Luca Guadagnino missing out is not great news for his film since that was an unexpected stumbling block, leaving it with just three nominations. I’d be much more excited for Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) if I have loved his film, which managed six nominations, tying the count for “The Post,” whose director, Steven Spielberg, earned a record twelfth bid this morning. Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk) is here, and his film made about its expected impact given the lack of technical categories. The helmer of the nominations leader, Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape of Water), is my happiest inclusion.

Who will win? I’d say that Del Toro wins over Nolan.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Screenplay - Motion Picture

My predictions: 2/5, picking only “Lady Bird” and “The Shape of Water”
What’s missing? Call Me By Your Name, Get Out, The Big Sick, Darkest Hour

Changing my predictions here was a bad idea, since two of my original guesses, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and The Post did end up picking up nominations. I should have guessed that Molly’s Game would be here, joined by the well-received Lady Bird and nominations leader The Shape of Water. The absence of both “Call Me By Your Name” and “Get Out” is notable but hardly damning, although neither film performed as well as its adherents had hoped and expected. I still have to see two of these, so more thoughts in my winner predictions.

Who will win? I think that Sorkin wins again for Molly’s Game.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Foreign Film

My predictions: 3/5, picking “BPM” and “Thelma” over “A Fantastic Woman” and “Loveless”
Who’s missing? “BPM” (France), “Thelma” (Norway), others

I don’t have much to comment on here since the two films I didn’t predict - A Fantastic Woman (Chile) and Loveless (Russia) - were both on my radar. There’s no big shock here, since the other three, First They Killed My Father (Cambodia), In the Fade (Germany/France), and The Square (Sweden/Germany/France), all have big names of sorts attached to them, and all five films here are Oscar-eligible for what I have to assume is the first time in a long time if not ever. Statistics coming later, along with analysis once I’ve seen more than one of these films.

Who will win? I’ll pick the one I’ve seen, The Square.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Animated Film

My predictions: 3/5, picking “Despicable Me 3” and “The LEGO Batman Movie” over “The Boss Baby” and “Ferdinand”
Who’s missing? Despicable Me 3, The LEGO Batman Movie, The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales

I don’t have much to say here since the two films I have seen, The Breadwinner and Loving Vincent, both made the cut, as did the expected frontrunner, Coco. I would be appalled if The Boss Baby ended up being an Oscar nominee, whereas I think Ferdinand has a much better shot. More once I’ve seen the others!

Who will win? I think Coco is still ahead.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Original Song

My predictions: 2/5, picking only the songs from “Coco” and “The Greatest Showman”
Who’s missing? A lot, but more on that come Oscar time

I was sort of guessing blindly here, but I do remember the nominated song Mighty River (Mudbound) that played over the end credits, and I’m glad to see it here. I’m not sure if it’s my favorite song, but This Is Me (The Greatest Show) is a fine selection from that film, which I saw yesterday and might end up with multiple nominations on Oscar day. I have to listen to the other three, all from animated films: Remember Me (Coco), Home (Ferdinand), and The Star (The Star). More once I’ve listened!

Who will win? I think Remember Me will take it, but I honestly don’t know yet.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Original Score

My predictions: 3/5, picking “Call Me By Your Name” and “Darkest Hour” over “Phantom Thread” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Who’s missing? Plenty!

I haven’t done enough of a deep dive into this category, but I thought I had predicted Phantom Thread, which I apparently didn’t, and this makes the first nomination for Jonny Greenwood, whose “There Will Be Blood” score was famously Oscar-ineligible. I’ll do more analysis when I predict the winners, but I also need to see that film and The Post. I’m happy about The Shape of Water and Dunkirk and also fine with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and I look forward to listening to all these score on loop for the foreseeable future.

Who will win? I think Phantom Thread will win.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

My predictions: 3/5, picking Hunter and Leo over Blige and Chau
Who’s missing? Holly Hunter, Melissa Leo, Michelle Pfeiffer

I’m surprised that Holly Hunter is here even though she wasn’t the standout of her completely shut-out movie for me, and I’m sadder about Melissa Leo’s omission. It’s interesting that both Mary J. Blige (Mudbound) and Hong Chau (Downsizing) both made it in despite their films being ignored elsewhere (Blige’s managed a song nomination). I haven’t seen the latter, so I can’t comment on it yet. Expected frontrunners Allison Janney (I, Tonya) and Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird) are both here, as is a great representative from the most-nominated film, Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water).

Who will win? I think that Metcalf should be able to take it, but this is a competitive category.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

My predictions: 4/5, picking Shannon over Plummer
Who’s missing? Michael Stuhlbarg, Michael Shannon, Idris Elba, Mark Rylance

No one could possibly have predicted Christopher Plummer (All the Money in the World) would be here a month ago since he wasn’t even supposed to be in his movie! No one expected that film to land big after Kevin Spacey was fired from it, so this and its two other major nominations are quite crazy. I’ll have to see the film now. I was correct to predict Armie Hammer (Call Me By Your Name) over costar Michael Stuhlbarg, who didn’t make the cut. Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water) is here, and I shouldn’t be too worried about costar Michael Shannon’s omission since he’s never needed Golden Globe nominations to score Oscar bids and last year even got one over his Globe-winning costar, who was snubbed by Oscar voters. Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) is a solid choice for his film, though I was hoping maybe Woody Harrelson would show up. It’s a shame that Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project) is the only representative of the best film I’ve seen so far this year, but I have faith that it will rebound come Oscar time.

Who will win? It will probably be Dafoe but watch out for that Plummer.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Actress in a Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical

My predictions: 4/5, picking Kazan over Mirren
Who’s missing? Zoe Kazan, Emma Watson, Michelle Williams

So much for Kazan showing up when her film got shut out entirely, but I was right that Watson wouldn’t make the cut. The surprise was Helen Mirren (The Leisure Seeker), who I guess I should have expected though I hadn’t heard enough about her being a contender. I haven’t seen the film, and I also haven’t seen Judi Dench (Victoria and Abdul) in hers. I’m relieved that Emma Stone (Battle of the Sexes) made it in even though her film isn’t going over as well as I thought it would. The other two are the other real Oscar contenders, whose films scored four and three nominations, respectively: Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird) and Margot Robbie (I, Tonya).

Who will win? It might be Robbie, but I think Ronan will take it.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Actor in a Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical

My predictions: 3/5, picking Nanjiani and Sandler over Elgort and Jackman
Who’s missing? Kumail Nanjiani, Adam Sandler, Matt Damon

Now this is egregious. I was shocked when I realized that “The Big Sick” didn’t earn a single nomination despite being locked in three categories and possible in two more. I hope that’s just a fluke which is corrected by the Oscars, but sadly Nanjiani isn’t here. Instead, we got Hugh Jackman (The Greatest Show on Earth), whose film earned two other bids, representing musicals, and Ansel Elgort (Baby Driver), a surprising choice for a film that I just saw which didn’t end up making the top race. Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) is one of just two bids for his beloved film which I’m not as fond of, and James Franco (The Disaster Artist) also saw his film earn a best picture bid. Steve Carell (Battle of the Sexes) is a fortunate inclusion whose film missed the top race but earned his costar a nomination too. I’m pleased to say that this is one of two categories where I’ve seen all the films, and aside from Nanjiani’s omission (I’d swap Jackman out for him), this is a good list.

Who will win? I’d give the edge to Franco since it’s the more clearly comedic performance, but Kaluuya might win too.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama

My predictions: 4/5, picking Winslet over Williams
Who’s missing? Kate Winslet, Annette Bening

Here’s where we got a big surprise, one that’s probably inconsequential given two strong players in the comedy race who will factor into the Oscar equation. When I heard Michelle Williams (All the Money in the World) announced, I was confused and thought it was for “The Greatest Showman” (which would have been a different category), but she managed one of her film’s three major nods, a huge shock for a film that was recut a month ago. I haven’t seen it, so I can’t comment just yet. I actually haven’t seen two other nominees here, Meryl Streep (The Post), whose film did great with six nominations, and Jessica Chastain (Molly’s Game), whose film did pick up a screenplay bid for writer Aaron Sorkin. Rounding out the list are the two frontrunners, Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water), whose film leads the nominations with seven, and Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), whose film managed an impressive six. More once I’ve seen three of these performances!

Who will win? I think McDormand has the edge given her film’s strong showing, which wasn’t as likely as Hawkins’.

Golden Globe Nominees: Best Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama

My predictions: 4/5, picking Gyllenhaal over Washington
Who’s missing? Jake Gyllenhaal

It’s funny to compare this year to last, since, this time around, Tom Hanks (The Post) wasn’t snubbed like he was for “Sully,” but Jake Gyllenhaal was for “Stronger,” a very deserving performance that I surely would have recognized over the much weaker inclusion of Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.), who might have upped his Oscar chances slightly by appearing here, at least putting him head-to-head with Gyllenhaal. Though his film didn’t manage any other major nominations, Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread) made the cut, as did Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour) as the lone representative of his film. Rounding out the list is Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name), whose film did pretty well despite a few category misses. I still have to see Hanks and Day-Lewis, but look forward to offering more thoughts on a category that didn’t have all that many contenders at the start.

Who will win? I think this is Oldman’s to lose even if his film didn’t earn other love.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Final Golden Globe Predictions

For the first time, I feel like I really know what’s going on and have a good handle on what these nominees could be. That might be because I’m paying attention – carefully reviewing announcements of critics’ awards and other groups – but also because I’ve seen more of these contenders at this point than I have in the past. That said, there are always big surprises, but I’m trying to be more realistic with my predictions and less optimistic. As a result, I’m making a few modifications to my predictions. I’m swapping out Denzel Washington for a contender I haven’t seen, Daniel Day-Lewis. I’ll be slightly too optimistic and add in Zoe Kazan in place of Salma Hayek, who appears to have switched categories to the drama race. My screenplay predictions didn’t include either “Call Me By Your Name” or “Get Out,” but I’ve included them both now. One big unknown is “Downsizing,” which could play well, and the same might be true of “The Greatest Showman.” “Mudbound” might also rebound, though I don’t think so, and a film like “Darkest Hour” could show up in a number of categories despite lackluster expectations from most. I’m still betting on Armie Hammer over Michael Stuhlbarg for Best Supporting Actor, and I think that “The Shape of Water” is going to do very well, earning two nominations in that category. I’m not sure whether to bet on Greta Gerwig or Jordan Peele for Best Director, and I’m going with the former even though the latter seems to be immensely popular to my continued bewilderment. I’m mostly ignoring “The Florida Project” even though I think it’s the best film of the year since I believe that it’s going to do well with Oscar voters like “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” I’m torn on the comedy race since I just saw “I, Tonya” and “The Disaster Artist” and think both could show up, but “The Greatest Showman” feels like a “Burlesque”-type inclusion and I guess I’m just pulling for the underrated “Battle of the Sexes” to show up. Let’s hope for the best – my category-by-category reactions might be a bit more delayed than usual but will still be up at some point tomorrow.

No guts, no glory:
“Baby Driver” for Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical
Aubrey Plaza for Best Actress for “Ingrid Goes West”
Tatiana Maslany for Best Supporting Actress for “Stronger”

Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama
Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name)
Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread)
Jake Gyllenhaal (Stronger)
Tom Hanks (The Post)
Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)

Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama
Jessica Chastain (Molly’s Game)
Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water)
Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Meryl Streep (The Post)
Kate Winslet (Wonder Wheel)

Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical
Steve Carell (Battle of the Sexes)
James Franco (The Disaster Artist)
Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out)
Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick)
Adam Sandler (The Meyerowitz Stories)

Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical
Judi Dench (Victoria and Abdul)
Zoe Kazan (The Big Sick)
Margot Robbie (I, Tonya)
Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird)
Emma Stone (Battle of the Sexes)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project)
Armie Hammer (Call Me By Your Name)
Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water)
Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Holly Hunter (The Big Sick)
Allison Janney (I, Tonya)
Melissa Leo (Novitiate)
Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird)
Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water)

Best Animated Film
The Breadwinner
Despicable Me 3
The Lego Batman Movie
Loving Vincent

Best Foreign Film
BPM (France)
First They Killed My Father (Cambodia)
In the Fade (Germany)
The Square (Sweden)
Thelma (Norway)

Best Original Score
Darkest Hour
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water

Best Original Song
If I Dare (Battle of the Sexes)
Remember Me (Coco)
I Don’t Wanna Live Forever (Fifty Shades Darker)
This Is Me (The Greatest Showman)
To Be Human (Wonder Woman)

Best Screenplay – Motion Picture
The Big Sick
Call Me By Your Name
Get Out
Lady Bird
The Shape of Water

Best Director – Motion Picture
Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird)
Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name)
Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk)
Steven Spielberg (The Post)
Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape of Water)

Best Motion Picture – Drama
Call Me By Your Name
Darkest Hour
The Post
The Shape of Water

Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical
Battle of the Sexes
The Big Sick
Get Out
The Greatest Showman
Lady Bird

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Movie with Abe: I, Tonya

I, Tonya
Directed by Craig Gillespie
Released December 8, 2017

Athletes are known primarily for their skills in their chosen sport, and their personalities usually come second to how they do in front of audiences in stadiums or on TV. Scandals are most able to change that, thrusting the personal lives and alleged misdeeds of an athlete into the limelight and overshadowing their physical talents. Figure skater Tonya Harding is one person remembered much more for the lifetime ban she received from her sport than for her incredible abilities, and this new film aims to tell her complicated story from a personal angle.

Tonya (Margot Robbie) grows up in Portland, Oregon in the 1970s, introduced to professional figure skating at a very young age by her viciously cruel, results-driven mother LaVona (Allison Janney). Subjected to considerable physical and emotional abuse from both LaVona and her husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), Tonya pursues ambitious skating stunts and doesn’t try to conform to the image of perfection that competition and Olympic judges want to see. Her future is put in jeopardy when her main American rival, Nancy Kerrigan, has her knee bashed in, beginning a series of events that will come to define her entire career.

This film is introduced by a title card indicating that it is based on “irony free, wildly contradictory” interviews with Tonya, Jeff, LaVona and others. Those conversations are dramatized with the actors looking into the camera and interspersed with the linear narrative playing out on screen. While this story positions itself as a defense of Tonya’s life choices based on her upbringing and circumstances beyond her control, it’s hardly sympathetic to her or anyone else in its story, offering up unfiltered and often brutal portrayals of their character. The film’s mockumentary format also occasionally feels disjointed, jumping from scene to scene as if its interviewees have suddenly recalled something that seems more urgent than wherever the story already was, and the usage of direct camera address in non-interview segments also serves as an unwelcome interruption of the action.

Robbie’s performance is a completely immersive one, as she perfects Tonya’s facial expressions and tics to truly become her. Janney steals every single scene she’s in as LaVona, masterfully delivering unfiltered insults and expressing no remorse whatsoever for how she feels. Both are deserving likely first-time Oscar contenders, and these portrayals are indeed strong. Though the film manages to be as interesting and engaging as its characters, energetically recreating its most stirring skating scenes, its narrative structure isn’t quite as smooth, but this remarkably wild story is more than interesting enough all on its own.


Friday, December 8, 2017

Movie with Abe: Quest

Directed by Jonathan Olshefski
Released December 8, 2017

Every documentary seeks to tell a story, to inform a broad audience about a subject that the people involved in its production want to be told. If there is already considerable publicity about the subject, that can make getting financing for a project and distributing it less arduous, though there are plenty of smaller, lesser-known topics worthy of being featured in a film. Capturing a facet of society by following just one family is not an easy task, yet that’s just what this new documentary seeks to do: showcasing a segment of the African-American population in the United States filled with hard workers facing countless obstacles and pushing on to persevere nonetheless.

“Quest” follows the Rainey family over the course of nearly decade in North Philadelphia. Christopher, better known as Quest, works a number of jobs to earn a living, and his wife Christine’a works at a women’s shelter. Their children have to deal with tremendous adversity, as their son William is raising a baby while being treated for cancer and their daughter PJ loses an eye as a result of a stray bullet. Through everything they experience, they maintain an optimistic attitude thanks to the hip-hop music recorded in their home music studio, enabling them to express themselves in a creative way and share their story with those willing to listen.

Unlike many other documentaries, this one includes few descriptive title cards, instead illustrating only the places in which its scenes take place. The members of the Rainey family speak entirely for themselves, and it hardly feels like a camera is present since they have conversations and interactions that seem remarkably sincere and genuine, not at all staged. Their television – an old-fashioned device rarely seen these days – remains on for a number of the film’s scenes, utilizing momentous events such as Obama’s reelection and his emotional speech following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School as jumping off points for commentary on what this meant for the country and for their community.

Ultimately, the members of the Rainey family are ordinary people trying to make it as numerous barriers pop up to block their road to mediocre prosperity. Music isn’t all they make to try to inspire others, as they tell others to get out and vote and then march to make their voices heard. What they experience is symbolic of what many whose stories aren’t told go through, and this extremely intimate and completely honest film captures the determination of this family not to be defined by what society wants to think of them.


Thursday, December 7, 2017

Movie with Abe: Baby Driver

Baby Driver
Directed by Edgar Wright
Released June 28, 2017

Any bank robbery or heist needs a good getaway driver. That person doesn’t necessarily get out of the car but is charged with staying cool and keeping their foot on the gas after the crime has been committed to make sure that the group is able to get away clean. The one in that role is often more passive and perceived as less guilty of the crime, yet they’re also the most crucial part of the process. Telling a story centered on the getaway driver worked well in “Drive” a few years ago, and this particular tale turns up the action to present an enlivening and stylized portrait of a kid who can really drive.

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a master behind the wheel, starting a track on his iPod so that he can calmly drive away and adjust to any type of obstacle in front of him or pursuit behind him. A tragic car accident at an early age left him with tinnitus, and so he listens constantly to music on one of the many iPods to drown out the sound and keep him focused. As he fulfills the debt he owes to criminal kingpin Doc (Kevin Spacey), Baby prepares to get out and make sure that his foster father Joe (CJ Jones) is cared for as he imagines a future on the road with Debora (Lily James), a waitress who inspires him to speak more in one day than he has in a full year.

The opening scene of “Baby Driver” sets the tone for an energizing experience, one fueled by the music that Baby hears in his ears. His driving is remarkable, and he and the car seem to move as one. There are many moments in the film where the action feels directed by the music, and the range of selections does not favor one particular genre, in part because the film’s protagonist has numerous iPods for different occasions. Baby is an unusual personality, capable of so much and utterly uninterested in communicating or making friends with all but the two most important people in his life, and this film presents an intriguing and rhythmic interpretation of his experience.

Elgort is a good fit for this breakthrough role, allowing the showier actors around him to attract attention while he smoothly moves through each scene and demonstrates his mastery of his skill. Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal, Eiza Gonzalez, and Jon Hamm are well-cast as over-the-top criminals whose excessive energy pairs well with Elgort’s calm, and James, who also appears in “The Exception” and “Darkest Hour” this year, demonstrates her range with her portrayal of a sweet love interest who manages to transform Baby. This film feels and looks sleek, with a fantastic soundtrack and superb editing tying it all together. A story that could have felt familiar manages to be original and exciting thanks to all the elements working together under Edgar Wright’s cool direction.


Friday, December 1, 2017

Movie with Abe: The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water
Directed by Guillermo Del Toro
Released December 1, 2017

Most people think of monster movies as needing to be scary. Horror is the most conventional format in which creatures of unknown and supernatural origin appear, and they usually seek to destroy those in their path, especially the humans that fear them. Yet some visionaries have a different image of what those many call monsters actually are, and present them as misunderstood victims in a fantasy-driven environment. The mind behind the mesmerizing “Pan’s Labyrinth” certainly knows this better than many, and now he’s created another fascinating look at the inner beauty hiding behind a far less friendly exterior.

Elisa (Sally Hawkins) works in the janitorial department of a government facility in 1960s Baltimore. Unable to speak, she communicates with her colleague Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) via sign language. When a mysterious being is brought into the lab she cleans each day, Elisa sees it as something other than the threat to American livelihood that cruel interrogator Strickland (Michael Shannon) believes it to be, and sets out to ensure that this poor creature isn’t harmed by those more interested in winning the Cold War than being humane to something that isn’t human.

The same air of magic and wonder that defined “Pan’s Labyrinth” is on full display in this film, which isn’t nearly as dark but is definitely for adult audiences. The subtitles that interpret Elisa’s sign language show how she relates to the world, with Zelda and Giles serving as the only people who really acknowledge her existence. Their kindness stands in stark contrast to the way that Strickland coldly stomps out anything that threatens to get in his way, and the lab’s doctor (Michael Stuhlbarg) provides another perspective as he tries desperately not to have his research project cut short since he too believes that this creature is not the enemy others want it to be.

Hawkins, best-known for her extremely chatty and upbeat performance in “Happy-Go-Lucky,” is extraordinary as Elisa, silently conveying so much with her eyes, expressions, and physical actions. Jenkins is sweet and wonderful as a compassionate spirit, and Spencer manages to make Zelda a character all her own despite some likely similarities on paper to other recent roles she has had. Shannon is terrific as always in a role that he inhabits energetically and commands. The art direction and scenery are beautiful, and the film feels like a wondrous dream. Told as a sort of fairy tale, this film tells a lovely and imaginative story that sparkles on screen.