Saturday, March 17, 2018

2017 Oscar-nominated Documentary Shorts

The documentary short subject category is typically filled by films that take a laser focus on either small profiles of interesting people or subjects or profiles that bring to the fore a microcosm of a much broader issue.

Under the first heading you’d find Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405 and Knife Skills. The former is a profile of a middle-aged woman who has suffered most of her life from mental illness and depression, but through her art (painting and sculpture) she finds an outlet for her anxieties. The film is structured in a way that the circumstances of her life are pieced together over the course of 40 minutes so at first we wonder, given her unusual speaking style, if perhaps she suffered something physical. Eventually we learn about her childhood with a father who loved her but had trouble verbalizing his love and a mother who loved her but may have caused serious psychological harm without realizing it. Childhood OCD gave way to a nervous breakdown and eventually electro-shock therapy, which I was flabbergasted to learn is still administered. There are aspects to her personality that seem so child-like and innocent, but beneath the surface she has a firm understanding of everything and of how to work through it to have something like a “normal” life. It’s both inspiring and heartbreaking.

2017 Oscar-nominated Live Action Shorts

As usual, the Live Action Short category in this year’s Academy Awards is a collection of some of the finest filmmaking you’ll likely never see. It’s such a shame that there’s so little commercial market for these movies. Like most previous years, the five nominees include one comedy to brighten the mood if you choose to watch all five as a single program.

Dekalb Elementary is inspired by a real 911 call. A disturbed young man walks into a school with a rifle wanting to die. He threatens the receptionist and a few other employees as the school goes into lockdown and the police arrive. He feeds instructions to the receptionist to give the dispatcher over the phone to then pass on to the police on scene. Through about ten harrowing minutes the receptionist uses compassion to talk the perpetrator down as he begins to regret his decision. Director Reed van Dyk maintains the tension across the film’s running time and the unfortunate reality is that the subject matter would play s timely in any month of the last few years.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Top Ten of 2016

As it turns out, I never posted my top ten list for 2016. I had it mostly worked out at the time, but never got around to finalizing and posting it.

Very often, after a year has passed I come to regret certain decisions, but looking back I still think I can stand by this list.

10. El abrazo de la serpiente (Embrace of the Serpent) dir. Ciro Guerra - This was Colombia's entry in the Foreign Language Film category for the 2015 awards year. It was nominated, but opened commercially in the United States in early 2016, hence its inclusion on this list. Stunning black and white cinematography and a sedate tone make this one of the year's best, a meditative adventure story that weaves Heart of Darkness themes into a quest to find a mystical life-saving and mind-altering plant.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Top Ten of 2017

I had trouble this year putting together a top ten that I felt really excited about. My top two are hands down my favorite movies of the year and the two that struck the strongest emotional chord. After that we get into a few movies that I responded to strongly and then there's the movies that I perhaps admire more than feel enthusiastic about. I'm not entirely sure it's the movies that are changing.

10. Logan dir. James Mangold - Here's a director I admired much more early in his career until he went mainstream, but this unconventional take on the comic book superhero movie is refreshing.

9. Blade Runner 2049 dir. Denis Villeneuve - Expands on the themes first explored 35 years ago in Ridley Scott's original film. What does it mean to be human versus a synthesized human? It's a veritable masterpiece of technical filmmaking while also having an engrossing story.

8. The Square dir. Ruben Östlund - Biting satire about the intersection of the world of modern art and the human foibles that come with trying to live up to the moral standards that are explored in that art.

7. Call Me by Your Name - dir. Luca Guadagnino - Beautiful story of first love, self-discovery, growing up, and gorgeous Italian vistas.

6. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri dir. Martin McDonagh - 

5. Lady Bird dir. Greta Gerwig - A really tremendous first feature from Gerwig who paints a portrait (along with a stunning performance by Saoirse Ronan) of the American teenager.

4. Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool - dir. Paul McGuigan - My rather unconventional choice to include in a top ten, and so far up the list too. But I was completely drawn in by the romance between aging Hollywood icon Gloria Graham (beautifully portrayed by Annette Bening) and her much younger beau played by Jamie Bell.

3. The Florida Project dir. Sean Baker - A movie that forces audiences to confront a forgotten class of people who live on the margins of society. The underclass, the poor, the destitute - however you choose to refer to them, they exist in our country and they raise children in conditions that we lament from our lofty middle and upper class economic positions. But Baker attempts to show us that even these children whom we believe to be disadvantaged have imaginations as rich or even richer than any others. Living just outside Walt Disney World Resort and financially barred from entrance (an irony considering these children could benefit from Disney magic perhaps more than the well-off children who frequent it), they nevertheless make vivid use of their surroundings to create a rich and developed fantasy world of their own.

2. Wind River dir. Taylor Sheridan - Even on a second viewing, Sheridan's crime thriller about suffering through grief was deeply, deeply moving. Jeremy Renner gives what I consider to be his best performance. If this movie had been released in December, I think it would have found its way into several Oscar categories.

1. Coco dir. Lee Unkrich - This movie is magical, emotional, moving, uplifting. It's simply perfect. And frankly I'm getting a little tired of Pixar making the year's most perfect movie.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

90th Academy Awards - final predictions (all 24 categories)

Alongside my final predictions for tomorrow night's winners of the 90th Academy Awards, I'm including my initial predictions I made on the day of the nominations announcement, just to compare side-by-side how my thinking has changed (if at all) over the last six weeks.

Best Picture

The Shape of Water

I've waffled a little bit on this one, but ultimately I'm sticking to my guns. Three Billboards could upset, and there's a strong contingent predicting a win for Get Out. And Dunkirk has its supporters. But in the end, I think the fairy tale love story with the most nominations will win.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Everything I Saw in the Second Half of 2017

This list shows the dates I watched any movies or TV episodes from July - December 2018. Movie titles are followed by year of US release, followed by the media format I used. A star denotes something I had seen before.

I watched 75 feature films, my highest rate of viewing since 2012 (when I watched about 30 extra movies in order to post a horror movie review a day in October of that year). Total for the year is 154, breaking a downward trajectory in that number over the last 5 years.

48 of the films I watched I saw for the first time, once again breaking a 5 year decline.

I watched 27 films I'd already seen and I saw 23 films in the theater.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

How'd I Do? 90th Academy Awards Edition

Top 8 categories: 35/44 (79.5%, so that's lower than the last two years)
Acting: 16/20
Overall: 82/107 (76.6%, definitely higher than the last three years and most likely my best ever)

Picture 7/9

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
The Shape of Water
Lady Bird
Get Out
The Post
Call Me By Your Name

I missed: Darkest HourPhantom Thread
Predicted: I, TonyaThe Florida Project

Where I went wrong: I was unimpressed by Darkest Hour and thought it might miss on this nomination and I was just hopeful for The Florida Project. I never imagined Phantom Thread would be nominated.