Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Final trailer debuts for 'Beauty and the Beast'; tickets on sale now

Disney making a live-action version of Beauty and the Beast almost seems unfair. Hasn't the studio already made enough money for several thousand lifetimes? Nonetheless, we're getting a modern update of the classic animated film, and it's going to make the GDP of a small nation when it hits theaters on March 17. Seriously, this thing is going to be a monstrous hit. Maleficent, Cinderella, The Jungle Book- those were just warm-ups. Beauty and the Beast is the main attraction, and Disney is preparing for its release with an all-out media blitz that will send it to the box office stratosphere. BoxOffice Pro is currently projecting a $144 million opening weekend and a $470 million domestic total, but don't fret Disney, there's a good chance that it'll go much, much higher than that. Most seem to think that $1.5 billion worldwide is the cap for this film, which would make it one of the top ten highest grossing films of all time. With this in mind, a final trailer for Bill Condon's surefire blockbuster feels like a waste of time. But it's here and it's beautiful, so check it out anyways!

I've pretty much said all I need to say about this one. The original animated film is quite possibly the greatest Disney film of all time, and this modern update looks perfect in just about every way. They've seemingly polished the visual effects quite a bit since the release of the first trailer, as this final spot delivers some staggering imagery. It looks like both a vivid recreation of the animated masterwork and a wholly original piece, which is a combination that works excellently in my opinion. The cast, led by Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Kevin Kline, and many more, is sensational, and there's every reason to believe that this movie will be great. Disney has my money- and I think pretty much everyone in the world feels the same. This trailer exists more as an announcement that tickets are on sale, which seems to be the norm for many hotly-anticipated titles (The Force Awakens had a similar launch). It won't be long before everyone gets a chance to check out one of the biggest films of 2017, as Beauty and the Beast hits theaters on March 17.

Image Credit: IMDB

Ben Affleck will no longer direct 'The Batman'

And the collapse of the DC Cinematic Universe begins.....

After the critical and audience failure of both Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, the future of Warner Bros. and DC's newly minted cinematic universe became uncertain. Rumors began to swirl around Wonder Woman, and two directors (Seth Grahame-Smith and Rick Famuyiwa) bolted from the studio's The Flash. There were questions about Zack Snyder's involvement with Justice League, and fans quickly turned their attention and hopes to films like Aquaman and The Batman. And while James Wan's adaptation of the underwater superhero is still going well enough (as far as we know), the first standalone feature for Ben Affleck's version of the Caped Crusader recently headed into shaky territory. Affleck was originally set to direct the film, but there was some clear animosity after the failure of Dawn of Justice. A few weeks ago, Affleck made comments indicating that he would possibly drop his directorial duties, and yesterday, that's exactly what happened.

In an exclusive report from Variety, Ben Affleck officially announced that he will no longer direct The Batman, opting to remain only as an executive producer and star of the film. Here was Affleck's statement on the matter:

"There are certain characters who hold a special place in the heart of millions. Performing this role demands focus, passion and the very best performance I can give. It has become clear that I cannot do both jobs to the level they require. Together with the studio, I have decided to find a partner in a director who will collaborate with me on this massive film. I am still in this, and we are making it, but we are currently looking for a director. I remain extremely committed to this project, and look forward to bringing this to life with fans around the world."

Warner Bros. added the following statement:

"Warner Bros. fully supports Ben Affleck's decision and remains committed to working with him to bring a standalone Batman picture to life."

This decision means the end of the DC Cinematic Universe as we know it. Seriously, this thing is going to require a reboot by the end of the decade. Unless Justice League ends up being some kind of unexpected masterpiece, the universe is in shambles and there's no direction. The Flash is a disaster, there's a good chance that Wonder Woman falls apart on impact, and there's zero traction on Dwayne Johnson's Black Adam films, despite constant announcements from the star. Affleck previously said that he would only direct The Batman if the script is good, and with his directorial departure from the project, take that statement as you will. Variety is also reporting that Matt Reeves (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) is on the top of the WB shortlist for The Batman, but at this point, I don't know why any quality filmmaker would want to take on this universe. It's a mess, and without Affleck's guiding hand, we're gonna have problems. My only hope is that Affleck gets out of this as soon as he can, devoting his time and energy to directorial projects that deserve his attention. The DC Cinematic Universe is a lost cause. Put a nail in the coffin.

Source: Variety
Image Credits: IMDB/Warner Bros. 

SAG Awards recap: 'Hidden Figures' surprises with Best Ensemble win as march towards Oscar night continues

The SAG Awards were bound to be a little bit strange this year. When the group announced their nominations back in December, many pundits were surprised that La La Land, the heavy favorite at the time, was not among the nominees for Best Ensemble. Some chalked it up to members of SAG-AFTRA taking the word "ensemble" literally, but there was genuine concern that the campaign for Damien Chazelle's film was falling apart. But after the film won a record number of Golden Globes, snagged 14 Oscar nominations, and won the Producers Guild Award for Best Picture, it became clear that the SAG Awards were going to be a bizarre hiccup in the musical steamroll. For four of the five films nominated (Captain Fantastic isn't up for Best Picture at the Oscars), this was a chance to solidify their status as the only true challenger to La La Land. Barry Jenkins' Moonlight was hoping to capitalize on the momentum from the Golden Globes, and going into last night, it seemed to be a likely proposition. However, after several fairly predictable wins throughout the entire night, the SAG threw us a curveball at the last minute. Here are the winners of this year's awards!

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture

Hidden Figures

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role

Denzel Washington, Fences

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role

Emma Stone, La La Land

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role

Viola Davis, Fences

The wins for Stone, Ali, and Davis were all to be expected, and barring some miraculous comeback by Natalie Portman, those three races are fairly set. And despite the fact that Denzel Washington had never won an SAG Award, nobody quite expected the Fences star to upset Manchester by the Sea's Casey Affleck. The last time an actor won the SAG Award and not the lead acting Oscar was Johnny Depp in 2003, so Affleck has some serious history to overcome. But then again, no film won Best Picture without an SAG Ensemble nod since 1995's Braveheart, and there's a good chance that streak will be broken this year. The more surprising victory came from Hidden Figures, which topped the heavily favored Moonlight and Manchester to take home the group's Best Picture prize. There's no denying that the Theo Melfi-directed film has momentum- it's a box office hit and everybody seems to love it. Nonetheless, I seriously doubt if it'll pick up any serious heat in the Best Picture category, especially with only 3 Oscar nominations. This doesn't change much at all, and even though we all seem to want a more competitive race, the Oscar is La La Land's to lose now.

Images courtesy of Fox, IMDB/Paramount, Lionsgate, A24

Monday, January 30, 2017

Macon Blair's 'I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore' wins Grand Jury Prize at 2017 Sundance Film Festival

The 2017 Sundance Film Festival has wrapped up, and while it was certainly a much snowier year than usual, it was also a fairly quiet year for the famed independent fest. There weren't any true sensations like The Birth of a Nation (which clearly didn't pan out, due to unforeseen circumstances) or Manchester by the Sea- instead, there was a solid set of well-received titles that will likely make a decent profit in the coming months. Despite no record-breaking agreements between independent producers and studios, plenty of deals were made for some of the biggest hits of the fest. Netflix picked up hits like Mudbound (which is being pushed for an Oscar run) and Berlin Syndrome, A24 snagged A Ghost Story, Amazon took The Big Sick, Focus bought the rights for Thoroughbred, and Sony Pictures Classics will distribute Brigsby Bear and Call Me By Your Name, which is quite possibly the only major Oscar hope from this year's fest. Those films were some of the biggest of the festival, and yet, none of them took home any of the festival's biggest prizes. That honor went to Macon Blair's I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore., a darkly comedic directorial debut from the acclaimed star of films such as Green Room and Blue Ruin.

The story of a depressed woman who loses faith in humanity, I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore. will debut on Netflix on February 24, which many have noted as a game changer for the industry. As a fan of Blair, this is a very exciting development, and I'm looking forward to seeing the film when it hits the streaming service. The black comedy likely won't be up for any Oscars by the end of 2017, but that's honestly meaningless- looking at Sundance merely as an extremely early Oscar pre-cursor devalues so many great genre films that have debuted at the fest. While there was no "Sundance Sensation" this year, per say, there were plenty of films that could emerge as brilliant, visionary stories. The next stop on the yearly festival circuit will come in just a few days, as the Berlin Film Festival kicks off on Thursday, February 9, which has a lineup that features films like James Mangold's Logan and Danny Boyle's T2: Trainspotting. Look for more festival wrap-ups in the coming weeks.

Image courtesy of Netflix

Sunday, January 29, 2017

'La La Land' wins Best Picture at the PGA Awards

After sweeping the Golden Globes with a record 7 wins, earning a terrific 11 nominations at the BAFTA Awards, and tying the all-time record for Oscar nominations with 14, it seems like we're heading for a La La Land victory at the biggest awards show of them all on February 26. However, with such spectacular success, there was always going to be the opportunity for the backlash to kick in. And it has- plenty of pieces have been written about how Damien Chazelle's splashy musical is overrated, not a "true" musical, subtly racist, and just generally terrible. So as we move closer to Oscar voting, the upcoming pre-cursor awards shows will be very important in determining the fate of my favorite film of the year (yes, I know these things are meaningless, but they're fun). La La Land was surprisingly not nominated at the SAG Awards, which means that it'll be relying on a big showing at several of the other guilds. On Saturday night, the Producers Guild Awards were revealed, and it was another good night for the breakout hit.

La La Land won the Darryl F. Zanuck Producer of the Year Award in Theatrical Motion Pictures at the PGA Awards, solidifying its position as the film to beat (as if we didn't know that already). The PGA uses the preferential ballot, which is similar to the system that the Oscars use, and in addition to that fact, the film was going up against all of the other films in the Best Picture category. The PGA has been a good predictor of the Oscars, but it isn't a foolproof system- last year, The Big Short won the PGA only for Spotlight to win Best Picture at the Oscars. Nonetheless, this is good news for Lionsgate and the La La campaign. They're in prime shape now, and save for any major snafu, I think we're going to see the film take home a ton of hardware come Oscar night. The big questions will be answered at the WGA and DGA Awards, as we'll soon find out the level of support for Kenneth Lonergan and Barry Jenkins. Otherwise, Chazelle could sweep and La La Land could go home with 12 Oscars. It's shaping up to be a historic season and it'll certainly be a fun ride over the final few weeks.

Poster courtesy of Lionsgate 
Image Credit: IMDB

John Hurt has died at age 77

After a tragic set of celebrity deaths towards the end of 2016, which included the passing of Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, and George Michael, there was a brief period of relief for fans and cinephiles. I don't like to subscribe to the idea of blaming the year for famous fatalities, but there's no doubt that 2016 was a brutal time for the loss of actors and entertainers. This week, we get rolling on another tragic stretch with many mourning the loss of beloved performers. Mary Tyler Moore passed away at the age of 80 earlier in the week, and Oscar-nominated French actress Emmanuel Riva died at the age of 89 just yesterday. But the loss that hit me the hardest was the passing of John Hurt, who died yesterday at the age of 77. Hurt was a true icon, an actor who could instantly improve nearly any movie through his presence alone. He transcended genre, and despite an overall lack of recognition from the Academy, he'll be known as one of the most prolific, talented actors of his generation.

Image Credit: IMDB- Hurt in 2001's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Hurt has over 204 credits to his name on IMDb, and he appeared in some of the most popular films ever made. His career stretched from 1962 to the present day, with several films that have yet to be released. Hurt first broke through with a role in 1978's Midnight Express, for which he received an Oscar nomination. One year later, Hurt permanently cemented his status as a part of cinematic history with his role as Kane in Alien, where his character fell victim to the famous chest-bursting incident. The next year, Hurt received his second Oscar nomination for The Elephant Man, following that up with roles in Heaven's Gate, 1984, and even a cameo in Spaceballs. He further established his legacy with the character of Ollivander, who he played in several installments in the Harry Potter franchise. During the 2000s, Hurt also appeared in Hellboy, V for Vendetta, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, all before capping off his incredible career with integral parts in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Snowpiercer, and last year's Jackie. He has four upcoming productions, including Joe Wright's The Darkest Hour, where he plays Neville Chamberlain. Hurt was a universally appealing presence in the world of film and television, and he will be sorely missed.

I was first exposed to Hurt through the Harry Potter franchise, which was the vessel for my exposure to so many incredible actors. Hurt is only in one scene in the 2001 film, but he makes such an invaluable impact in a short period of time, which seemed to be the motto for his entire career. Hurt was rarely the lead, but he always managed to capture my attention whenever he was on screen. He's simply excellent in Alien, effectively selling one of the greatest horror sequences put on film with an empathetic, likable individual. He's excellent in Snowpiercer as Gilliam, the wise old man behind the inner workings of the dystopian train. And of course, in his most recent performance, Hurt's impact as the Priest in Jackie was near perfection. In a movie filled with showy, dynamic turns, his understated brilliance was captivating. Hurt really was an incredible talent, and I'm going to miss seeing him in new roles as the years go by. Nonetheless, he left a permanent impact on the industry with some terrific performances.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

'Stranger Things' star Millie Bobby Brown joins cast of 'Godzilla: King of the Monsters'

I'm really interested to see where the cast of Stranger Things goes from here. After its premiere last summer, the sci-fi show created by the Duffer Brothers became a true cultural phenomenon, a show that captured the zeitgeist in almost every way, shape, and form. The main stars were on every talk show, it became one of the biggest shows in the history of Netflix, and perhaps most importantly, it announced the arrival of some of the most talented young actors in Hollywood. Sure, Season 2 will do insane business and prompt a fan frenzy all over again, but the strength of the talent behind this show will stretch far beyond the world of Hawkins, Indiana. Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, and Caleb McLaughlin make for a terrific trio, and I think that Natalia Dyer and Charlie Heaton will start to receive some major blockbuster offers in the near future. But there's no question who the real star of the show is- Millie Bobby Brown. With the character of Eleven, Brown became an instant sensation, and everyone in the industry knew that she would become a huge star. Six months after the debut of the sci-fi favorite, it looks like those predictions are finally coming true.

Millie Bobby Brown has officially signed on to star in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the sequel to 2014's Godzilla. That film, directed by Rogue One: A Star Wars Story's Gareth Edwards, made $200.6 million in the US and just over $529 million worldwide, safely resurrecting the long dormant monster franchise. Godzilla is just one step in Warner's master plan for their monster characters, as all of this is currently building towards a Godzilla vs. Kong film in 2020. Step two of the plan goes into action in March of this year, when Jordan Vogt-Roberts' Kong: Skull Island debuts in theaters across the country. King of the Monsters will be directed by Michael Dougherty, the filmmaker behind Krampus and Trick 'R' Treat, from a screenplay by Max Borenstein, Zach Shields, and Dougherty. Brown is currently the only cast member, which leads me to assume that she'll be the lead of the film. With Stranger Things, the 12 year-old actress proved that she was a once-in-a-generation prodigy, the kind of actress who could convey emotional depth effortlessly. I'm so excited that she's leading a franchise in desperate need of some gravitas, and I have no doubt that she'll knock it out of the park.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is currently set for a March 22, 2019 release date.

Image Credits: IMDB
Sources: Deadline, Box Office Mojo

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

'20th Century Women' review

There are times when you walk out of a movie, and in that exact moment, you just know that it's a great film. To give a recent example, when the credits rolled on Moonlight, I was beyond floored. I knew that I had witnessed a masterpiece. However, there are other times where the feeling of a movie lingers. It sticks with you during the ride home, as you reflect on the vibe, the experience, the performances, and the narrative arc of the story. Sooner or later, you realize that you just saw something pretty great. That happened with 20th Century Women. Mike Mills creates such a relaxing, intoxicating sense of time and place with his third feature, bringing life to an atmosphere and a mentality that feels like a relic of a bygone era. The story told here is of a very specific experience, but its universal appeal is what makes it so refreshing and brilliant. 20th Century Women may not initially seem like much, but there's so much more than meets the eye in this portrait of a Santa Barbara family during the last moments of the American cultural revolution.

1979 has been a popular time for many filmmakers to explore, and it's not hard to understand why. For many, the late 70s are representative of either the death of the American dream or the demise of the counter-culture, which provides an interesting societal contrast. Mills takes the meaninglessness and the frustration of the era and channels it into a coming-of-age tale of sorts that explores the life of a young boy and the generations of women who raised him during this specific moment in time. That teenage boy is Jamie Fields (played by Lucas Jade Zumann), a 15 year old kid who lives with his mother, Dorothea (Annette Bening). The Fields family doesn't exactly live alone though- their house is constantly bustling with a variety of creative types and close friends, who all seem to love spending time with the charismatic matriarch of the Santa Barbara clan.

There's William (Billy Crudup), an amiable, talented craftsman who becomes the only male influence on Jamie. There's also punk photographer Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a cancer survivor who has a socially awkward manner. And of course, there's Julie (Elle Fanning), a longtime friend of Jamie and the girl that he loves. At this moment in time, it's clear that Jamie is starting to break away from the life that he used to share with his mother. He's growing more independent, more reckless, more unpredictable. One day, he plays a stupid "fainting" game with his friends, only to end up unconscious for more than 30 minutes. Dorothea is perplexed by her young son's sudden development, and she tries to find a way to connect with him. She hopes that by using Abbie and Julie, she'll find a way into his impressionable mind. The result is a formative set of experiences for all of the involved parties, as they question love, sources of happiness, and the meaning of ordinary interactions during the course of one bright, joyful summer in sunny California.

20th Century Women is one of the rare films that is about everything and nothing at the same time. It works like a Richard Linklater picture in certain ways, and I was reminded of Everybody Wants Some!! and Dazed and Confused at various moments. Mills doesn't suffocate the story with forced tension or drama, allowing the characters to breathe and grow as real, flesh-and-blood human beings. You feel like you know these people by the time the credits roll, and it's the lack of a true narrative that allows the rich, insightful dialogue to flow freely on the screen. Mills wants you to understand these people, and he wants you to understand the impact that they had on each other during this influential cultural shift. 20th Century Women doesn't really have a beginning, middle, and end. It shows a moment in time, but with such vivid detail that the film is practically overflowing with warmth and humanity.

The fact that Mills has an excellent eye for time and place only makes this work in an even more impressive way. He captures the aimlessness and futility that many cultural historians attribute to late 1970s America, but also the sense of unity that came with the final days of the time period that fundamentally changed the country. Don't get me wrong, 20th Century Women isn't exactly a film about the death of culture and the arrival of the Reagan age, even if there are various references to that throughout. However, by using that as the backdrop for a multi-generational story, Mills only enriches the atmosphere, furthering the connection and context we have with the narrative being told. It doesn't define the story- it merely enhances the sense of striking energy that Mills brings to these characters.

But 20th Century Women somehow goes beyond being about a group of individuals in 1979 Santa Barbara. On a more macro level, Mills' film is about how a specific moment- a year, a summer, a week- can have a massive impact on the rest of your life, even if those people aren't around forever. There's a bittersweet air to the way that 20th Century Women plays out, and it's with these ideas that the movie has its most profound impact. It's a film that is both about individuality and the need for human connection, and the ending struck me in a surprising manner. Especially as someone who is about to undergo a major change in life, there's something simultaneously painful and hopeful about understanding the fleeting nature of important moments. 20th Century Women is about the twilight days of an era, both for our characters and for the time period they inhabit.

The warmth and vibrant energy of 20th Century Women extends to the performances, delivered by actors with a keen understanding of the characters. These are some of the best performances of the year, and it's a shame that more recognition isn't being given to the talented team behind this film. Granted, they have quite a bit to work with, as Mike Mills' screenplay is absolutely terrific in all the right ways. Nonetheless, each member of the small ensemble takes their character and develops them into something sensational, creating a complete individual that the audience can understand. Annette Bening is the center of the 20th Century Women universe, and her performance is nothing short of mesmerizing. Bening plays Dorothea as a woman of contradictions and idiosyncrasies, someone who is almost impossible to describe. Strong-willed, but open to discussion, big-hearted, but intensely private, and a woman who almost feels like she's living in the wrong era. I know it was a competitive year, but Bening really should have made the cut in the Best Actress category.

And yet somehow, she doesn't even give the most compelling performance in the film. That honor belongs to Greta Gerwig, who is a funny, cheerfully awkward presence as Abbie. Gerwig hasn't always hit the right notes for me (I'm not a fan of the Baumbach stuff), but she's nothing short of hysterical here, and she manages to be deeply complex and profoundly sad at the same time. Elle Fanning rounds out the main trio of women, and she has become a thoroughly dependable actress, even at the young age of 18. Fanning captures the complexity of teenage relationships and aimless struggle, which feels like a nice contrast to Bening and Gerwig. Her relationship with Lucas Jade Zumann's Jamie hit a heartbreaking note for me, and I was truly dazzled by his performance. Jamie reminded me of myself in a lot of ways, which I think is one of the most magical aspects of 20th Century Women. I have a feeling that most audiences will see a bit of themselves in Mills' film, and that allows for his cultural collage to come to life in a breathtaking way.

20th Century Women does ramble at times, and it took a while for me to understand what exactly it was building towards. But when it does all come together, it hits a euphoric, joyous note that few films are able to accomplish. It's a movie about the small moments, the fun conversations and unique people that shape our lives before we're even able to realize it. Plus, it's bolstered by a killer soundtrack, some great additional scoring from Roger Neill, and excellent cinematography from Sean Porter. Mike Mills has crafted something that is nothing short of hypnotizing, a film drunk on its own relentless sense of hope and optimism. It's the kind of film that I can see myself revisiting time and time again, just to spend more time in such a beautiful atmosphere filled with great people. 20th Century Women is a film that deals with weighty ideas, but it's a truly calming, exuberant experience. It operates in a space that few films are willing to touch, but thanks to the assured work of Mills and his amazing cast, the result is spectacular.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A-                                             (8.5/10)

Images courtesy of A24

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Nominations revealed for the 89th Academy Awards

After a long awards season that began all the way back in January 2016 with the premiere of Manchester by the Sea at Sundance, we finally reached the most critical day of the battle for Hollywood glory- the announcement of the Oscar nominations. Early this morning, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences revealed their picks for the best of 2016. Without further delay, here are the nominees for the 89th annual Academy Awards.


Image courtesy of Lionsgate

Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea


Image courtesy of Lionsgate

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


Image courtesy of Roadside Attractions

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


Image courtesy of Fox Searchlight

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


Image courtesy of CBS Films

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel, Lion
Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals


Image courtesy of The Weinstein Company

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


Image courtesy of A24

Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou, The Lobster
Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
Mike Mills, 20th Century Women
Taylor Sheridan, Hell or High Water


Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Luke Davies, Lion
Eric Heisserer, Arrival
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi, Hidden Figures
August Wilson, Fences


Image courtesy of Focus Features

Kubo and the Two Strings
My Life as a Zucchini
The Red Turtle


Image courtesy of Netflix

Fire at Sea
I Am Not Your Negro
Life, Animated
O.J.: Made in America


Land of Mine
A Man Called Ove
The Salesman
Toni Erdmann


Image courtesy of A24

Nicholas Britell, Moonlight
Justin Hurwitz, La La Land
Mica Levi, Jackie
Thomas Newman, Passengers
Dustin O'Halloran and Hauschka, Lion


Image courtesy of Lionsgate

"Audition (The Fools Who Dream)" from La La Land
"Can't Stop the Feeling" from Trolls
"City of Stars" from La La Land
"The Empty Chair" from Jim: The James Foley Story
"How Far I'll Go" from Moana


Grieg Fraser, Lion
James Laxton, Moonlight
Rodrigo Prieto, Silence
Linus Sandgren, La La Land
Bradford Young, Arrival


Colleen Atwood, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Consolata Boyle, Florence Foster Jenkins
Madeline Fontaine, Jackie
Joanna Johnston, Allied
Mary Zophres, La La Land


Image courtesy of Lionsgate

Tom Cross, La La Land
John Gilbert, Hacksaw Ridge
Jake Roberts, Hell or High Water
Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon, Moonlight
Joe Walker, Arrival


Image courtesy of Sony

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Hail, Caesar!
La La Land


A Man Called Ove
Star Trek Beyond
Suicide Squad


Image courtesy of Lionsgate

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


Deepwater Horizon
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land


Image courtesy of Lionsgate

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


Ennemis Interieurs
La Femme et le TGV
Silent Nights


Blind Vaysha
Borrowed Time
Pear Cider and Cigarettes


4.1 Miles
Joe's Violin
Watani: My Homeland
The White Helmets

There was plenty to talk about throughout the day with these nominations. Here are just a few of the milestones, the snubs, and the surprises from this batch of nominees.

-La La Land ties the all-time nominations record

Image courtesy of Lionsgate

Everybody said it couldn't happen, but once again, Damien Chazelle's splashy movie musical surpassed all expectations. Throughout the last few days, many Oscar pundits said that there was no way for La La Land to tie the all time nomination record of 14, set by All About Eve and Titanic. There was a good chance for the film to miss in Costume Design and Sound Editing, but in the end, the love for one of the most popular movies in recent memory pushed it over the edge. La La Land earned 14 nominations, capping off an incredible season for Chazelle's masterpiece. I predicted that the film would tie the record in my predictions yesterday, gaining optimism after the Golden Globes sweep. There's a chance for La La Land fatigue to set in, but at this moment, it's the one to beat.

-Mel Gibson's comeback?

Image courtesy of Lionsgate

Of all the filmmakers who could possibly fill in that fifth slot, I must say that I certainly was not expecting Mel Gibson's name to be called. Garth Davis, David Mackenzie, Martin Scorsese, and even Denzel Washington were all possibilities, but few were anticipating that the often-maligned Gibson would make the cut with the directors branch. And yet, here we are. Gibson earned a nomination for his strong work on Hacksaw Ridge, a vicious, old-fashioned piece of work that highlighted his incredible skills as a filmmaker. Gibson is still despised in many circles in Hollywood- does this nomination change anything? Probably not. There were still quite a few angry people this morning when Gibson's name was called. However, it ensures that he'll keep getting movies made, and if those movies are good, he will get nominated.

-Michael Shannon gets a well-deserved nod

Image courtesy of Focus Features

Nocturnal Animals ended up following a similar track throughout the entire awards season- it did great with foreign audiences, and fell short with American movie-goers. Tom Ford's brilliant thriller snagged several Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations, but today, the team woke up to only one nod from the Academy. Thankfully, that nomination was for Michael Shannon, who delivers an outstanding performance as a gruff, sardonic Texas lawman. Shannon gives the best performance in a film filled with excellent turns from great actors, and this was the best surprise of the morning for me. He'll likely lose out to Mahershala Ali, but after Aaron Taylor-Johnson's shocking win at the Globes, who knows- maybe there's some more supporting magic for the film.

-Amy Adams snubbed in competitive Best Actress category

We always knew that the Best Actress race was going to be incredibly competitive this year, and that some very deserving individuals would be left off the list. I mentioned yesterday that the only actresses ensured to get a nomination were Natalie Portman and Emma Stone, who ended up receiving recognition from the Academy. I considered Amy Adams to be fairly safe, but in the end, she was snubbed in favor of Ruth Negga, who many suspected had fallen off the list. Annette Bening also missed the cut, but if we're being honest, that was expected. The more shocking omission was certainly Adams, who did career-best work in Arrival. Nonetheless, in a brutal year, Adams fell short, even with the overall strength of Denis Villeneuve's incredible work.

-Passengers and Suicide Squad? Really?

There are always a few terrible films that make the cut in the below-the-line categories, and this year, the strange combination of Suicide Squad and Passengers stood out from the pack. The former received a nomination for Best Makeup and Hairstyling, beating out Deadpool, Florence Foster Jenkins, and a few other favorites. The latter received nods for Best Production Design (a deserving nomination) and Best Original Score (frankly shocking). The thought of having to say "Oscar nominee Suicide Squad" is just terrible- here's hoping that Star Trek Beyond beats it out on Oscar night!

-No Deadpool in the end

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

After weeks of hubbub and Hollywood excitement surrounding the potential Best Picture nomination for Deadpool, the R-rated superhero movie received a grand total of zero nominations. I like this movie, don't get me wrong, but there was some kind of hilarious irony to all the superhero fans putting their chips on a long shot. Blockbusters deserve a place in the Best Picture race, but if films like Skyfall, The Dark Knight, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows- Part 2 can't make the cut, then the Merc with a Mouth shouldn't either.

-Silence falls short

Everybody thought that Silence was a surefire Best Picture nominee. After all, 5 out of the last 6 Scorsese movies have been nominated for the most prestigious prize in Hollywood. But after a late start, the difficult drama received only one nomination for Rodrigo Prieto's cinematography. This is a weighty film that requires a great deal of contemplation, and in such a crowded season, Silence was almost universally rejected. It's not surprising, but it is disappointing.

-Biggest Snub of the Day- "Drive It Like You Stole It"

Image courtesy of The Weinstein Company

Of all the nominees I was hoping for this morning, "Drive It Like You Stole It" for Best Original Song was at the top of my list. And of course, it didn't happen. I have nothing else to say on this matter. I'm just incredibly disappointed. Sing Street deserved better. Much, much better.

So yeah......those are your 2017 Oscar nominees! Look for more updates and predictions in the coming weeks before all is revealed on February 26.

Monday, January 23, 2017

'Hidden Figures' review

It's honestly astonishing that there was a period of time when 20th Century Fox didn't have Hidden Figures set for an awards season release. The film was initially placed on the January calendar, but after the positive reception to the first trailer, Fox moved quickly to do a special event at the Toronto International Film Festival, eventually deciding to platform it in December as an awards-qualifying run. Unsurprisingly, Theodore Melfi's film has been dominant at the box office and on the awards circuit. Hidden Figures has raked in $84.2 million, and it's in prime shape to receive a slew of Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, on Tuesday. It's the kind of effective crowd-pleaser that just screams "awards bait," but while that term can often have a negative connotation, I can't imagine many people expressing anything but adoration for this joyful, thoroughly enjoyable piece of entertainment. Hidden Figures is just impossible to dislike, an important slice of history told to great effect by a talented crew of performers. Better films have debuted in theaters over the last few months, but few feel quite as delightfully old-fashioned as the untold story of the space program of the early 1960s.

Hidden Figures follows three brilliant NASA mathematicians- Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae)- who are held back by their gender and the color of their skin in 1961 Virginia. The women are some of the best computers in the game, and as the film opens, they're each trying to prove themselves in their own way. Dorothy is consistently denied a supervisor job by Ms. Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst), even though she's clearly doing the necessary work for the position. She finds a home working with the International Business Machines (IBM), hoping to find a path to success. On the other hand, Mary desperately wants to be an engineer, and despite resistance from many in the program, she fights for the right to take the classes she needs for a degree.

However, the main story centers around Katherine, who is given a chance to work with the Space Task Group in the mission to get a man into space. At the start of the film, the Russians are winning the space race, and NASA chief Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) desperately wants to put a man into orbit. The astronauts, led by the charming John Glenn (Glen Powell), are ready to roll- but the math just isn't there yet. Katherine is recruited for her knowledge in analytical geometry, but she soon becomes a powerful figure in the department. And yet, despite her mathematical prowess, Katherine still finds a significant amount of push back from her co-workers, especially Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons). As NASA gets closer to putting a man into space, the women behind one of America's greatest achievements will put themselves at the forefront of the action, fighting for equality and progress with their unique genius.

Hidden Figures is a very familiar film, but its magic charm is that it manages to overcome that almost by sheer force of will. It dabbles in cliches at first, and yet the story eventually unfolds in such a way that the conventionality evaporates before our eyes. This is one of the rare films that just gets better and better as it goes along, and while Hidden Figures is a tad lengthy, there's a feeling of fulfillment and joy at the conclusion that very few movies are able to accomplish. It combines the nostalgic pop sensibilities of a space race drama (think Apollo 13) with the sense of frustration and injustice that comes with a civil rights film, creating a beautiful confection that manages to inspire, enlighten, and entertain. The classical approach might seem like a bad idea on paper, but there's a sense of comfort and gratification that comes with watching such an important story told so well.

With the recent trend of excellent biopics of famous African-American heroes, we've seen some unflinching portrayals of racism, brutality, and heinous inequality. Films like Straight Outta Compton, Selma, and 12 Years A Slave have all shown us a very ugly side of the history of our country, and they all include moments that are as disturbing and angering as anything in modern cinema. Hidden Figures is not that kind of film, but at the same time, it very much is. It's aimed at a family-friendly audience, so there are never any graphic displays of racial epithets or horrific violence. Instead, director Theodore Melfi shows us the equally loathsome displays of subtle discrimination that occurred during the Jim Crow era. Dorothy and Mary are both denied positions that they are clearly qualified for. Katherine has to run a half mile just to use the bathroom at her new position, and she's denied access to important information for an absurdly lengthy amount of time. Talented women of color are relegated to computing positions with rare opportunities for advancement. Even up until the climax of the film, Melfi shows us these injustices and it really strikes an interesting chord.

"Every time we try to get ahead, they move the finish line," says Mary during a critical moment, giving us what seems to be the common theme of the film that helped the filmmakers craft their approach. Melfi knows that he doesn't have a movie with the blunt force impact of something like Ava DuVernay's Selma. He knows that the subject matter is something with a broader general audience appeal. So despite the overall crowd-pleasing effect of the film, he balances the obvious gender and racial dynamics of the story with some really understated work that connects on a deeper level. I felt a deep sense of anger at many points, and I have to imagine that anyone who sees this film will feel the same. He creates a world where systematic oppression and unfair social dynamics have held back the careers of brilliant women, and when the moments of deep rage are unleashed, it's cathartic and incredibly powerful. Some may say that he skirted around the issues with a film that seems to almost directly appeal to families (why is that a bad thing? Kids need civil rights stories too), but don't ever make the mistake of doubting this film's effectiveness.

The work by Melfi and co-writer Allison Schroeder is superb, but Hidden Figures works so terrifically because of the characters at the center of its story, likable, hard-working individuals who have been slighted by an unjust system. The writing gives the actresses a huge boost, but make no mistake- they dominate this movie and make these characters their own. Taraji P. Henson carries the heaviest amount of responsibility as Katherine, clearly established in the opening moments as the focal point of the film. Henson is great at conveying both deep vulnerability and profound strength, growing and developing as a character throughout the course of the story. Henson's Katherine never changes as a person at her core, but the way she interacts with her co-workers continually shifts before she hits a boiling point. When she finally stands up to the entire Task Group, Henson delivers a true Oscar moment that would have surely nabbed her a nomination in a less competitive year.

Janelle Monae proved her acting might with her outstanding performance in Moonlight, and she's even better as the feisty, but endlessly lovable Mary Jackson. She has this confidence and a contempt for the status quo that gives her character a distinct contrast to Katherine, and it works very well. However, out of the lead trio, Octavia Spencer is mostly likely to snag a nomination for her dynamic portrayal of Dorothy Vaughan. Spencer has such a commanding screen presence, and she's a natural in a part that seems to be made for her. In addition, Kevin Costner is excellent as Al Harrison, the determined NASA boss who gains a deep respect for Katherine as the film goes on. He's a wild card in the Supporting Actor race, and I'd love to see him get in. Props should also go to Glen Powell, Mahershala Ali, Kirsten Dunst, and Jim Parsons, who all do great work in the film. This is one of the best ensembles of the year, and I can easily see this cast taking home the SAG award.

Hidden Figures made me feel good. It made me feel hopeful and optimistic. It even inspired me in a unique way. Sure, it makes a few mistakes along the way- it's a tad too lengthy and crowded to ever achieve true greatness. Nonetheless, there's a sense of cinematic satisfaction that reminded me of how powerful a purely good movie can be. Everything about Hidden Figures is lovely, pleasant, and endlessly appealing. Somehow, it even managed to remind me of some of the films that I watched as a kid, movies that really got me to love cinema. Maybe it was just the Apollo 13 connection, but I think it just proves how much I enjoyed this breakout hit. It's a rousing, deeply rewarding piece of entertainment that hits all the right notes. Crowd-pleasers don't get much better than this.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A-                                             (8.2/10)

Images courtesy of 20th Century Fox