Thursday, February 23, 2017

Predictions for the 89th Academy Awards

The Oscars are on Sunday, which means it's time for me to make probably inaccurate predictions! Here are my thoughts on who will win, who might win, and who should win in all categories, along with some brief (and in some cases not THAT brief) analysis of why. Feel free to discuss!

WILL WIN: La La Land
COULD BE: Moonlight
SHOULD WIN: Moonlight

Early on in the year, it became clear that there were three contenders for Best Picture. The grand nostalgic musical La La Land, the quiet drama Manchester by the Sea, and the surprise indie masterpiece Moonlight—the only one that hadn’t been regularly pegged as a contender even before its release. Since then, the buzz for Manchester by the Sea has faded a bit—it’s a good film which is still likely to pick up some other awards, but it’s too small a film to sustain the momentum it once built up. Conversely, La La Land has emerged as the clear frontrunner, picking up award after award. As La La Land’s star has risen, its critics are starting to become more vocal (as often happens to an Oscar frontrunner) and there are definitely some valid criticisms to make about La La Land. I enjoyed the film very much, but I think the strongest key to its Oscar success is that it’s just an objectively well-made film. That’s why it has so many nominations—because all of the individual elements are so impeccably done. Everyone in the Academy votes for Best Picture, and La La Land is going to be the nominee that will appeal most to those in the technical categories. Similarly, Oscar voters tend to like movies that comment on the industry itself—like recent winners The Artist, Argo, and Birdman. But Moonlight shouldn’t be counted out. An absolutely beautiful film, Moonlight’s emotional resonance is its strongest asset. It only had a fraction of La La Land’s budget and far less of a producers push behind it, and yet it’s still in the running. It’s the superior film, and this category has been known to have spoilers before. Plus, it should be mentioned, starting this year there was a push to make the Academy’s voting bloc more diverse—a win for Moonlight might be a good indicator that this is paying off.

WILL WIN: Damien Chazelle, La La Land
COULD WIN: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
SHOULD WIN: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: Park Chan-wook, The Handmaiden

Best Director and Best Picture usually go hand in hand, but not always. So it makes sense that the contenders for this award are the same as for Best Picture. Damien Chazelle was marked as a rising star in the field after Whiplash, and his helming of La La Land is undeniably impressive. The film’s critics point to the screenplay far more than Chazelle’s work. And his work creating some of the film’s truly magical musical sequences mark him as the one to beat. Even if Moonlight goes on to win Best Picture, I still think this is Chazelle’s award to lose. I’ll be very happy if Chazelle wins, but I did personally respond more to the direction of Barry Jenkins. The visual narrative and emotional swells he created are wonderful, but Jenkins deserves it if only for making a role played by three actors still feel like one cohesive performance.

WILL WIN: Emma Stone, La La Land
COULD WIN: Natalie Portman, Jackie
SHOULD WIN: Natalie Portman, Jackie
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: Elle Fanning, The Neon Demon

Natalie Portman became the frontrunner for this award as soon as anyone saw Jackie. Her absolute embodiment of Jackie Kennedy earned her rave reviews. And as soon as I saw the film, I understood why. Her performance is remarkable—she absolutely transforms and perfectly captures the essence of Jacqueline Kennedy. It’s the type of exemplary and ambitious performance that awards shows are designed to recognize. And my instincts still say there’s no way she can’t win. It was in fact my favorite performance of the year. And for a while, Portman was winning award after award after award. But for some reason the tide seems to be turning. As Jackie as a whole failed to resonate with voters, and La La Land continued to soar with voters, suddenly Emma Stone received a swell of attention from some of the Oscars’ most prominent precursor awards. Most notable, the SAG Awards. Perhaps it’s because Stone’s character is a struggling actor, and that’s something that resonated strongly with most of the SAG voters. Who knows why, but suddenly Stone has overtaken Portman to become the frontrunner in this category. I think Stone does lovely work in La La Land, but for her to win over Portman is frankly disgraceful. And yet, I think it’s going to happen. I’m predicting Stone will win, but I really hope I’m wrong.

WILL WIN: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
COULD WIN: Denzel Washington, Fences
SHOULD WIN: Denzel Washington, Fences
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: John Goodman, 10 Cloverfield Lane & Adam Driver, Paterson

If we were to judge by performance alone, this is Casey Affleck’s award hands down. Affleck’s performance in Manchester by the Sea is intensely personal, and often emotionally devastating. He carries the film beautifully and it is certainly the best work of his career. He’s already won lots of awards for his performance, and adding an Oscar to his belt seems almost inevitable. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that he doesn’t have much competition in this category. Denzel Washington does good work, but his performance might have been improved if he hadn’t also been the film’s director—with no objective eye to watch his performance in a very theatrical film, he’s lacking the restraint that his co-stars demonstrate beautifully. Ryan Gosling is fine in La La Land, but his nomination here is far more for the movie itself than Gosling in particular. I haven’t seen Hacksaw Ridge and I’m not going to, and I’m sure Andrew Garfield is good in it, but I’ve not heard anything exemplary about his work. And the most laughable nominee is Viggo Mortensen—he’s a wonderful actor but he brings absolutely nothing to the table in Captain Fantastic. Frankly, I thought it was a disappointingly stupid movie, but I don’t see how even the film’s fans could argue that Mortensen deserves an Oscar for his work—the script just doesn’t give him anything interesting to do. So, yeah, this should be Affleck’s to run away with.

EXCEPT…since the film’s release, it has become known that Affleck is a piece of shit rapist. And that’s a big deal. His work is good, and I’m not suggesting people have to boycott Manchester by the Sea, but maybe this is not the type of person we should be giving major awards to? So, should he win? Absolutely not. Of his fellow nominees, Washington gives the best performance, and his win at the SAG Awards suggests that a lot of actors might be uncomfortable with Affleck taking home the top prize. Still, the Academy hasn’t had a problem giving awards to pieces of shit in the past (cough cough Mel Gibson is a fucking Oscar nominee in the year 2017 cough cough) so I still think he’s going to be the winner. I, however, will always dream of an alternate reality where the Oscar went to one of the far more interesting leading male performances that didn’t receive any awards attention this year: like Adam Driver’s masterclass in subtlety in Paterson or John Goodman’s terrifying performance in 10 Cloverfield Lane, which to me was reminiscent of Kathy Bates’ Oscar-winning work in Misery and should have been campaigned for as such.

WILL WIN: Viola Davis, Fences
COULD WIN: Naomie Harris, Moonlight
SHOULD WIN: Viola Davis, Fences
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: Gillian Jacobs, Don’t Think Twice

When I saw Moonlight, one of my first thoughts was, “Well, Naomie Harris is going to win an Oscar.” In a strong ensemble cast, Harris is absolutely the standout—her work is undeniably powerful and personal. It is nuanced enough that it is respectful of the craft, while also having enough showy moments that Oscar voters will pay attention. And in any other year, I think that this would easily be Harris’ award. But, unfortunately, she’s up against Viola Davis. And Viola Davis is absolutely brilliant in Fences. To me, the performances are essentially neck and neck (I do think that Davis just barely ekes out Harris, but I’d be happy with either of them winning based on quality) but Davis has the story behind her to gain the Academy’s support. She’s been nominated so many times and never won before, so it’s her time. Luckily, just like when Julianne Moore won for Still Alice, “her time” manages to coincide with some of the best work of her prolific career.

WILL WIN: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
SHOULD WIN: Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: John Turturro, Mia Madre & Andre Holland, Moonlight & Trevante Rhodes, Moonlight

Yeah, there’s not too much to say here: it’s definitely gonna be Mahershala Ali. This is the only acting award that I think is a solid slam dunk. Ali has won pretty much every award going into this ceremony (with the exception of the Golden Globe, but those are fairly meaningless anyway) and they can pretty much engrave the Oscar with his name at this point.

Except…here’s the thing…and please don’t hate me…I don’t quite get why he is the supporting actor from Moonlight who’s getting all the attention. Don’t get me wrong, he’s wonderful, and he’s been consistently wonderful in everything he’s been in outside of Moonlight too, but I guess I didn’t find him to be as much of a standout in this ensemble as others did. Perhaps it’s because the performance was hyped up for me so much before I saw the film, but Ali is only in a small part of the movie, and after he left and didn’t come back, I was left thinking, “Oh, that’s it?” Again, he’s good, but with this strong of a cast, I just thought other performances were more effective and affecting. Ali is a strong presence, but his character Juan just isn’t written to showcase the numerous emotional layers of, for example, Kevin and Chiron, as played in their adult forms by Andre Holland and Trevante Rhodes. Their performances stayed with me a lot more than Ali’s. So, of the nominees, I’ll admit that Ali doesn’t give what I think is truly the best supporting performance. For me, that’s the young Lucas Hedges in Manchester by the Sea. But I’ll still cheer along with everyone when Ali wins since he’s the one who’s been destined to represent the superb ensemble of Moonlight.

WILL WIN: Manchester by the Sea
SHOULD WIN: Manchester by the Sea

While La La Land is poised to do very well this year, its screenplay isn’t exactly what people are most excited about. If it wins here, it’ll mostly be as a default win. Especially considering it’s up against the Manchester by the Sea, an acclaimed film whose screenplay is its greatest strength. Kenneth Lonergan has been nominated for his screenplays twice before and not won, and as he is unlikely to win Best Director or Best Picture, this is a good category for the Academy to finally send an award Lonergan’s way.

WILL WIN: Moonlight
COULD WIN: Arrival
SHOULD WIN: Moonlight

This category is rather strong this year. The Fences screenplay is attributed posthumously to the wonderful August Wilson, and the screenplay for Arrival gave us one of the best science fiction films in years. But, this award has to go to Moonlight. It’s simply too good—and offers the emotional strength that non-writers love, and the lyrical artistry of language that writers love. Plus, the writer’s branch of the Academy tends to be more consistently adventurous than, say, the Best Picture category.

WILL WIN: Zootopia
COULD WIN: Kubo and the Two Strings
SHOULD WIN: Zootopia (although, to be fair, I haven’t seen The Red Turtle yet and from what I’ve heard it’s brilliant and just might overtake Zootopia in my mind)

In just the past few years, this has become one of my absolute favorite Oscar categories. As the genre has advanced, a category which used to only have three nominees or so in it has somehow become spoiled for choice, and it’s genuinely competitive just to get a nomination. I also love how the nominees have become a mixture of big budget major studio films (this year, Disney films Zootopia and Moana) and smaller indie films (this year, Kubo and the Two Strings, My Life as a Zucchini, and The Red Turtle). Unfortunately, the heavy-hitters still have the advantage when it comes to the actual win. But the good news is that those heavy-hitters tend to be really good, and that’s the case here. Likely winner Zootopia is one of my favorite films of the year, and I think this animal film noir with a social justice bent is a more than worthy entry into the hall of animated film winners. But, this category could still surprise us, and if it does, my guess is that surprise will be Kubo and the Two Strings. I don’t think it’s as good a film as Zootopia overall, but the animation is pretty extraordinary, and Laika Studios has been nominated for every film they’ve made and still never won, so the Academy might think they’re overdue.

WILL WIN: Toni Erdmann (Germany)
COULD WIN: The Salesman (Iran)
SHOULD WIN: A Man Called Ove (Sweden)

For a while it looked like the German film Toni Erdmann, which was a hit ever since its premiere at Cannes, was the runaway favorite here. And for good reason—this wonderfully weird movie is funny, engaging, and wholly original. Plus, it’s crowd-pleasing enough that an American remake has already been announced starring Jack Nicholson and Kristen Wiig. But, in the past few weeks, the Iranian film The Salesman has suddenly become a contender. Director Asghar Farhadi has won this award before for his masterpiece A Separation, and while I haven’t seen it yet, I’ve heard good things about his latest offering. Plus, it’s riding on buzz surrounding the news that Farhadi would not be allowed to enter the United States for the ceremony due to Donald Trump’s travel ban. In a political year, some Oscar voters might lean towards The Salesman just as a form of political protest which might give it the edge. Or, who knows, perhaps voters will go for the crowd-pleaser A Man Called Ove, which is also nominated for makeup and hairstyling. I know that I was quite taken with the surprising tearjerker, and ultimately liked it even more than Toni Erdmann.

Also, it’s worth noting, my two favorite foreignlanguage films of this yearThe Handmaiden and Mia Madre—weren’t even submitted as potential contenders for this award, which is a shame because they’re both excellent. Watch them!

WILL WIN: O.J.: Made in America

Pretty much everyone who has seen the 467 minute, five-part documentary O.J.: Made in America agrees it’s a masterpiece. And it has taken almost every Best Documentary Award offered so far this year. So it should be the obvious frontrunner, and it is. But I’m still wary—I think the fact that it was made for television and was only released briefly in theaters to qualify for the Oscars on a technicality might rub some Oscar voters the wrong way. If that happens, then perhaps another documentary will steal this award away from O.J.: Made in America, in which case my guess is the Ava DuVernay directed 13th.

WILL WIN: La Femme et le TGV
COULD WIN: Timecode, Ennemis interieurs
SHOULD WIN: Timecode

The shorts are always some of my favorite categories. I’ve gone out of my way to watch the nominees whenever I can for the past few years, and I’m always glad I did. There are always some real gems and so, once again, it’s time for my annual suggestion that people watch these short movies. Really, they’re great! And pay for them—these films are usually made by unknown filmmakers who have produced amazing work, and you get five movies for the price of one!

And, this year, the live action shorts are especially worth seeing. Even my least favorite, Sing, is still perfectly enjoyable and reasonably well done. And while my second least favorite, Silent Nights, at times falls into trite storytelling tropes, it’s remarkably well-made and well-acted. But these two are noticeably a step below the other three nominees, and I’d be happy if any of these three won.

Of my three favorites in this category, I think that Ennemis interieurs, a mostly two-person film about a French-Algerian man being interrogated on suspicion of terrorism, is relevant to the issues of today, and incredibly gripping and well-written, but I think it might be too wordy and quiet to actually take the prize. Instead, I think this award will go to La Femme et le TGV, about a French woman who begins exchanging letters with a stranger who rides the train past her house each day. It’s a sweet, surprising film, that is wonderfully romantic, and probably the nominee with the most universal appeal—which is why I think it will win. But, my personal favorite is the Spanish film Timecode, about two security guards who work day and night shifts and begin communicating to each other through recorded dances. It’s hilarious, but also strangely beautiful and is, to me, exactly what a short film should be: a simple story that would never work as a feature, but feels complete in the little time it has to tell its story. When I said, that the shorts always contain some gems, Timecode is exactly the kind of gem I’m talking about.

COULD WIN: Borrowed Time
SHOULD WIN: Blind Vaysha

I found the animated short films a bit underwhelming this year. It’s not that they were bad, but none of them excited me the way some nominees have in the past few years. As a result, I think the most likely winner will be the Pixar short Piper, which was shown before Finding Dory. Pixar actually hasn’t won this award in a while, and considering that they don’t have any nominee in the animated feature category this time around, they’re probably campaigning for Piper pretty hard—certainly far more than the resources of the other films’ productions companies would allow. But my personal favorite of this lineup was probably Blind Vaysha—a creepy Canadian folktale with some gorgeous animation.

WILL WIN: Joe’s Violin
SHOULD WIN: Extremis

Full disclosure: I’ve only been able to see three of the five nominees in this category, so it’s a bit tough to gauge. 4.1 Miles and Watani: My Homeland might be amazing movies that will win this category handily, but the three I have seen are still quite strong. I don’t think the award will go to The White Helmets, though. The short, about volunteer rescue workers in Syria, is powerful, but a bit plodding. I was far more taken with Extremis, a harrowing discussion of the decision doctors have to make to end the life of a patient. It’s gripping stuff, and really well done, but it’s incredibly depressing and might be too much for some viewers to consider. Far more palatable is Joe’s Violin, which tells the story of a Holocaust survivor who donated his violin to be used by a promising 12-year-old music student in the Bronx. Both of these films are good, but while Extremis will make its audience sad, Joe’s Violin will make them hopeful. And that’s more likely to earn votes from the Academy.

WILL WIN: La La Land
COULD WIN: Moonlight

La La Land would actually be a pretty unconventional winner in this category, which typically awards purely instrumental scores. But the original songs of La La Land, and the film’s overall celebration of music, have clearly impressed the Academy and it seems like the easy favorite here. If traditionalist voters want to shy away from lyrics, though, the other nominees are still quite strong, with my favorite of the lot being the score for Moonlight.

WILL WIN: “City of Stars”—La La Land
COULD WIN: “How Far I’ll Go”—Moana
SHOULD WIN: “Audition (Fools Who Dream)”—La La Land
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: “Drive It Like You Stole It”—Sing Street

Just like with score, the fact that La La Land celebrates music so much means that its win in this category has been practically predetermined. The main question is which song it’ll be for? Of the two nominated songs from La La Land, I personally prefer “Audition,” but I have a feeling that the film’s recurring theme, “City of Stars” is the one the producers are pushing. There is a chance, of course, that voters will be split between the two songs, and that’ll allow another song to win—which means Lin-Manuel Miranda might ride his Hamilton buzz all the way to becoming the youngest ever EGOT winner for Moana.

Although, personally, I’m sad that no original song from John Carney’s utterly charming Sing Street made the cut. Especially Drive It Like You Stole It—which for me beat out every single one of La La Land’s individual musical numbers.

WILL WIN: La La Land
COULD WIN: Hail, Caesar!

Haters of La La Land be warned: you’re about to get very, very angry. Because the common wisdom in picking the winners in this year’s technical categories seems to be, “just guess La La Land for everything.” But…it’s really not a bad strategy. And while it might not win every award it’s up for, barring a surprise, it’s going to win most of them. Starting with Production Design. Although if not, this might be a win for another love letter to old Hollywood, the otherwise ignored Coen Brothers comedy Hail, Caesar!

WILL WIN: La La Land
COULD WIN: Moonlight

Again, La La Land is going to win all the technical awards. And, of the nominees, I do think it features the best cinematography. But part of me kind of wants to see Moonlight take this one. On an objective level, La La Land’s cinematography is better, but what Moonlight did on a fraction of the budget is pretty impressive, creating a rich and colorful visual narrative that serves the story perfectly.

WILL WIN: Star Trek Beyond

The old age makeup in A Man Called Ove is really impressive, but I don’t see how it’ll compete against the fantastical science fiction creatures in Star Trek Beyond. Also if the third and final nominee, Suicide Squad, actually wins an Oscar—even just an Oscar for makeup— I will lose my goddamn mind.

WILL WIN: La La Land

Again, it’s not smart to bet against La La Land, so I’m predicting it here. But I do have some reservations. I think the costumes in this film are good, and they’re definitely stylized, but this category tends to prefer period pieces over contemporary films. And if that’s the case, the stylish costumes of Allied might just pull an upset.

WILL WIN: La La Land
COULD WIN: Moonlight

Even more than Best Director, the award for Best Film Editing typically goes hand in hand with Best Picture. For that reason alone, La La Land and Moonlight are the frontrunners here. But I do think La La Land has the edge, even if Moonlight ultimately takes home the top prize. For one this, editor Tom Cross already won this award for his last collaboration with Damien Chazelle, Whiplash, and flashy musical numbers showcase ambitious film editing really, really well.

WILL WIN: La La Land
COULD WIN: Arrival

Again, La La Land is the smart choice for the technical categories. Although, the use of sound in Arrival is really quite brilliant, so that might overtake it here. More on that in my discussion of the next category…

WILL WIN: Arrival
COULD WIN: Hacksaw Ridge, La La Land

Okay, so here I’m breaking with my tradition and going with Arrival. This film used sound editing to create an entire alien language. That’s pretty badass, and really impressive. If the voters know enough about sound editing, then Arrival will be the winner. Although, of course, it could still be La La Land. Or possibly even wartime drama Hacksaw Ridge, as war films often do well in this category.

WILL WIN: The Jungle Book
COULD WIN: Kubo and the Two Strings

This kind of has to be The Jungle Book. Not only was that film gorgeous, but it redefined what visual effects could really be. It’s the type of film this category is basically designed to recognize. But last year, Ex Machina scored a shocking win in this category, beating out films with a significantly larger budget. If an underdog can triumph again this year, it’ll be the visually stunning animation of Kubo and the Two Strings. This is only the second animated film to be nominated in this category (the first being The Nightmare Before Christmas) and it has earned its nomination for creating one of the most unique and distinct looks of any animated film ever.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Second Annual Miles Awards For Achievement In Film

I must confess that my movie awards season obsession has been a bit subdued this year. Unlike last year where I released comprehensive analysis of the Oscars race, complete with (mostly wrong) nomination predictions, this year I've simply been too busy to indulge my bizarre Academy Awards mania. And I say bizarre because I can certainly acknowledge how problematic the Oscars are as both a concept and as an institution...and yet I love them so. This is, I imagine, what normal people who watch sports feel like on a regular basis. As much as I love the awards season, I always feel some achievements get overlooked. Whether it's mostly unknown films like the brilliant Greek indie Chevalier, or brilliant performances in flawed films like Elle Fanning in The Neon Demon, or the true technical marvel/roller coaster ride that was Hardcore Henry, like any film buff I truly believe that I would choose better nominees than what show up at the usual awards shows. So now, for the second year, I'm present the Miles Awards for Achievement in Film, honoring the very best in movies that suit my personal tastes. As I stated last year, this is entirely my opinion--no one else is voting except me, so there is certainly some very inherent bias. In each category, I've listed a winner and then between five to nine other nominees, which are listed in order of how I'd rank them. Also, if you'd like to read more in-depth analysis of my ten Best Picture nominees, you can find that here. And now, without any further ado, the winners and nominees are...

Winner: Paterson
Other Nominees:
The Handmaiden
London Road
La La Land
Mia Madre
10 Cloverfield Lane 

The films nominated for Best Director
Winner: Park Chan-wook, The Handmaiden
Other Nominees:
Athina Rachel Tsangari, Chevalier
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Mike Mills, 20th Century Women
Jim Jarmusch, Paterson 

The nominees for Best Actor
Winner: John Goodman as Howard Stambler, 10 Cloverfield Lane
Other Nominees:
Adam Driver as Paterson, Paterson
Christopher Plummer as Zev Guttman, Remember
Daniel Radcliffe as Manny, Swiss Army Man
Mark Rylance as the BFG, The BFG 
Dave Johns as Daniel Blake, I, Daniel Blake 

The nominees for Best Actress
Winner: Natalie Portman as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Jackie
Other Nominees:
Elle Fanning as Jesse, The Neon Demon
Kim Tae-ri as Sook-hee, The Handmaiden
Annette Bening as Dorothea Fields, 20th Century Women
Sandra Huller as Ines Conradi, Toni Erdmann
Margherita Buy as Margherita, Mia Madre

The nominees for Best Supporting Actor
Winner: John Turturro as Barry Huggins, Mia Madre
Other Nominees:
Andre Holland as Kevin, Moonlight
Jack Reynor as Brendan Lalor, Sing Street
Sharlto Copley as Jimmy, Hardcore Henry
Jovan Adepo as Cory Maxson, Fences
Trevante Rhodes as Chiron/"Black", Moonlight 

The nominees for Best Supporting Actress
Winner: Viola Davis as Rose Maxson, Fences
Other Nominees:
Naomie Harris as Paula, Moonlight
Gillian Jacobs as Samantha Byrne, Don't Think Twice
Hayley Squires as Katie Morgan, I, Daniel Blake
Michelle Williams as Randi, Manchester by the Sea
Rima Te Wiata as Bella Faulkner, Hunt for the Wilderpeople 

The nominees for Best Child Actor
Winner: Royalty Hightower as Toni, The Fits
Other Nominees:
Lucas Jade Zumann as Jamie Fields, 20th Century Women
Ruby Barnhill as Sophie, The BFG
Julian Dennison as Ricky Baker, Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Ferdia Walsh-Peelo as Conor Lalor, Sing Street
Alex Hibbert as Child Chiron/"Little", Moonlight
Winner: Moonlight (Mahershala Ali, Patrick Decile, Naomie Harris, Alex Hibbert, Andre Holland, Jharrel Jerome, Janelle Monae, Jaden Piner, Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders)

Other Nominees:
Chevalier (Giannis Drakopoulos, Kostas Filippoglou, Yorgos Kendros, Panos Koronis, Vengelis Mourikis, Efthymis Papadimitriou, Giorgos Pirpassopoulos, Sakis Rouvas)

10 Cloverfield Lane (John Gallagher Jr., John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead)

Fences (Jovan Adepo, Viola Davis, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Russell Hornsby, Saniyya Sidney, Denzel Washington, Mykelti Williamson)

Manchester by the Sea (Casey Affleck, Anna Baryshnikov, Matthew Broderick, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges, Gretchen Mol, Michelle Williams, C.J. Wilson)

The Lobster (Jessica Barden, Olivia Colman, Colin Farrell, Ashley Jensen, Ariane Labed, Angeliki Papoulia, John C. Reilly, Lea Seydoux, Rachel Weisz, Ben Whishaw)

The Handmaiden (Cho Jin-woong, Ha Jung-woo, Kim Min-hee, Kim Tae-ri)

Don't Think Twice (Mike Birbiglia, Chris Gethard, Gillian Jacobs, Keegan-Michael Key, Kate Micucci, Tami Sagher)

20th Century Women (Annette Bening, Billy Crudup, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Lucas Jade Zumann)

I, Daniel Blake (Dave Johns, Dylan McKiernan, Kate Rutter, Briana Shann, Kema Sikazwe, Hayley Squires)

Winner: Jim Jarmusch, Paterson
Other Nominees:
Efthymis Filippou & Athina Rachel Tsangari, Chevalier
Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
Mike Mills, 20th Century Women
Benjamin August, Remember
Nanni Moretti, Francesco Piccolo, & Valia Santella, Mia Madre 

Winner: Park Chan-wook & Chung Seo-kyung, The Handmaiden
Other Nominees:
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Eric Heisserer, Arrival
August Wilson, Fences
Alecky Blythe & Adam Cork, London Road
Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick, Deadpool 

Winner: The Neon Demon
Other Nominees:
Tale of Tales
La La Land
The Jungle Book
The Witch
The Handmaiden 

Winner: Hardcore Henry
Other Nominees:
The Neon Demon
La La Land
The Handmaiden
Doctor Strange

BEST SOUND (meaning the best use of sound and music in a film from a design standpoint):
Winner: La La Land
Other Nominees:
Hardcore Henry
Swiss Army Man
Manchester by the Sea

Winner: La La Land (Sebastian's ending piano solo dream montage)
Other Nominees:
Manchester by the Sea (Randi and Lee have a talk)
Remember (Zev meets John Kurlander)
Sing Street ("Drive it Like You Stole It" dance fantasy)
I, Daniel Blake (Katie goes to the food bank)
London Road ("It Could Be Him")
Chevalier (Dimitris' dance)
Mia Madre (Barry can't remember his lines)
Weiner ("Why did you let me film this?")
Paterson (Paterson meets Method Man)

And, if you're interested in a breakdown of the results:
The Handmaiden: 7 nominations, 2 wins
La La Land: 6 nominations, 2 wins
Paterson: 6 nominations, 2 wins
Moonlight: 8 nominations, 1 win
Mia Madre: 5 nominations, 1 win
Fences: 4 nominations, 1 win 
Hardcore Henry: 3 nominations, 1 win
The Neon Demon: 3 nominations, 1 win
10 Cloverfield Lane: 3 nominations, 1 win
The Fits: 1 nomination, 1 win
Jackie: 1 nomination, 1 win
Chevalier: 5 nominations
Manchester by the Sea: 5 nominations
20th Century Women: 5 nominations
Remember: 4 nominations
Arrival: 3 nominations
I, Daniel Blake: 4 nominations
London Road: 3 nominations
Sing Street: 3 nominations
The BFG: 2 nominations
Don't Think Twice: 2 nominations
Hunt for the Wilderpeople: 2 nominations
Swiss Army Man: 2 nominations
Deadpool: 1 nomination
Doctor Strange: 1 nomination
The Jungle Book: 1 nomination
The Lobster: 1 nomination
Sully: 1 nomination
Tale of Tales: 1 nomination
Toni Erdmann: 1 nomination
Weiner: 1 nomination
The Witch: 1 nomination

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Best Movies of 2016: Part 2

I've already named 20 of my favorite films of the year, but now it's time to get to the true best of the best. From some Oscar frontrunners to indie darlings to a couple films most people probably haven't heard of, here are my ten favorite films from 2016.

#10: 10 Cloverfield Lane (dir. Dan Trachtenberg)

One of the earliest film triumphs of 2016 was 10 Cloverfield Lane, which took a simple premise and a small but excellent cast and delivered one of the most compelling thrillers in years. After a car crash, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up in chains in a mysterious room. Her captor is an odd man named Howard (John Goodman) who claims that he has rescued her and that there's been a nuclear attack making the outside air inhospitable. The film keeps its audience guessing the whole time, and one constantly has to change their guesses as to what's actually going on as new information is revealed. The screenplay is a standout, but much credit needs to be given to the cast of Winstead, Goodman, and John Gallagher Jr. Goodman in particular gave what I think is his best performance since The Big Lebowski, and I wish he was being pushed for awards consideration. His portrayal of Howard is central to the film's success. At times Goodman is delightful, at times creepy, and always compelling. Goodman makes bold character choices, and yet for as distinct Goodman makes him, Howard becomes a bit of a chameleon of circumstance. The same character can be seen as harmless or dangerous within the blink of an eye. It's reminiscent of Kathy Bates' Oscar-winning work in Misery and I wish Goodman's performance was being given the same recognition.

#9: Chevalier (dir. Athina Rachel Tsangari)

Chevalier was never going to be a commercial smash, but it's easily one of the best films I've seen this year, and an instant arthouse classic. This Greek film follows six friends on a fishing trip who decide to compete in a disturbing game to find out who among them is "the best." Throughout the trip, they grade each other on everything, from the temperature at which they caramelize onions, to how attractive they look while sleeping, to how well they can assemble Ikea furniture, etc. And if this sounds like a dick-measuring contest, yes, at one point they do have a literal dick-measuring contest. The characters all represent certain degrees of traditional masculinity, from handsome alpha male Christos to the chubby and sensitive Dimitris. The film is at times meaningful, at times thrilling, and at times incredibly funny, with all characters showing surprising strengths and vulnerabilities. Examination of toxic masculinity is a common trope across many mediums, but Chevalier is one of the most original and fresh takes on the subject I've seen in a long time. The secret weapon of the film is undoubtedly director and co-writer Athina Rachel Tsangari, as I think having a female director leading the entirely male cast allows for far more insight than it would have had otherwise. For such a bold and out-there concept, the film is incredibly subtle and restrained.

#8: Remember (dir. Atom Egoyan)

In some parallel universe, the little-seen Remember was a huge critical success and was recognized as the powerful film that I truly believe it is. Technically a revenge film, the Remember follows Zev Guttman (Christopher Plummer), an old man who lived through the Holocaust who, in his old age, sets out to find and kill the Nazi who he believes murdered his family. The difficulty is that he has severe dementia and must rely on notes and prompts from his wheelchair-bound fellow survivor Max (Martin Landau, giving a rare and welcome performance in his later life). The way the film plays with memory and revenge makes it like a cross between Kill Bill, Memento, and Schindler's List, and it's absolutely fascinating to watch. Plummer does a wonderful job as the unlikely revenge-seeker whose old age proves to be both a hindrance and at times a surprising asset on his quest. I loved it as soon as I saw it, but some criticized it for exploiting the theme of the Holocaust for manipulative emotional impact. I truly don't understand this criticism at all. Rather than feel exploitative, the film actually felt incredibly relevant and showed how the horrors of that time still resonate today. One scene in particular, where Plummer encounters a current day neo-Nazi (played with frightening intensity by Breaking Bad's Dean Norris) was chilling on the first viewing, but would be even more horrifying in the wake of the U.S. presidential election. A modern fable, Remember is a powerful and worthwhile film that shouldn't have been so overlooked.

#7: Arrival (dir. Denis Villeneuve)

I'm of the mind that science fiction as a genre works best when its non-realistic premise is used to comment on very real issues. I think it's why so many science fiction films gain more recognition as time goes on than when they were first released. Like Blade Runner or Brazil, the timelessness of the work cannot be truly comprehended without some time having passed. Arrival is truly science fiction at its best. This film about an alien invasion ended up being one of the most poetic and heartfelt films of the year, offering valuable commentary on the nature of humanity, love, and the impact that individuals can have. Plus, it's easily the most compelling film ever made about linguistics, and features great work from the always outstanding Amy Adams. I don't want to say too much more about it, because so much of its impact is based in the subtle twists and turns the film has in store, but I'm so glad to see this movie getting deserved awards attention, which is still sadly rare for a science fiction movie.

#6: Mia Madre (dir. Nanni Moretti)

Movies that are about the making of movies tend to be a mixed bag. Some are cloyingly self-referential and alienating. But some can end up being insightful and powerful. The Italian film Mia Madre looks at an accomplished film director Margherita (Margherita Buy) who is struggling to make a movie while dealing with the failing health of her mother (Giulia Lazzarini). It's a film about the concept of art and artist, which is often touching and hilarious simultaneously. Buy does a really amazing job, playing a character who is falling apart at the seams and trying desperately not to let anyone notice. But the standout performance is from John Turturro. Turturro is a prolific actor who appears to be in every single movie ever made. And he always does great work. But this is my new favorite performance from Turturro. Here he plays conceited movie star Barry Huggins, an egomaniac who is starring in Margherita's movie. Turturro maintains a confident presence, while also being completely buffoonish--he disappears into the character. The film as a whole is a smart look at the movie industry, and a must-see for any fellow lover of the medium.

#5: La La Land (dir. Damien Chazelle)

There was no way I wasn't going to love La La Land. I love movies, I love old movies, and I love musicals. And La La Land is a movie about musicals that pays homage to lots of old movies and movie musicals. It's not difficult to see why this is one of the two films that's seen as an Oscar frontrunner (the other being my #4 pick) because it's just such a well-made movie. The design elements are all beautiful, and its message of the importance of dreams and aspirations will always speak to creative types. I will say that, while I did really enjoy La La Land, I wasn't completely blown away by it until the last fifteen minutes of the film, a sort of dream montage which reviews the story in a hyper-stylized fashion. Those fifteen minutes were truly magical, and it's the type of moment that all movies should aspire to create.

#4: Moonlight (dir. Barry Jenkins)

It's hard to think of a cinematic character study more complete than Barry Jenkins' Moonlight. Rather than being one film, Moonlight is essentially three films in one, each one focusing on the same character, Chiron, at different stages in his life. The three actors who play Chiron (Alex Hibbert as a child, Ashton Sanders as a teen, and Trevante Rhodes as an adult) work seamlessly to create a thoughtful and profound protagonist. Moonlight looks at serious and important issues, but in the end, it's always about Chiron, and that makes the film feel incredibly personal. Moreover, with the film's themes and acting are natural and understated, the design of the film is colorful and stylized, giving Moonlight true artistry.

Just see it. See it. Why haven't you seen Moonlight yet? Everyone agrees it is one of the best films of the year, so why hasn't everyone seen it yet? It's the fourth highest rated movie of all time on Metacritic. SEE IT! PLEASE SEE MOONLIGHT!

#3: London Road (dir. Rufus Norris)

This is a list of my favorite films of 2016, not the best films of 2016. Moonlight, for example, is a much better film. It's better made and will most likely resonate with more people. But, I just loved London Road and how completely strange and weird it is. London Road is, in some ways about the serial killer Steve Wright, who murdered five prostitutes in the town of Ipswich in 2006. But Wright isn't a character. Instead, London Road tells the stories of the people who lived on the same street as Wright, and how their lives were affected by these crimes. Even more interestingly, every line spoken by the actors is taken verbatim from news clippings and interviews done with the Ipswich residents both before and after Wright's arrest and eventual conviction. Even more interestingly, it's a musical. It's obviously not typical light-hearted musical fare, but at their best, musicals have the ability to speak to human emotions in a poetic way, and that's what London Road does for me. The brilliant music, which is inspired by the interviewees' vocal patterns, is discordant and Sondheim-esque, and captures the sense of nervousness that the residents of the town undeniably felt during this time. It's not going to be for everybody. I think director Rufus Norris did a great job adapting this stage show to film, and the production design and cinematography in particular are really cleverly done, but it's still inherently theatrical and some people are going to find that off-putting. I can imagine many people watching London Road just thinking "what the fuck am I watching?" But if you're like me and this premise sounds fascinating and right up your alley, you need to check it out. London Road can be incredibly rewarding, and its strange premise allows it to tap into a perspective I haven't seen on film before.

#2: The Handmaiden (dir. Park Chan-wook)

Probably best known to American audiences for his masterpiece Oldboy, prolific Korean director Park Chan-wook has truly hit it out of the park with his latest film The Handmaiden. This psychological sexual thriller tells the story of pickpocket Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri), who under the instructions from a con artist named Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo), poses as the maid of the wealthy Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee) so that Fujiwara can steal her fortune. The Handmaiden is cinematic storytelling at its best. Chan-wook knows how to use the medium to its advantage, and both the screenplay and the camerawork reveal information only at the perfect time, so that you never quite know what's going on until the film is done. It's an exercise in power-shifts, and is truly thrilling to watch. Plus, it's one of the most beautiful films of the year.

#1: Paterson (dir. Jim Jarmusch) 

Looking over my favorite films of the year, there's a lot of spectacle. There are lots of musicals and horror films and thrillers and films which are grand and glorious and off the walls and truly leave an impact. Which is perhaps why Paterson stands out to me as my single favorite film of the year: because of how quiet it is. Jim Jarmusch's character study of a New Jersey bus driver with a fondness for poetry, is glorious in its simple elegance. The film takes place over the course of a single week, and allows us to be a fly on the wall in its titular character's life. Paterson, as played with beautiful calm by Adam Driver, is an observer of life, and as the week unfolded, I was amazed to realize how little conflict there was in the film. Even as dramatic moments occur (like the bus breaking down, or someone pulling out a gun in a bar), the movie manages to move on without incident. Even at arguably the most dramatic moment of the film, the great climax of the tension is simply Paterson calmly saying the words, "I don't like you very much." The result is a film that is relaxing, introspective, and wise.

The title of the film has at least three meanings. The most obvious is that it alludes to the fascinating main character. But it could also refer to the town of Paterson, New Jersey where the film takes place, as the setting is as much a character o the film as Paterson himself is. But it could also refer to the poetry collection "Paterson" written by William Carlos Williams. Poetry is a major theme of the film. Paterson is constantly writing his own poems in notebooks (the poems themselves were mostly written by poet Ron Padgett). But not only are there plenty of good poems recited in the film, the film itself is poetic in a way I've never quite seen represented on film before. There's just such a lovely beauty to the structure. Every moment, every image, is so carefully chosen. The scenes feel like poetic lines, the chapters of the film feel like stanzas. Every new scene felt like a gift--another moment to treasure. Other films this year were much louder, but the steady confidence of Paterson was truly extraordinary, and that's why it's my favorite film of the year.

So, those are my thoughts. How about you?  What films do you think are missing from my list? What's your top ten? Feel free to share in the comments.