Friday, January 17, 2020

My Favourite Films of 2019

Finally, here are my choices for the best in cinema of the past year.

1. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood - I suppose anyone who knows me, and my obsession with everything Tarantino, saw this one coming the proverbial mile away. In my opinion, QT has never made anything less than great, but this one, the auteur's ninth film (and possibly penultimate film as well) may well be his best yet. Less action fueled than typical Tarantino, Once Upon A Time is a languid look at a lost world. A world that Tarantino (and myself) grew up admiring. The old Hollywood system had fallen apart, but the remnants of the old were still around in the 198 and 1969 of this film's setting. A gorgeous film and a wonderful look back on the bygone world of old Hollywood.

2. Midsommar - With allusions to The Wicker Man and an obvious feel for Kubrickian storytelling, Ari Aster's batshitcrazy sophomore tale of female empowerment slowly but surely climbs and climbs to a crescendo of insanity that needs to be seen to be believed. Anchored by the best female performance of 2019, Florence Pugh, ascends to figurative and maybe even literal Goddess by the time everything is said and done.

3. Parasite - I went into Bong Joon Ho's film not knowing anything about it, and was floored with every twist and turn. Much like Midsommar, and I suppose Once Upon A Time too, this Korean film climbs and climbs and gets crazier and crazier and batshitcrazier with each developing scene. A brilliant take on the class system that permeates most of society.

4. Joker - Pushing aside the typical amusement park sensibility that Martin Scorsese  recently attributed to the superhero/comic book genre, Todd Phillips, previously best known for stupid frat pack comedies like Old School and The Hangover Trilogy, makes his Joker a take on just how fucked up society has gotten. Structuring it after the films of the aforementioned Scorsese, the film is his twisted take on The King of Comedy, so much so that he even casts Robert De Niro in the Jerry Lewis role of that film. Joaquin Phoenix, in the best goddamn performance of the year, and perhaps channeling Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver, and perhaps of his career (at least equal to that of The Master), embodies his anti-hero with such pathos that we are actually rooting for the so-called villain here.

5. Pain and Glory - Although Pedro Almadovar's latest doesn't quite reach the top here, this is still easily the most beautiful looking film of last year. Of course this was probably a forgone conclusion, with the Spanish auteur's usual flare for production design, but even by Almadovar standards, this is a succulent work of art. Oh, and star Antonio Banderas, in his seventh film with Almadovar, and basically playing Almadovar himself, gives a career best performance in the lead.

6. The Lighthouse - Director Robert Eggers takes a creepy lighthouse in the remotest of remote locations, tosses in Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe as a young fresh wickie and his seasoned, and quite difficult boss, respectively, and then shoots it in the starkest of  blacks & whites, and hands us a harrowing Greek tragedy of madness and possible spiritual awakening.

7. Uncut Gems - The Safdie Brothers have created a story of obsession and addiction, as well as a tale of redemption...and then pull the rug out from beneath it all time and time again. They have also created something else...a film where one can honestly say Adam Sandler is freaking fantastic! Get a load of that.

8. The Irishman - A three plus hour masterwork that acts as Scorsese's farewell to the Gangster genre. Much the way John Ford said goodbye to the Western in 1964's Cheyenne Autumn, Scorsese takes a long hard look at what really becomes of a mobster after his glory days are gone, and he is left a lonely bitter old man. Who knows if he will ever make another gangster picture, but if this is his swan song of that genre, pitting Scorsese stalwarts De Niro, Pesci, Pacino, and even Harvey Keitel, up against each other again, the auteur closes the book on the gangster film with both class and a whole lot of sadness.

9. Us - Jordan Peele's follow-up to the brilliant satire that was Get Out, is an even more twisted take on society and the idea of self. Lupita Nyong'o, in a dual role, is both incandescent and scary as Hell. Peele's take on the modern horror film, as he twists everything we thought we knew about the genre around to an almost indescribable place, does it once again with Us.

10. 1917 - I honestly was not expecting to like this film as much as I did. I was sure that the enduring one shot pulled of my director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins was going to be a technical marvel, but I was taken aback at how emotional and what a thrill ride this anti-war movie ended up being. Bravo.

A few Runners-up (in no particular order): The Farewell (Lulu Wang); The Dead Don't Die (Jim Jarmusch); Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach); Jojo Rabbit (Taika Waititi); Booksmart (Olivia Wilde); Dolemite is My Name (Craig Brewer); Her Smell (Alex Ross Perry); Fighting With My Family (Stephen Merchant); The Beach Bum (Harmony Korine); The Last Black Man in San Francisco (Joe Talbot); & The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (Terry Gilliam).

That's it Gang. See Ya 'round the Web.


Monday, January 13, 2020

Oscar Nomination Reaction...or What The Academy Did Right and What They Did Oh So Wrong

So, the Academy has announced its nominations for the Oscars, and here are my (rambling) thoughts on the subject.

  • Once again, five men have been nominated for Best Director. Now I do not necessarily think Greta Gerwig (the frontrunner among women director possibilities this year) should have been nominated for Little Women, but not because she is a woman...but because hers wasn't one of the five best directed films of the year. I can think of three women directors who made better films last year. Lulu Wang for The Farewell, Mati Diop for Atlantics, & Jennifer Kent for The Nightingale. But alas...that is not the point of the outrage. That is just my opinion on the film. I think Gerwig is a talented filmmaker (her Lady Bird was one of the finest films of the last decade) but I was not that big of a fan of her latest work. That being said...there is still a problem with equality in Hollywood. Duh. In 92 years, there have been just five female directors nominated for the Oscar (the most recent being Gerwig in 2016). Just five!? For those keeping score at home...that is five female director nominees vs 447 male nominees in the same period. But, the Oscars are not the problem. The Oscars are merely a symptom showing the problem of Hollywood itself. Last year, only 4% of movies coming out of Hollywood were directed by women. No wonder there are so few female nominees. But hey...I could go on about the lack of diversity in Hollywood for a long time, so I am going to stop there, and move onto some other thoughts on the nominations.
  • The fact that Joker received more nominations (11 of 'em) than any other film is wonderfully crazy. A very divisive film, either hating it or loving it, I am a bit surprised that the voters looked so fondly upon it. The film is on my top ten for the year (which by the by, will be posted in a few days), but whoulda thunk Hollywood would embrace it so.
  • No J-Lo!? Personally I thought Hustlers was a boring film, and Lopez, though the best thing about said film, was merely slightly less than boring, and hence does not deserve a nomination. But, she had been nominated in nearly every other awards show of the season, so it is quite the shocker...probably the biggest one of the morning.
  • Frozen II was snubbed in Animated Feature. Granted, Missing Link won the Golden Globe last week (shocking the crowd) but even after that we all assumed the Oscar was still probably going to go to either Toy Story 4 or Frozen II. Maybe Missing Link will pull it off after all.
  • I went 84 for 109 in my predictions. That comes to a 77% success rate. That rate moves up to 85% if you just count the big eight categories. Acing Best Picture, Supporting Actor, Cinematography, & Adapted Screenplay. My weakest spot was Supporting Actress, with just three right. Yes, some of my picks were more like wishful thinking. Zhao Shuzhen as the wistful grandmother in The Farewell. Song Kang Ho as the bumbling father in Parasite. Lupita Nyong'o as the tortured protagonist of Jordan Peele's Us. But I still did well in spite of them.
  • Best Supporting Actor is full of a buncha no-names. Um...yeah. Between Brad Pitt, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, Tom Hanks, & Tony Hopkins, you can count two dozen previous nominations, and six Oscars!! Show offs.
  • Congrats to ScarJo, aka Scarlett Johansson, who received both her first AND her second nominations ever, for her roles in Marriage Story and Jojo Rabbit.
  • The three biggest snubs (no...not J-Lo) of the day were Adam Sandler not getting recognition for his brilliant turn in Uncut Gems. Yeah, I said brilliant and Adam Sandler in the same sentence. Song Kang Ho's omission from Supporting Actor. As great as Parasite was...and it was pretty fucking great...it was Song's performance that took it to another level. And...Willem Dafoe as the gnarly wickie in the shamefully under-appreciated The Lighthouse. At least that film got nominated in Cinematography...though it is destined to lose to Roger Deakins stunning work in 1917.
  • It is a bit strange that I agree with so many of the Academy's choices this year. Five of the nine nominees are in my own top ten...that never happens. Oh well..I suppose The Academy is finally getting a bit of taste.
So that's my take on the Oscar nominations. I'll be back in a few weeks with my take on the Oscars themselves ...and some more predictions. Also, as I mentioned earlier, my Best of 2019 list shall be gracing these pages a just a few days.

That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.



Sunday, January 12, 2020

My Oscar Nomination Predictions

Hey gang! It's that time of year again. The Oscar Nominations are due to be announced in the wee hours of tomorrow morning. So, here are my predictions for said nominations. Here we go!

BEST PICTURE

1. Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood
2. Parasite
3. 1917
4. The Irishman
5. Jojo Rabbit
6. Marriage Story
7. Joker
8. Little Women
9. Ford v Ferrari
10. Knives Out

Possible Spoilers: Uncut Gems or The Two Popes

Wishful Thinking: Midsommar or The Lighthouse

So, with the Oscar rules currently allowing anywhere between 5 and 10 nominees, we have been getting 8 or 9 each time around. I think this year we may actually get 10 of 'em. Whatever the case, I have the films listed here in order of likeliness...with the top 7 being virtual locks. Little Women, a favourite for many categories early on, has pretty much been locked out of the awards season so far, but I think it will still make the grade here, as will the surprise hit of the season, Knives Out...if we get ten nominees. Tarantino's Once Upon a Time is still the one to beat for the Oscar, with Parasite and 1917 close on it's heels.

BEST DIRECTOR

1. Bong Joon Ho for Parasite
2. Martin Scorsese for The Irishman
3. Quentin Tarantino for Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood
4. Sam Mendes for 1917
5. Taika Waititi for Jojo Rabbit

Possible Spoilers: Todd Phillips for Joker or Greta Gerwig for Little Women

Wishful Thinking: Safdie Brothers for Uncut Gems

The top four here are locks...with Bong very possibly taking home the Oscar (6 of the last 7 Best Director winners have been foreign born), which leaves us with that fifth spot. I am going with Waititi mostly due to his DGA nod the other day (almost exact same voting demographic)...but let's not count out Gerwig for Little Women. She deserved a nod for Lady Bird a few years back, but her new film is not near up to that level...still, with the Academy being more diverse now, we could see a woman get nominated here. Making it look like Hollywood is more diverse than it actually. We could also see Todd Phillips sneak in here...or maybe even Gerwig's hubby, Noah Baumbach for Marriage Story...though he has been absent from most of awards season, even though his film keeps getting nominated. More of an actor driven film, than a director driven work?

BEST ACTRESS

1. Renee Zellweger for Judy
2. Scarlett Johansson for Marriage Story
3. Charlize Theron for Bombshell
4. Lupita Nyong'o for Us
5. Cynthia Erivo for Harriet

Possible Spoiler: Saoirse Ronan for Little Women or Awkwafina for The Farewell

Wishful Thinking: Florence Pugh for Midsommar (my pick for Best Actress of 2019!)

Basically, this is a seven woman race, with only five spots open. I think the top three are locks, leaving two spots being fought over by four women. Ronan was a frontrunner before Little Women started being ignored in awards season, leaving a once seeming locked spot open for someone else. I like to think that with the much more diverse Academy membership these days, that the two women of color, both giving brilliant performances, will get those two open spots. We could see Awkwafina slip in there too...but it would be at the expense of either Erivo or Nyong'o.

BEST ACTOR

1. Joaquin Phoenix in Joker
2. Adam Driver in Marriage Story
3. Antonio Banderas in Pain & Glory
4. Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood
5. Taron Egerton in Rocketman

Possible Spoiler: Robert De Niro in The Irishman or Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems

Wishful Thinking: Eddie Murphy in Dolemite is my Name

This is another of those races that has four locks and one open spot. After his Golden Globe victory, Egerton is on a roll. De Niro had been a frontrunner, but after snubs by both the Globes and SAG, his chances are not looking great. A surprise nod for Sandler, in a career best performance, would be great though. WE could also possibly see Jonathan Pryce for The Two Popes too. No matter what though, this is Joaquin's Oscar to win or lose. But if there is any category with an Oscar night surprise (a la Olivia Colman beating Glenn Close last year) it could be Banderas, also with a career best performance (which is a much bolder statement than when one says it about Sandler) swooping in for the win. To be fair, unlike Colman last year, Banderas has won a lot more of the precursor awards than Phoenix has. But that is a tale for February.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

1. Laura Dern in Marriage Story
2. Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers
3. Margot Robbie in Bombshell
4. Florence Pugh in Little Women
5. Zhao Shuzhen in The Farewell

Very Possible Spoiler: Scarlett Johansson in Jojo Rabbit

Wishful Thinking: I already said Zhao Shuzhen, right?

Top three are virtual locks. After that, anything goes. Pugh could go the way of Ronan, and fall prey to the lackluster support of Little Women. Zhao is kind of a pipe dream nomination. We could easily see Scarlett get a double nod here...especially with the late upswing in support for Jojo Rabbit. We could also see either Kathy Bates (Richard Jewell) or Annette Bening (The Report) sneak in as well. This is definitely the most open acting category of the year.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

1. Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood
2. Joe Pesci in The Irishman
3. Al Pacino in The Irishman
4. Tom Hanks in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
5. Song Kang Ho in Parasite

Possible Spoiler: Anthony Hopkins in The Two Popes

Wishful Thinking: Willem Dafoe in The Lighthouse

This seems like a five way lock here, though Song is kind of a wild card, but the juggernaut that is Parasite should put him here...and deservedly so. Though I would love to see Dafoe sneak in (instead of that sappy Hanks performance) but that is highly unlikely...which is sad, as The Lighthouse was a fantastic film, and will probably only garnewr one nomination tomorrow morning, for Cinematography.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

1. Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood
2. Marriage Story
3. Parasite
4. The Farewell
5. Knives Out

Possible Spoiler: Booksmart...which I would love to see!!

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

1. The Irishman
2. Jojo Rabbit
3. Little Women
4. Joker
5. The Two Popes

Possible Spoiler: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM

1. Parasite (South Korea)
2. Pain & Glory (Spain)
3. Les Miserables (France)
4. Atlantics (Senegal)
5. Those Who Remained (Hungary)

Possible Spoiler: Honeyland (North Macedonia)

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

1. Frozen II
2. Toy Story 4
3. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
4. Missing Link
5. I Lost My Body

Possible Spoiler: Klaus or Abominable

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

1. Apollo 11
2. American Factory
3. Honeyland
4. One Child Nation
5. For Sama

Possible Spoiler: The Cave or The Biggest Little Farm

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

1. 1917
2. Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood
3. The Irishman
4. The Lighthouse
5. Joker

Possible Spoiler: Hidden Life or Parasite or Ford v Ferrari

BEST FILM EDITING

1. The Irishman
2. Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood
3. Parasite
4. Marriage Story
5. Jojo Rabbit

Possible Spoiler: Joker or Ford v Ferrari or 1917

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

1. Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood
2. The Irishman
3. 1917
4. Jojo Rabbit
5. Joker

Possible Spoiler: Parasite

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

1. Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood
2. Little Women
3. Rocketman
4. Dolemite is My Name
5. Jojo Rabbit

Possible Spoiler: The Irishman or Downton Abby or Judy or Joker

BEST MAKE-UP & HAIRSTYLING

1. Bombshell
2. Judy
3. Joker
4. Rocketman
5. Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood

Possible Spoiler: Dolemite is My Name

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

1. Joker
2. 1917
3. Marriage Story
4. Little Women
5. Pain & Glory

Possible Spoiler: Jojo Rabbit or Us or even Star Wars

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

1. I'm Gonna Love Me Again from Rocketman
2. Into the Unknown from Frozen II
3. Stand Up from Harriet
4. I Can't Let You Throw Yourself Away from Toy Story 4
5. Spirit from Lion King

Possible Spoiler: Speechless from Aladdin or A Glass of Soju from Parasite

BEST SOUND EDITING

1. 1917
2. Ford v Ferrari
3. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
4. Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood
5. Avengers: Endgame

Possible Spoiler: Joker or Ad Astra

BEST SOUND MIXING

1. 1917
2. Ford v Ferrari
3. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
4. Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood
5. Rocketman

Possible Spoiler: Parasite or Joker

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

1. Avengers: Endgame
2. The Lion King
3. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
4. Alita: Battle Angel
5. The Irishman

Possible Spoiler: 1917

There ya go! Since I really know nothing much about the short subjects, I'll abstain from predicting Best Animated, Live Action, or Documentary Shorts. Huzzah! I'll be back tomorrow with a summary of all the nominations...and letchya all know how well I did with my predictions.

That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.



Friday, March 22, 2019

My 20 Most Anticipated Films of 2019

Now that all the 2018 cinematic hoopla is finally over (aka, the ever lengthy awards season) it is high time we took a look at what 2019 has to offer in the world of cinema. So, with no further ado, here are my twenty most anticipated films of 2019.

20. Star Wars: Episode IX - Anyone who knows me, knows i am a Star Wars fan from waaay back. I even have the Jedi symbol tattooed on my arm. But, as anyone who knows me also knows, i am no fan of the most recent Star Wars films. Sure, Force Awakens & Last Jedi have a nostalgic value when watching them, and the new characters, and actors behind them, are entertaining enough, but when galactic push comes to galactic shove, the newer films are merely sad retreads of the originals. That being said, i suppose i am still looking forward to the so-called final chapter, just to see how it all turns out.

19. Rocketman - Ready to cash in on the success of the rather mediocre, yet box office bonanza Bohemian Rhapsody (mediocre save for Rami Malik's bravura performance as Freddie Mercury of course) here comes a film about Elton John. The difference here is that this film looks as if it is a fantasy film, stuck somewhere between Tim Burton and Baz Luhrmann. 

18. The Truth - This film, on the heels of his Palme d'Or for Shoplifters, is Japanese auteur Hirokazu Kore-eda's first foray outside of his native land. Starring Juliette Binoche, Ethan Hawke, and Catherine Deneuve, this French-US hybrid is sure to wow us as the filmmaker has done so many times before.

17. Joker - Granted, the DC films are nowhere near the level of what Marvel is doing in cinema (Wonder Woman is really the only good one post the Nolan Dark Knights), but a film about the most intriguing character in DC lore, being played by Joaquin Phoenix, has me front row center!

16. Her Smell - Elisabeth Moss as an aging out of control punk rocker? Again, i am front row center. Teaming up once again with her Queen of Earth director, Alex Ross Perry, Her Smell looks like it gives Moss her most powerfully electric film role yet.

15. Shirley - Speaking of Elisabeth Moss, in this film by Josephine Decker (director of last year's stunning avant-garde film, Madeline's Madeline) the actor plays author Shirley Jackson in a semi-fictionalized tale of a Summer in the author's life, that may play out like Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe.

14. Where'd You Go, Bernadette? - Chamelonic auteur Richard Linklater, the modern day equivalent of Howard Hawks, brings us the tale of a woman, who hates everyone around her, and her disappearance. The titular missing person is played by the always wonderful Cate Blanchett.

13. Bergman Island - Maria Hansen-Løve takes her husband & wife screenwriter characters to Fårö island, off the coast of Sweden, the very same place that their idol, Ingmar Bergman would go to gain inspiration. The Bergman setting alone has this cinephile watering at the mouth.

12. Lucy in the Sky - Based on the real-life tabloid story of an astronaut, who after returning to Earth, finds herself obsessed with her fellow astronaut and former orbital lover. Noah Hawley, the creator of TV's Fargo, makes his feature directorial debut, and the film stars Natalie Portman in a role that could take her back to the insanity of Black Swan. Fun stuff indeed.

11. Avengers: Endgame - Eleven years and 21 films after Iron Man kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it all comes down to Endgame. With the probable loss of beloved characters (this author thinks both Captain America and Iron Man, if not others, will die saving the universe) and the coming of new characters, Endgame will probably be the closing number in this chapter of the MCU, but also the opening salvo to a brand new chapter.

10. High Life - French provocateur and visual master Claire Denis is heading for space, and she's bring Robert Pattinson with her. Pattison has been making some strange & brilliant choices in his post Twilight acting career, and this is bound to be yet another one. 

9. Beach Bum - In this Florida set comedy, Harmony Korine, in his first film since 2012's brilliant Spring Breakers, is back with a vengeance, and he's doing it with Matthew McConaughey as Moondog, a beach bum poet (and who better to play such a role). Also along for the ride are Isla Fisher, Zac Efron, Jonah Hill, Snoop Dogg, and Jimmy Buffet...as himself.

8. Midsommar - Ari Aster's follow-up to the terrifying Hereditary, promises to me another smart take on genre filmmaking. Starring Florence Pugh, who, after her turn in Fighting with the Family, is poised to be the next big thing with this film and the upcoming Little Women (which will be coming up on this list), and set in an idyllic Swedish town, that may just be a cult of evil. What isn't to love?

7. Jojo Rabbit - Taika Watiti, the New Zealand auteur who gave us the best Thor film in the MCU, now tells the tale of a lonely boy living in Germany during WWII, who creates an imaginary friend. It just so happens this imaginary friend is Adolph Hitler, and he is played by the New Zealand director himself. This look at racism and blind patriotism,  and most likely mirroring many of the things going on in America today, is bound to be a quite divisive film. I love those!

6. Pain and Glory - Pedro Almadovar, the Spanish auteur who has given us some of the best films of the past thirty something years (Matador; Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down; All About My Mother, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown; Volver; Talk to Her; Live Flesh; The Skin I Live In...just to bame a few) is back with longtime collaborators Penélope Cruz & Antonio Banderas. We may not see this film in the US until early 2020, but it may sneak in before the end of the year, so here it is.

5. Little Women - Greta Gerwig, one of the most exciting filmmakers working today, and one of the handful of women to be nominated for a Best Director Oscar (for 2017's Lady Bird) has created a modern day take on the Louisa May Alcott classic. Yes, this is the eighth film version of the book, but it looks as if this may be the boldest of them all. The film stars Gerwig's Lady Bird leading lady, Soirse Ronan as Jo March, and also features Emma Watson, Flirence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Timothée Chalamet, Laura Dern, Louis Garrel, and Meryl Streep.

4. The Irishman - Martin Scorsese! Robert De Niro! Joe Pesci! Al Pacino! Harvey Keitel! Do i need to go on? I do not, but i will anyway. The greatest living filmmaker is back in his wheelhouse with this mob tale  of a labor union official (De Niro) telling the story of the murder of Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino). We even get to see a CGI de-aged De Niro and Pesci. This is Scorsese's first team-up with De Niro & Pesci since 1995's Casino, and has a lot of people excited. It is being released via Netflix, and there is that controversy when it comes to the inevitable awards it will surely garner at year's end, but this is a Scorsese film, and there is no way it is not also going to get a major theatrical release as well.

3. Climax - Yes, technically this film is already in US theatres, but being in just NY & LA right now, i have yet to see it. Hopefully in a few weeks though. But it is the fifth film from French madman Gaspar Noé, so on this list it must be. Bound to be just as batshitcrazy as his previous four films (I Stand Alone; Irréversible; Enter thd Void; Love) this film Portrays a French dance troupe after their sangria has been spiked with LSD. Fun fun fun!

2. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote - Terry Gilliam began making this film in 1989, and has been working on it off and on ever since. There was even a documentary released in 2002, detailing the struggles of the film. But now, after nearly 30 years, the film is finally complete, and ready to see the light of the cinematic day. The film will have a one night only screening on April 10th, before going to Cannes, and a European rollout before it's US debut, which though not yet announced, will probably be in November or December sometime. We've already waited this long.

1. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood - Quentin Tarnatino, my favourite director working today (and one of those love him or hate him kinda filmmakers), is back with his 9th film. This one is set in 1969 LA, and tells the story of a TV actor and his his BFF stunt double (Leo DiCaprio & Brad Pitt) trying to break into the film industry. Oh yeah, and they also happen to live nextdoor to Sharon Tate & Roman Polanski when the Manson Family decides to pay a visit. No one is sure how much of the Manson murders will be played out on screen, but the sister of Sharon Tate saw the script, and gave Tarantino the go ahead to make the film. Whatever the case, the film is bound to be a spectacular grand guignol in the Tarantino style, and knowing me and my tastes, the top spot on my year end Best of 2019 list.

That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.


Monday, February 25, 2019

My Thoughts on Last Night's Oscars or, How we were Given the Worst Film to Win Best Picture Since Crash...Maybe Even Worse

So, another Oscar ceremony is in the books. I went 17 for 24 in my predictions (a fairly average night...i've done better tho), but this post is not about that. This post is about the good things and the bad things of the night. So here we go.

The highlights of the show began with the opening number by Queen...or at least what poses as Queen these days. You see, the highlight was not Queen itself. Sure Brian May on guitar was incredible...as always...and Roger Taylor on drums (and in one of many velvet suits being worn last night) was fantastic. Adam Lambert, taking Freddie's place tho...well, that is a horse of a different colour. The guy has an average voice, replacing one of the greatest voices (if not THE greatest) of all-time, and even singing two of the band's "easier" songs, he was just bland as ever. No, Queen themselves were not the highlight. The highlight was watching all these big Holywood stars singing along and rocking out to We Will Rock You and We are the Champions.

Other highlights included Spike Lee !! FINALLY !! winning an Oscar. Granted, it was for screenplay and not for directing his brilliant BlacKkKlansman, but it was an Oscar. Spike's excitement was fantastic, as he leapt into Samuel L. Jackson's arms.  A wonderful moment. Another wonderful moment is when the ever wonderful Olivia Colman surprised everyone, herself very much included, by winning Best Actress for her role in the little seen, but fantastic The Favourite. Granted, her role was more supporting than lead, but who cares...she won, and it was one of the best moments of the night, and one of the best acceptance speeches in Oscar history.  Many, myself included, were expecting Glenn Close to take home the Oscar (in her seventh attempt) or perhaps even Lady Gaga to surprise. But not last night. In a rare Oscar occurrence, the Oscar went to the correct person.

Other highlights included the mini-monologue by non-hosts Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, & Maya Rudolph (they should have just let them host the damn show already); Black Panther's technical wins (i am not a big fan of the film, but it did look and sound incredible, and for it's importance in mainstream moviemaking, it needed to win something); Rami Malek's Oscar for Best Actor (Bohemian Rhapsody was a mediocre film, but Malik's channelling of Freddie was remarkable); Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse winning Best Animated Feature; Barbra Striesand's moment with Spike Lee; Alfonso Cuarón's three Oscar wins; blue velvet suited Chris 'Captain America' Evans gentlemenly assisting Best Supporting Actress winner Regina King to the stage: and all the velvet (the aforementioned Roger Taylor & Chris Evans, the pink velvet suited Jason Mamoa) as well as Spike Lee's awesome purple Prince inspired suit. But then came Best Picture.

Most Oscar pundits were predicting Roma to take home the top honour. It would have been the first time a foreign film took the top prize. And it being a Mexican film, it would have pissed off trump and all his trumpsters. Although the shit gibbon in charge did have something to angrily tweet about, as he claims Spike Lee dissed him. But, whatever the reason, Roma was expected to win. Cuarón had just won Best Director moments before, making it a Mexican director winning that award 5 out of the last 6 Oscars. True, some thought perhaps Black Panther might surprise, but that did not happen either. Instead we got the most mediocre film of the bunch. When Julia Roberts announced the winner, you could hear the disappointment in her voice as she lacklusterly mumbled, Green Book.

So, there it is. Green Book, Best Picture of 2018. Not in any 2018 i was part of. Before we even get into the racial nonsense that this film spewed, let's look at the film from a purely cinematic angle. It's production design was ordinary, as was the cinematography. The look and feel of the film were bland as bland can be. Yes, Mahershala Ali, who took home Best Supporting Actor, and Viggo Mortensen, both gave solid performances, but they were against a backdrop so bland and pedestrian, that no one with any cinematic sense would consider this a great film. And then there is that godawful screenplay...which won an Oscar as well. Yes, Roma's eventual loss (it did win Foreign Film, Cinematography, and Director...all going to Cuarón himself) could be partly due to many in the industry not accepting a Netflix product as one of their own, and perhaps the progressive vote splitting of Roma and BlacKkKlansman, but in the end it still comes down to a mediocre (in a cinematic aspect) and repugnant (in a socio-political aspect) movie taking home the top prize.

In case you do not know, the titular Green Book was a travel guide for African Americans back in the days of segregation. It told them the safe (and safe is a relative term here) places to stay and eat if they were travelling in the old south. So, naturally, if one were to make a film about this, one would of course cast a white man as the lead. Wait...what? Yup, in the vein of films like Hidden Figures and The Help, Green Book is just another white savior film from Hollywood. Playing out as a sort of reverse Driving Miss Daisy, we wtch in horror as racism is fixed by yhe white guy and the black guy having dinner together. Praise the lord! Racism is over! Um...yeah, whatever.

You would think that in the nearly thirty year divide, the insulting race relations of Driving Miss Daisy would not still be around for Green Book, but there it is up on the big screen...and now apparently Oscar worthy to boot. Spike Lee was upset about the outcome too. 29 years after Driving Miss Daisy won, beating out his non-nominated masterpiece on race, Do the Right Thing (Kim Basinger announced her ire over Spike's snub on the live telecast itself), Green Book comes and beats out his latest masterpiece on race. What an opposite way to go Academy. It is especially disheartening in a year with so many powerful films telling the stories of people of color. Films like BlacKkKlansman & If Beale Street Could Talk & Blindspotting & Black Panther & The Hate U Give & Sorry to Bother You, and is is again disheartening after an evening where the first people of color, and women at that, won Oscars for Production Design and Costume Design. It is just disheartening in general. And i haven't even mentioned the parts about the original director being let go over sexual assault allegations, or the (now Oscar winning) screenwriter tweeting out Islamophobic tweets.

Then again, why should we be surprised. The Oscar tends to go to a mediocre product. In the 91 years of the Academy, i can only think of a handful of masterpieces that took the honour (Casablanca, All About Eve, On the Waterfront, Annie Hall, and the Godfather films) and only a few other truly great films. Usually it goes to lackluster, eventually forgotten mediocrities such as Chariots of Fire or Dances with Wolves or The King's Speech. But this goes beyond mere mediocrity. This is a slap in the face to all people of colour. Just like Driving Miss Daisy, and 2005's Crash, another terrible film getting the ideas of race insipidly wrong, Green Book is more than just a poorly made film, it is an insult to the fight against racism. And in this day and age, we should be past such things. At least when it comes to the more liberal minded Hollywood crowd, we should be. But alas, there are still many older or conservative minded people working behind the scenes in the otherwise left leaning, open minded industry, that would not see something like Green Book as just another fucking white savior film to demean the cause.

In his acceptance speech, Spike Lee said we need to help love triumph over hate. He got, rightfully so, thunderous applause for this statement. But then, within an hour, Green Book's victory takes us back down the road of hate once more. Hopefully, we in the know, know better.

That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.



Sunday, February 24, 2019

My Final Oscar Predictions

So here we go kids! Time for my annual attempt at predicting the Academy Awards. My goal this time around, as it is every other time, is to finally break that 20 barrier. For those who do not know, there are 24 categories in which to predict. My record, which I have accomplished on multiple occasions, is 19. Here's to hopin' for that 20th correct prediction. But enough rambling. Let's get on with the show.

Best Picture
Will Win: Roma
Could Win: Green Book
Surprise Win: Black Panther or Bohemian Rhapsody
Should Win: The Favourite (my 2nd favourite film of 2018)

After an up and down awards season, most so-called experts, myself included, have settled upon Roma taking home the top prize. If this does indeed happen, it will be the first foreign language film to ever win Best Picture. But let's not get ahead of ourselves here. Green Book is more of what we are used to seeing win this award (ie, a middle of the road film) and it was once the leader in all the prediction charts. Some controversary has made this rather unlikely though. But again, let's not count it out. And speaking of not counting them out...it would not be a huge surprise to hear either Black Panther (the SAG winner) or Bohemian Rhapsody (the Golden Globe winner) be called on that final envelope. Who knows. Anyhoo...here are my predictions in the other 23 categories (including my choices for write-in votes, aka biggest snubs, for Best Actress & Actor).

Best Director
Will Win: Alfonso Caurón for Roma
Could Win: Spike Lee for BlacKkKlansman

Best Actress
Will Win: Glenn Close in The Wife
Could Win: Olivia Colman in The Favourite
Should Win: Carey Mulligan in Wildlife (a write-in vote)

Best Actor
Will Win: Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody
Could Win: Bradley Cooper in A Star is Born
Should Win: Ethan Hawke in First Reformed (a write-in vote)

Best Supporting Actress
Will Win: Regina King in If Beale Street Could Talk
Could Win: Rachel Weisz in The Favourite

Best Supporting Actor
Will Win: Mahershala Ali for Green Book
Could Win: Sam Elliott in A Star is Born

Best Original Screenplay
Will Win: The Favourite
Could Win: Green Book

Best Adapted Screenplay
Will Win: BlacKkKlansman
Could Win: If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Foreign Language Film
Will Win: Roma
Could Win: Cold War (in a stunning upset)

Best Animated Feature
Will Win: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Could Win: Isle of Dogs

Best Documentary Feature
Will Win: Free Solo
Could Win: RBG

Best Cinematography
Will Win: Roma
Could Win: The Favourite

Best Production Design
Will Win: Black Panther
Could Win: The Favourite

Best Film Editing
Will Win: Bohemian Rhapsody
Could Win: BlacKkKlansman or Green Book

Best Costume Design
Will Win: The Favourite
Could Win: Black Panther or Mary Queen of Scots

Best Makeup & Hairstyling
Will Win: Vice
Could Win: Mary Queen of Scots

Best Original Score
Will Win: Black Panther
Could Win: If Beale Street Could Talk or Mary Poppins Returns

Best Original Song
Will Win: Shallow from A Star is Born
Could Win: All the Stars from Black Panther

Best Sound Mixing
Will Win: Bohemian Rhapsody
Could Win: Black Panther or A Star is Born

Best Sound Editing
Will Win: Bohemian Rhapsody
Could Win: Black Panther or A Quiet Place

Best Visual Effects
Will Win: Avengers: Infinity War
Could Win: Ready Player One

Best Animated Short
Will Win: Bao
Could Win: Animal Behaviour

Best Live Action Short
Will Win: Marguerite
Could Win: Skin

Best Documentary Short
Will Win: End Game
Could Win: A Night at the Garden

That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.


Friday, January 25, 2019

My Favourite Films of 2018

Well here we are again film fans. Time for that fun annual obligation, the top ten list. That time of the year where i let you know my opinions on what i believe to be the best films released in the US over the past calendar year. So without further ado, here we go.

1. Suspiria (Luca Guadagnino) - The Dario Argento original is a masterpiece of suspense and horror...one of the finest and most artistic genre films ever made. Guadagnino's remake, or retread if you will, may not be quite to that level (though close), but it is still a daringly spectacular look at a coven in 1977 Berlin. More in common with Cronenberg's body horror mileau, than Argento's creepy style, this updated film is a twisted work of art, a Grand Guignol of cinema, that takes on the  ultimate power of women in society...and is the best damn film of 2018.

2. The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos) - Lanthimos, one of the most interesting filmmakers working today, has given us his most  accessible film to date (though still weird enough to scare away the pedestrian riff raff), as well as his most Kubrickian film. A subversive, dangerously intriguing film about the abuse of power...and the attempted abuse of power by those who do not have it. Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and even Emma Stone, are all fabulous in their roles...and the film itself, reminiscent of Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, is gorgeously luscious from whimsical start to oh so disturbing finish.

3. BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee) - The almost impossibly true story of Ron Stallworth, an African American cop who infiltrated the KKK in the early 1970's. Spike Lee, a brilliant filmmaker who doesn't often get the recognition he deserves (wonder why that is...wink wink) has filled his comedy/drama/action hybrid with scary truths about race in America (and times are no better now than they were in the 1970's), and has speckled it with a dark, awkward humour (laughs you actually feel bad about taking) and managed to make the laughs and drama happen nearly simultaneously. Brilliantly subversive.

4. Roma (Alfonso Cuarón) - Based on the director's own childhood in 1970 and 1971 in the Roma neighbourhood of Mexico City, this succulent drama, shot, by Cuarón himself, in crisply beautiful black & white, tells the story of a young housekeeper for an upper middle class family (wherein Cuarón was the youngest child) and tells it in a steady yet intense manner. Part Fellini, part Tarkovsky, Cuarón's use of long quiet tracking shots (something the director has become a master of) brings a silent seething vibrancy to this beautiful film. The performances, especially that of Yalitza Aparicio, in her film debut (and now Oscar nominated performance as well), make it soar even higher.

5. First Reformed (Paul Schrader) - Paul Schrader has made a career out of creating lost characters. From Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, a film that is earily parallel to First Reformed, all the way up to Ethan Hawke's lost soul preacher here, Schrader has made a living out of creating characters that are simultaneously both tragic anti-heroes and pathetic broken men.  Filmed in a static Bressonian manner, with more than a few hints of Dreyer, with two breathtaking moments of surreality intertwined (that mesmorizing final scene, a scene we still are not sure how to interpret! Wow!) and with a performance by Hawke that puts every other performance of 2018 to shame (how is he not nominated for an Oscar!?), First Reformed is a tour de force of socio-religious chutzpah.

6. Annihilation (Alex Garland) - From the novelist that gave us The Beach, and the screenwriter who gave us the scripts for 28 Days Later, Sunshine, and Never Let Me Go, as well as the man who made his directorial debut with 2014's brilliant Ex Machina, Alex Garland is a powerful, if still not all that well known, voice in modern cinema. With his sophomore directorial effort, he weaves together a sci-fi fantasy  tale of aliens on Earth, and then delves into the very realm of god him or herself. Natalie Portman, along with a strong supporting cast, help Garland bring his gorgeous film to light.

7. Happy as Lazzaro (Alice Rohrwacher) - The most Felliniesque film on this list (and it has some good company), Happy as Lazzaro is poetic realism at its finest. A story of sharecroppers being oppressed  and abused by their illegal landlords, Alice Rohrwacher's film, also with allusions to Di Sica, leaps seemlessly into a fantasy realm of tragic beauty and savage melancholy.

8. Wildlife (Paul Dano) - Paul Dano's deceptively quiet directorial debut, allows its actors to free range their performances...as most any actor turned director is apt to do. Jake Gyllenhaal is pitch perfect as the sad sack husband & father, but Carey Mulligan and 17 year old Aussie actor Ed Oxenbould, as put-upon mother/wife and wayward but loyal son respectively, give two of the most spectacular performances of the year.

9. The Death of Stalin (Armando Iannucci) - A black comedy and political satire, The Death of Stalin comes from the sardonic mind and eye of Armando Iannucci, the man who gave us the UK TV show The Thick of It, and its film version, In the Loop. Biting and witty, this power struggle satire is (sadly enough) just as poignant in today's political landscape is it would have been in the 1953 Soviet era it is set in.

10. Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham) - Musician, poet, stand-up comic. Now Bo Burnham can add movie director to his resume...and what a damn fine debut it is. Starring 13 year old Elsie Fisher (the voice of Agnes in the Despicable Me films) as an awkward teenager (is there any other kind?) about the make the jump to high school, Eighth Grade is a square-in-the-face, non-sugar coated look at that oh so awkward time in life...and Fisher gives a bravura performance in thd central role. Huzzah!

Eleventh Place: The House That Jack Built (Lars von Trier) - Since i can never stop at just ten, i just had to include this disturbing (although not by von Trier standards i suppose) film starring Matt Dillon (in one of the best performances of the year) as a serial killer. Perhaps not up there with von Trier's slate of masterpieces (Dogville, Breaking the Waves, Melancholia) but still a powerfully treacherous film with a powerfully treacherous central performance.

Special Mention: The Other Side of the Wind (Orson Welles) - First began in 1970, Orson Welles, 33 years after his death, finally, with the help of Netflix, sees his final(esque) film make it to the screen. Finished by long-time Welles fanatic Peter Bogdanovich, who also stars in the film along with the late great John Huston, The Other Side of the Wind tells the story of a famous director trying to create what will be his final maligned masterpiece. Sound familiar Welles aficinados? Yup. It technically is and isn't a 2018 film, but i just could not leave off such a wonderful film by one of the greatest filmmakers to ever exist, so into the special mention spot it goes.

And some runners-up (in no particular order): A Star is Born, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Black Panther, Mandy, The Sisters Brothers, Blindspotting, Isle of Dogs, Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc, Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun, Game Night, Support the Girls, Sorry to Bother You, Bad Times at the El Royale, Avengers: Infinity War, and Ready Player One.

That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.