Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Top 10 TV Programs of 2015-2016

In less than 24 hours, the Emmy nominations for the 2015-2016 TV season and with that, we begin the final goodbyes to the past year of small screen programming. And what a great year it was, notably on the comedy side where shows both old and new brought as much depth and refined craft as their typically more esteemed drama counterparts. The laughers really brought it this year, proving that indeed, we are experiencing a renaissance for the TV comedy. Overall, there was much to love in this age of "too much TV", including stellar work from Variety Specials like "Lemonade" and anthologies like "Fargo". As such, I'm proud to present my Top 10 Programs of the 2015-2016 TV season:

Top 10 Acting Performances of 2015-2016 TV

Looking back on the landscape of the 2015-2016 TV season, one thing is clear. The miniseries is where it's at for the best performances. From the understated tragedy of Oscar Isaac's character arc in "Show Me A Hero" to the fragile vulnerability of Lili Taylor on "American Crime", the various limited series provided a bevy of compelling characters and the A-grade acting to match. As a result, this year's Top 10 Performances was overwhelmingly dominated by shows with close-ended storylines. Below you'll find the full list of the Top 10 Performances that struck a chord with me this year.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

My Emmy Ballot: Drama

N.B. These ballots are based on the official submissions and follow the Emmy rules for nominations (i.e. 10 for Programs, 6 for Actors and 5 for Casting). All ballots are in ranked order, with winners in bold.

As always, the drama categories were once again fiercely competitive this past TV season, especially among the lead performers, with many gifted actors delivering superlative work. Indeed, the quality of acting was the main draw for me this year, which explains my obvious love for one show in particular. While most fans are singing the praises of Season 4 (I still need to catch up) of "Orange is the New Black", I'm still in awe of the brilliantly character-focused work of Season 3, which produced one of the most moving and cathartic seasons of television I've ever seen. As a result, this heavily female-driven show nearly swept my drama ballots this year, leaving room only for Louis CK's disarming dramatic performance on "Horace and Pete" and Graham McTavish's rambuctious turn as Dougal MacKenzie on "Outlander".

Here's my full list of winners and runners-up for the Drama categories for 2015-2016:

Saturday, July 9, 2016

My Emmy Ballot: Comedy

N.B. These ballots are based on the official submissions and follow the Emmy rules for nominations (i.e. 10 for Programs, 6 for Actors and 5 for Casting). All ballots are in ranked order, with winners in bold.

Looking back on the 2015-2016 season, there's no doubt that the Comedy Series categories will be some of the strongest at this year's Emmy race. With the allure of "Modern Family" finally starting to wane for many viewers (including myself, a former champion of the show), the "Next Big Thing" has come from surprising new places. Indeed, all my Comedy winners this year are first-timers. And of course, one of the most exciting developments is the diversity within the quality, which is evident all over my ballots. Much of that is thanks to the greatly improved "Black-ish", which had an endlessly hilarious season that also touched on the zeitgeist in thoughtful ways. Showrunner Kenya Barris et al. certainly proved that you don't need to be on cable to fuel a conversation (or thinkpiece).

So without further ado, here are my picks for the best of the best in the various Comedy categories for 2015-2016:

Friday, July 8, 2016

NEW TV 2015-2016: Final Report Card

Wow, what another exciting year of television it's been, highlighted by a strong crop of fresh new programs. Among them, the comedies, miniseries and specials have been particularly impressive, with the level of acting, ambition and general talent on display continuing to redefine the boundaries of the medium. This year, I caught up with a grand total of 18 new shows. Here's a graded rundown of all of them:

Wednesday, July 6, 2016


This week on Hit me with your best shot, we went back to the 1980s with the Mike Nichols film "Working Girl", the readers' choice from the recent poll at The Film Experience. When it was announced as the winner, Nathaniel was understandably surprised by this atypical choice (especially considering the more visually expressive competition). But this gloriously dated time capsule (the hair! the clothes! the music!) still offered much to look at in its examination of workplace politics through its main characters, played by Melanie Griffith, Sigourney Weaver and Harrison Ford.

And what fascinating characters they are. I can imagine Melanie Griffith's performance being more divisive, especially when compared with the awe-inspiring confidence and effortless radiance of Sigourney Weaver. But she plays the part so well, perfectly tapping in to the despair of being "so close, yet so far" from your dreams.

Throughout the film, cinematographer Michael Balhaus does a great job in highlighting the difference in the personalities between the two women. Weaver always manages to "pop" within each frame, while Griffith often seems to blend in. It's particularly noticeable towards the end of the film, as even during the height of Griffith's reinvention as a successful woman, she immediately feels like a pretender when Weaver returns.

In spite of the great shot compositions towards the big climax however, I still came back to a scene from earlier in the film.

Click below for my favourite shot...

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

OSCAR WATCH: Foreign Language Contenders

As we venture into the heart – and heat – of summer, the upcoming awards season may not be the most prominent thing on our minds. But with the recent conclusion of the influential Cannes Film Festival, the cards are already being put in place for one category in particular – Best Foreign Language Film. With an early October submission deadline, countries will be faced with tough decisions over the next few months. And in many cases, festival awards can prove to be the deciding factor.

This piece will therefore highlight some of the hot titles from the four major stops on the 2016 festival circuit so far (Sundance, Berlin, Tribeca and Cannes), all of which have premiered country submissions and nominees in recent years.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

HIT ME WITH YOUR BEST SHOT: The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant

This week on Hit me with your best shot, we took a foray into the New German Cinema movement, which lasted roughly from 1962 to 1982. This renaissance in German cinema propelled several talented filmmakers into international acclaim, including Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the director of this week's chosen film - "The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant". Starring Margit Carstensen in a juicy role as the titular character, it's a rather talky film about a fashion designer lamenting her failed relationships.

And indeed, within the course of the film we witness her endure yet another failed relationship as a young beauty named Karin Thimm (played by the incomparable Hanna Schygulla) enters her life and absolutely upends it. By the end of the film, Petra is a broken shell of her former self. And this gin-soaked climax contains my pick for Best Shot, emphasizing Fassbinder's strong skill in staging characters within a frame.

In the shot below, we effectively see all the film's characters - if you include the doll who represents Karin - towering over a subdued Petra. Not only does it showcase the all-female cast, but it also includes the sight of the "Midas and Bacchus" painting, providing the setting's only male imagery (and perhaps even a reminder of Petra's other failed relationships). It's such an effective and revealing scene about the all-consuming power of desire, thanks in no small part to Michael Ballhaus' cinematography.

Click below for my favourite shot...

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

REVIEW: Tikkun

Avishai Sivan’s "Tikkun" – winner of several festival awards last year – opens with a slaughter. Not a vindictive homicide however, but the traditional practice of kosher slaughter of meat, accompanied by prayer. As customary of Hasidic Jews, this is just one of the many religious observances we’ll witness being carried out by the film’s two pious main characters – Haim-Aaron and his father. Indeed, their lives are consumed by such rituals, but their faith will be put to the test when a near-death experience disturbs their worldview in this solemn, uncompromising drama.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

REVIEW: The Nice Guys

Everyone loves a comeback. Indeed, our obsession with seeing actors reinvent themselves has lead to the coining of portmanteaus like the McConaissance (for Matthew McConaughey) and the Reesurgence (for Reese Witherspoon). From the looks of Ryan Gosling's recent work, we may need to come up with another such term, as the actor has returned from a brief hiatus seemingly reinvigorated. Following from his brilliant turn in "The Big Short", the popular heartthrob shines in another comedic role in Shane Black's entertaining crime caper "The Nice Guys".

Set in 1970s Los Angeles, "The Nice Guys" teams up Ryan Gosling (as Holland March) and Russell Crowe (as Jackson Healy) as a private eye and enforcer hired to solve the interconnected case of Misty Mountains - a porn star who died in a fatal car crash - and Amelia - a young hippie girl who goes missing. On the surface, their task seems like a routine investigation involving small-scale local crime. But as they delve deeper into this underworld of the porn industry and the mob, the pair of misfits start to realize that they may be in way over head.

What follows is a hilarious romp through the city, as March and Healy - as well as March's streetsmart daughter Holly - embark on a wild misadventure. Despite the noir premise, Black keeps the tone light, often favoring dumb luck over shrewd crime-solving. And the comedy benefits from the shenanigans of an impressive ensemble, notably reuniting Crowe and Kim Basinger (who plays a high ranking government official) for a mini "L.A. Confidential" reunion.

To be honest though, the obvious linkage does the film no favours, as it lacks the distinctive style and atmosphere that made that 90s classic so great. And although it shares a similar tone, time setting and counterculture vs "The Man" theme, it doesn't hold a candle to the intricate storytelling of Paul Thomas Anderson's "Inherent Vice". Of course, the film deserves to be judged on its own terms. But although Black's screenplay is an original, it feels so standard issue that it begs comparisons.

Still, there's some strong filmmaking on display here. The editing is brisk, maintaining the high energy of the characters and the plot. And much of that strong editing is in service of some brilliant visual humor, seamlessly connecting the outrageous comic set-pieces.

But most of all, the film feels like an audition for Ryan Gosling's heretofore underused skills as a comedic actor. And he absolutely nailed it. Rarely has he appeared so relaxed and effortless on screen, willing to be self-deprecating with both his voice and body. It's certainly a drastic change from the brooding "Only God Forgives" role which preceded his break from acting. Indeed, "The Nice Guys" may not be the most memorable neo-noir buddy comedy, but I'm sure we'll remember its stellar Ryan Gosling performance for some time to come.