Saturday, December 20, 2014


As you probably know already, the Oscar shortlist for Best Foreign Language Film has been announced. One of those films is Abderrahmane Sissako's "Timbuktu", which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and will hit US theaters next month. This drama is about the oppressive occupation of Timbuktu by religious fundamentalists and its impact on the people. My fellow AAFCA members have already named it the Best Foreign Film of the year and many audiences have reportedly been moved to tears. I can't wait to finally see it. Check out the trailer below:

Timbuktu hits theaters on January 28th.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

CONTEST: Predict the Oscar nominations

Film Actually is proud to announce the 2015 Film Actually Oscar Contest! This will be our third year and this annual event continues to get better and better. If you're a newcomer, the idea is simple - just predict as many correct Oscar nominations and you can win!
This year's contest will feature a grand prize of a $50 online gift card (USD, or the equivalent in another currency) for their relevant Amazon store (US, UK, Canada etc). In addition, there are other bonus prizes up for grabs (read below).

As usual, I will also be competing and I'm in it to win it! Read below for further details.

OSCAR WATCH: Predicting the Foreign Language shortlist

Best Foreign Language Film is one of the trickiest categories to predict for the Oscars. If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed, it’s that there will be surprises on the 9-film shortlist which precedes the nominations. That list should be arriving any day now, so I decided to take on the foolish task of predicting which films will show up.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Sundance films set for big Oscar comeback

Way back in January, I wrote an article decrying the loss of the "Sundance movie" in the Best Picture conversation since the AMPAS rule change. It was written in response to the hyperbolic praise for "Boyhood" after its premiere at Sundance 2014. After "Fruitvale Station" and another Linklater film "Before Midnight" failed to make it after a similar response the year prior, I found myself being immediately pessimistic about its Oscar potential. Even after I finally caught "Boyhood" in August, I was very conservative with my predictions (I didn't anticipate traction for Best Director and Best Supporting Actor for example).

Well, I was wrong. Not only is "Boyhood" an Oscar contender, it looks like it may walk away with the whole damn thing! Many pundits expect it to win Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress and Best Original Screenplay at the very least. "Boyhood" isn't the only film representing the Sundance brand however. "Whiplash" - this year's winner of the Grand Jury and Audience prizes - has also come on strong. At the moment, it seems like a likely Best Picture nominee and will potentially feature in other categories too. If you've been following the awards season, you'll know that J.K. Simmons already seems unstoppable as this year's Best Supporting Actor frontrunner.

It's really encouraging to see these small indie movies can still have a strong presence in the machine that is Oscar season. As of right now, I see "Boyhood" and "Whiplash" getting nods in many major categories. Take a look at my latest predictions:

Monday, December 15, 2014

MOVIE OF THE WEEK: Dear White People

My top pick this week is an exciting debut feature that has found many fans since its Sundance debut in January. Curiously titled "Dear White People", Justin Simien's film is boldly up-front about its intentions. For those who are slow on the uptake, the tagline spells it out for you, reading "A satire about being a black face in a white place".

The setting for this satire is a fictional Ivy League college called Winchester University. Winchester is a predominantly white institution, with a small but vocal population of black students. The loudest of them is Samantha White (Tessa Thompson), the host of a radio show called "Dear White People" and the new president of the campus' all-Black residential hall Parker-Armstrong. When she's not drawing attention to racial insensitivity through her show, she's rallying support to prevent the marginalization of black culture that will come when her residence becomes homogenized like the others. As she and other characters come to terms with their racially-based pressures and biases, an upcoming black-themed party threatens to cause unrest within the student body.

As someone who experienced a similar college situation in the US - I doubt we even had enough black students to fill a residential hall - "Dear White People" immediately rang true to me. Like Lionel Higgens (played by Tyler James Williams) in the poster, I had a white best friend/roommate who was fascinated by my hair, likening it to Velcro. To make matters worse, I was a foreign student. So I also received the obligatory "Do you have roads/electricity/internet where you're from?" Most of us black/international students just shrugged off these comments (they often came from a place of genuine curiosity). We didn't have a Samantha White to publicly call out the ignorance. Heck, even some of the black American students could have used some education on the African diaspora.

What's great about Simien's script then, is how it accurately captured that diversity among the black students. It's no coincidence that Issa Rae (star and creator of the YouTube sensation "Awkward Black Girl") has a brief cameo in the film. Simien and Rae are artists who are cut from the same cloth, featuring black characters in their work who are generally underrepresented in mainstream media - the awkward, quirky types. As such, one of the film's most interesting black characters is Lionel, who struggles to fit in with anywhere by virtue of being gay and not relating to black culture. Though the film's title explicitly addresses white people, it also calls attention to the pressures that black people place on ourselves.

In addition to Lionel, the 3 other main characters struggle with expectations of blackness. Namely, there's Samantha (who overcompensates for the shame of being only "half-black"), Coco (who hides her less fortunate background by feigning affluence) and Troy (who's afraid to show any weakness as the model black man). Altogether they present positive images of black people as smart and complex and crucially, imperfect. In this regard, the script is refreshingly free of religion (Christianity being the default of course).

In a sly reversal of the norm, the white characters are much more one-dimensional. They are mostly resigned to expressing a bogus belief that racism no longer exists. As can be expected, it results in many humorous confrontations, especially with each role being so perfectly cast and performed. What's even more impressive is how introspective the film is. It goes further than satire, giving us a universal story about the pressures (relationships, parental expectations, personal ambition, social acceptance) that young minds face in a college environment.

Apart from the film's satirical merits, its craft elements are also deserving of praise. I love the warm amber hues of the cinematography and the way the camera changes angles to key you in to the shifting perspectives and the power dynamics between the characters. I love the score, which accentuates the tone without ever overpowering the scene. I love the bright intertitles that maintain the film's playfulness. Finally, I also love the character-specific details in the hairstyling and costume design. The latter especially, for how it rejects some of the outdated stereotypes (XXL t-shirts, FUBU etc.) as expressed in the film's pivotal scandal.

"Dear White People" announces Justin Simien as a fresh voice that we need in contemporary cinema. This is a film that's quirky, funny, sexy and oh so cool. I look forward to seeing what he'll do next. Until then, I'm sure I'll be revisiting this one.

OSCAR WATCH: Critics Choice Nominations

Another day, another lovefest for "Boyman" as the Broadcast Film Critics Association announced their Critics Choice nominees for 2014. Interestingly, The Grand Budapest Hotel is right up there with them, as the film earned a whopping 11 nominations, only 2 nods behind Birdman. For the most part, it seems they were up to their usual Oscar predicting ways, including a revival for Unbroken in Best Picture and Best Director. Oh BFCA, never change. The various Oscar categories are starting to come into focus, but I'm still quite stumped as to which films will eventually fill out Best Picture.

Here are your Critics Choice nominees:

Best Picture
Gone Girl
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything

Best Actor
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler
Michael Keaton, Birdman
David Oyelowo, Selma
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

Best Actress
Jennifer Aniston, Cake
Marion Cotillard, Two Days One Night
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild

Best Supporting Actor
Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice
Robert Duvall, The Judge
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Bidrman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

Best Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Emma Stone, Birdman
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
Tilda Swinton, Snowpiercer

Best Director
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Ava DuVernay, Selma
David Fincher, Gone Girl
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman
Angelina Jolie, Unbroken
Richard Linklater, Boyhood

INTERVIEW: Philippe Muyl

Philippe Muyl’s The Nightingale is easily one of the most surprising selections in this year’s foreign language Oscar race. While the film is set in China with Mandarin dialogue, he is actually the first non-Chinese director to be submitted to represent the country. I recently caught up with Philippe for a Skype interview where we discussed the circumstances that led to his eventual Oscar submission.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Sunday, December 14, 2014

REVIEW: The Dark Valley

A dark silhouette traverses a mountainous landscape. It’s a lone rider of unknown origin, but the upbeat music immediately lets you know that he’s someone important. His face is soon revealed as he approaches a little Austrian town tucked into the valley between these hills, ready to set the plot into motion.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Friday, December 12, 2014


We’ve come to our final set of contenders in the 2014 Foreign Oscar Guide and it’s a group that could conceivably claim all 5 spots in the nominations. It’s no secret that this category has traditionally been very Eurocentric over the years. Of course, this may just be a result of the sheer number of submissions they send each year, usually accounting for about half the entire field. But there’s no denying that the quality of the continent’s cinema has a lot to do with it too. Who can argue with winners like "The Lives of Others", "All About My Mother" and "Cinema Paradiso"? Once again, the European films this year are high on quality and quantity, already boasting many awards heading into the Oscar race.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Thursday, December 11, 2014

GOLDEN GLOBE REACTIONS: Ruben Östlund and Pawel Pawlikoswki

Hollywood was abuzz today as the Golden Globes announced their 2014 nominees for film and television. Among those waking up to good news were the nominated directors for Best Foreign Language. The Awards Circuit was able to get reactions from two of them, via phone interview with Ruben Östlund from Sweden and a written statement from Pawel Pawlikowski...

Read more at The Awards Circuit