Wednesday, January 18, 2017

REVIEW: A Man Called Ove

The grumpy old man is surely one of the most recognizable stock characters in cinema and even in real life. And if Hannes Holm‘s “A Man Called Ove” is any indication, he is also one of the most misunderstood. In the typically quirky style of Swedish comedies, this portrait of one such man explores a troubled life to reveal an affectingly heartwarming story.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Tuesday, January 10, 2017


The Brits have chimed in and once again, "La La Land" leads the pack. But the surprise twist was their love for "Nocturnal Animals", with Tom Ford and Aaron Taylor-Johnson once again getting Director and Supporting Actor nods, as the film sweeped up a 9-nomination haul. And there were further shocks in store with snubs for Denzel Washington and Barry Jenkins. It seems like Oscar lineups aren't as settled as we thought! Here are the BAFTA nominees for 2016:

Best Picture
I, Daniel Blake
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea

Best British Film
American Honey
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
I, Daniel Blake
Notes on Blindness
Under the Shadow

Best Actor
Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge)
Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)
Jake Gyllenhaal (Nocturnal Animals)
Ryan Gosling (La La Land)
Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic)

Best Actress
Amy Adams (Arrival)
Emily Blunt (The Girl on the Train)
Emma Stone (La La Land)
Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins)
Natalie Portman (Jackie)

Best Supporting Actor
Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Nocturnal Animals)
Dev Patel (Lion)
Hugh Grant (Florence Foster Jenkins)
Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water )
Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)

Best Supporting Actress
Hayley Squires (I, Daniel Blake)
Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea)
Naomie Harris (Moonlight)
Nicole Kidman (Lion)
Viola Davis (Fences)

Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)
Ken Loach (I, Daniel Blake)
Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea)
Tom Ford (Nocturnal Animals)

Sunday, January 8, 2017

OSCAR WATCH: Golden Globe Awards

So, remember when I said that "La La Land" had been brought down to earth by its SAG Ensemble snub? Oops! If tonight was any indication, there's not stopping this freight train. In a historic sweep, this Damien Chazelle-directed musical won 7 Golden Globes, i.e. every award it was nominated for. Overall, it made for a fairly predictable night (I scored 10 out of 14), except for that shocking Supporting Actor win for Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Does he have a shot at Oscar? That category is going to be really fun to watch, likewise Best Actress, where Isabelle Huppert got a crucial win tonight. It's gonna be one heck of an awards season.

Here are tonight's Golden Globe winners:

Best Motion Picture Drama

Best Motion Picture Comedy/Musical
La La Land

Best Actor Drama
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Best Actress Drama

Isabelle Huppert, Elle

Best Actor Comedy/Musical
Ryan Gosling, La La Land

Best Actress Comedy/Musical
Emma Stone, La La Land

Best Director
Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis, Fences

Best Supporting Actor
Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Nocturnal Animals

Saturday, January 7, 2017

OSCAR WATCH: Golden Globe Predictions

The next major stop on the awards circuit is here with the Golden Globe Awards, a show that can always be depended on for an entertaining night. Who's gonna come out on top? I'm expecting a lot of love for "La La Land", with a few surprises in store. Here are my predictions.

Best Motion Picture Drama

Best Motion Picture Comedy/Musical
La La Land

Best Actor Drama
Denzel Washington, Fences

Best Actress Drama

Natalie Portman, Jackie

Best Actor Comedy/Musical
Ryan Gosling, La La Land

Best Actress Comedy/Musical
Emma Stone, La La Land

Best Director
Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis, Fences

Best Supporting Actor
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

CONTEST: Predict the Oscar Nominations!

We're off to a later start than usual, but have no fear...the Film Actually Oscar Contest is back! As always we have some fun prizes and friendly competition in store. If you've played before, then you know the drill. But for the newbies, here's a rundown of the rules below. The aim of the game is simple - predict as many Oscar nominations as you can.

Once again, the top prize will be a $50 gift card (USD, or the equivalent in another currency) for the Amazon store of your choice (US, UK, Canada etc). In addition, there are other bonus prizes up for grabs (read below).

1. This contest is open to any interested bloggers.
2. To register: fill out the entry form below by 6PM US Eastern Time on January 21st, 2016.
3. To submit your predictions: send me (via twitter or email) a link to your blog post with your FINAL predictions. I will then save your predictions and enter them into my spreadsheet. Your predictions are due by 6PM US Eastern Time on January 23rd, 2016. Absolutely no changes to your predictions will be accepted after they have been submitted.
4. Here are the categories I need you to include:

BEST ORIGINAL SONG(name the song, not just the film)

Each correct prediction will earn you 1 point. However, in the Best Picture category, every wrong prediction will lose you 1 point. With the current rules for this category (anywhere between 5-10 nominees), this will force you to choose wisely!

1. The person with the highest score will receive a $50 online gift card (USD or the equivalent in another currency) for their relevant Amazon store (US, UK, Canada etc.).
2. In the event of a tie, the winner will be the person who scores highest in the Best Picture category. If there's still a tie, we'll go to Best Director and further down the list (in the order above) until the tie is broken. The loser of the tie will receive a DVD/Blu-ray of one of last year's Best Picture nominees (your choice).
3. Anyone who is the only person to predict a particular nomination correctly will receive a DVD/Blu-ray of one of last year's Best Picture nominees (your choice).

Saturday, December 31, 2016

OSCAR WATCH: Moonlight

In a banner year for black narratives in cinema, there's no doubt that the crown jewel is Barry Jenkins' "Moonlight", an undeniable frontrunner for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. This gem of a film is a beautifully wrought saga that achieves the rare feat of being both high art and captivating storytelling. Indeed, it's a standout in the black cinema canon, destined to be a considered a classic by future generations.

"Moonlight" is the coming-of-age story of a boy named Chiron. Shy and insecure, he struggles to fit in within the confines of his rough urban Miami community. His mother Paula (Naomie Harris) is a crack addict, his father is absent and he is constantly bullied at school. And in the midst of all this, he is also coming to terms with his sexuality as a gay man. Thanks to a supportive group of friends however, he manages to endure through the hardships. In particular, his fondness for childhood friend Kevin blossoms into lifelong affection. But the pressures to conform takes its toll over the years, threatening to prevent him from realizing and accepting his true self.

Chiron's self-actualization takes on novelistic proportions as we follow him through three pivotal stages of his life. Seamlessly portrayed by three gifted young actors with the aid of some astounding editing (if this film doesn't get a Best Editing, nod it would be a crime), the film has the scope of a grand epic. Yet Jenkins stays true to his modest indie roots, briefly checking in with the character for some of the defining moments of his life.

Though "Moonlight" is a film about the black experience, urban masculinity and the LGBT struggle, it conveys these themes without being emphatic about it. Indeed, perhaps the most impressive thing about Jenkins' elegant directing/writing style is how trusting he is of the audience. He doesn't need to show us the gun violence to instill a sense of danger, neither does he rely on explicit nudity or sex to make us understand the sexual underpinnings of Paula's desperation or Chiron and Kevin's intimacy. And you don't need to see characters behind bars to understand the cycle of mass incarceration that plagues this community.

This subtle approach is undoubtedly a risky gamble that feels all too rare for black cinema (especially when you consider the history of blaxploitation) and may not satisfy some viewers. But where the film lacks in plot specifics, it more than makes up for in stylistic flourishes. The film features expressive cinematography from James Laxton (worthy of a Best Cinematography nod), capturing mood, tone and story through revealing closeups and symbolic use of color. Likewise, Nicholas Britell's masterful score (a dark horse Best Original Score contender) reverberates with evocative instrumentals and choice song selections. You can practically sum up the film's themes through the introductory "Every N****r Is a Star" and the transformative use of Jidenna's "Classic Man".

All these elements create the film's artistic greatness, but what really captivates the audience are the authentic, powerful performances of its richly defined characters. In the film's most dynamic peformance, Naomie Harris (a certain Best Supporting Actress contender) is perfectly high strung as a troubled woman struggling to express her complex love for her son. As her surrogate is Janelle Monae, who fully embodies motherly kindness, living up to her character's name (Teresa). And by her side, Mahershala Ali has deservedly earned Best Supporting Actor plaudits for his performance as the wise but flawed father figure.

But ultimately, it's all about Chiron and Kevin, played marvelously by different actors in their childhood, teenage and adult years. Their palpable chemistry is the pining heart of the film, particularly between Trevante Rhodes and André Holland in the final act. Rhodes perfectly captures the various facets of Chiron's character, with a hardened exterior that melts away in Kevin's presence. Meanwhile Holland is effortlessly seductive and enigmatic as Kevin. Together they are the final grace note in the bittersweet ballad of Chiron and Kevin. And it's one that I'll surely be playing again in the future.

Monday, December 26, 2016

REVIEW: My Life as a Zucchini

With a title like “My Life as a Zucchini,” you’d be forgiven for thinking that Claude Barras‘ new animated film would be a happy-go-lucky story with talking vegetables. But you would be sadly mistaken. Barras takes animation down rarely trod paths with this heartrending film centered around children dealing with issues surrounding death, depression and abandonment.

Read more at The Awards Circuit


Let’s face it, if you’ve held or have run for a major political office, someone is going to make a movie about you. Whether for good (“Lincoln”) or bad (“Game Change”) reasons, cinema and television is obsessed with the lives of politicians. It’s therefore fitting that this year gave us not one, but two films about the history-making President Barack Obama as he completes his final term. In the summer we were gifted with the endearingly romantic “Southside With You,” and now Vikram Gandhi brings us the equally compelling “Barry,” exploring Obama’s formative years at Columbia University.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: Fire at Sea

A woman sits with her grandson by a window, peacefully sewing as thunder roars outside. She explains to him that it reminds her of a stormy fishing trip his grandpa once made during wartime. As naval ships fired rockets, she says it looked like there was fire at sea. For most filmmakers, this anecdotal story would seem to be unimportant, probably to be discarded on the cutting room floor. But for Gianfranco Rosi, it gave him the title for his latest award-winning documentary “Fire at Sea,” an uncommonly observant film.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

OSCAR WATCH: Hacksaw Ridge

It's been quite a year for "judging the art, not the artist". From Nate Parker, to Casey Affleck, to Woody Allen, Hollywood seems to be nearing a tipping point in how we approach celebrity in the social media age. This is certainly a question that is being asked in relation to Mel Gibson, whose past indiscretions have not prevented him from making another riveting film in "Hacksaw Ridge". As if to remind his fans of why they loved him before, this war epic recalls "Braveheart" while also exploring some new themes for the genre.

Based on a true story, "Hacksaw Ridge" follows Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a homegrown country boy from Lynchburg Virginia. Growing up with his parents and his brother, he is brought up with firm Christian values. And one day, a traumatic incident occurs that reinforces his beliefs, especially with regards to violence and the Sixth Commandment (Thou shalt not kill). Years later as a young adult, his stance is put to the test. World War II is raging in Japan and young men are encouraged to enlist. Feeling a sense of duty to his country, Desmond decides to sign up as a combat medic, much to the disapproval of his father (who understands first-hand the dangers of the battlefield). The only catch is that he refuses to carry or use any weapons as a conscientious objector. Of course, his philosophy doesn't sit well with his army superiors. But Desmond remains undeterred, vowing to contribute to the cause by saving as many lives as he can.

As a romance, war epic and courtroom drama, Gibson delivers classic big-screen spectacle with this comeback film. And impressively, he gives all of those story elements their due weight. A large chunk of the film is used to establish the Desmond character with his backstory particularly underlining the circumstances that influenced the protagonist's strict moral code. Likewise, a meet-cute beautifully blossoms into a relationship, further emphasizing his loving nature. By the time the film moves to Japan, we therefore have a full understanding of Desmond and the psychology behind his subsequent actions.

And action is certainly what we get in the latter half of the film, as Gibson finds his comfort zone with terrifically executed battle scenes. Staged with visceral intensity and unflinching violence, he never backs down from the horror of war, making the eponymous Hacksaw Ridge into an ominous hellscape. It's easy to see why Gibson has attracted so much attention in the Best Director Oscar race.

But his approach isn't perfect however. The film's big emotional beats are often overwrought, lingering too long with swelling music. Even a mere pre-war kiss is played like the climax of the most sweeping romance drama of all time. And Gibson doesn't trust Garfield's committed performance to inherently show the character's tremendous courage and heroism. You could also argue that for a film which highlights compassion during wartime, its depiction of "good vs evil" leaves little room for nuance. But that would oppose the script's honest character study, as Doss' interest in the war was guided by that same principle. Still, it's the rare film of its ilk that doesn't celebrate toxic masculinity as a virtue, redefining the traditional concept of bravery.

Ultimately, "Hacksaw Ridge" thus emerges as a success through its sheer entertainment value, with enough thoughtfulness to appease more discerning viewers. And don't be surprised if Academy voters think so too, showering it with nods for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing. Indeed, the film will likely bring back fond memories of films like "Saving Private Ryan" and Gibson's own "Braveheart". Enough to make them say "they don't make 'em like they used to." Or at the very least, like Mel used to.