Thursday, December 8, 2016

REVIEW: Your Name

We don’t immediately think of animation when we mention good sci-fi or fantasy films. But of course, the medium has certainly provided some of the most thought-provoking concepts over the years. One such example that merits discussion is “Your Name” from Japanese director Makoto Shinkai, a moving anime adventure about space, time and matters of the heart.

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INTERVIEW: Elite Zexer

As Roger Ebert once said, movies are a machine that generates empathy. And Elite Zexer’s “Sand Storm” certainly fits the bill. This impressive debut feature gives us an insightful look at a Bedouin culture many are unfamiliar with. Set in a patriarchal society, it follows the travails of a young woman who challenges the rules through a forbidden romance. Recently, I caught up with Zexer to discuss the film’s feminist themes, her thorough writing process and the heartbreaking true story that inspired her. Below is an edited version of our conversation.

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INTERVIEW: Lorenzo Vigas

After winning the top prize at the 2015 Venice Film Festival with his debut feature "From Afar," Lorenzo Vigas has emerged as one of Latin America’s most promising filmmakers. Centered around an unlikely relationship between two men, his distinctly Venezuelan film explores themes surrounding homophobia, the generation gap and the class divide with impressive formalist control. It was therefore a pleasure to chat with Vigas earlier this week to discuss how he achieved the film’s authentic feel. Below is an edited version of our conversation.

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We’ve now come to the end of this year’s Foreign Oscar Guide and as always, we close out with the most formidable group of contenders – the European films. Indeed, in addition to making up the majority of the submissions, the region is currently on a hot streak extending back to 2012’s “Amour.” And this year’s crop is as auspicious as ever, including respected auteurs and festival darlings. Here’s an overview of 37 European films vying for Oscar glory:

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REVIEW: Sand Storm

The ideological tug of war between tradition and modernity has long been one of the most pervasive struggles throughout society. In some cases, it can lead to outright war, and in others, it leads to systemic oppression of certain groups of people. For her debut feature “Sand Storm,” Israeli director Elite Zexer highlights the latter, delivering a nuanced portrait of Bedouin women living under a patriarchy.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Thursday, December 1, 2016

OSCAR WATCH: Critics Choice Nominations

Let the games begin! Today the Broadcast Film Critics Association sounded off on the year's best films and like clockwork, "La La Land" led the field with 12 nominations. Not far behind were "Moonlight" and "Arrival" with 10 nods each, as this year's Critics Choice nominations more or less kept in line with the established buzz. However, there was one film that underperformed and it was "Jackie", which missed out on Best Picture and Best Director. This is a major blow for Fox Searchlight as the film is nothing if not a critics' film. Let's hope the Golden Globes come through for it, as this is exactly the kind of challenging biopic that awards bodies should celebrate. Here is the full list of nominees for the Critics Choice Awards:

Best Picture
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea

Best Actor
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Joel Edgerton, Loving
Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Tom Hanks, Sully
Denzel Washington, Fences

Best Actress
Amy Adams, Arrival
Annette Bening, 20th Century Women
Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Ruth Negga, Loving
Natalie Portman, Jackie
Emma Stone, La La Land

Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
Ben Foster, Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel, Lion
Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis, Fences
Greta Gerwig, 20th Century Women
Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Nicole Kidman, Lion
Janelle Monáe , Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

Best Director
Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
David Mackenzie, Hell or High Water
Denis Villeneuve, Arrival
Denzel Washington, Fences

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

AWARDS SEASON: Finding Love in a Hopeless Place

Will voters feel the love for La La Land?
As I write this piece mere moments after watching the incendiary "I Am Not Your Negro", I can't help but think of how the current political and social climate has impacted the Oscar race. At a time when the United States is as divided as ever along racial and socioeconomic lines, it is not surprising that films celebrating love have garnered the bulk of the Oscar buzz so far. From the taboo romances central to "Loving" and "Moonlight", to the familial affection underpinning "Fences", "Lion" and "Manchester by the Sea", the "Oscar bait" films of 2016 appeal to our better selves.

And of course, there's hardly anything more optimistic than a musical romance. As we head into the "serious" phase of the awards season tomorrow, "La La Land" has taken its understandable place as the presumed frontrunner. And with its popular director and cast, and the coveted TIFF People's Choice Award in hand, it certainly looks the part. But there are several other contenders hot on the heels of its dancing shoes.

Here are my first Best Picture predictions of the season, in anticipation of the nominations for the "Big Three" televised precursors (Critics Choice, Golden Globes, SAG):
  1. La La Land
  2. Manchester by the Sea
  3. Fences
  4. Moonlight
  5. Arrival
  6. Jackie
  7. Sully
  8. Silence
  9. Lion
  10. Loving
If you've been paying attention to recent Oscar years however, you'll know that we are far from the days when one film would sweep everything. Indeed, the trend suggests a new normal, where Best Picture isn't sealed until that final envelope is opened. It will be particularly interesting to see how the #OscarsSoWhite controversy plays out this year, with a number of strong films featuring largely black casts in the race. If there is to be a challenger to "La La Land", it may well be from this group of "Fences", "Moonlight" and "Loving". But the season is still young however, with many momentum shifts in store. Let's see what surprises tomorrow will bring, as the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the New York Film Critics Circle gets things rolling in earnest.


This is surely old news by now, but the shortlists for all 3 short film Oscar categories have been announced. I don't have much commentary since I've only seen one of them ("The Other Side of Home") and I'm not aware of the buzz yet. Have you seen any of these? Let me know in the comments.

Blind Vaysha
Borrowed Time
Happy End
The Head Vanishes
Inner Workings
Once Upon a Line
Pear Cider and Cigarettes
Piper, Alan Barillaro
Sous Tes Doigts (Under Your Fingers)

Brillo Box (3¢ Off)
Close Ties
4.1 Miles
Frame 394
Joe’s Violin
The Mute’s House
The Other Side of Home
Watani: My Homeland
The White Helmets

Live Action
Bon Voyage
Ennemis Intérieurs
La Femme et le TGV
Nocturne in Black
The Rifle, the Jackal, the Wolf and the Boy
Silent Nights
Sing (Mindenki)
The Way of Tea

Tuesday, November 29, 2016


Much has been said about the Academy’s rule of allowing only one submission per country in the Foreign Language Oscar category. In the eyes of many, it gives an inaccurate representation of the best in world cinema, as some countries have multiple worthy films or may not select their best. But the restriction has its benefits, namely in leveling the playing field to allow entries from smaller nations a better chance at recognition. The system still shows its biases however, as the Asian region has been sorely underrepresented among the nominees, despite containing some of the world’s most influential film industries. This year, 19 Asian hopefuls will chase Oscar glory, ranging from big-budget genre films to intimate dramas.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: Ukrainian Sheriffs

In a small village tucked away in the Ukrainian countryside, there’s a new sheriff in town. Two to be exact. In Roman Bondarchuk’s illuminating new documentary “Ukrainian Sheriffs,” a pair of simple men are handed an important task. Representing the police, they are expected to maintain the peace in a town on the brink of turmoil.

Read more at The Awards Circuit