Sunday, September 25, 2016


Late in Clint Eastwood's new film "Sully", a hearing is being conducted to ascertain whether an emergency water landing carried out by the titular pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger could have been avoided. Using flight simulation technology, the inquiry board demonstrates that a safer landing at a nearby airport was possible. Sully argues that the simulation is faulty, as it removes the vital "human factor" from the high-stress situation. Similarly for Eastwood's depiction of this true story, the humanity involved before, during and after the unbelievable events prove to be essential to the film's questionable success.

Tom Hanks plays the lead role of Sully, a longtime pilot for US Airways with a wealth of experience. One day however, all his training will be put to the ultimate test, when a freak incident causes a routine flight to malfunction. While en route from LaGuardia Airport in New York to Charlotte Douglas Airport in North Carolina, his plane hits a flock of geese, which disables both engines. With few options for a safe landing, he decides to trust his instincts and directs the plane towards a risky landing in the Hudson river. Miraculously, he pulls it off without any casualties. Sully is soon declared a hero by the public and the media alike. But with the significant financial losses incurred and pressure from the insurance company, an investigation begins to unfold to determine whether Sully should take the blame for irresponsible behavior.

Part delicate character study, part inspiring courtroom drama, "Sully" is a film often at odds with itself. Despite an intense opening scene depicting a horrific nightmare of a plane crash, Eastwood's direction is surprisingly restrained. For Tom Hanks, the approach comes as a blessing, allowing him to once again shed his former "aw shucks" persona for yet another deeply grounded portrayal. In what will surely place him in the Best Actor conversation, Hanks' performance is truly the film's anchor. Despite the glaring facial transformation, he manages to fully inhabit the role.

Unfortunately, the restraint hardly benefits the film otherwise. The predictable dialogue is delivered with such monotonous detachment that the film sometimes feels amateurish. And though the last act is considerably more engaging, the transition from Sully to the ultimate courtroom scenes lacks the tension that Hanks so effortlessly conveys. For a film that stresses the significance of human emotions in crisis situations, there's a disappointing lack of genuine human feeling in much of the acting.

Indeed, while Hanks gets to explore great the psychological depths associated with PTSD and the vulnerability of public scrutiny, the other main characters serve mainly as props for his journey. Laura Linney for example, is stuck with the laughably stereotypical "supporting wife" role, while Aaron Eckhart barely gets any showcase scenes despite being Sully's co-pilot who is also on trial.

By the time Hanks delivers what would likely be his Oscar clip, one gets the distinct sense of a film that doesn't know what it wants to be. In this climactic scene, he explains that it was the combined team effort of the flight crew, passengers, first responders and all of "New York's finest" which allowed for the plane's successful landing. But the dynamic ensemble drama he describes is far removed from the myopic biopic Eastwood delivers. Many may give Eastwood kudos for being able to deliver decent film at his age, with possible Best Picture and Best Director noms on the horizon. But for this fan of the prolific actor-director, "Sully" feels too much like Eastwood on autopilot, rather than taking full control of this fascinating true story.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

TIFF: Forever Pure & Girl Unbound

As is customary every four years, sports fans and casual viewers alike were glued to their TV screens this summer for the Olympic games. Throughout the 16-day event, the core Olympic values of friendship, respect and excellence were on full display and celebrated worldwide. But as a pair of eye-opening sports documentaries prove, this ideal of sportsmanship is not always upheld.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

TIFF: City of Tiny Lights

As the lines between TV and film are increasingly blurred, there’s no doubt that film directors have had to step up their game to draw in audiences. Particularly in the realm of gritty crime dramas, cinema has had to contend with outstanding work from small screen counterparts on cable and even network series. Indeed, films like Pete Travis‘ respectable neo-noir “City of Tiny Lights” face a tall order in trying to feel fresh.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

TIFF: Vaya & We Are Never Alone

When it comes to international film festivals, it’s almost a given that there will be at least one dark multi-narrative film among the lineup. This year’s Toronto International Film Festival was no exception. Hailing from two countries as vastly different as South Africa and the Czech Republic, respectively, directors Akin Omotoso and Petr Václav brought a pair of harrowing ensemble dramas.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Monday, September 12, 2016

TIFF: The Birth of a Nation

When Nate Parker‘s directorial debut “The Birth of a Nation” was announced as a Sundance selection, the knee-jerk reaction was to be expected. Many groaned that we didn’t need another “slavery film.” The concern was understandable, especially in a year that included “Underground” and “Roots” on TV. But as its Sundance reception showed, this passionate film captured an aspect of slavery that audiences needed to see.

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TIFF: Joe Cinque's Consolation

Disturbing, unsettling, infuriating. These are the adjectives that will likely come to mind in response to "Joe Cinque’s Consolation", the debut feature from director Sotiris Dounoukos. A misanthropist’s delight, this unflattering portrait of Australian society truly gets under the skin.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

TIFF: Lion

Over the next few months, we’ll be hearing the term "Oscar bait" a lot. Used as a pejorative for period dramas, biopics or anything that looks like old-fashioned storytelling, it can be both a blessing and a curse for late year releases. One such film already labeled with that tag is Garth Davis' "Lion", a heart-stirring adaptation based on an extraordinary true story. Indeed, this is a prestige film through and through. And it deserves all the awards attention it will likely get.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

TIFF: Death in Sarajevo

The more things change, the more they stay the same. This seems to be the overarching thesis guiding award-winning Bosnian filmmaker Danis Tanović and his new film “Death in Sarajevo”. A cynical sociopolitical satire, this labored drama critiques the unsavory legacy of Europe’s checkered past.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Saturday, September 10, 2016

TIFF: A Monster Calls

After a summer movie season widely regarded as one of the worst in many years, many film lovers are understandably pessimistic about the future of the “popcorn flick”. The mainstream summer slate was almost universally criticized as vapid, noisy and simply lacking in “fun”, it reignited fears about the death of cinema. But of course, sometimes you just have to look harder to find gems in a constantly expanding international marketplace. And one such example is “A Monster Calls”, directed by Spanish filmmaker Juan Antonio Bayona, which feels like an antidote to the curse that afflicted this year’s blockbusters.

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TIFF: Nocturnal Animals

It’s been a long time coming for fans of 2009’s “A Single Man”, the impressive debut feature that marked the arrival of an exciting new director in Tom Ford. But now, the wait is finally over and it was certainly worth it. Indeed, Ford makes a bold return to cinema with “Nocturnal Animals” a film that essentially offers two strong films for the price of one.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

TIFF: Free Fire

What do you get when you bring together 11 men, 1 woman, an abandoned warehouse and guns to spare? A perfect setup for a classic shoot-’em-up. And that’s exactly what Ben Wheatley brings with “Free Fire“, his latest, wickedly entertaining genre outing.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Thursday, September 8, 2016

TIFF: Loving

The sentiments behind this oft-quoted Bible passage are beautifully conveyed in Jeff Nichols' new film, aptly titled “Loving”. In one of the more authentic depictions of true, eternal love ever put to screen, a couple’s love is put to the test. But as 1 Corinthians 13 and this touching film teach us, love always perseveres.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

TIFF: Preview

With another edition of the Telluride Film Festival in the books, it’s time for cinephiles worldwide to turn their attention to arguably the biggest stop of the fall festival circuit – the Toronto International Film Festival. Once again, TIFF features a packed lineup of exciting films to unfold before audiences from September 8-18, culminating in an awards ceremony to crown the best of the festival. Of course, the biggest prize is the People’s Choice Award, seen as a bellwether for awards season success in the months to come. And this year, the prize will be hotly contested with numerous Oscar hopefuls making their premieres including "Lion", "A Monster Calls", "American Pastoral" and many more. Indeed, the possibilities are endless with 296 features and 101 shorts to choose from. Some hard decisions will therefore have to be made for the many attendees and those following along from afar, but Awards Circuit is here to help with our picks for the 15 Films to Watch at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Sunday, September 4, 2016

COMING SOON: Toronto International Film Festival

September is officially upon us and for some lucky cinephiles it means one thing in's time for TIFF! In what I hope will be an annual tradition, I'll be heading back to the Toronto International Film Festival in just a few days for what will surely be another amazing experience. This year's lineup already feels like it's gonna be one for the history books and I'll be there to give you the lowdown on what's hot and what's not at this year's festival. Be sure to follow my coverage at The Awards Circuit. TIFF 2016 kicks off on Thursday, September 8th.

Check out the festival teaser below:

Friday, September 2, 2016

REVIEW: In Order of Disappearance

At the beginning of Hans Petter Moland’s "In Order of Disappearance", our protagonist Nils Dickman (Stellan Skarsgård) is seen accepting the “Citizen of the Year” award in his Norwegian mountain community. A snowplow driver by profession, he maintains a simple, diligent lifestyle with his wife and son. But the honor bestowed upon him soon becomes a source of irony when an unexpected tragedy changes turns him into a ruthless avenger in this unrelenting, dark crime drama.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: Floyd Norman: An Animated Life

Talk to any aficionado of animated films today and the names Brad Bird, Andrew Stanton and John Lasseter should be very familiar. As animators and filmmakers emerging from the powerful Disney/Pixar juggernaut, they have used their talents to build illustrious careers in the world of film. These titans of animation however, owe much of their success to the pioneering efforts of talents like Floyd Norman. This fact is brought to life with all the appropriate admiration and warmth in "Floyd Norman: An Animated Life", a documentary by Michael Fiore and Erik Sharkey.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: The People vs. Fritz Bauer

With the fall festivals fast approaching and awards season beginning to gain momentum, one can always expect certain types of narratives to come to the fore. One of those ubiquitous film subjects is certainly the Holocaust era and its aftermath, seemingly dissected and explored ad nauseum. In one of the latest additions to the canon, Lars Kraume examines one man’s tireless efforts to bring those responsible to justice in "The People vs. Fritz Bauer". The top prizewinner at this year’s German Film Awards, this absorbing drama is yet another handsome cinematic depiction of one of the ugliest periods in human history.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: Summertime

As we know from real life and as emphasized in films, love can sometimes be irrational and inexplicable. Indeed, the most passionate romances are often the most taboo, as evident in the popularity of the classic Romeo and Juliet story template. Such a forbidden romance takes center stage in the tender new film "Summertime" from Catherine Corsini, where two women from different worlds become unexpected lovers, even as societal expectations threaten to tear them apart.

REVIEW: The Innocents

Opening with peaceful, serene images set within a convent, director Anne Fontaine quickly establishes the illusion that will soon be broken in her new film "The Innocents". A group of nuns sing in unison, before being interrupted by a harrowing scream. This cry in the dark later becomes a recurring motif, as the sobering drama recounts the traumatic experiences following a case of sexual violence in post-World War II Poland.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: Les Cowboys

As America reels from its latest terrorist attack in Orlando, many are left searching for answers and solutions to the ongoing problem. Tensions between contrasting ideologies have rarely been more fraught, making films like Thomas Bidegain’s "Les Cowboys" all the more timely. In this suspenseful debut feature, a father goes on a perilous search for his missing daughter, which reveals a possible connection to Islamist extremists.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Thursday, September 1, 2016

COMING SOON: The Oscar Slate

It's that time again! After an underwhelming summer at the movies (to put it mildly), Oscar season is here to bring us some relief. Indeed, aside from "Hell or High Water", "Indignation" or "Midnight Special", none of the early releases seem to have staying power for the long season ahead. Over the next few months, fall festivals like the Toronto International Film Festival (see ya there!) will launch a smorgasboard of "prestige" films on a hungry audience craving quality filmmaking. And the buzz has already begun as "La La Land" made a big splash at Venice this week. So strap in everyone, the race has begun. Here are the main upcoming Best Picture contenders to look out for: