Sunday, August 20, 2017

OSCAR WATCH: Get Out


Released to major critical acclaim and audience enthusiasm, "Get Out" is still the film of 2017. Marking the debut feature of Jordan Peele of "Key and Peele", it satirizes our current sociopolitical climate with his trademark humor and wit. And as white supremacy continues to rear its ugly head, this clever horror-comedy has become even more timely 6 months later.

For anyone going into the film blind, the premise seems simple at first. A successful young black photographer named Chris Washington (played by Daniel Kaluuya) is nervously preparing to meet the parents of his pretty, rich white girlfriend Rose Armitages (a perfectly cast Allison Williams). As they make their way to the Armitage's affluent surburban home, things get off to an ominous start, as their car hits a deer on the way. When a cop arrives to assess the situation, undue attention is paid to Chris, who innocently sat in the passenger seat. Confidently defending her boyfriend, Rose handles a potentially fatal situation. But a larger, more sinister racist plot awaits them in the suburbs, in this modern, amped up take on "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner".

For any satire to be effective, it needs to be funny, smart and true. With his background in sketch comedy, the humour comes easily to Peele, as he writes characters and situations that are absolutely hilarious. Most notably, the paranoia of Chris' best friend character Rod (played by LilRel Howery) provides some of the film's funniest moments. As an inquisitive TSA agent, his investigation into the mysteries of Chris' suburban nightmare is pure comedic gold. Hypothesizing about possible sex slavery and brainwashing, he is essentially the audience surrogate, warning our hero of the dangers he may face.

Of course, what makes it all the more amusing is the fact that Rod's suspicions are well-placed. Without going into spoiler territory, the eventual reveal of the underlying sci-fi premise plays brilliantly off the notions of white privilege and exploitation. Indeed, one scene is a blatant nod to the auction blocks of the slavery era, disguised as a harmless game of bingo.

But while Howery brings the laughs with every frantic, concerned phone call and the script delivers the sci-fi smarts, what really hits home is the film's scathing truths. Namely, the truth that our outward personalities and attitudes are often just a performance. Whether its the seemingly tolerant white Obama-voters or the blind man who claims to be supportive of the black photographer with a great eye, these nice "allies" could be just as integral to maintaining the unjust status quo.

As Chris comes to terms with this reality, Kaluuya is tremendous at conveying the character's unease. Among an excellent cast, he is the standout, perfectly capturing the awkwardness and incredulity experienced when faced with subtle racism. He is a hero we immediately sympathize with and root for when the film shifts gears in the final act.

With its humor, thematic depth and the nuance of its social critique, "Get Out" is worth praise on ambition alone. But if it manages to make it into the Oscar conversation, that will surely be credited to Peele's impressive direction. Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay nominations are surely on the cards for Peele's astute handling of the film's shifting tones, from the deadpan apathy of the aforementioned bingo game to the ballsy thrills of the film's conclusion. Furthermore, his unique visual concepts reflect the imagination of a true visionary. "Get Out" is undoubtedly just the beginning of an exciting film career which I will certainly be following with keen interest.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

OSCAR WATCH: Dunkirk


As the ongoing announcements of TIFF titles reminds us, Oscar season is fast approaching. But before the onslaught of the fall releases, one infamously overdue director is already staking his claim for recognition. With his unbearably intense "Dunkirk", superstar director Christopher Nolan may finally break through for an hitherto elusive Best Director nomination.

World War II dramas have long been catnip for Academy voters, from "Twelve O'Clock High" in 1949 to last year's "Hacksaw Ridge". Hope springs eternal for Best Picture contender "Dunkirk" then, which fits the bill not just thematically but in quality too. As the title suggests, "Dunkirk" depicts a pivotal moment in the war, when Allied soldiers were left stranded and cornered by the enemy in the region of Dunkirk. With little help on the way, the outlook looks grim for the thousands of men hoping for deliverance on land, air and sea. Through the perspectives of 3 such groups of men, "Dunkirk" thus takes us through their grueling experience. On land, a young British private (Fionn Whitehead) awaits evacuation on the beach of Dunkirk as German forces continue their relentless attack. In the air, Royal Air Force pilot Farrier (Tom Hardy) and his small squadron engage the Germans in combat, though fuel and reinforcements remain in short supply. Meanwhile, a man named Dawson (Mark Rylance) answers the call to aid in the evacuation, setting sail for Dunkirk from the safety of Britain with only his inexperienced son and a teenaged assistant as support. With their backs against the wall, all of these men must play their part to achieve one objective - survival.

Indeed, "Dunkirk" sets itself apart from other war films by focusing not on violent displays of heroism but on humble retreat. While doing so, Nolan immerses us in the terrifying experience, dropping us right onto the beach like an unwilling soldier. As if to answer his critics, there is little exposition or backstory aside from a few opening lines of text explaining the current situation. What follows is therefore a taut, nerve-wracking experience and one of Nolan's most lean, consise films to date. For diehard fans like myself however, it also means a somewhat disappointing lack of originality in the script. Apart from the non-linear structure (which will likely reap a Best Editing nomination), this is a fairly straightforward survival story.

But what the film lacks in screenwriting ingenuity, it more than makes up for in technical mastery. Indeed, Nolan takes the term "theater of war" to heart, acting as the conductor for an astonishing cinematic symphony. Rarely has a war film felt so visceral, as Nolan recreates the sights and sounds of World War II with remarkable skill. Thanks to liberal use of wide shots, the cinematography conveys the enormity of the war with expansive vistas of land and sea. You can definitely expect Hoyte van Hoytema to be in the mix for his first Best Cinematography nomination.

Though these visuals and Nolan's direction are worthy of praise, the true MVPs of "Dunkirk" are actually composer Hans Zimmer and the team of sound editors. Much of the film's intensity is due to Zimmer's pulsing, agitating score, which perfectly captures the "ticking clock" nature of the evacuation. And if any viewers walk away from the film with PTSD, they have the frighteningly effective sound effects to thank. Oscar nominations for Best Original Score and Best Sound Editing would therefore be well deserved.

As with any Nolan effort, the filmmaking is top-rate all around, with many other fine aspects worthy of mention. Mark Rylance for example, could net another Best Supporting Actor nod for his steadfast performance. And though it's not his most memorable script, the satisfyingly cathartic conclusion will surely find some love in the Best Original Screenplay race. Indeed, this may finally be Nolan's year to steal the Oscar spotlight. There will certainly be several challengers to come, but for now, awards season has an early frontrunner.

Monday, July 17, 2017

REVIEW: Night School


In one scene of Andrew Cohn’s documentary “Night School“, we see a counselor advising a former high school dropout while the words “Black Lives Matter” are conspicuously displayed on his computer screen. In another, a young woman fights for her rights in a street protest for better wages. Neither of these scenes nor the overall film explicitly address the BLM movement, but it’s impossible to ignore its inherent relevance. The comparison however proves to be both a blessing and a curse in “Night School”, a limited but important examination of America’s flawed education system.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: Spirit Game: Pride of a Nation


Though the term “cultural appropriation” has only recently become a widespread trigger word in public discourse, the practice has been a part of society for centuries. A perfect example is lacrosse, which usually brings to mind elitist images of private school-educated WASPs. To make matters worse, this relatively niche sport received perhaps its most prominent headlines for a college rape scandal. But this unfortunate reputation perfectly exemplifies how the sport has been misappropriated throughout its long history. In “Spirit Game: Pride of a Nation,” directors Peter Spirer and Peter Baxter turn the spotlight on the Native American founders of the game, giving lacrosse a much needed face lift through this vital documentary.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: The Commune


In his new film “The Commune", Thomas Vinterberg directs Trine Dyrholm in an award-winning role that should delight fans of this Danish thespian. Dyrholm plays Anna, a dutiful wife and well-known TV news reporter, who lives with her architect/professor husband Erik (Ulrich Thomsen) and daughter Freya (Martha Sofie Wallstrøm Hansen). They live in a large house inherited from Erik’s late father, enjoying the spacious luxury that entails. However, when the bills begin to pile up and her husband’s demeanour becomes increasingly gloomy (due to frustrations at work), Anna demands a change. But as the saying goes, be careful what you wish for.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Sunday, July 16, 2017

REVIEW: War for the Planet of the Apes


In the rarefied air of "film twitter," of which I am a sometimes reluctant member, reboots and sequels are usually frowned upon. Thanks to the tentpole strategies of the major studios, each new "summer" movie season (now effectively running from March onwards) feels almost like a replica of the last. But as this atypically strong year for blockbusters has proven, these box-office driven spectacles can still deliver inspired, quality art. One prime example now playing in theaters is "War for the Planet of the Apes", the utterly amazing conclusion (well, until the studio decides to greenlight another one) to the latest trilogy of Planet of the Apes films. Though it is both a reboot and a sequel, it feels as fresh and visionary as the brilliant 1968 original.

In "War for the Planet of the Apes", the protagonists of the story are unambiguously the apes, lead by their leader Caesar (Andy Serkis), a highly intelligent chimpanzee. Following the events of "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes", an ongoing war has erupted between them and the humans. Hiding out in the woods, Caesar still hopes for peace. But an attack is soon unleashed on the ape clan, with the aid of treacherous apes who assist the humans. With their home no longer safe, the remaining apes venture out to find a new sanctuary. But Caesar takes the violence personally and sets out on his own quest to confront the humans and their ruthless Colonel (Woody Harrelson).

And so begins a war of epic proportions, as Caesar and the refugees set out on divergent, perilous paths. But as much as the narrative is about apes vs. humans, the real focus is on Caesar. In this regard, the film becomes a rich character study of his internal struggle, which wrestles with themes relating to forgiveness, heroism and the great responsibility of being a leader. His is a heavy burden, shouldered with admirable complexity and conveyed superbly through the use of astonishing visual effects and yet another groundbreaking performance by Andy Serkis. Throughout the course of this trio of films, this character has been the cornerstone of the franchise's success. Vastly surpassing your run-of-the-mill CGI, one look into those eyes reveals a living, breathing individual experiencing a gamut of emotions.

Indeed, "you're so emotional" retorts the Colonel when he finally meets face-to-face with Caesar. And it's this strong sense of emotion that guides the narrative. Though the story incorporates a highly entertaining mix of recognizable genre tropes relating to war, holocaust dramas and prison breaks, it never loses sight of its affecting emotional throughline. At the heart of it all, "War of the Planet of the Apes" is a dialogue between compassion vs survival instincts. Is violence essential to survive? Can man and ape coexist? If not, who deserves to inherit the earth?

In answering these questions and more, the remarkable script finds tremendous empathy for both points of view. And though the Colonel admits that the apes have achieved superiority, there is still a sense of a level playing field, which makes the outcome of the war so gripping and intriguing. Neither ape nor man feels invincible. But as the film smartly concludes - in what is essentially a sly allegory for climate change - nature will ultimately prevail.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Top 10 TV Programs of 2016-2017


Looking back on the landscape of television this past season, I continue to be impressed by the medium's ability to surprise me. As you'll see in my Top 10 list below, my faves ranged from music concerts, to lavish costume dramas, to provocative sci-fi and everything in between. Among this eclectic bunch, it's worth repeating that women-centric programming had a standout year, with the majority of these shows featuring a female lead - and in some cases, multiple female leads.

Much credit for this welcome sea change from the brooding male antihero of years past goes to Netflix and HBO. Indeed, these premium content providers landed 4 and 3 shows each on my list, including such actressy delights as "The Crown", "Orange is the New Black" and "Big Little Lies". Meanwhile, "Transparent" and "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" and "Feud: Bette and Joan" ensured representation for Amazon, FX and FXX. And though there were no network shows that made the cut, they also played a major role in offering quality programming for all audiences. In short, it's a great time to be a TV fan.

Here are my Top 10 Programs of the 2016-2017 TV Season:

  1. Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids (Netflix)
  2. Black Mirror: San Junipero (Netflix)
  3. Transparent (Amazon)
  4. The Crown (Netflix)
  5. The Leftovers (HBO)
  6. The Night Of (HBO)
  7. Big Little Lies (HBO)
  8. Orange Is The New Black (Netflix)
  9. It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia (FXX)
  10. FEUD: Bette and Joan (FX)

Top 10 Acting Performances of 2016-2017 TV

Best Casting: Big Little Lies, Transparent, The Crown

At the end of another strong season of television, one thing is clear when it comes to the best performances of 2016-2017. Thanks to a slew of excellent women-centric shows, the women ruled the roost. From fading screen legends to underestimated young queens, the small screen offered female roles that captivated audiences and had the world talking. As one of the complicated mothers on "Big Little Lies" for example, Nicole Kidman sparked renewed interest in her career through her exquisite portrayal.

Among the male actors, there were also some outstanding performances. These included Tituss Burgess and Andrew Rannells who subverted expectactions of the "sassy gay friend" by showcasing their vulnerability, acerbic wit and yes, even a showtune or two. Other highlights included Jeffrey Tambor's deeply affecting work on "Transparent", further proving that TV is really where it's at if you want to see a diverse range of ethnic, gender and sexual representation. So without further ado, here are my Top 10 Performances of the 2016-2017 TV Season.

  1. Nicole Kidman, Big Little Lies
  2. Reese Witherspoon, Big Little Lies
  3. Carrie Coon, The Leftovers
  4. Claire Foy, The Crown
  5. Jessica Lange, FEUD: Bette and Joan
  6. Shailene Woodley, Big Little Lies
  7. Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
  8. Andrew Rannells, Girls
  9. Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent
  10. Matthew Rhys, Girls
Honorable Mention: 
Angela Bassett, Master of None (Best Guest Actress in a Comedy)
Kathryn Hahn, Transparent (Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy)
Issa Rae, Insecure (Best Lead Actress in a Comedy)
Glynn Turman, Queen Sugar (Best Guest Actor in a Drama)
Ann Dowd, The Leftovers (Best Guest Actress in a Drama)
Michael J. Harney, OITNB (Best Supporting Actor in a Drama)
Vanessa Kirby, The Crown (Best Supporting Actress in a Drama)
Kofi Siriboe, Queen Sugar (Best Lead Actor in a Drama)
Alfred Molina, FEUD (Best Supporting Actor in a Limited Series/Movie)
John Turturro, The Night Of (Best Lead Actor in a Limited Series/Movie)

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

HIT ME WITH YOUR BEST SHOT: The Parent Trap


For this week's edition of Hit me with your best shot, we took a dive into the Disney vault to watch one of their 1960s classics - "The Parent Trap". Nowadays, most people are perhaps more familiar with Lindsay Lohan's delightful 1998 version. But that film certainly owes a lot to this one, with much of the original dialogue being retained.

While watching this one for the first time, I must admit that I spent much of the first half wishing I were watching the more entertaining remake instead. Hayley Mills is adorable, but Lohan did a much better job delineating the differences between the twins. As for the adults, they were allowed to bring a stronger sensuality to their roles.

The film improves greatly in the second half however and unsurprisingly, there was one adult actor who did manage to bring some sexual tension - the iconic beauty Maureen O'Hara. As such, she became the focus of my Best Shot pick.

Click below for my favourite shot...

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

HIT ME WITH YOUR BEST SHOT: Moonlight


As is the case around this time every year, the cinephile world currently has its eyes glued to the 70th annual Cannes Film Festival. But for me, the most exciting film-related news of the past week was the announcement that The Film Experience's Hit me with your best shot series is back for another season. And to kick things off, Nathaniel has chosen a wonderful film for us to dissect through its beautiful imagery.

For this first installment, we looked at Barry Jenkins' masterpiece and recent Best Picture winner "Moonlight", a perfect choice for this exercise. This was my third viewing of the film and it didn't disappoint, providing an even richer experience than I'd remembered. What I particularly loved is how Jenkins portrays Chiron's struggle and coming of age with such specificity and underlying optimism. Though my eventual pick for Best Shot was primarily an aesthetic choice, it also reflects these traits.

Click below for my favourite shot...

Monday, May 22, 2017

10 Essential Palme d'Or Winners


In just a matter of hours, the 70th annual Cannes Film Festival will open with Arnaud Desplechin’s “Ismael’s Ghosts,” kicking off an 11-day celebration of contemporary film. Amid the cinephilia, most of the attention will be focused on a select 19 films competing for the coveted Palme d’Or, the most prestigious film festival prize in the world. If chosen by the Pedro Almodóvar-led jury, the eventual winner will go down in history alongside an esteemed group of films. Indeed, the treasure trove of Oscar winners, arthouse classics and smashing debuts associated with the Palme d’Or gives us much to be excited about.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Friday, May 19, 2017

REVIEW: The Last Shaman


It’s no secret that America is overmedicated. As persons seek a quick fix for their problems, drugs like Xanax have proliferated throughout society. But is there a more natural alternative? One young American searches for these answers in the jungles of Peru, embarking on the strange, spiritual journey documented in “The Last Shaman,” written and directed by Raz Degan.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: A Woman's Life


Late in the award-winning drama “A Woman’s Life,” the titular protagonist is informed that her properties now amount to only six of her family’s original 22 farms. In most other films, this scene might have been the last eye-rolling blow in a “rich people problems” story. But Stéphane Brizé is no ordinary filmmaker and Judith Chemla’s performance as Jeanne Le Perthuis des Vauds is far from average. As such, this scene is the culmination of a narrative of rare empathy and palpable emotion.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: Sleight

e story that even the most implausible situations are accepted without much second thought. This concept is especially true of films like J.D. Dillard’s “Sleight“, which tests the boundaries of science and human behavior. Unfortunately, this is one instance where despite its compelling magical mysteries, the film falters in the fundamental requirement of presenting a believable, empathetic central character.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Sunday, April 30, 2017

COMING SOON: Everything, Everything

After an uncharacteristically diverse slate of Oscar noms this year, Hollywood will be under close watch to see whether the trend will continue. Aside from "Get Out" however, things aren't looking so rosy in 2017. Films featuring black talent have been rare so far, but hopefully things will turn around as we head into the summer and fall. One promising release coming up in May is "Everything, Everything", based on a YA novel by the same name. On the surface, this story - about a sheltered girl falling dangerously for the boy next door - doesn't seem like much more than your typical sick teen romance. But with the underused Anika Noni Rose in the cast and Indie Spirit nominee Stella Meghie directing, there's definitely potential for a solid flick. Check out the trailer below:



"Everything, Everything" opens in theaters May 19th.

Monday, April 10, 2017

REVIEW: Heal the Living


Images of a heart provide a pivotal moment in the narrative of “Heal the Living,” a tragic drama from director Katell Quillévéré. And indeed, the film’s “heart is in the right place,” showcasing the perseverance of humanity in the aftermath of an accident. But despite its best intentions, there’s something lacking in this wandering multi-narrative story.


Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: Truman


Winner of five Goya Awards in 2016 (including the trifecta of Best Film, Director and Screenplay) Cesc Gay‘s “Truman” confronts one of the most difficult facts of life. Namely, death becomes the central theme throughout this gentle drama, which stars Ricardo Darin in a role that will feel familiar to any audience. “Truman” bears witness to this character’s dying days, reminding us of the depressing and often uneventful experience of losing a loved one.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Friday, March 31, 2017

REVIEW: God Knows Where I Am


“God Knows Where I Am” is a documentary that is as depressing as it gets. Centering on the final days in the life of a woman named Linda Bishop, it examines an issue that evidently needs urgent attention. The villains in the story of her death aren’t sadistic serial killers, but they are equally effective. Framed around her own lonely thoughts, directors Jedd and Todd Wider deliver a harrowing but insightful account of the failures of the mental health care system and its dire consequences for the mentally ill.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: I Called Him Morgan


No matter how objective a documentarian sets out to be, non-fiction films are always guided by a particular agenda. In the case of Kasper Collin and his new feature “I Called Him Morgan,” he seems intent on validating an age old saying. Namely, “behind every successful man, there is a woman”. Breaking the mold of similarly tragic rise-and-fall artist documentaries, Collin tells the story of Lee Morgan through an unexpected focus on the woman by his side.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Friday, March 10, 2017

REVIEW: Contemporary Color


What is Color Guard? That is the question frequently asked throughout “Contemporary Color,” the new documentary from directors Bill Ross IV and Turner Ross. In defining this unique cross between modern dance and cheerleading, the duo lets its inherent beauty speak for itself. Turning the cameras towards a one-of-a-kind event, they crafted a concert film that captures this niche “art sport” in all of its glory.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Sunday, February 26, 2017

OSCAR WATCH: Oscar Predictions


Happy Oscar Day! The TV event of the year is now upon us and it's been quite a journey to get here. After a long season, "La La Land" has weathered some of the most ridiculous backlash to remain firmly ensconced as the Oscar frontrunner. I predict it will do very well tonight. Here are my final predictions. Enjoy the show!

Best Picture
La La Land

Best Director
Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Best Actor
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Best Actress
Emma Stone, La La Land

Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis, Fences

Saturday, February 25, 2017

OSCAR WATCH: Indie Spirit Awards


We're finally nearing the finish line of this year's awards season and in the last stop on the precursor tour, the "Moonlight" was definitely shining. Indeed, Barry Jenkins' masterwork was the toast of the evening as the film scooped up all 6 of the awards it was nominated for at the Independent Spirit Awards, including Best Feature and Best Director. Overall, the show was a nice celebration of contemporary cinema, making me proud to be a voting member (my picks are indicated by asterisk) of Film Independent. If the quality of the winners at the big show tomorrow as anywhere near as good, then it will truly be an Oscar night to remember. But for now we'll bask in the glory of "Moonlight". Here are the 2017 winners of the Film Independent Spirit Awards:

Best Feature
Moonlight

Best Director
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

Best Male Lead
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Best Female Lead
Isabelle Huppert, Elle

Best Supporting Male
Ben Foster, Hell or High Water*

Best Supporting Female
Molly Shannon, Other People

Thursday, February 23, 2017

10 Great Foreign Language Performances Overlooked by Oscar



Read more at The Awards Circuit

Monday, February 13, 2017

OSCAR WATCH: BAFTA Awards


Making headlines that could have been written before the show even happened, "La La Land" once again came out on top at a major awards show, claiming 5 honors, including Best Film, Best Director and Best Actress. But though it took home a substantial haul, the Brits did shine a light on some other films, notably "Lion", which performed surprisingly well with wins for Best Supporting Actor (Dev Patel) and Best Adapted Screenplay. With these further question marks in the awards race, it will certainly be interesting to see how much AMPAS matches up with their counterparts across the pond. Here are the winners of the 2017 BAFTA Awards:

Best Picture
La La Land

Best British Film
I, Daniel Blake

Best Actor
Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)

Best Actress
Emma Stone (La La Land)

Best Supporting Actor
Dev Patel (Lion)

Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis (Fences)

Director
Damien Chazelle (La La Land)

Saturday, February 11, 2017

OSCAR WATCH: BAFTA Predictions


Tomorrow is pretty much the last major stop in precursor season with BAFTA Awards and it's virtually guaranteed that it's gonna be a "La La Land" lovefest. Still, it's gonna be interesting to see how Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay turn out. Here are my predictions:

Best Picture
La La Land

Best British Film
I, Daniel Blake

Best Actor
Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)

Best Actress
Emma Stone (La La Land)

Best Supporting Actor
Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Nocturnal Animals)

Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis (Fences)

Director
Damien Chazelle (La La Land)

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Best of 2016: Top 10 Films of the Year


Oh 2016, a year many of us would like to forget. As the world seemed to turn upside down, the movies were there however to comfort us. On a personal level, those cinematic joys came not from grand escapist spectacles, but from much more modest efforts. With the arguable exception of "La La Land", it was a year highlighted by unanticipated "small" films with big ideas. Indeed, if you look on the list below, you won't find any films from the major film studios. And perhaps as a further sign of the times, documentaries capitalized on the zeitgeist in a big way, with a trio of non-fiction entries landing spots, two of them explicitly examining race in America. Coupled with my literary introductions to Ta-Nehisi Coates, James Baldwin and Langston Hughes, the influence of social issues on my film-going experiences was therefore inescapable. And you'll notice that impact from the very first film on my list of the Top 10 Films of 2016, which including quotes from my reviews.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Best of 2016: Top 20 Acting Performances


As the question of whether true movie stars still exist continues to be up for debate, the performances of 2016 showed that the quality of modern acting shows no sign of decreasing. In particular, the year produced terrific ensemble work, whether through sizzling duets or large but cohesive troupes. Indeed, among my Top 20 you'll several double citations for certain films and in one case, an awesome trio. Before I unveil my list however, I'd like to acknowledge a few outstanding young actors with Honorable Mentions. They are...

Honorable Mention: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo & Lucy Boynton in Sing Street, Julian Dennison in Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Markees Christmas in Morris from America.

OSCAR WATCH: SAG Awards


Well, that was interesting! In one of the more surprising SAG Awards ceremonies in recent years, Hidden Figures and Denzel Washington picked up surprise wins for Ensemble and Actor respectively. What does this mean for Oscar? Probably not much of Best Picture, but Best Actor definitely seems more competitive now. Here are last night's winners:

Best Ensemble
Hidden Figures

Best Actor
Denzel Washington, Fences

Best Actress
Emma Stone, La La Land

Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis, Fences

Saturday, January 28, 2017

OSCAR WATCH: SAG Predictions


After Tuesday's Oscar nominations proved that "La La Land" is indeed the one to beat, the SAG Awards could potentially indicate which film is its main challenger for Best Picture. The film was notably missing for the top prize of Best Ensemble, paving the way for another contender to grab a brief spotlight. Will it be Moonlight or Manchester by the Sea? Or maybe even Fences or Hidden Figures? Check out my predictions below and don't forget to tune in on Sunday night to see who comes out on top.

Best Ensemble
Moonlight

Best Actor
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Best Actress
Emma Stone, La La Land

Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis, Fences

Thursday, January 26, 2017

COMING SOON: I Am Not Your Negro

Fresh off its much deserved Oscar nomination, the best documentary of 2016 will finally be released to a wider audience next week. Directed by the great Raoul Peck, this incendiary work takes its cues from James Baldwin's unfinished novel "Remember This House" to tell the story of race in America. It's honest, frank and absolutely essential. Check out the trailer below:



"I Am Not Your Negro" opens in theaters February 3rd.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

CONTEST: The Results!

What a morning that was! The Oscar nominations have finally been announced and as always there was much to discuss. Most notably, the Academy embraced diversity in a big way this year, with persons of color nominated across the board, including rare mentions in Cinematography and Editing. As far as this contest goes, it was quite competitive with most people seeming to improve on their scores from previous years. But at the end of the day, there was a clear winner.

AND THE WINNER IS...



Gautam Anand of The Cinemaholic

Gautam therefore wins the $50 Amazon gift card. This is his second time winning the competition, after taking the top spot in 2014. Congratulations!

There are also a few bonus prizes for those clever persons who were the only ones to pick a certain nomination:

Donovan for predicting "The Empty Chair" for Best Original Song.
Jason for predicting 20th Century Women for Best Original Screenplay.
Sam for predicting 13 Hours for Best Sound Mixing.
Stewart for predicting Passengers for Production Design AND Suicide Squad for Best Makeup/Hairstyling.

As always, there is at least one nomination that stumped us all. This year it was Passengers getting in for Best Original Score.

You can now head on over to the full spreadsheet to see how everyone fared. I hope you had fun and look forward to hosting you all again next year!

CONTEST: The Predictions!


The predictions are in! Once again, I'd like to thank you all for participating and wish you the best of luck.

Click the link below to see all the predictions:




N.B. - A "1" indicates your prediction. If you predict correctly, you keep the point. If not, then you get 0. In Best Picture, you get -1 for every wrong prediction.

Once the nominations have been announced, I'll start working on the spreadsheet and the official results should be posted by 3 PM US Eastern time.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

OSCAR WATCH: The Documentary Features


Year after year, the Oscar shortlist for Best Documentary Feature provides us with a bounty of riches. Indeed, some of the most exciting filmmaking is happening through this medium, particularly as it taps into the zeitgeist. Race relations continued to be tense in America and around the world, prompting several documentarians to put a focus on this theme. But it wasn't the only area of concern, as an array of subjects found their way onto the screen. I was fortunate to catch 14 of the 15 finalists and they all captivated me in different ways. Below are my thoughts on them all, followed by a personal ranking and my predictions:

CONTEST: See Who's Playing!


It's here! In less than two days, this year's Oscar nominees will be announced. And as we wait in anticipation of the big day, 31 bloggers have signed up to test their skills at predicting this year's Oscar nominations. Among our returning players are former winners Gautam and Ryan, who will surely be in the running for the prize again. So get those thinking caps on and be sure to visit all these blogs and show them some love. Good luck!

Me! - Film Actually
Heather - That Film Girl
Christopher - Awards Madness
Tony - Coogs Reviews
Stewart - Talkie Gazette
Gautam - The Cinemaholic (2014 winner!)
Todd - All My Life I Wanted To Be a Blogster
Michael - Movie Parliament
Murtada - ME_Says (2015 runner-up!)*
Daniel - Chicago Cinema Circuit
Jessica - French Toast Sunday
Josh - The Cinematic Spectacle
Sam - The Awards Circuit
Matt F. - Movie Awards Plus
Ryan - Lord of the Films (2015 winner!)*
Andrew - A Fistful of Films
Joe - The MN Movie Man
Ross - Wholly Cinema
John - John Likes Movies
Andrew - The Awards Connection
Jason - The Entertainment Junkie
Donovan - Awards and Such
Paul - Paul's Trip to the Movies
Jay - Life vs Film
James - The Gold Knight
Terence - Le Noir Auteur

*Winner decided on tiebreaker.

Remember:
- Your predictions are due by 6PM EST on Jan 23rd. They will then be posted here on a spreadsheet for everyone to see.
- Remember: once you have sent me the link, those will be entered as your FINAL predictions. No further changes will be accepted.

Click here for a reminder of all the rules/instructions.

Friday, January 20, 2017

OSCAR WATCH: The Animated Films


Aside from the year 2012, this year's crop of Oscar contenders for Best Animated Feature is one of the strongest in recent times. Indeed, from the sampling of finalists I saw, I was quite impressed with the overall quality of the field. With a range of styles from hand-drawn to CGI, diversity in themes and a true international flavor, the films are a great representation of the animation world today. As always, I've written down some thoughts on all the ones I've seen (11 out of 27), in addition to my personal ranking and final predictions:

Thursday, January 19, 2017

OSCAR WATCH: The Songs


By most accounts, this will be a banner year for Best Original Song at the Oscars. Spearheaded by musical films like "Sing Street" and "La La Land", the category is unusually stacked with memorable tunes. There are just so many great options that this is going to be one of the hardest set of nominations to predict. But I'm gonna give it the old college try. Here's an overview of some of this year's leading contenders, followed by my personal Top 5 and my predictions:

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

OSCAR WATCH: BAFTA Nominations


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
Arrival
I, Daniel Blake
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

Best British Film
American Honey
Denial
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)

Director
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
Moonlight

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
Moonlight

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).

GENERAL INFO/RULES
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 PICTURE
BEST DIRECTOR
BEST ACTOR
BEST ACTRESS
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
BEST EDITING
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
BEST SOUND MIXING
BEST SOUND EDITING
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING
BEST ORIGINAL SONG(name the song, not just the film)

SCORING
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!

PRIZES
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).