Sunday, December 31, 2017

INTERVIEW: Rise of a Star

The drama of the ballet world has long been a source of inspiration for filmmakers. Indeed, films like “The Red Shoes” to “Black Swan” have delivered indelible portraits of women enduring the pressures to succeed. In James Boris’ short film “Rise of a Star“, a ballerina named Emma finds herself on the verge of stardom. But she is hiding a secret threaten that could potentially her career. Starring real-life prima ballerina Dorothée Gilbert and the legendary Catherine Deneuve, her personal journey to overcome society’s obstacles is conveyed with beautiful artistry. In a recent interview with Awards Circuit, James Bort explained how he used ballet, fashion and feminist themes to craft this empowering tale that was recently named to the Oscar shortlist for Best Live Action Short.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

INTERVIEW: Kevin Wilson Jr.

The tragic story of Emmett Till has long been recognized as a significant catalyst for the African-American Civil Rights Movement. His brutal murder in 1995 Mississippi brought a much needed spotlight to the severity of racist violence in the United States, forever ensconcing the then 14-year old as a martyr for civil rights. With his short film “My Nephew Emmett“, writer-director Kevin Wilson Jr. revisits this horrific incident from the atypical perspective of Emmett’s uncle. Featuring a superb performance by L.B. Williams, this powerful film has already won the Student Academy Award, ahead of making the Oscar shortlist for Best Live Action short. It was therefore an honor to speak with the talented Kevin Wilson Jr. as we discussed the importance of the Emmett Till story and his aspirations as a rising filmmaker.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

INTERVIEW: Sean Meehan

Based on a short story by Jack London, “Lost Face” is a bleak tale of survival set in Russian-colonized America during the mid 1800s. It centers around a Russian fur thief named Subienkow, who must use all his wits to escape a slow, painful death at the hands of native tribesmen. Directed by Sean Meehan, this short film showcases terrific craftsmanship and is worthy of viewing on the biggest screen possible. Following its selection to the Oscar shortlist for Best Live Action short, I recently spoke with Meehan about the making of his surprising debut film.

Read more at The Awards Circuit


When it was announced as Germany’s Oscar submission, Fatih Akin’s “In the Fade” immediately became one of the top contenders. This intense revenge thriller had already been garnering attention for Diane Kruger’s performance, which won Best Actress at Cannes. And with its topical themes and provocative storyline, it seemed destined to make an impact with the Academy. I was therefore excited to speak with Akin recently, as we discussed those themes and the thought process behind making the film. Below is an edited version of our conversation.

Read more at The Awards Circuit


On first glance, “Quest” seems to be a documentary about an ordinary American family. Its first scenes depict a mother frying up some bacon for breakfast, followed by preparations for a modest wedding. Over the course of the film however, director Jonathan Olshefski stumbles on a profoundly bittersweet testament to the human condition. At once universal and specific, “Quest” is a truly American story.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: Woodpeckers

This may sound like a corny reference, but one of the first things that came to mind while watching “Woodpeckers” was a line from the Rihanna song “We Found Love”. In it, she sings “we found love in a hopeless place”, a lyric that could easily have been the tagline for this unique romance drama directed by Jose Maria Cabral.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: A Ciambra

In 2015, Jonas Carpignano made a splash with his debut feature “Mediterranea,” a drama that hearkens back to the heyday of neorealism. With his follow-up “A Ciambra,” the Italian-American filmmaker continues in the same vein. Once again, he focuses on a member of one of Italy’s minority populations. And in the process, he crafts an intimate, melancholic portrait of their daily struggle.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

INTERVIEW: Annemarie Jacir

The term “wajib” refers to an obligatory practice in traditional Islamic culture. And with director Annemarie Jacir‘s latest film, audiences will be introduced to one of Palestine’s most fascinating examples. Screened at film festivals all over the world, “Wajib” follows an estranged father-son pair who are brought together to hand-deliver the wedding invitations for their daughter/sister. And as Palestine’s official Oscar entry, this gentle drama now awaits the decision of the Academy’s Foreign Language Film Award committee. In anticipation, Annemarie Jacir kindly spoke with me via phone from Nazareth, to discuss the film’s unique premise and her perspective as a female director from Palestine.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

INTERVIEW: Dome Karukoski

As an actor, director, writer, and producer, Dome Karukowski is one of the shining talents of the Finnish film industry. And with a biopic about the popular author J. R. R. Tolkien on the way, we’ll definitely be hearing more about him in the future. It was, therefore, an honor when Karukowski took time out of his shooting schedule to discuss his current biopic in theaters called “Tom of Finland.” Below is an edited version of our chat, in which we talked about the film’s social relevance and the importance of its selection as Finland’s Oscar submission.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

INTERVIEW: Amit Masurkar

With a pair of well-received films under his belt, writer-director Amit Masurkar is one of the most promising talents in India’s thriving film industry. In his sophomore effort “Newton,” his confident voice is evident as he incisively examines his country’s democracy. After a successful run on the festival circuit, the film has now been chosen as India’s official Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Film. In celebration of this honor, I recently spoke with Masurkar to discuss the fascinating politics he depicts as well as the pleasant surprise of the Oscar selection. Below is an edited version of our conversation.

Read more at The Awards Circuit


Released earlier this year to strong box office both at home and abroad, “A Taxi Driver” shines a spotlight on South Korean history with poignant and entertaining results. Now, director Jang Hoon hopes to make some history of his own. The film is now an official submission for the Foreign Language Oscar, an award for which South Korea has never been nominated. And for Jang Hoon, it will be his second chance at bat. As we await this year’s nominations, I caught up with the promising filmmaker for a chat about the making of the film and his Oscar hopes. Below is an edited version of our conversation.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: A Taxi Driver

From May 18-27, 1980, in South Korea, a series of events known as the Gwangju Uprising led to the deaths of 606 people. Director Jang Hoon revisits this tumultuous period with his latest film, “A Taxi Driver.” While conventional wisdom would lead to you expect a somber affair, Jang instead takes a national tragedy and crafts a winning film about sacrifice and honor.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: Song of Granite

This year’s Foreign Language Oscar race features no shortage of biopics, but none are quite like Pat Collins’ “Song of Granite.” On the surface, this uniquely musical drama chronicles the life of singer Joe Heaney. But more memorable, it is a love letter to Ireland. It’s no surprise then that this beautiful film was selected as their official Oscar submission.

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INTERVIEW: Daniel Rezende

Daniel Rezende may be an unfamiliar name to you, but you’ve probably seen his work. In 2002, he burst onto the scene as the editor for the seminal Brazilian film “City of God”, for which he was nominated for an Oscar. Having established himself as a renowned editor (his other credits include “The Motorcycle Diaries” and “The Tree of Life”), he now takes on a new challenge. The biopic “Bingo: The King of the Morning” marks his directorial debut and was submitted by Brazil for contention in the Foreign Language Oscar race. With his proven talent, it was therefore a pleasure to speak with Rezende about this new phase in his career. Below is an edited version of our interview, which covered a range of topics including the legacy of “City of God” and political correctness in Brazil.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: Bingo: The King of the Mornings

One of the central plot points in “Bingo: The King of the Mornings” sees our protagonist pleading to change the script for the American TV franchise in which he stars. He argues that the humor will not translate well to Brazilian kids, suggesting they add more edge. After watching this biopic, however, it’s hard not to wish the film had fully committed to that same philosophy.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: Félicité

As explained in Alain Gomis‘ new film “Félicité,” the title roughly translates to “our joy”. It is also the name that was given to its protagonist after surviving a near-death experience as an infant. Decades later, that joy is hard to come by for Félicité however, especially after a personal tragedy strike in this poignant drama set in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: The Divine Order

Earlier this fall, “Battle of the Sexes” revisited a famous 1970s event that became a referendum on women’s rights. Now, that turbulent time period is once again the focus of Petra Volpe’s “The Divine Order“, an award-winning new release which chronicles a battle of the sexes of a different sort. In its opening montage, we see recognizable archival footage from Woodstock, the Black Power movement, the sexual revolution and the various student protests. But most importantly, the women’s liberation movement is also mentioned, which provides the central conflict in Volpe’s compelling look at the struggle for women’s right to vote in Switzerland.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: BPM (Beats Per Minute)

“Damn, so soon.” This is the immediate response given by one of the characters in “BPM (Beats Per Minute),” upon hearing of the death of another. Uttered at a climactic point in the film, it conveys the urgent crisis of the AIDS epidemic being depicted. But it may also be your own response at the end of this thoroughly engaging film, which this year’s French submission for the Foreign Language Oscar. “BPM (Beats Per Minute)” is so fascinating and lovingly crafted that it leaves you wanting more.

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INTERVIEW: Paul Haggis

Scheduled to take place from October 26 to November 4, the 2017 Evolution Mallorca Film Festival is one with a distinct character. According to its founder and director Sandra Seeling Lipski, this budding festival (now in its 6th year) focuses on films that “share a vision of more than one culture and portray how people from different cultures interact and respect each other.” In keeping with this mandate, the festival will bestow the inaugural Evolution Vision Award this year to a filmmaker who represents these ideals through their work. This year’s deserving honoree is Oscar winner Paul Haggis, a native of Toronto whose filmography nevertheless shows a keen interest in American society, culture and politics. In anticipation of the upcoming gala in his honor, recently spoke with Haggis for a candid discussion of his impressive career, which spans several decades, mediums and genres.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: Thy Father's Chair

At the beginning of “Thy Father’s Chair“, the new documentary from Antonio Tibaldi and Alex Lora, we see men putting on protective body coverings in preparation for a hazardous situation. Like a scene from a sci-fi film, they seem to be gearing up for a dangerous mission into unknown territory. What awaits them may not be aliens or a mysterious virus, but the reality depicted is no less disturbing.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: The Wound

Those who are knowledgeable of the Foreign Language Oscar race will know that there is a common theme typically expected of the South African submission. Whether it is representative of their cinematic trends or encouraged by the success of 2005’s “Tsotsi”, their films typically center around tales of urban crime. In a surprising twist, however, an entirely different setting and the theme is the focus of South Africa’s 2017 entry. In “The Wound“, John Trengove uncovers fresh perspectives on South African culture with a drama that explores class, race, and sexuality.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Monday, December 25, 2017


I'll be the first to admit, I was a bit skeptical when Greta Gerwig's "Lady Bird" was first announced. Films directed by actors can be hit or miss, especially when the actor is relatively inexperienced behind the camera. But with her solo directorial debut - she previously co-directed "Nights and Weekends" with Joe Swanberg - Gerwig quickly dismissed all my reservations. "Lady Bird" is simply delightful.

Set in Gerwig's hometown of Sacramento, "Lady Bird" follows the exploits of Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson, a high school senior with big dreams. Living with her parents, adopted brother and his girlfriend, her home life contrasts greatly with that of her more affluent schoolmates. But though they've fallen on hard times, Lady Bird's mother Marion makes every effort to keep her daughter in the expensive private school and the opportunities it provides. This comes at a price however, as her cynical outlook and frugal attitude is at odds with her daughter's lofty ambitions. The pair's combative relationship is just one of the pressures Lady Bird will experience however, as her eventful final year of high school will challenge her ideas about friendship, home, family, sex and her eventually, herself.

Indeed, over the course of the narrative, Lady Bird learns a myriad of lessons that will change her life. In that sense, it provides the familiar pleasures of a coming-of-age comedy. But Gerwig elevates the premise through deft screenwriting, delivering a script that is uncommonly rich without ever feeling didactic or overly self-serious. That it manages to delve into a such extensive thematic territory - the complex love-hate relationship between mothers and daughters, the awkwardness of losing your virginity, the depression of losing your job and more - is all the more impressive for a film that barely runs over 90 minutes.

With a quick pacing that borders on frantic, "Lady Bird" is therefore the rare film that feels like it could have benefited from being longer. The sharp dialogue explores the internal and interpersonal dynamics of its characters with such sincerity and empathy that I almost wished that some scenes allowed for more contemplation. Still, one would be hard-pressed to pinpoint anything lacking in this outstanding script, a deserving contender for Best Original Screenplay.

If nothing else, "Lady Bird" proves that Gerwig is a filmmaker with a distinct aesthetic. It's no wonder that there is so much goodwill towards her as a potential Best Director nominee. Her sense of humor is quirky yet intellectual and her character development is extraordinarily efficient. On the latter note, I was especially intrigued by the way she conveys Lady Bird and her mother's (a brilliant Laurie Metcalf) conflicting perspectives. Gerwig deconstructs the former's faux-intellectualism to poignant effect, while the latter's cynical realism is subtly underlined by an unspoken motherly love. It would be a major surprise if Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf don't find themselves among the nominees for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress.

Along with "The Florida Project" and "I, Tonya", "Lady Bird" completes a fascinating trifecta of Best Picture contenders about the struggles facing white working class families. And with its delicate balance of tragedy and joy, it offers the most holistic view of them all. At one point in the film, Lady Bird declares that you can't be "scary and warm". But "Lady Bird" proves otherwise. It never loses sight of the looming threat of poverty and failure facing its characters, while still offering a story that is infectiously buoyant in its underlying optimism and joie de vivre.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

OSCAR WATCH: SAG Nominations

Rounding out this week's trifecta of nominations for the major televised precursor awards was the Screen Actors Guild, who once again proved that this is going to be a nailbiting awards season. Despite a rocky start with the critics, the actors rallied behind Martin McDonagh's "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" in a big way, giving it 4 nominations, including a rare double in Supporting Actor. Meanwhile, "The Post" was nowhere to be found. As we head into the new year however, I'm sure that film will rebound as more Academy members see it. Here are this year's nominees for the SAG Awards:

Best Cast in a Motion Picture
“The Big Sick”
“Get Out”
“Lady Bird”
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Best Male Actor in a Leading Role

Timothee Chalamet, “Call Me by Your Name”
James Franco, “The Disaster Artist”
Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”
Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour”
Denzel Washington, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”

Best Female Actor in a Leading Role
Judi Dench, “Victoria & Abdul”
Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water”
Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”
Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”

Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role

Steve Carell, “Battle of the Sexes”
Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”
Woody Harrelson,”Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Richard Jenkins, “The Shape of Water”
Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role
Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”
Hong Chau, “Downsizing”
Holly Hunter, “The Big Sick”
Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”
Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”


Earlier this week the African American Film Critics Association announced their 2017 award winners in film and tv and I've gotta say, it's one of the most satisfying lists they've produced since I became a member a few years ago. Some of my personal faves include Daniel Kaluuya for Best Actor, Tiffany Haddish for Best Supporting Actress and Queen Sugar for Best TV Show. Check out all our winners below:

BEST PICTURE: GET OUT (Universal Pictures)
BEST COMEDY: GIRLS TRIP (Universal Pictures)
BEST ENSEMBLE: DETROIT (Annapurna Pictures)
BEST SCREENPLAY: GET OUT (Universal Pictures)
BEST SONG: “IT AINT FAIR” — DETROIT – THE ROOTS featuring BILAL (Motown Records)

AAFCA TOP 10 FILM – 2017

GET OUT (Universal Pictures)
COCO (Disney/Pixar)
GIRLS TRIP (Universal Pictures)
DETROIT (Annapurna Pictures)
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (Sony Pictures Classics)
THE SHAPE OF WATER (Fox Searchlight)
GOOK (Samuel Goldwyn Films)
CROWN HEIGHTS (Amazon Studios/IFC Films)
MARSHALL (Open Road Films)

AAFCA TOP 10 TV – 2017

INSECURE: Season 2 (HBO)
MASTER OF NONE: Season 2 (Netflix)
BLACK-ISH: Season 4 (ABC)
THE HANDMAID’S TALE: Season 1 (Hulu)
DEAR WHITE PEOPLE: Season 1 (Netflix)
SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT: Season 1 (Netflix)
TIE: GUERILLA/SNOWFALL: Season 1 (Showtime/FX)

Thursday, December 14, 2017

OSCARS: Predicting the Foreign Language Shortlist

It’s that time of year when the Academy announces its various shortlists prior to the holiday season. And perhaps the most eagerly anticipated of them all is the shortlist for Best Foreign Language Film. This year is truly shaping up to be one of the most nail-bitingly competitive years ever for this contentious category. And if 2016’s shocking lineup is an indication, there will be more surprises in store when the 9 lucky films are announced next week. Indeed, predicting this category can be a fool’s errand. But Awards Circuit embraces the challenge. Here is my rundown of the current state of the Oscar race for Best Foreign Language Film.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

OSCAR WATCH: Darkest Hour

When Joe Wright's "Darkest Hour" was announced, it immediately became one of the most anticipated films of 2017. Boasting Oscar-nominated actors and craftsmen and a premise centered on of the most important figures of the 20th century, it promised a handsome, crowd-pleasing production. And whether you consider this a good or bad thing, that's exactly what this Best Picture contender delivers.

The aforementioned important figure at the heart of the film is none other than Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman), the revered statesmen who lead Britain through one of the darkest periods in its history. Focusing on critical events at the height of World War II, the film follows his controversial selection as prime minister through the tumultuous days to come, when life or death decisions needed to be made. As the German army exerted their might, Churchill was urged to pursue a peace treaty with the tyrannical Hitler. But he refused to back down, standing firm against the advice of his war cabinet, executing one of the riskiest and bravest political maneuvers in world history.

Taking place away from the battlefield in the hallowed halls of parliament and behind closed doors, "Darkest Hour" is an atypical war movie. It therefore requires a special filmmaker to elevate a film about a series of meetings and make it dynamic and cinematic. Thankfully, Joe Wright was up to the task. Through his still nascent career, he has shown a knack for kinetic filmmaking, whether it's the high-flying adventures of Pan, the rhythmic musicality of "Anna Karenina" or "Atonement", where he previously visited the Dunkirk crisis with an iconic tracking shot. Admittedly, he is notably constricted this time around due to the more sedentary nature of the situation. But he still manages to find a groove largely through oratory fireworks, as words become the most agitating force in the film. As one parliamentarian puts it, Churchill "mobilized the English lanuage."

Charged with delivering these words, Gary Oldman's role is a herculean task of its own. Though Churchill impersonations have become an awards magnet of late, it's also a thankless role in some ways, requiring a level of showiness that is frowned upon in modern criticism. But Oldman brings a fortuitous combination of movie star charisma and character actor peculiarities that impressively avoids caricature under his obvious Oscar-baiting Makeup and Hairstyling. And when he delivers Churchill's famous speeches, he does so with rousing gusto. Indeed, it's the equivalent of a mic drop aimed at the Best Actor race.

Oldman's performance is undeniably the main reason to see this film. But the overall filmmaking is much better than it has thus far been given credit for. Bruno Delbonnel for example, would make a respectable Oscar nominee for Best Cinematography. The way he uses lighting to convey how Churchill steps in and out of the spotlight is highly effective. Meanwhile, Dario Marianelli's reliably melodious Original Score also merits Oscar consideration. Perhaps most surprisingly, the script is liberally sprinkled with humor, which significantly enlivens the film. Furthermore, screenwriter Anthony McCarten was previously nominated for "The Theory of Everything" and I think he could be in the running again, this time for Best Original Screenplay.

Finally, although it is far from the dazzling heights of his best work, Joe Wright should factor into the Best Director conversation. "Darkest Hour" is clearly a star vehicle for Gary Oldman. But underneath it all, it's Wright who is really in the driver's seat, ensuring it stays on track.

OSCAR WATCH: Golden Globe Nominations

Another year, another set of simultaneously thrilling and disappointing nominations from the HFPA. The Golden Globe nominations have been announced and leading the pack of "The Shape of Water". But the more newsworthy story was the complete shut-out of "The Big Sick", despite ample opportunities for recognition in the comedy categories. Furthermore, Greta Gerwig and Jordan Peele were both skipped over in Best Director. Will these snubs repeat at the Oscars? The competition is getting very stiff.

Here are the 2017 Golden Globe nominees:

Call Me By Your Name
​The Post
The Shape Of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

The Disaster Artist
Get Out
The Greatest Showman
I, Tonya
Lady Bird

Christopher Nolan - Dunkirk
Martin McDonagh - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Ridley Scott - All The Money In The World
Steven Spielberg - ​The Post
Guillermo del Toro - The Shape Of Water

Timothée Chalamet - Call Me By Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis - Phantom Thread
Tom Hanks - ​The Post
Gary Oldman - Darkest Hour
Denzel Washington - Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Jessica Chastain - Molly’s Game
Sally Hawkins - The Shape Of Water
Frances McDormand - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Meryl Streep - ​The Post
Michelle Williams - All The Money In The World

Steve Carrell - Battle of the Sexes
Ansel Elgort - Baby Driver
James Franco - The Disaster Artist
Hugh Jackman - The Greatest Showman
Daniel Kaluuya - Get Out

Judi Dench - Victoria and Abdul
Helen Mirren - The Leisure Seeker
Margot Robbie - I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan - Lady Bird
Emma Stone - Battle of the Sexes

Willem Dafoe - The Florida Project
Armie Hammer - Call Me By Your Name
Richard Jenkins - The Shape Of Water
Christopher Plummer - All The Money In The World
Sam Rockwell - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Mary J. Blige - Mudbound
Hong Chau - Downsizing
Allison Janney - I, Tonya
Laurie Metcalf - Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer - The Shape Of Water

Monday, December 11, 2017

REVIEW: First They Killed My Father

Taken at face value, Angelina Jolie's "First They Killed My Father" is one of the most misleading film titles of the year. The eponymous father does not meet his demise until more than an hour into the film. But therein lies the film's biggest strength. While similarly-themed films focus on the violence of civil war, this historical drama (based on a non-fiction book by the same name) captures the arduous experience of a revolution to gut-wrenching effect.

"First They Killed My Father" depicts a first-hand account of Loung Ung, a survivor of the vicious Khmer Rouge regime that took control of Cambodia in 1975. Being only 7 years old at the time, hers is a story of innocence lost, as she suffered through a myriad traumas. Her journey begins when US forces evacuated the country after a period of unjustifiable aggression towards Cambodia during the Vietnam War. Leaving behind a fragile country, the communist rebels called Khmer Rouge seized the moment, claiming to act in the best interest of the nation. But as the regime forces the citizens to flee their homes, their real intentions become apparent. Before long, they are stripped of their rights and forced to work for the military under strenuous conditions, as another war between Cambodia and Vietnam seems imminent.

Told from perspective of Loung Ung (in addition to stunning overhead shots from cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle), the film rests largely on Sreymoch Sareum's tiny shoulders. But whereas many child performers rely on a certain level of precociousness, this subdued performance is impact for doing the exact opposite. She is quiet for much of the narrative, like a journalist bearing witness to the atrocities happening all around her. Her watchful, unblinking eye is the camera recording this history.

Indeed, the screenplay is notably methodical in its approach, almost to the point of being monotonous. But this is certainly by design, showing the gradual process of dehumanization that occurred. The audience feels initial promise of salvation through repetitive propaganda, the desperation of hunger and the gradual stripping away of family and identity, all leaving a lasting impact. In that regard, the film becomes a powerful anti-communist statement.

Ultimately, "First They Killed My Father" succeeds largely on its humanism. Though it eventually illustrates the devastating effects of war, it is more memorable as a lament for the beauty that was lost. As Loung daydreams throughout her living nightmare, Jolie's optimism and love for these people and their culture is evident. As mentioned earlier, the bleak "First They Killed My Father" is misleading. A more appropriate title would be the one given to one of Jolie's previous films - Undefeated.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

OSCAR WATCH: Critics Choice Nominations

Is there any awards body as blatant with its Oscar predicting as the Broadcast Film Critics Association? I think not. Today, their Critics Choice Awards nominations were announced and they've surely covered their prognosticating bases with a number of categories having 7 nominees. "The Shape of Water" was surely a benefit of this padding, leading the field by far with 14 nominations. Will it be as successful as the Oscars?

Here is the full list of Critics Choice nominees:

The Big Sick
Call Me by Your Name
Darkest Hour
The Florida Project
Get Out
Lady Bird
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Guillermo del Toro – The Shape of Water
Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk
Luca Guadagnino – Call Me By Your Name
Jordan Peele – Get Out
Steven Spielberg – The Post

Timothée Chalamet – Call Me by Your Name
James Franco – The Disaster Artist
Jake Gyllenhaal – Stronger
Tom Hanks – The Post
Daniel Kaluuya – Get Out
Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread
Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour

Jessica Chastain – Molly’s Game
Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie – I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird
Meryl Streep – The Post

Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project
Armie Hammer – Call Me By Your Name
Richard Jenkins – The Shape of Water
Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Patrick Stewart – Logan
Michael Stuhlbarg – Call Me by Your Name

Mary J. Blige – Mudbound
Hong Chau – Downsizing
Tiffany Haddish – Girls Trip
Holly Hunter – The Big Sick
Allison Janney – I, Tonya
Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer – The Shape of Water


"Quality drives profitability." This is the mantra that fuels the narrative of "The Post" and its courageous protagonists. But one could also see it as an indirect humble brag from its director Steven Spielberg. In a career spanning several decades, he has become a household name through a reputation for producing quality entertainment. With his latest effort "The Post", he adds another triumph to his lauded filmography, delivering a thrilling period drama that is painfully relevant to our modern times.

"The Post" is set in the early 1970s, a time when American citizens were becoming increasingly concerned about the nation's involvement in the Vietnam war. As it became clear that it was a waste of precious human lives and resources, the press played a central role in giving voice to these frustrations. One of those major players was The Washington Post. Lead by publisher Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) and editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), The Post was known for its integrity and commitment to reporting the facts, no matter how harsh. Their biggest challenge was soon to come however, as they are made aware of secret cover-up called The Pentagon Papers. Acquired from a whistle-blower named Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), this shocking information detailed years of deception by the government and was first communicated to rival newspaper The New York Times. But when the government successfully silences them from proceeding further, The Washington Post is left to make a history-making decision. Do they risk their careers and freedom in order to do the right thing?

As history will tell us, The Washington Post did eventually go to print with this news. But the journey to get there was understandably fraught with fear and intimidation. And this is before even taking into account the extensive research and legal acrobatics required to find loopholes to avoid possible prosecution for treason.

In the hands of Steven Spielberg however, this procedural becomes as exciting as any of his crowd-pleasing blockbusters. Indeed, with the aid of a typically stirring score by John Williams, "The Post" is a Spielberg movie through and through. The story moves at invigorating pace, with a palpable energy that exudes from Janusz Kaminski's agile cinematography and the sharp editing.

But the most riveting aspect is the treat of watching a pair of thespians at the height of the powers. Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep lend the film effortless gravitas with their graceful work here, which is sure to put them in contention for Best Actor and Best Actress Oscars. Through their respective character arcs, Liz Hannah and Josh Singer beautifully explores the personal dilemmas that were intimately linked to their ultimate decision. Streep's Graham is especially compelling as a woman who broke a glass ceiling as the first female publisher of a major American newspaper. Faced with the possible ruination of the legacy of a company inherited from her father and late husband, her internal struggle is brilliantly conveyed. It's easily one of Streep's most skillful performances. And she has such terrific chemistry with Hanks that it makes you wonder why it took so long for these icons of American cinema to share the screen.

Indeed, Hanks and Streep do the roles justice. At a time when journalism is under threat by "fake news" and "post-truth politics," their story is incredibly inspiring. And "The Post" emphatically captures what makes the profession so rewarding, as it captures the thrill of the scoop, the nerve-wracking pressure of deadlines, the excitement of competitive rivalries and the power of teamwork. It's simply sensational. And the Academy now has another major contender to consider in many categories, including Best Original Score, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director and of course, Best Picture.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

AWARDS SEASON: A Battle of the Sexes?

Is Lady Bird our frontrunner?

Awards season is now upon us and it's turning out to be a real "battle of the sexes." While men in the film industry have come under increased criticism in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, it's no coincidence that women have come to the fore in record-breaking ways. This summer, "Wonder Woman" was a major box office success for director Patty Jenkins, while the fall season brought Greta Gerwig's "Lady Bird", now the best reviewed film of all time on Rotten Tomatoes. Fresh off a big win from the New York Film Critics, this beloved coming of age tale has now soared to the top of the current Best Picture rankings:
  1. Lady Bird
  2. The Post
  3. Call Me by Your Name
  4. Get Out
  5. Dunkirk
  6. The Shape of Water
  7. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  8. Darkest Hour
  9. The Florida Project
  10. Mudbound
Of course, the race is still far from over. But an interesting narrative is starting to form around Best Picture and the associated Best Director categories. If Gerwig's film were to be nominated for both, she could join Jordan Peele ("Get Out") and Dee Rees ("Mudbound") in what would be a watershed moment for the newly diverse Academy. Having a Best Director lineup comprising only two white men may seem far-fetched to seasoned awards fans, but they are definitely in the running. 

Aside from Gerwig and Rees' achievements behind the camera, there are also a number of female-led films in Best Picture contention. These include "The Post" with the legendary Meryl Steep, "The Shape of Water" with the exquisite Sally Hawkins, "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri" and its dynamite Frances McDormand and "The Florida Project" starring the pint-sized phenom Brooklynn Prince. After years of "women's pictures" being ghettoized as Best Actress contenders only, such a female-centric Best Picture field would be a welcome change.

To come out on top in this battle of the sexes however, these films will likely have to fend off the challenge of a pair of films centered around perhaps the most masculine of topics - war. Indeed, Christopher Nolan and Joe Wright will certainly count on the Academy's affinity for World War II stories - in addition to an "overdue" awards narrative - to ensure their films "Dunkirk" and "Darkest Hour" will be announced in January. But do they represent a brand of prestige cinema that is losing its appeal with the Academy? A year after the "Moonlight" victory, a masterful LGBT love story like "Call Me By Your Name" may be more to their liking. It's certainly my favorite of the year so far, and I think AMPAS voters will respond to it too. 

Friday, December 1, 2017

OSCAR WATCH: The Shape of Water

Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro has a unique gift of transporting us to fantasy worlds that are not far from our own. In 2006, he created such a masterpiece with "Pan's Labyrinth", exploring the darkness of Spain's Franco-era fascism. With "The Shape of Water" he's done it again, turning his lens towards an original fairytale set in 1960s Baltimore.

"The Shape of Water" stars Sally Hawkins as Elisa, a kindhearted woman who has been mute since she was very young. She lives above a grand movie theater called the Orpheum, spending much of her spare time with her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins). During the nights however, she diligently clocks in for a mundane job as a janitor at a research facility. One day, her life gets a jolt of excitement however, as a mysterious "asset" arrives at her workplace. Her curiosity leads her to discover that there is a humanoid sea creature being held captive. Sneaking in to interact with this fascinating being, Elisa and creature soon strike up an unlikely friendship that deepens to something more. But external forces - namely the cruel boss Colonel Richard Strickland - threaten to keep them apart.

With a voice-over narration that bookends the film, "The Shape of Water" immediately signals its "once upon a time" storybook premise. Indeed, Elisa is referred to as "the princess without a voice." Her life is far from perfect however. She doesn't live in a castle and isn't placed on a pedestal for her beauty.

As you can imagine, del Toro instead uses her speech impediment to make a parable about tolerance. But this inspired tale (sure to be in the mix for Best Original Screenplay) casts the net even wider, using the atmosphere of the pre-civil rights and Cold War era to comment on racism, homophobia and in the case of the monster, a lack of humanity towards other species.

In doing so, the script establishes some easily identifiable archetypes alongside our outcast protagonist with her heart of gold.The chatty black friend (played by Octavia Spencer), the evil bureaucrat (played by Michael Shannon), the kind scientist (played by Michael Stuhlbarg) and the middle-aged man who is despairingly lonely and gay. Among them, the latter is the most fully realized character, allowing Richard Jenkins to convey his insecurities and motivations. In addition to the more obvious choices of Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer in Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, Jenkins could definitely become a contender for Best Supporting Actor.

But even though the character development is somewhat lacking, del Toro more than makes up for it with his astounding visual and sound design. The wondrous art direction (largely rendered in a striking teal color palette) is arguably the best of the year, while cinematographer Dan Laustsen captures some unforgettable moments. I dare you not to be utterly enchanted by the underwater shots of Elisa and her Amphibian Man in a loving embrace. And composer Alexandre Desplat produces some of his best work with a whimsical score. The film should therefore be a shoo-in for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Visual Effects and Best Original Score nods.

"The Shape of Water" is undeniably a fairy tale for adults. That's evident in its unflinching depiction of violence and gore, as well a brazen sexuality that is jarring at times. But underneath it all, this is a gorgeous romance that will have you feeling like a child again, hoping for a "happily ever after" for its star-crossed lovers.