Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Top 10 Spike Lee Joints


On August 10, “BlacKkKlansman” will be released in theaters nationwide, marking the 38th feature film in the storied filmography of Spike Lee. As one of the pioneering figures of the 1980s independent film movement, Lee’s career has made him one of the most influential black filmmakers of all time. And with the release of his latest, early reviews prove that he hasn’t lost his flair for the politically-charged, provocative work that captivates audiences everywhere.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

10 Best Debut Films by Directors of Color Since 2008


Ask any director and they’ll tell you that getting your first feature funded and completed is no easy task. And when you’re a director of color, it’s even more daunting. Indeed, it’s no secret that white directors are often afforded greater opportunities to further their careers following their debut features. But for filmmakers of color, there’s the likelihood that their first film could be their last.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: The Cakemaker


From poisoned apples in fairytales to raunchy kinks in adult-oriented fare, food has long served as a plot device throughout film history. That tradition continues with “The Cakemaker,” a cross-cultural drama directed by Ophir Raul Graizer. In this delicate drama, the power of food creates an unlikely love triangle that transcends borders.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: Believer


If you thought Hollywood had the cornered the market on seemingly unnecessary remakes, think again. Back in 2012, Hong Kong director Johnnie To’s “Drug War” opened to critical acclaim, strong box office, and eventual awards recognition. Hoping to repeat that success, Lee Hae-young brings his take on that story with “Believer“. As with any remake, there’s an inevitable element of familiarity. But this gripping tale of crime also forges its unique identity, adapting a proven formula to deliver heart-pounding entertainment.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

10 Foreign Directors to Watch in 2018


Taking place at the start of the blockbuster-driven summer season, the Cannes Film Festival always holds a special place in the film calendar. While the next few months will see most of the media attention focused on Hollywood fare, this prestigious festival shines a spotlight on the best of world cinema. Indeed, at the recently concluded 2018 edition, only 2 American directors competed for the coveted Palme d’Or this year, while filmmakers from Egypt to Kazakhstan were feted.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

INTERVIEW: Carla Simón


Filmmaking rarely gets more personal than the award-winning debut feature from Carla Simón. Inspired by the personal tragedy surrounding her mother’s death from AIDS-related complications, “Summer 1993” is a tender drama told from a child’s point of view. As the film heads to US theaters around the 25th anniversary of the events depicted, I recently caught up with Simón to discuss the challenges and fulfillment of making a film from painful memories. Below is an edited version of our conversation.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: The Desert Bride


When we think of the term “starlet,” the image that immediately comes to mind is a conventionally attractive actress in her teens or 20s. Indeed, the label would hardly ever be used to describe a woman nearing her 60s. But ever since making her film debut in 2002 at the age of 42, Paulina García has proven to be every bit a rising star as her younger counterparts, turning in stunning work in recent films like “Gloria,” “Little Men.” Now, she adds another exquisite performance to her résumé as the lead in Cecilia Atán and Valeria Pivato’s “The Desert Bride.”

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Top 10 TV Programs of 2017-2018


Maybe I've become spoilt for choice over the years, but I must confess that the overall TV programming in 2017-2018 didn't feel as groundbreaking as seasons past. Apart from a few exceptions - including a returning powerhouse duo from the ever reliable FX - the top programs I watched this year were mostly stalwart favourites offering familiar pleasures. Still, the ever growing TV landscape did provide some freshman entries which underlined the boundless potential of peak TV. As eclectic as ever, the best of TV provided a diverse range of entertainment to suit virtually all tastes. Here are those Top 10 Programs of the 2017-2018 TV Season:

  1. Queen Sugar (OWN)
  2. The Americans (FX)
  3. Patton Oswalt: Annihilation (Netflix)
  4. Outlander (Starz)
  5. Godless (Netflix)
  6. Insecure (HBO)
  7. Orange is the New Black (Netflix)
  8. Game of Thrones (HBO)
  9. Atlanta (FX)
  10. The Good Fight (CBS All Access)

Honorable Mention: Queer Eye

Top 10 Acting Performances of 2017-2018 TV

Best Casting: Godless, GLOW, Queen Sugar

While the 2016-2017 season brought a heavenly smorgasbord of outstanding female performances, I found myself unexpectedly drawn more to the scintillating men of the small screen this year. Indeed, my Top 10 Acting Performances features 6 such male actors who challenged themselves with daring work that proved integral to the success of their respective shows. Crude, bizarre and even downright psychotic, these MVPs never played within the comfort zone.

Equally impressive were their 4 female counterparts on this list, who all portrayed leaders in their own right and brilliantly navigated the associated complexities relating to racial oppression and capitalism. Altogether, their characters may live in vastly different eras and locales. But they are all uncompromising portrayals that get to the heart of what it means to live in America. Here are my Top 10 Acting Performances of the 2017-2018 TV Season.
  1. Darren Criss, The Assassination of Gianni Versace
  2. Donald Glover, Atlanta
  3. Marc Maron, GLOW
  4. Dawn-Lyen Gardner, Queen Sugar
  5. Rutina Wesley, Queen Sugar
  6. Keri Russell, The Americans
  7. Matthew Rhys, The Americans
  8. Jon Jon Briones, The Assassination of Gianni Versace
  9. Brian Tyree Henry, Atlanta
  10. Danielle Brooks, Orange Is the New Black

Monday, April 30, 2018

20 Most Anticipated Performances of 2018

While movie lovers around the world are gearing up for another jam-packed summer slate of effects-driven films, more discerning cinephiles will also be eagerly anticipating movie magic of a different sort. Indeed, in the coming months and throughout the fall, audiences will be treated to the crème de la crème of arguably cinema's most spectacular element - the actors. Some of them will go on to garner Oscar buzz, while others will live on as fan favorites. Either way, the standout performers will never be forgotten. As we look ahead to what the remainder of 2018 has to offer, here are my 20 Most Anticipated Performances of 2018:

REVIEW: In the Last Days of the City


How do you capture the essence of a city? Is it the people, the buildings, the sounds? In Tamer El Said’s elegiac debut film “In the Last Days of the City“, one man wrestles with this central question as he attempts to capture a cinematic portrait of a place that no longer feels like home.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: Godard Mon Amour


There’s a cruel irony that runs through “Godard Mon Amour“, the latest nostalgia-tinged effort from Michel Hazanavicius. Its titular subject – famed pioneer of the French New Wave Jean Luc Godard – was known for his anti-establishment, inventive style of filmmaking. The name Godard is, therefore, one of the last names you would associate with a genre as old-fashioned as the biopic. But in perhaps one of the boldest moves of his career, Hazanavicius makes a valiant, if misguided attempt at capturing a key moment in the auteur’s life.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: Zama


Early in Lucrecia Martel’s historical drama “Zama“, there’s a portentous scene that sets the one for the rest of the film. In it, a man recalls the story of a species of fish that spends its entire life swimming to and fro against the tide of the water, forever remaining in one place. The significance of this anecdote isn’t immediately apparent. But as this story unfolds, it becomes a metaphor for the film itself, which follows a man who is actively going nowhere.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: Boyz n the Hood


During the recently concluded awards season, the Hollywood Reporter published an interesting article in honor of the success of “Get Out”. In it, all of the African-American directing nominees in the history of the Oscars gathered for a candid discussion about their experiences in the industry. Before even reading the article, the accompanying photo was already telling in two significant ways. Firstly, the paltry 4 nominees couldn’t even fill a single year’s quota of nominees. And secondly, the oldest nominated film represented was “Boyz n the Hood“, released just 27 years ago in the summer of 1991. Though the blaxploitation movement had already emerged out of the civil rights movement and Spike Lee had given us the seminal “Do the Right Thing” two years earlier, it wasn’t until “Boyz n the Hood” that a black director finally received that public stamp of industry approval.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: The China Hustle


By no fault of its own, Jed Rothstein’s “The China Hustle” is an eye-opening yet somewhat underwhelming documentary. Thanks to prominent media coverage and a slew of fiction and non-fiction films about the 2008 economic crisis, its revelations of fraud will hardly alarm even the most casually informed viewer. Many Americans have already become disillusioned with the nation’s financial institutions. But this fascinating documentary further adds an unexpected piece to a global puzzle of capitalism gone mad.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: Keep the Change


As the spirit of activism attempts to upend longstanding Hollywood paradigms, efforts at more inclusive filmmaking practices is a trending topic. Indeed, Frances McDormand recently sent the world into a googling frenzy when she ended her Oscar acceptance speech with the word “inclusion rider”. But what do we mean when we say “inclusion”? Too often our discussions around diversity are quite literally “black and white”. But the fabric of our modern society is a technicolor quilt of varied experiences, all of which deserved to be treated with the level of sincere empathy that writer-director Rachel Israel brings to “Keep the Change“. In this award-winning debut feature, Israel delivers a precious take on the classic romantic comedy, casting a pair of autistic characters as its lovestruck leads.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: Claire's Camera


In the opening moments of Hong Sang-soo’s “Claire’s Camera“, a film sales assistant named Manhee (Kim Min-hee) is fired during a work trip at the Cannes Film Festival. The reasoning for her dismissal is a lack of trust, as her boss claims that she lacks honesty. As we follow her subsequent aimless drifting through this seaside city, the notion of truth becomes a primary concern for the film, which commits steadfastly to understated realism.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

10 Black Films to Anticipate in 2018


Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that “Black Panther” has taken the world by storm. With its record-smashing box office and cultural impact, the film has captured our imaginations and gave us a Black History Month to remember. Its monumental success has truly shattered any illusions as to the limited commercial potential of black films, though Hollywood will surely attempt to dismiss it as an anomaly. It is therefore up to us movie lovers to prove them wrong. And if the exciting slate of 2018 releases is any indication, we can expect many more opportunities to celebrate black excellence at the movies this year.

Ranging from big franchise movies to eccentric indies, here are 10 upcoming films to look forward to, all directed by and starring black talent:

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

OSCAR WATCH: A Quiet Place


Over a century ago, cinema as we know it began with silent films, which laid the foundation for many of the common techniques used by filmmakers today. Despite the lack of audible dialogue, those early pioneers were able to capture the imagination of audiences and tell unforgettable stories. Fast forward to the 21st century and populist cinema has adopted a more noisy, talky approach. It's for this reason that John Krasinski's exceptional "A Quiet Place" stands out so noticeably in today's marketplace. Indeed, few words are audibly spoken throughout this nerve-wracking sophomore feature. But Krasinski proves to be highly fluent in another language - the powerful audiovisual language of horror cinema.

"A Quiet Place" is set in the near future in 2020, a time when most the world's human population has been decimated by mysterious deadly creatures. Those who remain are constantly living on a knife's edge, as they must remain quiet at all times to avoid detection by these creatures who use their hypersensitive hearing to track down their victims. Among the survivors is the Abbott Family - husband Lee (John Krasinski), wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt), sons Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Beau (Cade Woodward), and deaf daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) - who struggle to survive while they seek to learn how to stop these monsters before it's too late.

From this intriguingly original premise, Krasinski crafts one of the most effective horror films ever made. Thanks to the unbearably tense silence, every jump scare is twice as startling and every creepy sound sends a chill down your spine. And like any good monster flick, the creature design is absolutely terrifying to behold. The film is so scary that it will make you want to run screaming for the doors.

But although you'll want to call on Jesus to save you from this nightmarish experience, you'll still be willfully glued to your seat. What elevates this horror story is its potent human element, thanks to a deeply affecting emotional throughline and a compelling rooting factor for the characters. Doing double duty, Krasinski is just a proficient in front of the camera as the family's heroic father, further displaying his newfound leading man appeal. By his side, Emily Blunt is as expressive as ever in a role that calls on her considerable skills as an actress. As wife, mother and vulnerable, she is at once warm, formidable and tender. But perhaps the most significant performance in the film comes from Millicent Simmonds. Following her debut performance in "Wonderstruck", she continues to be a shining example of the endless capabilities of deaf actors, giving the film an empathetic perspective of adolescent angst.

As with many horror movies, the plot relies on a few bad decisions from these characters to move the plot along and set up the dangerous scenarios. But when a film is this well made, these minor contrivances are easily forgiven. Thanks to Krasinski's masterful use of image and sound, Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Director are certainly within the realm of possibility. And in my opinion, they'd be well deserved. "A Quiet Place" is one of the most enthralling theatrical experiences I've had in recent memory and easily my favourite film of 2018 so far.

Monday, March 5, 2018

And the Oscar goes to... The Shape of Water


And there you have it folks, the 2017 Oscar for Best Picture goes to "The Shape of Water". After a topsy-turvy season during which several films laid claim to the throne, it was Guillermo del Toro's fantasy romance film that took the top honor, along with 3 other well-deserved statues for Director, Production Design and Original Score. Overall, the show was predictably political, while the awards winners themselves were rather surprising (for me at least). Shockers included "Icarus" winning Best Documentary and "Remember Me" beating the tailor-made Oscar song "This is Me". But and the end of the day, I couldn't complain much as this year's nominees were a quality bunch. As the cliché goes, they were all winners. But of course, these following honorees felt that champion's feeling more than the others:

BEST PICTURE
The Shape of Water

BEST DIRECTOR
Guillermo Del Toro,The Shape of Water

BEST ACTOR
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

BEST ACTRESS
Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Allison Janney, I Tonya

Sunday, March 4, 2018

OSCAR WATCH: Indie Spirit Awards


Last night the Independent Spirit Awards were handed out and as expected, "Get Out" was the big winner, taking home the prizes for Best Feature and Best Best Director. Meanwhile, "Lady Bird", "Call Me by Your Name", "I, Tonya" and "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" also had good showings with 2 prizes each. Here is the full list of winners:

Best Feature
Get Out

Best Director
Jordan Peele – Get Out

Best Female Lead
Francis McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Male Lead
Timothee Chalamet – Call Me By Your Name

Best Supporting Female
Alison Janney – I, Tonya

Best Supporting Male
Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Saturday, March 3, 2018

OSCAR WATCH: The Animated Films

The general consensus is that this year's Oscar lineup for Best Animated Feature is one of the weakest we've seen in the history of the category. And having finally seen of the nominees recently, I'd have to agree that there are no masterpieces among then. Here are my quick thoughts on them all:

No Animated Feature Oscar race is complete without a Disney or Pixar film in the running and this time, it's Pixar with the slam dunk contender. "Coco" is the story of a young boy's journey to learn the importance of family, as he aspires to be a musician against his grandmother's wishes. Set in Mexico, his adventure incorporates the folklore surrounding the annual Día de Muertos, as he enters the Land of the Dead to learn the truth behind his family's longstanding ban against music. In typical Pixar fashion, the thoroughly engaging storyline involves dazzling animation and stunning world-building. It may not be Pixar's most ground-breaking premise (Fox Animation's "The Book of Life" beat them to the punch a similar concept), but it's big on heart. This deserving frontrunner is the year's loveliest animated feature. Rating: ★★★★

The field of animation has long been at the forefront of innovative techniques in cinema and "Loving Vincent" is a shining example. Indeed, this gorgeous production brings new meaning to the term "art film". Fully hand-painted by an extensive team of artists, it follows a young man on a quest to learn about the life and death of Vincent van Gogh as he asked to deliver the iconic artist's final letter. Unsurprisingly, the film is a marvel to look at, but it's more than just pretty paintings. Its soul-searching plot explores depression, ambition, love, disappointment and heartbreak with enough depth and human drama to work as a live action feature. And these emotions are conveyed beautifully by the excellent voice cast. "Loving Vincent" is truly an artistic tour de force. Rating: ★★★★

There's an interesting concept behind "The Boss Baby", a Dreamworks production directed by Tom McGrath. In it, an extraordinarily precocious baby becomes a nightmare for a young boy named Tim, stealing all the parental attention away from this former only child. As he is trying to win this sibling rivalry, it turns out that this special "Boss Baby" is on a mission of his own, waging a war against adorable puppies. On paper, one could easily see Pixar turning this is into a masterpiece a la "Toy Story", layering it with insight, humor and pathos. Unfortunately, this film doesn't quite reach those heights, but it's an enjoyable adventure nonetheless with lots of laughs and an affecting coda. It's Pixar-lite, but it's a commendable attempt. Rating: ★★★1/2

We usually expect animated films to provide harmless escapism, but with Nora Twomey's "The Breadwinner" we get a story that feels as achingly real. Though it is set in war-torn Afghanistan, this tale of a young girl's struggle to overcome patriarchal oppression is perfectly suited to the #MeToo movement that emerged in our Western society. In a society where women have no independence or freedom, the film's protagonist displays incredible courage as she disguises herself as a boy to provide for her family following her father's imprisonment. Impressively delving into the various traumas she and her family face subsequently face, "The Breadwinner" delivers a startling dash of social realism with a palpable sense of danger. Yet the film never wavers from her child's perspective, balancing the tone nicely with imaginative fables that mirror our heroine's quest to overcome her obstacles. This heatrending and inspiring film truly deserves to be mentioned alongside the over feminist cinematic triumphs of the year. Rating: ★★★★

Based on a children's book by Munro Lead, "Ferdinand" is an animated film with a important message. It tells the story of a pacifist Spanish bull who would rather smell flowers than fight in the ring, even as the world around him is determined to make him into a violent beast. As he grows up, he tries his best to stay true to his personality, which is conveyed with touching sympathy in the film's opening scenes. Unfortunately, the film proceeds undermine that with over-the-top supporting characters and broad humor. And to be honest, I basically tuned out during the formulaic adventure shenanigans. Indeed, you know the writing is lazy when even a kid would exclaim, "what is this movie's obsession with butts?". Eventually, it gets its non-conformist message across, but I couldn't help feeling cheated out of this story's potential to be a much better movie. Rating: ★★★

Friday, March 2, 2018

OSCAR WATCH: Indie Spirit Predictions


It's the last lap of this exciting awards season as the Independent Spirit Awards sound off on the best in independent film for 2017. This was my 4th year as a voting member and overall, it was definitely one of the strongest set of nominees we've had. With that said, these are the lucky films I'm expecting to come out on top tomorrow:

Best Feature
Get Out

Best Director
Jordan Peele – Get Out

Best Female Lead
Francis McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Male Lead
Timothee Chalamet – Call Me By Your Name

Best Supporting Female
Alison Janney – I, Tonya

Best Supporting Male
Armie Hammer -Call Me By Your Name

Thursday, March 1, 2018

INTERVIEW: Laura Checkoway


Elder abuse, interracial romance, family drama. These are some of the fascinating topics covered by Laura Checkoway’s Oscar-nominated documentary short “Edith+Eddie“. This bittersweet true story about America’s oldest interracial newlyweds is certainly one of a kind. Recently, I spoke with Checkoway about her experiences and the insights garnered from making the film. Below is an edited version of our conversation.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

INTERVIEW: Reed Van Dyk


We’ve seen numerous accounts of acts of terror adapted for the big screen before, but Reed Van Dyk’s “DeKalb Elementary” brings something different to the table. Nominated for the Best Live Action Short Oscar, this harrowing drama depicts the events surrounding an aborted school shooting. It is an incredible true story that was captured on a 911 call placed by the brave receptionist who calmly negotiates with the shooter. The scenario therefore required an uncommonly empathetic approach to a hot-button issue. In a recent interview with Van Dyk, we discussed how casting and tone were crucial in the making of the film. Below is an edited version of our conversation.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: The Cage Fighter


The subject of Jeff Unay’s documentary “The Cage Fighter” is a man named Joe Carman. He is a blue-collar worker who earns a living as a plumber and boilermaker, residing in the Seattle area where he and his wife raise their four daughters in the suburbs. In many ways, he is literally an “average Joe”. But through Unay’s filmmaking lens, he becomes a troubled star in the dramatic true story of his life.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: Mary and The Witch's Flower


Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s “Mary and the Witch’s Flower” may be far from a perfect film, but there’s no denying that it opens with a bang. Its opening sequence sees a young girl executing a breathless, high-flying escape aboard a broomstick. It’s a sign of things to come, as this anime film concocts a magical tale.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Monday, February 19, 2018

OSCAR WATCH: BAFTA Awards


In the final major awards show of the season, "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" signalled that it is still a major frontrunner for top prizes at the Oscars. The controversial Martin McDonagh film won an impressive 5 awards, including Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Screenplay. Following behind is the other presumed frontrunner "The Shape of Water" with 3 wins, with Guillermo del Toro virtually securing a Best Director win next month. In many other categories however, the Oscar is still up in the air.

Here are this year's BAFTA winners:

Best Film
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

Best Director
Guillermo del Toro – The Shape of Water

Best Actor
Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour

Best Actress
Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

Best Supporting Actor
Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

Best Supporting Actress

Allison Janney – I, Tonya

Sunday, February 18, 2018

OSCAR WATCH: BAFTA Predictions


With the BAFTA Awards set to take place a few hours from now, here are my last minute predictions:

Best Film
The Shape of Water

Best Director
Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk

Best Actor
Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour

Best Actress
Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

Best Supporting Actor
Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

Best Supporting Actress

Allison Janney – I, Tonya

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

OSCAR WATCH: Phantom Thread


There's always a palpable buzz surrounding the announcement of a new Paul Thomas Anderson film. Indeed, I vividly recall my own excitement in anticipation of the world premiere of "Inherent Vice" a few years ago. Naturally, his mysterious new film "Phantom Thread" became another must-see appointment, particularly when it was initially described as an "arthouse Fifty Shades of Grey". Coincidentally, I finally watched this Best Picture contender as the final "Fifty Shades" installment is now playing in theaters. And ultimately, it provided a fascinating lens through which to view this exquisite film.

"Phantom Thread" revolves around a man named Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), the creative genius behind his eponymously titled fashion label "The House of Woodcock". It is 1950s London and his custom designs are in vogue for the women of the upper class. With the aid of his trusted sister Cyril (Lesley Manville), he maintains a strict daily regimen to fuel his creativity. One day however, he meets an unassuming waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps). He is immediately beguiled by her and she soon becomes his muse and lover. But the younger woman's humble background and spontaneous personality are at odds with Reynold's carefully tailored lifestyle, threatening to disrupt his work and his entire sense of self.

As mentioned earlier, the central relationship that develops in "Phantom Thread" is thoroughly intriguing in the way it explores power dynamics between men and women. While the "Fifty Shades of Grey" comparison isn't as obvious until the more depraved final act, the script is constantly delving into the psychology of these two distinct individuals played brilliantly by Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps. As always, Day-Lewis puts in another terrific performance (garnering another Best Actor nod), burrowing into the complicated headspace of his character. There's a boyish vulnerability to his outwardly confident Reynolds, which he conveys with a skilful combination of posh delicacy and unwavering intensity. Meanwhile, Kreips proves to be a great scene partner, beautifully channeling her character's inner strength and "fish out of water" naivety.

Aside from the relationship drama, the film works on several different levels. Most evidently, it is also a gorgeous celebration of fashion, not just on an aesthetic level, but also for its power to transform a person's mood and personality. Indeed, one could argue that Lesley Manville's standout performance (rightfully nominated for Best Supporting Actress) was aided significantly by Mark Bridges's deservedly Oscar-nominated Costume Design, the sleek elegance of which gave her a poise rarely seen in her appearances in Mike Leigh's working class dramas. Together with Krieps, she subverts the usual character study of egotistical but brilliant men. The film truly shines through its excellent female characters, who challenge the central protagonist in exciting ways.

Ultimately, the various tensions between gender and class make for a riveting viewing experience. As "Phantom Thread" navigates this posh, fanciful world under the brilliant direction of Paul Thomas Anderson, you get the feeling that you are in good hands. Even when it goes to dark places in the end, there's a joy that comes from seeing all these excellent components come together. From the imperfect romance, the luscious score or even just the fancy dresses, it's a real treat. It provides cinematic ecstasy and titillation that the "Fifty Shades" franchise could only aspire to.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Best of 2017: Top 10 Films of the Year


Throughout the course of 2017, it seemed like cinema had a point to prove. As the industry struggles to stay relevant to society, many of the year's most prominent films aimed to capture the zeitgeist and assert their importance. From empowering blockbusters like "Wonder Woman" to the racial tensions underlying films like "Get Out", the word "timely" frequently came up in discussions of the year's releases.

As film critics we often like to pretend we're immune to prioritizing the perceived "importance" over the artistry. But the truth remains that art and politics will always be intertwined. My own Top 10 list reflects this, as the films seemed to be in conversation with each other, despite the varied genres and styles they represent. On reflection, it became clear that the intolerance associated with the Trump era was a issue that resonated with me, whether it be through allegorical ("War for the Planet of the Apes") or more literal ("In the Fade") means. Meanwhile, some of my other favorites ("Call Me by Your Name") were more "timeless" than "timely", reflecting filmmaking in all its glorious beauty.

Indeed, at the end of the year, I felt nothing but appreciation for an outstanding year of cinema. Here are the 10 films I loved the most, including excerpts from my reviews:

Honorable Mention: Mudbound, The Post

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Best of 2017: Top 20 Acting Performances


When I think about the year's best performances, the first word that comes to mind is "diversity". It may sound cliché, but I found it to be a banner year for inclusive stories on the big screen. In particular, American independent cinema shined a rare spotlight on underrepresented perspectives that too often have been relegated to minor supporting roles. And the movies were all the better for it. Though there's still a way to go before we can truly say that equal opportunities exist for actors of all ages, races, genders, sexualities and sizes, the Top 20 Acting Performances of 2017 show that we are heading in the right direction:

Honorable Mention: Brooklynn Prince in The Florida Project

Monday, January 29, 2018

Best of 2017: Top 10 Foreign Language Films


In our common lexicon, we often refer to any film made outside of the United States as a “foreign” film. But this definition can be somewhat misleading, implying a certain “otherness” that deters audiences. As 2017’s best non-English language films proved however, many of the themes found in the year’s most celebrated English films are universal. Whether it be a an LGBT coming-of-age experience or a woman seeking justice for the murder of her child, the similarities are truly striking. But what is even more noteworthy about these films are there exemplary quality. World cinema is indeed the gift that keeps on giving.

As we anticipate another wonderful year of cinema, here are 10 such gems worth seeking out, as I present my Top 10 Foreign Language Films of 2017.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Best of 2017: Top 10 Documentaries


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” is a famous quote from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities that refers to the social climate of 18th century Paris and London. It’s a quote that can also be easily applied to today’s world.

While there seems to be no end in sight for mankind’s obsession with war and destruction on Earth, there are also many extraordinary individuals dedicated to making the world a better place. This year’s fine crop of documentary films offers a vivid reflection of this juxtaposition within humanity, drawing our attention to some of the most urgent social issues and inspiring people. From the crises in Syria to the work of activists like Jane Goodall, the subjects covered by this year’s non-fiction filmmakers were diverse and unforgettable. They prove that the medium is as important and impactful as ever.

With an increasing number of documentaries being produced each year, it’s almost impossible to watch all the films worthy of consideration. But based on my own efforts, here are my recommendations for 2017’s best in non-fiction film.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

CONTEST: The Results!

Well, another Oscar morning has come and gone, bringing another list full of surprises. While "The Shape of Water", "Dunkirk" and "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" were the expected leaders among the nominees, it was "Phantom Thread" that turned the most heads with its impressive 6 nominees, notably grabbing unexpected slots in Best Picture and Best Director. The race is far from over. In terms of our collective predictions for this year's Film Actually Oscar Contest, none of us anticipated the nods for "Kong: Skull Island" in Visual Effects, "Victoria & Abdul" in Makeup & Hairstyling and the aforementioned directing nomination for Paul Thomas Anderson. But otherwise, there were several strong showings this year and a new champion.

THE WINNER IS...

John Gilpatrick of John Likes Movies

John therefore wins the top prize of a $50 Amazon gift card. Congratulations!

Additionally, there was one bonus prize winner:

Trevor for predicting "Abacus: Small Enough to Jail" for Best Documentary Feature.

And that's a wrap! Thanks again for playing and I hope to see you all again next year.

Monday, January 22, 2018

CONTEST: The Predictions!


The predictions are in! Good luck to all the participants in the 2018 Film Actually Oscar Contest

Click the link below to see everyone's 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, the official results will be posted shortly after.

INTERVIEW: Ildikó Enyedi


People often say love is strange, but Hungarian filmmaker Ildikó Enyedi takes it to a whole new level. In her latest film “On Body and Soul,” a pair of slaughterhouse co-workers strike up a romantic connection in their dreams, where they meet as deer in a forest. But to make things even more peculiar, these two individuals can barely even hold a conversation in their waking life. It’s a tough foundation on which to base a love story, but Enyedi somehow pulls it off. In a recent interview, Enyedi discussed the process of crafting this atypical romance, as well as her own surprise at the film’s warm reception by audiences and Oscar voters. Below is an edited version of our conversation.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Sunday, January 21, 2018

CONTEST: See Who's Playing!


The time has come! In less than two days, this year's Oscar nominees will be announced. And as we wait in anticipation of the big day, 21 bloggers have signed up to test their predicting skills in the 6th annual Film Actually Oscar Contest. Among this year's entries are former winners Gautam and Joseph, as well as newbies like Edward Douglas from The Tracking Board. So get ready for a close competition and be sure to visit all the blogs below and show them some love. Good luck!

Me! - Film Actually
Edward - The Tracking Board
DeanyDeany Hendrick Cheng @ Medium
Heather - That Film Girl
Tony - Coogs Reviews
Stewart - Talkie Gazette
Gautam - The Cinemaholic (2014 and 2017 winner!)
Todd - All My Life I Wanted To Be a Blogster
Murtada - ME_Says (2015 runner-up!)*
Daniel - Chicago Cinema Circuit
Josh - The Cinematic Spectacle
Sam - Sam Watches Movies
Matt F. - Movie Awards Plus
Joe - The MN Movie Man
John - John Likes Movies
Joseph - For Your Consideration (2016 winner!)
Paul - Paul's Trip to the Movies
Jay - Life vs Film
Terence - Le Noir Auteur
Trevor - Trevor's View on Hollywood
Rob - MovieRob
Craig - Citizen Craig

*Winner decided on tiebreaker.

Remember:
- Your predictions are due by 6PM EST on Jan 22nd. 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.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

OSCAR WATCH: SAG Predictions


It's the last stop on the awards tour and it's a big one! Tomorrow night, the Screen Actors Guild will host their 24th awards ceremony and it's going to be an interesting indicator for the acting races. The 4 frontrunners - Gary Oldman, Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell and Allison Janney - could potentially seal the deal if they win again. And I think that's exactly what's going to happen. Here's how I see it playing out:

Best Cast in a Motion Picture
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Male Actor in a Leading Role

Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour”

Best Female Actor in a Leading Role
Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role

Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role
Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

REVIEW: On Body and Soul


Cinematic romance is often remembered for grand gestures. A passionate kiss in the rain, a last-gasp chase at the airport, a profound declaration of love. But there are others like “In Mood for Love” which take a more restrained approach. Ildikó Enyedi’s “On Body and Soul” falls into the latter camp, telling a unique story that portrays love on a mystical level.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

INTERVIEW: Ziad Doueiri


Ask Ziad Doueiri and he will tell you that he doesn’t make political films. But when you see his latest effort “The Insult” there’s no denying a politically engaged voice behind his filmmaking. Despite controversy surrounding his previous film (which even lead to his arrest), Doueiri continues to fearlessly spotlight unpleasant sociopolitical tensions in the Middle East with this gripping courtroom drama. Recently, I spoke to Doueiri to learn more about the background behind “The Insult” and its significance. In our interview, he was very candid about how his personal experiences with censorship and politics affected the film. Below is an edited version of our discussion.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: The Insult


Ziad Doueiri’s “The Insult," one of 9 films shortlisted for the Foreign Language Oscar, begins with a seemingly trivial altercation. A man named Yasser (Kamel El Basha) is tasked with fixing building code violations in a Lebanese community. One day at work, he is doused by a overhead drainpipe, which is illegally protruding from the home of a man named Tony (Adel Karam). Yasser informs Tony of the violation and asks him to fix the problem, but Tony refuses. Feeling an obligation to do his job, Yasser decides to fix the pipe without permission, which offends Tony and aggravates him to destroy the new installation. Now both men feel insulted, exchanging inflammatory words. All of this could be solved with an apology – which is what Tony requests – but of course, it’s not that simple.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

INTERVIEW: Chris Overton


Depicting an important topic we don’t often think about, “The Silent Child” is one of the most poignant and meaningful of this year’s shortlisted films for the Best Live Action Short Oscar. This tender-hearted drama is directed by Chris Overton, based on a story written by his fiancé Rachel Shenton, who also stars in the film. Shenton plays a social worker named Joanne, who takes a keen interest in the deaf child of middle class family and teaches her how to communicate. As their relationship grows, both Joanne and Libby’s lives are changed for the better. Recently I had the pleasure to speak to Overton, as we discussed his tender approach to the story and the importance of its commonly neglected message.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

INTERVIEW: Katja Bentrah


If your think shorts can’t be as powerful as feature-length films, then you probably haven’t seen “Watu Wote: All of us“. Based on a true story, this Oscar-shortlisted drama follows the harrowing experience of a group of bus passengers in 2015 Kenya, where tensions between Christians and Muslims are at an all-time high. As “Watu Wote: All of us” unfolds, the reason for this disharmony is revealed with palpable intensity, as a terrorist group attempts an attack. But what happens next comes as a surprise to both the terrorists and the audience. I recently caught up with director Katja Bentrah via phone, as we discussed how she turned this amazing story into an award-winning film. Below is an edited version of that interview.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Friday, January 12, 2018

OSCAR WATCH: Critics Choice Awards


Just when you think you've got this Oscar race figured out, the Critics Choice throws up a surprise. While it seemed like "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" might steamroll through the season, it was "The Shape of Water" that came out on top last night. Guillermo del Toro's fantasy romance won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Production Design and Best Original Score to clinch the most awards. I'm now starting to think it can go all the way. Up next is the SAG Awards, where it's not up for the top prize. So things could get even more interesting ahead of the Oscar nominations. While we continue our attempt to make sense of the season, here are this year's Critics Choice winners for your perusal:

BEST PICTURE
The Shape of Water

BEST DIRECTOR
Guillermo del Toro – The Shape of Water

BEST ACTOR
Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour

BEST ACTRESS
Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Allison Janney – I, Tonya

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

OSCAR WATCH: Critics Choice Predictions


Awards season train is charging right along as we head to our next major stop - the Critics Choice Awards. "The Shape of Water" leads all films in terms of nominations, but will it come out on top? Here are my predictions for tomorrow night's show.

BEST PICTURE
Lady Bird

BEST DIRECTOR
Guillermo del Toro – The Shape of Water

BEST ACTOR
Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour

BEST ACTRESS
Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Allison Janney – I, Tonya

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

OSCAR WATCH: BAFTA Nominations


In the wee hours of the morning, the BAFTA nominations were announced and they've further complicated this unpredictable awards season. While "The Shape of Water" and "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" continued to gain momentum, the Brits went out on a limb for a few other films with local flavor, including "Darkest Hour" and "Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool". It's going if any of that translates to Oscar, as BAFTA love is often a strong indicator of Academy support. Here is the full list of BAFTA nominees:

Best Film
Call Me By Your Name
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

Best Director
Denis Villeneuve –​ Blade Runner 2049
Luca Guadagnino – Call Me By Your Name
Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk
Guillermo del Toro – The Shape of Water
Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

Best Actor
Timothée Chalamet – Call Me By Your Name
Jamie Bell – Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool
Daniel Kaluuya – Get Out
Daniel Day Lewis – Phantom Thread
Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour

Best Actress
Annette Bening – Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool
Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri
Margot Robbie – I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird

Best Supporting Actor
Christopher Plummer – All The Money In The World
Hugh Grant – Paddington 2
Woody Harrelson - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri
Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri
Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project

Best Supporting Actress

Allison Janney – I, Tonya
Kristen Scott Thomas – Darkest Hour
Lesley Manville – Phantom Thread
Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer – The Shape of Water