Tuesday, December 24, 2019

OSCAR WATCH: Can A24 Make a Best Picture Comeback?

Is it time to say goodbye to 'The Farewell' in the Best Picture race?
With just two weeks to go before nomination voting closes on January 7 for the next Academy Awards, the clock is ticking for this year's contenders. In the aftermath of Harvey Weinstein's downfall, upstart distributors have been jostling to fill that void and establish themselves as the new "Oscar whisperers." And so far, Netflix seems to have laid claim to that title with at least 4 viable contenders for Best Picture. But what about the smaller distributors like A24? After a steady climb in the world of Oscar campaigning which included a momentous victory for "Moonlight", the New York-based company had an uncharacteristic down year in 2018, garnering only a single nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

Depending on who you ask, there is much cause for concern regarding A24's 2019 lineup. Though their slate includes several acclaimed films, they seem to have been beaten at their own game - edgy but accessible fare - by upstarts Neon, who are flying high on the success of "Parasite" among others. In contrast, A24's prized pony is less clear. Is it "Waves," which has crashed and burned since its buzzy Telluride launch? Is it the challenging but rewarding "Uncut Gems" from the inimitable Safdie Brothers? Or is it Sundance darling "The Farewell," with its strong awards potential in the acting and screenplay categories?

In my estimation, there are 7 films looking like safe bets in Best Picture, which leaves room for A24 to stage a comeback. Here's how I see current state of the Best Picture race:

  1. The Irishman
  2. Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood
  3. Jojo Rabbit
  4. Parasite
  5. Marriage Story
  6. 1917  
  7. Joker
  8. The Farewell
  9. Dolemite is My Name
  10. Uncut Gems


Ever since the Safdie brothers exploded unto the independent film scene with their breakthrough feature "Heaven Knows What", they have established themselves as one of American cinema's foremost purveyors of propulsive filmmaking. Utilizing the full potential of the medium, they deliver visually and aurally stimulating storytelling like no other. That trend continues with "Uncut Gems", a typically New York-set thriller hoping to send an electric jolt to this year's Best Picture race.

"Uncut Gems" takes place in New York City's Diamond District, where jeweller Howard Ratner (played by Adam Sandler), runs a store catering to a wide range of moneyed clientele. Always looking to score his next big deal with an eye to pay off his debts, Ratner gets his hands on an uncut Opal from Ethiopia, purported to be worth $1 million. As he plans to auction this precious stone, basketball star Kevin Garnett takes an interest. Seeing a golden opportunity, Ratner loans him the gem for good luck in exchange for a valuable commemorative ring. When Ratner subsequently pawns the ring to place a bet, however, he quickly becomes entangled in a high stakes web which involves a dangerous gang of tough guys who are determined to collect what he owns them.

As with any Safdie brothers film, it takes some time for audiences to get on their wavelength. Indeed, their blaring synth score and frantic pacing can feel belligerent at first. Furthermore, his characters aren't instantly likable.

But like Arielle Holmes and Robert Pattinson before him, Adam Sandler's performance is so attuned to Safdie's purposeful storytelling that you end becoming fully invested in his plight. In one of his finest performances to date Sandler's role is essentially the male counterpart to the "women on the verge of a nervous breakdown" trope. But whereas actresses often lean in to the vulnerability, Sandler's Ratner is a man so high on his drug of choice - i.e. greed - that he rarely has time to be overcome by his underlying anxiety.

The result is a thrilling ride as we witness his navigation through the dangerous world through the dog-eat-dog world of Manhattan society. It's as if the Safdies reinvisioned Scorcese's "The Wolf of Wall Street" as the story of a street-level hustler set in the New York City of "Taxi Driver". But those references fail to do justice to the originality the Safdie brothers bring to their work. As their narratives typically surround desperate characters, so too does their filmmaking pulsate with the vibrancy and determination of people doing everything they can to make their mark. And once again, they've succeeded.

Sunday, December 15, 2019


Jordan Peele’s “Us” was named the year’s Best Film today by the African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA), the world’s largest group of black film critics comprised of leading film critics from across the country and world. “Us” (which earned over $255 million globally) received three total wins including Peele for Best Director and Lupita Nyong’o for Best Actress. The complete list of AAFCA Awards recipients is as follows:

Best Film: “Us” (Universal Pictures)
Best Director: Jordan Peele (“Us,” Universal Pictures)
Best Actor: Eddie Murphy (“Dolemite Is My Name,” Netflix)
Best Actress: Lupita Nyong’o (“Us,” Universal Pictures)
Best Supporting Actor: Jamie Foxx (“Just Mercy,” Warner Bros. Pictures)
Best Supporting Actress: Da’Vine Joy Randolph (“Dolemite Is My Name,” Netflix)
Best Breakout Performance: Kelvin Harrison, Jr. (“Waves,” A24)
Best Animated Film: “Abominable” (Universal Pictures)
Best Documentary: “The Black Godfather” (Netflix)
Best Foreign Film: “Parasite” (Neon)
Best Independent Film: “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” (A24)
Best Screenplay Presented with The Black List: Bong Joon-ho, “Parasite” (Neon)
Impact Award: “Queen & Slim” (Universal Pictures)
We See You Award: Taylor Russell (“Waves,” A24)

The AAFCA 2019 Top Ten Films
1.“Us” (Universal Pictures)
2. “Dolemite Is My Name” (Netflix)
3.“Just Mercy” (Warner Bros. Pictures)
4.“Clemency” (Neon)
5.“The Irishman” (Netflix)
6.“Queen & Slim” (Universal Pictures)
7.“Waves” (A24)
8.TIE “Parasite” (Neon) and “Atlantics” (Netflix)
9.The Farewell (A24)
10. “Harriet” (Focus Features)

OSCAR WATCH: SAG Nominations

Best Cast in a Motion Picture
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Male Actor in a Leading Role

Christian Bale (“Ford v Ferrari”)
Leonardo DiCaprio (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”)
Adam Driver (“Marriage Story”)
Taron Egerton (“Rocketman”)
Joaquin Phoenix (“Joker”)

Best Female Actor in a Leading Role
Cynthia Erivo (“Harriet”)
Scarlett Johansson (“Marriage Story”)
Lupita Nyong’o (“Us”)
Charlize Theron (“Bombshell”)
Renée Zellweger (“Judy”)

Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role

Jamie Foxx (“Just Mercy”)
Tom Hanks (“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”)
Al Pacino (“The Irishman”)
Joe Pesci (“The Irishman”)
Brad Pitt (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”)

Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role
Laura Dern (“Marriage Story”)
Scarlett Johansson (“Jojo Rabbit”)
Nicole Kidman (“Bombshell”)
Jennifer Lopez (“Hustlers”)
Margot Robbie (“Bombshell”)

OSCAR WATCH: Golden Globe Nominations

Best Picture, Drama
The Irishman
Marriage Story
The Two Popes

Best Picture, Musical or Comedy
Dolemite is My Name
Jojo Rabbit
Knives Out
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Director
Bong Joon Ho, Parasite
Sam Mendes, 1917
Todd Philips, Joker
Martin Scorsese, The Irishman
Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Actress, Drama
Cynthia Erivo, Harriet
Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
Saoirse Ronan, Little Women
Charlize Theron, Bombshell
Renée Zellweger, Judy

Best Actress, Musical or Comedy
Awkwafina, The Farewell
Cate Blanchett, Where'd You Go Bernadette?
Ana de Armas, Knives Out
Beanie Feldstein, Booksmart
Emma Thompson, Late Night

Best Actor, Drama
Christian Bale, Ford V Ferrari
Antonio Banderas, Pain & Glory
Adam Driver, Marriage Story
Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes

Best Actor, Musical or Comedy

Daniel Craig, Knives Out
Roman Griffith Davis, Jojo Rabbit
Leonardo DiCaprio, Once UPon a Time
Taron Egerton, Rocketman
Eddie Murphy, Dolemite is My Name

Best Supporting Actor
Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes
Al Pacino, The Irishman
Joe Pesci, The Irishman
Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time

Best Supporting Actress
Annette Bening, The Report
Margot Robbie, Bombshell
Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers
Kathy Bates, Richard Jewell
Laura Dern, Marriage Story

OSCAR WATCH: Critics Choice Nominations

Ford v Ferrari
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Little Women
Marriage Story
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Uncut Gems

Noah Baumbach – Marriage Story
Greta Gerwig – Little Women
Bong Joon Ho – Parasite
Sam Mendes – 1917
Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie – Uncut Gems
Martin Scorsese – The Irishman
Quentin Tarantino – Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Antonio Banderas – Pain and Glory
Robert De Niro – The Irishman
Leonardo DiCaprio – Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Adam Driver – Marriage Story
Eddie Murphy – Dolemite Is My Name
Joaquin Phoenix – Joker
Adam Sandler – Uncut Gems

Awkwafina – The Farewell
Cynthia Erivo – Harriet
Scarlett Johansson – Marriage Story
Lupita Nyong’o – Us
Saoirse Ronan – Little Women
Charlize Theron – Bombshell
Renée Zellweger – Judy

Willem Dafoe – The Lighthouse
Tom Hanks – A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Anthony Hopkins – The Two Popes
Al Pacino – The Irishman
Joe Pesci – The Irishman
Brad Pitt – Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Laura Dern – Marriage Story
Scarlett Johansson – Jojo Rabbit
Jennifer Lopez – Hustlers
Florence Pugh – Little Women
Margot Robbie – Bombshell
Zhao Shuzhen – The Farewell

OSCAR WATCH: Indie Spirit Nominations

Best Feature
A Hidden Life
The Farewell
Marriage Story
Uncut Gems

Best Director
Alma Har'el, Honey Boy
Lorene Scafaria, Hustlers
Julius Onah, Luce
Robert Eggers, The Lighthouse
Benny Safdie & Josh Safdie, Uncut Gems

Best Female Lead
Karen Allen, Colewell
Hong Chau, Driveways
Elisabeth Moss, Her Smell
Mary Kay Place, Diane
Alfre Woodard, Clemency
Renée Zellweger, Judy

Best Male Lead
Chris Galust, Give Me Liberty
Kelvin Harrison Jr., Luce
Robert Pattinson, The Lighthouse
Matthias Schoenaerts, The Mustang
Adam Sandler, Uncut Gems

Best Supporting Female

Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers
Taylor Russell, Waves
Lauren "LoLo" Spencer, Give Me Liberty
Octavia Spencer, Luce
Zhao Shuzhen, The Farewell

Best Supporting Male
Willem Dafoe, The Lighthouse
Noah Jupe, Honey Boy
Shia LaBeouf, Honey Boy
Jonathan Majors, The Last Black Man in San Francisco
Wendell Pierce, Burning Cane

Wednesday, December 11, 2019


Of all the memorable movie moments of 2019, there's one in particular that I haven't been able to shake. It comes in a climactic scene in Bong Joon-ho's ingenious social satire "Parasite", as class revolt within the narrative comes to ahead in response to a insulting gesture. Though the film pits the %1 against the disadvantaged poor, this scene's power comes from the way it forces middle class audiences to confront our own insensitivities.

Elaborating further on the scene would unfortunately ruin one of the film's key attributes. Indeed, "Parasite" succeeds largely on its suspenseful and utterly unpredictable screenplay. While its premise may seem like a variation of Robin Hood's "stealing from the rich to give to the poor" premise, it reveals much deeper levels as the plot unfolds.

The story surrounds two families, the wealthy Parks and the unemployed Kims. Desperate to find work, they get a lifeline when the son Ki-woo secures a tutoring job for the Parks, through the recommendation of a friend. Ever the opportunist, his arrival at their upscale home quickly sets off a light bulb in his head. Before long, he schemes to get the rest of his family to infiltrate the home by offering various household services. But the Park home harbors secrets which could completely derail their plans.

Bringing new meaning to social hierarchy with its darkly comic take on the "upstairs, downstairs trope", Bong Joon-ho's "Parasite" offers an incisive critique of class in South Korea. Much like his previous genre-inflected social satire "Snowpiercer", Bong Joon-ho uses entertaining scenarios to convey his message. As the Kims speedily take advantage of the opportunities presented to them, "Parasite" is crafted with the blistering pacing and brilliant dialogue to match. And through the efforts of a superb ensemble, the personas they embody further emphasize the wide chasm between the classes. As the mother of the Kim clan remarks of her aloof Park counterpart, she is "nice because she's rich."

As the plot twists and turns to thrilling effect, Bong Joon Ho never loses sight of the film's central anti-capitalist themes. Conveyed visually and verbally with the utmost panache, the result is a film which is universally relevant and impactful. It's therefore no surprise that it's receiving serious Oscar consideration for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Production Design and Best International Feature. With its strong social commentary and thrilling storytelling,  "Parasite" is truly one of the year's must-see films.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

OSCAR WATCH: Once Upon a Time...The Irishman Led the Best Picture Race

'The Irishman' takes early frontrunner status, but the race is far from over

When the ever expanding Critics Choice Association announces their 2019 award nominations later today, the state of the awards race will begin to come into sharp focus. While early critics awards (i.e. NBR and NYFCC) have annointed "Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood" and "The Irishman", the televised impact and large voting pool of the Critics Choice Association tends to give a better reflection of where the Academy place their votes. And later this week, two more televised awards-giving bodies will add their say, namely the Screen Actors Guild and the Golden Globes. Based on current buzz, we can expect them all to agree on, the following top 5: "The Irishman", "Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood", "1917", "Parasite" and "Marriage Story".

If this were 20 years ago, those would be your Best Picture field. But in this era of the category's expansion, there will be fierce competition for the remaining slots. Will the divisive but distinctive "Jojo Rabbit" and "Joker" garner enough passion votes? Or will more universally acceptable films like "Ford v Ferrari", "Dolemite is My Name" and "Knives Out" take their place? As the academy continues to diversify its ranks, I suspect we will see a combination of challenging and accessible filmmaking in the final Best Picture lineup. As it stands, here is my current assessment of the top frontrunners for Best Picture:

  1. The Irishman
  2. Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood
  3. 1917
  4. Parasite
  5. Marriage Story
  6. Jojo Rabbit
  7. Ford v Ferrari
  8. Richard Jewell
  9. Knives Out
  10. Dolemite is My Name
Stay tuned throughout the season as I continue to track the awards season all the way through to Oscar night on February 9th.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

OSCAR WATCH: Richard Jewell

Throughout the history of cinema, there has been no shortage of narratives surrounding heroes. Often played by handsome movie stars, we've come to expect a certain type of heroic figure. That trend is intriguingly bucked in Clint Eastwood's typically late-breaking Best Picture contender "Richard Jewell", however, telling the true story of a decidedly average man.

The events of "Richard Jewell" take place in 1996 Atlanta, when all eyes are on the city as it hosts the Olympic Games. As the related activities get underway, Richard Jewell - an security guard and aspiring police officer - is assigned to watch over one such event. Always enthusiastic, he painstakingly patrols the area, looking out for anything suspicious. During his investigations, he stumbles on an abandoned bag and alerts the authorities. When this bag turns out to be a bomb, Richard Jewell steps in to protect the attendees from harm. After the bomb goes off without causing catastrophic fatalities, Jewell is declared a hero. But the FBI investigation soon turns towards Jewell himself, as his past behavior brings his motives into question.

The question of Jewell's guilt, however, is never in question for the audience. From the first moment we meet the character, Clint Eastwood makes it clear that he is a genuinely good guy. Indeed, his introductory scene sees him leaving candy for his superior (played by Sam Rockwell) at his early job, addressing him with utmost politeness. And as we get to learn more about the character, he becomes almost saintlike in his selfless kindness.

Unfortunately, Jewell's goodness makes for rather unremarkable storytelling, as the investigation lacks any bombshells or plot twists to plant seeds of doubt or tensions. Furthermore, the media frenzy personified by Olivia Wilde's unscrupulous journalist character is portrayed in crass, broad strokes. And like many recent Clint Eastwood films, the film's visual language is hampered by the dull color palette of the cinematography.

Yet despite it falls, "Richard Jewell" remains engaging thanks to the unique appeal of its central performance. Playing a character that could have been annoyingly nice and compliant in the face of injustice, Paul Walter Hauser manages to completely sell the character's sincerity and naivety. In addition, Kathy Bates is naturally sympathetic as a loving mother trying protect her son. Oscar nods for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress are definitely possibilities for them both.

Ultimately, what "Richard Jewell" lacks in nuance and complexity, it makes up for in admirable symbolism of its titular character. It brings to mind Michelle Obama's memorable phrase "When they go low, we go high." Sometimes the most inspiring heroes are the ones who simply choose to be kind, even towards their enemies.

Friday, December 6, 2019

OSCAR WATCH: Marriage Story

The most toxic relationships are the ones you don't even realize as such, until hindsight makes you see things clearly. That's the lesson Nicole and Charlie learn in "Marriage Story", the exceptional new drama from Noah Baumbach. Stunningly portrayed by Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, this Best Picture Oscar hopeful conveys honest truths about love, marriage and divorce.

We first meet the embattled couple - Nicole, a up-and-coming actress and Charlie, a hotshot theatre director - during a mediation session, as both have decided to split amicably, in the best interest of themselves and their child. When the therapist asks them to list the positive things about their partner, however, Nicole suddenly realizes that she's harboring deeper feelings of pain than she initially suspected. Subsequently, she uproots her New York life - and their son Henry - to return to Los Angeles and be with her mom. But the pressures of long-distance parenting puts a strain on their civil friendship. Though they had agreed to forego legal proceedings, a heated divorce case and custody battle ensues.

The messiness of divorce is put in a sharp focus as Baumbauch's perceptive screenplay unleashes the myriad of emotions associated with it. As Nicole tries to rationalize the reasons for the split, the film gets to the truth of how willfully one-sided relationships can be, as the hopes and dreams of one partner become subsumed into the other's. It is often said that married people gradually begin to look like one another and "Marriage Story" poignantly conveys that "oneness" and loss of self.

Smartly, the script balances both perspectives, also showing how Charlie's ambition and pride caused him to neglect his wife's needs and to a certain extent, his own. Indeed, the nuances of both characters' personalities are brilliantly elaborated through many relatable moments littered throughout. I'm sure many audiences can relate to the hate-filled outbursts you instantly regret, as well as the subconscious competitiveness and selfishness that can erode a relationship over time.

While Johannson and Driver (slam dunk Best Actor and Best Actress nominees) show incredible vulnerability as the leads, the rest of the scintillating cast is equally as riveting. Laura Dern is particularly compelling as Nicole's self-assured lawyer who fights for her client like a bulldog with a smile. After two nominations throughout her career, she may have finally earned her first Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her work here.

Dern's delicious performance embodies one of the film's most winning touches, namely it's frequent moments of levity. Indeed, Baumbach deserves every Best Director and Best Original Screenplay accolade he'll receive during this awards season for his masterful juggling act of humor and pathos. Punctuating the narrative with music, situational comedy and delightful bit roles (Merritt Wever and Julie Hagerty are terrific as Nicole's sister and mother), it serves as a reminder that things are rarely black or white in life and relationships. As conveyed in the heartrending monologues which bookend the film, when all is said and done, sometimes the hardest truth about broken relationships is that there's still some love that remains.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

OSCAR WATCH: The Irishman

A decade ago, the BAMcinématek curated a series called "The Late Film", a collection of late career films from established auteurs. As described in the New York Times, the term refers to work that is "both familiar and strange, characteristic of the artist and yet markedly at odds with everything that preceded it." As I watched the latest from American master Martin Scorsese, the descriptor could not feel more apt. Among Scorsese's esteemed canon of gangster films, "The Irishman" expresses familiar themes in profound and revelatory ways.

In my review from over 5 years ago, I marvelled at Scorsese's direction of "The Wolf of Wall Street", impressed by its audacity and edgy, kinetic style. It felt like the work of a younger, maverick filmmaker, proving that he was still a vital voice in the contemporary film scene. Four films later, I am stunned once again by "The Irishman", which sees Scorsese reuniting with many of his most famous collaborators. This epic surrounds Robert DeNiro's titular character Frank Sheeran, as he reflects on a life of mob-related crime. From his younger years as a truck driver, to his subsequent rise up the ranks of the Buffalino crime family, his story is one of violence, greed and power. But in his dying days, the events of his life weigh heavily on him.

With this premise and the recognizable director and cast – including Al Pacino and Joe Pesci in supporting roles – you'd be forgiven for thinking this is just another Scorsese gangster flick. But "The Irishman" deepens the genre through a directorial approach that is more subdued and graceful. It feels in direct conversation with the aforementioned "Wolf of Wall Street", as well as the other iconic gangster narratives that came before for it. Indeed, while "Wolf of Wall Street" was accused of glorifying the debauchery of its immoral men, "The Irishman" is never gratuitous, filled instead with an undercurrent of regret. Though violence are central its themes, the film is more concerned with the impact rather than the act.

One particular scene stands out, where Al Pacino's Jimmy Hoffa, desperate to reclaim leadership of the mob-controlled union remarks to Sheeran that "They do something to me, I do something to them. That's all I know. Nothing else." Epitomizing the endless cycles of violence and revenge (also emphasized through frequent pop-up subtitles about various characters' future demises) it achieves a rare emotion for audiences in a gangster film – pity. And as the decades-long narrative of "The Irishman" plays out, this sentiment only deepens as the bodies pile up and families and friendships are irreparably broken.

The result is an uncommonly calm and contemplative gangster film from Scorsese, with the screenplay's themes amplified by impeccable acting - particularly the soulfully captivating DeNiro and the chillingly unflappable Pesci - and Scorsese's usual attention to detail. Oscar nominations are definitely on the table in the categories of Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Makeup & Hairstyling, Best Production Design and Best Picture. Admittedly, it's still not my favorite of the year, but I wouldn't begrudge any of these wins. It's truly exciting to see Scorsese continue to be so inspired and invigorated (this year he also directed the impressive documentary "Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story"). Unlike Frank Sheeran's life story, this film may be a late work, but it's far from a swansong.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

OSCAR WATCH: Ford v Ferrari

As Henry Ford II - aptly portrayed with gruff egomania by Tracy Letts - proudly reminds us in "Ford v Ferrari", the invention of the automobile (especially those made by Ford) completely revolutionized modern society. In the proceeding decades, a love affair with cars has been a staple element of consumerism, particularly for men. Today, those earliest wagon-esque models have evolved into sleek sports cars, prompting an obsessive "need for speed" as chronicled in this gripping new film from director James Mangold.

As the title suggests, "Ford v Ferrari" depicts the true story of the battle between rival automotive makers Ford and Ferrari. Representing the best of American and Italian innovation, they were at the forefront of the industry, with Ford representing the populist choice for everyday consumers and Ferrari representing the cutting edge of speed-oriented technology. As the 1970s approached however, Ford began to feel its influence fading. New generations craved forward-thinking style and sophistication, rather than boxy models that came before. So Ford hatches a daring plan to design a car to beat Ferrari on their most dominant stage - the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France. Under the advice of a determined automotive designer/engineer named Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and his unpredictable but extraordinary driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale), they set out to secure bragging rights and ensure the viability of the company.

Unsurprisingly, "Ford v Ferrari" shines brightest when its on the race track, appropriately delivering edge-of-your-seat thrills with slick production values and nail-biting stakes. The film will surely figure into the Oscar races for Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing and Best Editing. It gives you a visceral sense of the power of these cars and the real dangers being faced every time someone gets behind the wheel.

Indeed, while the film duly indulges the male fantasy of automotive prowess, the more unexpected grace notes are its elegant screenplay and strong character development. As the wily Ken Miles, Christian Bale turns in a performance as finely tuned as his souped-up Ford, combining lived-in naturalism with a distinctive persona. Likewise, Matt Damon's monologues about the existentialist experience of driving a car are a highlight of the film. If "Ford v Ferrari" were to net an Oscar nod for Best Original Screenplay, it would be due in large part to his eloquence.

Ultimately, "Ford v Ferrari" succeeds for its sincere empathy towards the relationships between men and their cars, and each other. Its depiction of masculinity, pride and male friendship feels authentic to the way men express their feelings. As the plot races to the finish line, those withdrawn emotions will likely catch up with you. For all its masculine bravado, this Best Picture contender turns out to be one of the most heartfelt films of the year.

Saturday, October 19, 2019


Ever since Christopher Nolan completed his final installment of The Dark Knight trilogy, cinematic adaptations of DC comics have failed to capture the zeitgeist in contemporary film culture. While the rival Marvel Cinematic Universe has soared to unprecedented heights, the DCEU has been criticized for their super-serious, dark aesthetic which turned even the squeaky clean Superman into an agent of chaos. Rather than embrace the "comic" nature of their origins, however, DC films have instead doubled down on their dark, gritty house style. Indeed DC has even dedicated entire films to villains, including "Suicide Squad" and now, "Joker". As directed by Todd Phillips, this bleak character study is the first under the proposed DC Black banner and it is arguably the most accomplished - and most problematic - DC film of the post-Nolan era.

Joaquin Phoenix stars as Arthur Fleck, a lonely and mentally ill resident of a decaying Gotham city. His days are filled with caring for his ailing mother, going to therapy sessions and making a living as a party clown. But his big dream is to become a standup comedian. While he aspires to be like the successful talk show host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro), a disorder that causes him to laugh uncontrollably attracts the ridicule of his intolerant society. Unable to cope with the fading possibilities of fulfilling his dreams and suffering the abuse from various sources, Arthur turns to a life of crime and embraces the alias of Joker.

As Arthur "breaks bad", both actor and director fully commit to the film's unsettling premise. In one of the most striking performances of the year, Joaquin Phoenix is at once grotesque and sympathetic. As he breaks into spontaneous laughter and contorts his emaciated body, he strikes fear into the audience long before he turns to violence. But what makes the performance so compelling - and a surefire Best Actor contender - is its vulnerability. Phoenix conveys a deep pain in his quest for acceptance, thereby humanizing this iconic villain like never before.

Indeed, Phillips and Scott Silver's script works overtime to generate audience sympathy for its protagonist. Arthur receives virtually no kindness from any of the named supporting characters, and the world created is oppressively bleak. You can practically smell the conspicuous garbage on the streets, while almost every surface seems to be covered in graffiti. In crafting this palpable atmosphere, there's no denying that this version of Gotham city is a stand-in for 1980s New York City.

The "Taxi Driver" inspirations are therefore obvious, but unfortunately, the film's social commentary is too broad to truly add a fresh perspective. Despite its best attempts - such as the inclusion of a pompous, Trump-like Thomas Wayne character - the script lacks the nuance of Hildur Guðnadóttir's evocative score as it charts Arthur Fleck's disturbing transformation. As such, the implications that the Joker's violent acts are part of a larger, justified revolution fail to ring true.

Ultimately, "Joker" won't be winning any prizes for original storytelling. But in its strongest moments, this likely contender for Best Picture and Best Director touches on some important issues surrounding mental health, conveyed through a central performance that's hard to shake. In our contemporary landscape of formulaic superhero films, this challenging cinematic vision is definitely worth your consideration.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

TIFF: Wrap-up

After 11 days of screenings and other film industry-related activities, the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival has come to an end. And as the curtains came down on Sunday, it was Taika Waititi‘s irreverent, anti-hate satire “Jojo Rabbit” that nabbed the coveted Grolsch People’s Choice Award. The announcement came as a surprise to many who favored more universally beloved contenders such as “Marriage Story” and “Parasite.” In retrospect, its victory was a perfect reflection of the 2019 edition of the festival, where many directors challenged audiences with their risky themes and filmmaking approaches.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

TIFF: Harriet

As much as Hollywood tries to convince us otherwise, the world doesn’t need another biopic. But with a subject as underappreciated and vital to history as Harriet Tubman, a cinematic tribute is certainly justified. With Kasi Lemmons’ “Harriet,” that long overdue biopic of the legendary freedom fighter has finally arrived. But this underwhelming drama fails to truly capture the awe-inspiring efforts of its extraordinary heroine.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

TIFF: The Cave & Adam

Issues of women’s rights have long been a subject of heated debate in the Arab world. While situations vary considerably throughout the region, women are still fighting against culturally and religiously imposed restrictions rarely faced by their counterparts in the rest of the world. At TIFF 2019, a pair of films stand out in this regard, in the form of the documentary, “The Cave,” and the narrative feature, “Adam.” Though set in drastically different environments, both highlight issues surrounding women’s rights through affecting stories about the power of female solidarity.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

TIFF: Blackbird

It is never easy to accept the impending death of a loved one. Even more troubling is the knowledge that they have chosen to die. Following in the vein of award-winning films such as “The Sea Inside” and “Million Dollar Baby,” the controversial topic of euthanasia features prominently in “Blackbird.” A remake of a Danish film, this formulaic drama from Roger Michell likely won’t garner many accolades. But the tender performances from its gifted cast elevate it to something worth seeing.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

TIFF: Instinct

People have long claimed that women prefer bad boys. Whether this is true or not, this widespread belief has formed the basis for many of the most popular films in history. With her daring directorial debut “Instinct,” Halina Reijn attempts to explore this phenomenon through the eyes of a trained psychologist. The result is a film that is at once challenging, frustrating, perplexing, and thoroughly fascinating.

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TIFF: Jojo Rabbit

With a filmography that includes such heartwarming comic gems as “Thor: Ragnorak” and “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”, Taika Waititi is hardly a director who comes to mind when you think of Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust. The traumatic genocide of Jews certainly doesn’t lend itself to his trademark offbeat sense of humor. Yet in one of the year’s most daring directorial achievements, Waititi keeps his distinctive voice in tact with “Jojo Rabbit,” a poignant anti-war satire that is also his funniest film to date.

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TIFF: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

“It’s not really about Mister Rogers.” So remarks a character in Marielle Heller’s new film “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” in response to the profile of the iconic children’s TV host that forms the basis of the narrative. For better or worse, that statement is true of the film itself, which eschews traditional biopic expectations for an endearing tribute to Mister Rogers’ legacy of kindness and empathy.

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TIFF: Synchronic

If you ever wondered what a gritty cable drama about paramedics would look like, it would probably be something like “Synchronic,” directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. Featuring a duo of tough guys responding to a mysterious series of gruesome deaths under dim lighting, it might cause you to wonder if “True Detective” had been remade as “True Paramedic.” Indeed, “Synchronic” captures the brooding aesthetic of recent HBO miniseries, but with an intriguing sci-fi twist that almost elevates its otherwise dreary filmmaking.

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TIFF: Just Mercy

When a director gets an inherently powerful story, it doesn’t take a herculean effort to make a film that will resonate with audiences. With “Just Mercy,” director Destin Daniel Cretton accomplishes just that. Channeling the classic legal dramas, Cretton delivers a genuine crowd-pleaser by trusting in the power of the film’s story and the ability of his actors to convey its essential message.

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TIFF: Disco & Hala

If you delve into the various sections of the Toronto International Film Festival this year, you’ll find a number of films which explore issues surrounding religion and morality. In Special Presentations, you’ll find Fernando Meirelles’ “The Two Popes“, which examines the tensions between the worldviews of a traditionalist and a more modern pope. In the Masters’ section, Terrence Malick continues his career-long interest in spirituality with “A Hidden Life“, about a conscientious objector to the Nazi cause.

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TIFF: Preview

With all the buzz emanating from the Venice and Telluride film festivals, there’s no denying that the fall movie season is upon us. Indeed, films like “Ford v Ferrari” and “Marriage Story” have already ignited Oscar talk about journalists, as some of the year’s most anticipated films have finally made their debuts. But while several of these contenders seem to be booking their places at the Oscars, there are still many challengers waiting in the wings as the Toronto International Film Festival brings their own exclusive premieres to the table. As a smorgasbord of films jostle for attention among its famously massive slate, here are 10 world premieres we are most excited about for TIFF 2019.

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CTFF: A New Day for African and Caribbean Films

While Toronto will be abuzz with the excitement of this month’s Toronto International Film Festival, there’s another September festival in town that is worth your attention. Founded in 2006 to promote emerging filmmakers from the Caribbean and the diaspora, the CaribbeanTales Film Festival celebrates its 14th edition under the theme “A New Day.” Playing from September 4-20, the CTFF will feature 8 themed nights of programming, with eight feature-length films complimented by an array of short films.

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Friday, September 27, 2019

OSCAR WATCH: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

If there's one thing that Hollywood loves is movies about movies. And if there's one filmmaker who loves making those movies, it's Quentin Tarantino. Famously known as a film nerd, Tarantino's filmography is filled with homages to film history. Whether it's the blaxploitation era in "Jackie Brown" or the spaghetti westerns in "Django Unchained", his love of cinema is always on display. You could therefore argue that his latest Best Picture contender - "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood - represents a culmination of his filmography to date. Chock full with references to classic cinema, Tarantino shows off his film literacy with a comedy-drama that educates as much as it entertains.

Indeed, "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" is practically a crash course in classic cinema. Set during the late 1960s, it reflects the turning point when Classic Hollywood was making way for the New Hollywood movement which would emerge in the next decade. Incorporating real life figures of the time with fictional characters, the film thus follows a fading star of 1950s TV Westerns - Rick Dalton, played by Leonardo DiCaprio - who struggles to find his place in the new world order. With his trusted stunt double and closest friend Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) by his side, he attempts a personal reinvention as a movie star. But it will prove to be his greatest challenge yet, as a growing, youthful counterculture threatens to leave him behind.

That tension between old and new hollywood is at the core of "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood", as it serves as a time capsule for a turning point in the film industry. In this regard, Tarantino instills an evocative atmosphere of 1960s Los Angeles, thanks to the music, clothing, sets, and the hair. Oscar nods for the film's aesthetic would definitely be well deserved, particularly for Best Production Design. And Quentin Tarantino will surely garner the respect of his peers in his Best Director bid.

Tarantino's attention to detail brings a tangible authenticity to the settings, augmented by playful nods to films and stars of the era, ranging from "The Great Escape" and "Rosemary's Baby" to "The Wrecking Crew". Indeed, the latter notably draws attention to the subplot involving rising star (played with eager gusto by Margot Robbie). But while initial promos highlighted the ill-fated Tate - and the murderous Manson Family plays a major role in the film - she remains more of a concept than a fully drawn character.

Ultimately, Tate's storyline becomes a casualty of a screenplay that struggles to cohere. As such, the whole is less than the sum of its parts. Thankfully, its best parts truly resonate enough (and will surely push it forward in the Best Original Screenplay race). Namely, the friendship between Dalton and Booth and the charismatic performances from DiCaprio and Pitt. Indeed, Brad Pitt is cool personified in a performance that will likely net him a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Meanwhile, DiCaprio will also garner himself yet another Best Actor nod for his outstanding work. Using every ounce of his physicality and expressive eyes, he is often self-deprecating and vulnerable as a man who must prove to himself and the world that he is a true movie star. Ironically, DiCaprio is effortlessly charismatic in the role, once again proving his movie star bona fides. And perhaps that's the essence of the film and Hollywood itself. No matter the era, it's a town built on make believe and only the most convincing imposters survive.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

REVIEW: Pain and Glory

With a career spanning more than four decades and a filmography that includes such masterworks as "All About My Mother" and "Talk to Her", Spanish director Pedro Almodovar is rightfully one of the most highly regarded auteurs in cinema. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, however, I think "Pain and Glory" could arguably be considered his magnum opus. Supremely artful and poignant, it is a stunning showcase of his unique skills as a filmmaker.

Antonio Banderas stars in this semi-autobiographical drama as Salvador Mallo, a film director in the twilight of his career. Suffering with several ailments, he struggles to reclaim his former glory. As he searches for inspiration, he reflects on the momentous occasions of his life, recalling the good and bad memories which shaped him.

Though the film is only loosely biographical, it's hard not to see its creator in the figure of its protagonist. Indeed, with his ruffled, silvery hair, Banderas is a striking stand in for Almodovar. And with the character's background as a filmmaker whose best work was seemingly behind him, this metatextual context brings a natural empathy to his plight, especially for longtime Almodovar fans similarly hoping for another masterpiece.

It therefore brings me great pleasure to report that Almodovar does indeed deliver another arthouse gem. Working at the top of his game, "Pain and Glory" is a reminder of what makes Almodovar such a distinct storyteller. Every facet of the filmmaking is gorgeously wrought, from the colorful costumes and sets, to the beautiful music.

As can be expected of an Almodovar film, the cast also shines. Once again, he is able to garner tremendous performances from his actors. And in this case, he reunites with two of his favorite muses - Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz. Long known for their sex appeal, Almodovar's script has crafted roles which bring a fresh perspective on their personas. As his character requests of another actor - the equally brilliant Asier Etxeandia - tasked with playing him in a play, Banderas underplays the sentimentality and brings a world-weary gravitas to his afflicted character. Meanwhile, Cruz recalibrates her innate sensuality to portray a fierce mother with all the passion of her signature roles.

The elegant musicality, touching performances and exquisite mise en scene all come together to convey the film's poignant themes. Through flashbacks and present scenarios, "Pain and Glory" embodies the saying "time heals all wounds". Despite the physical and emotional pain he endures, Salvador recognizes that it's all part of the school of life. Ultimately, all we can do is live, learn and continue to love.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

REVIEW: What You Gonna Do When The World’s On Fire?

A boy leading his scared younger brother through a haunted house, a woman preparing to host a party, and a mother scolding her son for coming home past curfew. These are some of the images that greet audiences in the opening minutes of Roberto Minervini’s “What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire?” On the surface, these introductions to the characters reflect typical scenes from across America. But after the subsequent two hours of this pointed documentary, a very specific slice of Americana emerges.

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Virtually as certain as death and taxes, humanity has proven that it cannot escape its addiction to war. Likewise, in cinema, filmmakers have shown an affinity for the subject, where narratives surrounding violent conflicts have become a prevalent staple of the art form. Some of these directors choose to portray the dangerous thrill of the battlefield. Meanwhile, others, like director Benjamin Gilmour, focus on the aftermath of war and its far-reaching effects. Indeed, such is the case in Gilmour’s latest film “Jirga,” an unusually understated drama about a soldier wrestling with his demons.

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REVIEW: For Sama

“We never thought the world would let this happen,” so laments director Waad al-Kateab in the opening scenes of her film “For Sama“, co-directed by Edward Watts. This deeply personal documentary is not the first to depict the ongoing Syrian Civil War, but the sentiment behind that statement remains as vital as ever. As she recounts her experiences during five years of the conflict, this harrowing film reminds us of one of the most urgent human rights crises of our time.

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REVIEW: Three Peaks

A deceptively cheerful scene opens “Three Peaks,” the new film from director Jan Zabeil. It’s summertime in Italy and families are merrily playing in the pool. One of them is a couple exploring their new relationship with a son. But this seemingly idyllic vacation eventually becomes one that they and, unfortunately, audiences will want to forget.

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REVIEW: Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am

A few years ago, the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag brought much needed attention to an ongoing problem in the film industry. With a lack of diversity throughout all levels of the filmmaking process, the recipients of the art form’s highest honors often reflected a largely white-male clubhouse. As evidenced by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’ illuminating new documentary “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am“, this problem has not been exclusive to cinema. In profiling one of the greatest literary minds of our time, “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am” engagingly reminds audiences of the inherent politics in how we value art and honor artists.

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OSCAR WATCH: International Oscar Hopefuls

Though we are still months away from the first wave of official submissions for the newly renamed Best International Feature Oscar, the spring/winter festival circuit has already introduced some worthy candidates. As major awards are won and distribution deals close, the excitement is mounting for another competitive year among the non-English Oscar contenders. Here’s a look at some of the early contenders from the three biggest international film festivals so far, namely Sundance, Berlin, and Cannes.

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REVIEW: The Third Wife

Despite existing for more than a century, the art of filmmaking still has the power to surprise and transport us. Whether it’s a fictional African metropolis or a remote tribal community in the Pacific, cinema possesses an unparalleled ability to open our eyes to new cultures and societies. Such is the effect in Ash Mayfair’s debut feature “The Third Wife“, which delicately uncovers the lives of patriarchal Vietnamese society through the eyes of a young woman.

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REVIEW: Shadow

Grabbing attention from the very first frame, there are few films as visually striking as Zhang Yimou’s “Shadow“. Though the director is known for more colorful spectacles such as “Hero” and “Raise the Red Lantern,” Zhang delivers a fresh surprise with the awe-inspiring greyscale palette of this latest effort. Coupled with a storyline rife with meaningful symbolism, “Shadow” is a stunning addition to the wuxia film canon.

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Inside Jamaica's Growing Film Industry

Though it may not be making major headlines, Jamaica’s film industry is currently having a significant moment in the spotlight. This month’s release of “Sprinter” marks the third film made by, or heavily featuring, Jamaican talent to be distributed in North America in 2019. Showcasing an array of filmmaking sensibilities, these films – Storm Saulter’s “Sprinter”, Idris Elba’s “Yardie” and Khalik Allah’s “Black Mother” – reflect the changing dynamics of the nascent Jamaican film industry. As “Sprinter” prepares for a unique theatrical run, AwardsCircuit.com caught up with some key figures of the contemporary Jamaican film scene to get an inside perspective on the factors that are fueling the industry’s recent growth.

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REVIEW: Sprinter

“Hope is the thing with feathers.” Famed poet Emily Dickinson surely wasn’t thinking about 21st century immigration and athletics stardom when she penned this quote in her poem of the same name. But the sentiment behind those immortal words resonates strongly throughout Storm Saulter’s new film “Sprinter“.

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REVIEW: Sauvage

The trope of the “hooker with a heart of gold” has become such a mainstay in cinema that ardent cinephiles and casual movie fans alike can easily recognize its cliches. When it comes to such matters of love and sex, however, you can always count on the French to bring a fresh and often subversive perspective. Such is the case in Camille Vidal-Naquet’s “Sauvage“, which turns this trope on its head with a surprisingly tender-hearted drama about a gay male prostitute.

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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Top 10 TV Programs of 2018-2019

There's no business like show business. As streaming, broadcast television and the theatrical experience continues to wage a war to capture audiences, viewers have benefitted from this competition greatly. This is most evident in the TV landscape, where the variety of programming delivered some truly extraordinary storytelling. Notably, the best of them included brilliant showcases of the life and work of female entertainers, at a time when their voices are crying out to be heard. As I bore witness to the awe-inspiring narratives of these wrestlers, comedians and musicians, it filled me with hope that they will be silenced no more. Indeed, this current Golden Age of Television continues to thrill us in unforgettable and surprising new ways. So without further ado, here are my picks for the best of TV from this wonderful year.

  1. GLOW
  2. Hannah Gadsby: Nanette
  3. Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé
  4. Better Call Saul
  5. Fleabag
  6. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
  7. The Good Fight
  8. Veep
  9. When They See Us
  10. Escape at Dannemora

Monday, July 15, 2019

Top 10 Acting Performances of 2018-2019 TV

Best Casting: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Queen Sugar, When They See Us
As has already been said in many other forums before, contemporary TV has gifted today's actresses with golden opportunities like never before. Indeed, in reflecting on the past season of television, the most memorable performances were largely drawn from a remarkable array of female characters. Whether they were forging life-changing careers in the entertainment industry or exploring deep personal traumas, these women kept us glued to our screens, compelled by their rich inner lives and unique perspectives. And right behind them were a trio of award-worthy performances from male performers, capping yet another extraordinary of acting for the "small screen". Here are my Top 10 Acting Performances of the 2018-2019 TV Season.
  1. Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
  2. Alison Brie, GLOW
  3. Amy Adams, Sharp Objects
  4. Patricia Clarkson, Sharp Objects
  5. Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Fleabag
  6. Betty Gilpin, GLOW
  7. Rhea Seehorn, Better Call Saul
  8. Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
  9. Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul
  10. Jharrel Jerome, When They See Us

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

REVIEW: Avengers: Endgame

As I sat in the movie theater for "Avengers: Endgame", a initial feeling of dread came over me. The trailers - "Aladdin", "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" and "Spider-Man: Far from Home" - shown before the film were a sad reminder of the state of popular cinema in 2019, with nary an original concept in sight. To make matters worse, the two prior installments of "The Avengers" had left me wanting. As such, I feared the worst for what would surely be an overblown piece of fan service.

After the subsequent 3 hours of this epic conclusion to the Marvel Cinematic Universe's "Infinity Saga", however, I admittedly felt guilt for my prejudice. Alleviating all of my fears, I was thoroughly satisfied with the accomplished filmmaking on display. Taking place in the apocalyptic aftermath of the "Infinity War", this film brings a level of humanity and humility rarely seen before in the MCU.

Reduced to vulnerable human beings in the wake of the cataclysmic events caused by supervillian Thanos, the remaining Avengers are desperate to reverse the course of history. Some years later, an unexpected solution arises when Ant-Man emerges from the quantum realm. Based on his experiences in this alternate universe, the Avengers devise a time-travelling master plan so crazy that it could spell either further destruction or salvation.

With a decidedly downbeat first hour, "Endgame" quickly lets audiences know that they are in for an ambitious story arc. Indeed, the stakes have never been higher, as the Avengers seem to have come to terms with their failure. The costumes and superpowers are largely absent and in their place are human beings mourning the friends and families they've lost.

Due to this rare moment of vulnerability, these characters who we've come to know and love reveal their true selves. And through this, the film allows the actors to shine by subverting their trademark personas. As the leaders with conflicting worldviews, Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans bring new shades to Iron Man and Captain America. The former's cocky sarcasm is now tempered by a sense of despair and melancholy. And the latter displays a jaded cynicism that starkly contrasts his usual optimism. But perhaps the most eye-opening performance comes from Chris Hemsworth, portraying Thor as a man whose unwavering confidence has finally been shattered. In addition to his much talked about physical transformation, there's an everyman humility that showcases Hemsworth's comic talents to great effect. In my opinion, he's never been better.

Of course, while we bear witness to the fragility of their heroes, they must inevitably rise to the occasion. And as the script sets things in motion for the final showdown, the film kicks into high gear in ways that only a mega-budget blockbuster can deliver. Indeed, we can see the money on the screen, with dazzling visual effects and elaborate production design.

Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has long claimed that each film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is conceived as a particular genre film. Whether it's the intergalactic space adventures of "Guardians of the Galaxy" or the espionage thriller underpinnings of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier", they are crafted with a keen understanding of the associated tropes. Unsurprisingly, this has paid dividends through the enthusiastic responses from cinephiles everywhere.

Admittedly, when these characters come together as The Avengers, the filmmakers sometimes struggled to craft a coherent vision. But that is not the case here. "Avengers: Endgame" shows a remarkable synergy between the heist, space exploration and character drama elements. And ultimately, it culminates in a sublime coda that speaks to the power of love and the precious gift of life. After more than a decade of making us want to be superheroes, "Avengers: Endgame" shows us the strength and beauty of being human.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

REVIEW: Working Woman

It’s been almost two years since the #MeToo movement exploded as a major cultural movement in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Unsurprisingly, this zeitgeist has begun to influence the stories being told on film, with several recent documentaries highlighting major cases of sexual abuse. Narrative features are also shedding light on this pervasive issue, including Michal Aviad’s shrewdly crafted Israeli drama “Working Woman.”

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INTERVIEW: Sheldon Shepherd

With the release of Idris Elba’s debut feature “Yardie“, authentic Jamaican culture gets a rare showcase on the big screen. Among its cast of British and Jamaican actors, actor/musician Sheldon Shepherd stands out as someone who fully embodies the island’s distinctive spirit. On the eve of the film’s arrival in US theaters, I spoke with Shepherd about the experience of making the film and his creative process.

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REVIEW: Yardie

From “Get Out” to “A Star is Born”, there seems to be an increasing trend of actors making successful transitions to directing. Making an attempt to join that growing list is Idris Elba with his directorial debut “Yardie“, which premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Based on the novel by Victor Headley, this gangster drama is rooted in the streets of Jamaica, telling a familiar tale of violence and revenge.

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REVIEW: 3 Faces

As is typical of his filmography, Jafar Panahi’s “3 Faces” begins without a “based on a true story” disclaimer. This latest effort from the beleaguered director once again continues his penchant for palpable realism, offering a fervent critique of his native Iran. As pointed as ever, “3 Faces” poignantly examines the tensions within a society where art and culture don’t always make a perfect match.

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Early in Frances Anne Solomon’s “Hero: Inspired by The Extraordinary Life and Times of Mr. Ulric Cross,” Nicola Cross – daughter of the film’s titular subject – states that she wishes she had explored her father’s life story before his death. But as the saying goes, better late than never. And after viewing the subsequent two hours of this globetrotting saga, audiences will likely agree that this film is overdue. An ambitious documentary-narrative feature hybrid, “Hero” showcases an accomplished diplomat/lawyer/decorated war veteran whose untold story deserves to be discovered.

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Recently Oscar nominated for Best Documentary Short, “Black Sheep” tells a powerful true story about racism and identity in the United Kingdom. Its subject is a young black man named Cornelius Walker, who recalls his traumatic childhood experiences with violent racism after moving from London to a predominantly white housing estate in Essex. Deftly mixing interviews and reenactment, “Black Sheep” is one of the impressive contenders in its Oscar category. In speaking with director Ed Perkins, however, he revealed that the idea for the film arose unintentionally from a casual conversation.

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Top 10 American Remakes of Foreign Films

With this week’s release of “Miss Bala” and “The Upside” earlier this month, American remakes of foreign films are a hot trend in Hollywood right now. Of course, this is nothing new, as American filmmakers have long borrowed from world cinema since the earliest days of the medium. While many of these fail to live up to the reputation of the original films, there are others which have achieved enough popularity to become known as the definitive versions of their stories. As we anticipate a year slated to bring even more remakes, here’s a look back at 10 such outstanding American Remakes of Foreign Films which either equaled or surpassed their predecessors.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

And the Oscar goes to... Green Book

As you've probably heard already, the Oscars were held on Sunday, with "Green Book" taking the top prize of Best Picture, to go along with wins for Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Screenplay. Frankly, it proved to be a disappointing end to a rather surprising and satisfying night. Indeed, I only predicted a dismal 14 out of 24 categories correctly. But ultimately, I don't mind being wrong if it means historic wins for the Black Panther team and a shocking upset for the wonderful Olivia Colman in Best Actress. As we finally put the 2018 film year to rest, here's the final rundown of the year's best, according to the Academy:

Green Book

Alfonso Cuarón, Roma

Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody

Olivia Colman, The Favourite

Mahershala Ali, Green Book

Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk