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.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: Jirga


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.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

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.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

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.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

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.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

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.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

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.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

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.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

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.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

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“.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

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.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

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.”

Read more at The Awards Circuit

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.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

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.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

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.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: Hero


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.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

INTERVIEW: Ed Perkins


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.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

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.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

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:

BEST PICTURE
Green Book

BEST DIRECTOR
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma

BEST ACTOR
Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody

BEST ACTRESS
Olivia Colman, The Favourite

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Mahershala Ali, Green Book

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk

Sunday, February 24, 2019

OSCAR WATCH: Indie Spirit Awards


In a refreshing change of pace from awards season, the Independent Spirit Awards shone a spotlight on some of the year's unheralded films. At the end of their relaxed ceremony on the beach in Santa Monica, it was Barry Jenkins' stunning "If Beale Street Could Talk" which walked away with Best Feature, Best Director and Best Supporting Female. As a member of Film Independent I was quite pleased with the results, with a number of my votes* going towards the eventual winners. Here is that full list below:

Best Feature
If Beale Street Could Talk*

Best Director
Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk*

Best Female Lead
Glenn Close, The Wife

Best Male Lead
Ethan Hawke, First Reformed

Best Supporting Female
Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Supporting Male
Richard E Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?*

Saturday, February 23, 2019

OSCAR WATCH: Green Book


On the eve of Hollywood's biggest night, it felt appropriate that I finally weigh in on one of the presumed Oscar frontrunners. That controversial film is none other than Peter Farrelly's "Green Book", nominated for 5 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Editing, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Screenplay. Inspired by a true story, this dramedy follows two men on a life-changing road trip that harkens back to awards contenders of yesteryear.

Indeed, to paraphrase by mother's first impression of the film, "Green Book" is like one of those "old-time" movies. Starring Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen in roles that could have been played by Sidney Poitier and any of the notable Italian-American stars of the 20th century respectively, it's a message movie about racial harmony between a black man and a white man. Ali plays esteemed pianist Don Shirley, who is embarking on dangerous tour through the Jim Crow South and requires a driver/bodyguard to help him along the way. In steps Mortensen's Tony Lip, a brutish - and racist - Italian-American bouncer who is out of a job when his club closes down. Due to his reputation for handling unruly situations, Lip's services are solicited for Shirley's tour. And after some hesitation, Lip decides to take the gig, as this pair of New Yorkers head down South and strike up an unlikely friendship.

Much has been said about the film's old-fashioned depiction of race relations, where racism is essentially "solved" through communication and walking a mile in another person's shoes. Director Peter Farrelly even said as much his acceptance speech at the Golden Globes. Understandably, the film's detractors took issue with this simplification of America's tramautic racial history.

Yet when I watched the film, I found myself surprisingly taken with its story. Although I concur that its inevitably happy ending is perhaps overly idealistic, the road it takes to get there is filled with many bumps along the way which truthfully reflect the pervasive intolerance of this time and place. Told in an episodic structure as the duo makes their way through the scheduled gigs, Shirley's experience is marred by a series of humiliations, one of which turns violent.

Suffice it to say, I didn't find it to be such an offensive portrayal of American history. Instead of approaching it as a broader social commentary, I accepted it as a more modest tale of two men whose friendship defied all expectations. Without a doubt, my favorable response to the film was aided significantly by the captivating duo at the heart of the story. The contrasting performances from Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen truly make the film, with the former's poise and eloquence clashing with Mortensen's broad, crass characterization. Together, their chemistry is a "yin and yang" that keeps you engaged in the story and invested in the characters. Ultimately, "Green Book" won't be making any all-time best lists, but I found a sense of comfort in watching two talented actors at work. Outside of all the noise that is awards season, this is harmlessly middlebrow entertainment that doesn't deserve all this animosity.

Monday, February 11, 2019

OSCAR WATCH: BAFTA Awards


The Brits have sounded off and their pick for Best Film of the year is "Roma", giving Alfonso Cuaron's black-and-white epic a significant heading into final Oscar voting. After dominating the nominations, "The Favourite" was another BAFTA favourite with 7 awards, winning both actress categories and Outstanding British Film (where many expected "Bohemian Rhapsody" to prevail). As the Oscars are fast approaching, the following wins could be a preview for what's to come. Here they are:

Best Film
Roma

Best Director
Alfonso Cuaron - Roma

Best Actor
Rami Malek - Bohemian Rhapsody

Best Actress
Olivia Colman - The Favourite

Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali - Green Book

Best Supporting Actress
Rachel Weisz - The Favourite

Saturday, February 9, 2019

OSCAR WATCH: BAFTA Predictions


It's the home stretch! The finish line for this tumultous awards season is within sight as the BAFTA Awards wrap up the major televised precursors. With final Oscar voting beginning soon, they can be a significant indicator of late season awards heat. Will the Brits back their homegrown talent or stick to the prevailing consensus? Here are my predictions for tomorrow's ceremony.

Best Film
Roma

Best Director
Alfonso Cuaron - Roma

Best Actor
Rami Malek - Bohemian Rhapsody

Best Actress
Olivia Colman - The Favourite

Best Supporting Actor
Richard E. Grant - Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Best Supporting Actress
Rachel Weisz - The Favourite

Monday, January 28, 2019

OSCAR WATCH: SAG Awards


As the penultimate televised awards show before the Oscars, the Screen Actors Guild boosted several campaigns last night in the acting categories. Indeed, Glenn Close, Rami Malek and Mahershala Ali continued to exert their dominance of the awards circuit so far. Will they repeat at the Oscars? Here is the full list of SAG winners for 2018:

BEST CAST
Black Panther

BEST ACTOR
Rami Malek - Bohemian Rhapsody

BEST ACTRESS
Glenn Close – The Wife

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Mahershala Ali – Green Book

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Emily Blunt - A Quiet Place

Saturday, January 26, 2019

OSCAR WATCH: SAG Predictions


As the first televised awards show after the Oscar nominations, tomorrow night's SAG Awards will be significant bellwether for the final stretch of the awards season. With a few frontrunners absent from the nominations, however, we'll definitely be saying some new faces on the stage. Best Ensemble seems particularly open. Who will come out on top? Here are my guesses for this year's SAG winners:

BEST CAST
Crazy Rich Asians

BEST ACTOR

Christian Bale – Vice

BEST ACTRESS
Glenn Close – The Wife

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Mahershala Ali – Green Book

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Amy Adams – Vice

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

OSCAR NOMINATIONS: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly


After yesterday's announcement, the Oscar nominations have finally begun to sink in. And as always, there were many surprises in store. Here are my thoughts on this year's lucky nominees, in addition to the full list:

The Good:

  • It was very gratifying to see foreign language films represented outside of their designated category, notably in Cinematography ("Roma" and "Cold War") and Director where there were multiple non-English films selected. Hopefully this will become a trend and we continue to see the Academy embrace films from across the world.
  • Few people could have seen the nominations for "Roma" stars Yalitza Aparicio and Marina de Tavira coming, but I'm sure we can all agree that this was a welcome surprise.
  • Spike Lee finally gets his long overdue nomination for Best Director, as "BlacKkKlansman" makes an impressive showing with 6 nominations.


The Bad:

  • I wasn't expecting much, but the Academy really should have come through for "First Man" and "If Beale Street Could Talk". Both are towering cinematic achievements.
  • Bradley Cooper's direction was essential to making "A Star is Born" such a successful film. It's a shame he isn't being recognized for his commendable filmmaking debut.
  • I hope Toni Collette's "Hereditary" character haunts the Academy in their sleep for snubbing her in Best Actress.


The Ugly:

  • The mediocre "Bohemian Rhapsody" continues to be a major presence during this awards season, displacing many more worthy films in the process.
  • Sam Rockwell for "Vice"? Really?
  • It's an absolute travesty that "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" was not nominated for Best Documentary Feature. If you claim that the filmmaking is too conventional, why nominate "RBG"?


Here is the full list of this year's nominees:

Sunday, January 20, 2019

OSCAR WATCH: The Animated Films

With less than 2 days to go before the Oscar nominations, I've been trying to cover my bases and watch as many contenders across the various categories as possible. Undoubtedly, one of the most interesting races to follow has been Best Animated Feature, where new frontrunners continuously emerged throughout the course of the year. As usual, I focused on those main contenders in my personal viewing of the slate. And ultimately, I agreed with the consensus on one particular December release which stands above the rest. Here are my thoughts, personal rankings and predictions for this year's Oscar contenders for Best Animated Feature:

From Aardman Studios, the masterminds who brought us such gems as "Chicken Run" and "Shaun the Sheep Movie" comes a new animated tale called "Early Man". As its title suggests, the film takes place in prehistoric times, when cavemen and other early creatures roamed the earth. In this setting emerges a story of Dug, a young caveman determined to protect his primitive tribe from Bronze Age colonizers. After being introduced to their affinity for an early form of football, Dug makes a deal to keep their home by beating them at their own game. The film thus becomes a typical underdog story which only delivers a few chuckles. It certainly has some of the quirks of Aardman's house style, but "Early Man" is definitely one of their lesser efforts. Rating: ★★★1/2

Nearly 10 years after his "Fantastic Mr. Fox" snagged a pair of Oscar nominations, Wes Anderson makes a welcome return to stop motion animation with "Isle of Dogs". Set in a dystopian Japan, "Isle of Dogs" follows a young boy Atari as he goes on a mission to find his dog, which was banished to Trash Island after an outbreak of canine flu. Upon arrival on Trash Island, he hooks up with a pack of dogs - delightfully voiced by Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum - who help him on his search. Their journey subsequently takes them on a madcap adventure which is relentlessly entertaining. Admittedly, the film doesn't fully sustain its initial madcap energy. But Anderson's distinctive offbeat style shines through in film's hilarious comic timing and wondrous mise en scene, which earned him a well-deserved Best Director prize at the 2018 Berlin Film Festival. Rating: ★★★★

With Pixar now firmly into their sequel phase, it was inevitable that they would make a follow-up to one of their beloved hits. This summer, audiences were reunited with the titular family of "The Incredibles 2", as they aim to save the day and restore the good reputation of superheroes. If you've seen the first film, there's not much that will be new to you here. But in trademark Pixar form, the screenplay works in some surprisingly mature commentary on the challenges of domestic life, vis-à-vis parenting and marriage. And when coupled with some truly exciting action setpieces, "The Incredibles 2" becomes fun for the whole family. Rating: ★★★★

After the success of its prequel, Wreck-it Ralph returns with a whole new adventure called "Ralph Breaks the Internet". Once again, the film focuses on the duo of Ralph and Vanellope, as they embark on a mission to save Vanellope's Sugar Rush arcade game by braving the strange new world of the internet. As their journey takes them to Oh My Disney, where this media empire dominates our attention, it's hard to miss the blatant self-promotion on display. And yet, the zippy storyline is genuinely fun and funny, with clever pop culture references and winking nods at Disney cliches. Most impactful is the film's second half, however, which offers a surprisingly mature commentary on toxic friendships. While "Wreck-it Ralph" came up short at the Oscars, this sequel puts forth a strong argument to win it all this time around. Rating: ★★★★

Joining a slew of other superhero narratives in the race, "Teen Titans Go! To The Movies" is one of the most peculiar of this year's animated films. Directed by Peter Rida Michail and Aaron Horvath, this parody of comic book movies is based on the TV series "Teen Titans Go!" and those roots are quite obvious. Indeed, this juvenile film is hardly much deeper than a Saturday morning cartoon, with the fart jokes and frenetic energy to match. But once you're able to shut off your brain, you'll find a entertaining story about a bunch of carefree young kids who simply want to live out their Hollywood dreams. Rating: ★★★1/2

Fans have long awaited a cinematic iteration of Miles Morales as Spiderman and now, their patience has been duly rewarded. "Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse" is a Miles Morales (a half-black half-Latino version of Spiderman) origin story, a regular high schooler who is gains special powers after being bitten by a radioactive spider. With the city of Brooklyn and the wider world under threat by a villain named Kingpin, he must summon the courage to use his newfound abilities for good. But he'll have the help of a few friends, as a mysterious occurrence brings together different versions of Spider-man from alternate universes. They include the familiar characters of Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy, in addition to a pig named Spider-ham, a Japanese girl called Peni Parker and a brooding version of Peter Parker from the 1930s. To be sure, it's an outrageous premise. But the result is a complete reinvigoration of the Spider-man mythology that practically explodes off the screen with its creative energy and features some of the most eye-popping animation you'll ever see. "Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse" is not only the best of this year's animated features, it's one of the best films of 2018. Rating: ★★★★

If I had high expectations for "Smallfoot", I'd say it is the most disappointing animated film of the year. But this Warner Animation production is exactly the run-of-the-mill cash grab I expected it to be. It tells a story about a Yeti named Migo, who is ostracized from his community after claiming to see the a smallfoot (i.e. a human), which goes against the insular beliefs of his community. As you ventures out into the unknown to prove his findings and salvage his reputation, the script puts forth a valuable message about the importance of intellectual curiosity. But otherwise, this predictable film offers nothing noteworthy to really distinguish itself from your typical animated adventure. Rating: ★★★

Here's how I'd rank these films (in order of preference):
Spider-man: Into the Spiderverse
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Isle of Dogs
The Incredibles 2
Tito and the Birds
Teen Titans Go! To The Movies
Early Man
Smallfoot

My prediction:

Best Animated Feature
Spider-man: Into the Spiderverse
The Incredibles 2
Isle of Dogs
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Mirai

Saturday, January 19, 2019

OSCAR WATCH: Bohemian Rhapsody


A funny thing happened during this topsy-turvy awards season that hardly anyone saw coming. Back in November, the troubled production of "Bohemian Rhapsody" opened to middling reviews and was quickly dismissed as a non-starter in the Oscar race. But then, the film became a bonafide box office phenomenon (currently approaching $200 million at the US box office at the time of writing) and then went on become a Best Picture frontrunner following a shocking Golden Globe win for Best Drama.

I was one of those critics who dismissed the film upon release, figuring it would just be accepted as the conventional Freddie Mercury biopic it so clearly is. But as the industry continues to declare its support of this controversial film, it felt prudent to give it a second look. I therefore revisited it with an open mind to try to understand what works and what doesn't.

What's immediately clear is that this is a star vehicle for Rami Malek, who is well on his way to a Best Actor nomination. His performance is affected and showy, but it's nothing if not consistent. Whether it's a perfect imitation or not, it's definitely one that conveys the spirit of a man who was born to be on stage. On that note, the film's climactic recreation of Queen's iconic Live Aid performance is easily one of the best scenes of the year. Even as the rest of the film failed to grab me this time around, that ending holds up brilliantly. I found myself involuntarily singing along, completely entranced in the music and the showmanship.

Indeed, the film does deserve some kudos for its entertaining portrayal of the band's creative process and performances. Yet, there's no denying that these scenes benefit from artistry that has little to do with the actual filmmaking itself. Indeed, the timeless songs are what sustains the film, while the actors essentially lip synch and pantomime. Yes, the recreation of Freddie Mercury's flashy and fabulous fashion sense are worthy of awards attention for Best Costume Design. But it would be dishonest to give Malek the credit for the impact of the music.

Still, the story behind that music is worthy of the big screen treatment in itself. But despite the band and its lead singer's boundary-pushing reputation, the storytelling in "Bohemian Rhapsody" is disappointingly conservative. There are hardly any narrative beats we haven't seen before in countless musical biopics. Personally, I can forgive its much derided manipulation of the facts and its downplaying of Mercury's sexuality. What I can't forgive, however, is an uninspired narrative. Did it get the job done and ultimately entertain me? Yes. But outside of Malek's performance and the music, there's nothing spectacular or outstanding about "Bohemian Rhapsody".

Monday, January 14, 2019

Best of 2018: Top 10 Films of the Year


If you follow the awards season, you'll probably hear a lot about Alfonso Cuaron's visually stunning "Roma", Bradley Cooper's heart-stirring "A Star is Born" or the cultural phenomenon that is "Black Panther". Yet while all of these are certainly worthy of praise, it's a testament to the strength of this year's films that none of them made my final Top 10. Cinema in 2018 indeed offered an embarrassment of riches, with an extensive variety to suit every taste. As you'll see below, the year's highlights represented virtually every genre of filmmaking possible, forcing some of the toughest decisions I've ever had to make for a year's best list. Both of my honorable mentions for example, are as strong as any film in the list and were seriously considered.

But ultimately, the year belonged to one special film for me. While it has been unfathomably underappreciated in the general Best Picture conversation thus far, it delivered everything I could have wanted and more. Find out which film took that #1 position, as I present to you my Top 10 Films of 2018, with excerpts from my reviews:

Honorable Mention: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Hale County This Morning, This Evening

OSCAR WATCH: Critics Choice Awards


In what would be a rather favourable outcome at the Oscars, the Broadcast Film Critics Association anointed Alfonso Cuaron's "Roma" as the best film of 2018 at the Critics Choice Awards last night. Cuaron and his film also won Best Director, Best Foreign Language Film and Best Cinematography. In other highlights, there was a tie between Glenn Close and Lady Gaga (neither of whom I predicted to win), further confirming that this Best Actress race will be a close one. Overall, I accurately predicted 17 out of 25 winners. Here is the full list of awardees:

BEST PICTURE
Roma

BEST DIRECTOR
Alfonso Cuarón – Roma

BEST ACTOR
Christian Bale - Vice

BEST ACTRESS
Glenn Close - The Wife and Lady Gaga - A Star is Born

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Mahershala Ali – Green Book

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Regina King – If Beale Street Could Talk

Sunday, January 13, 2019

OSCAR WATCH: Critics Choice Predictions


After the shocking outcome of the Golden Globes last week, it's time for some course correction from the Critics Choice Awards. Will they fall in line or will they go their own way? Here's how I think this year's Critics Choice will play out:

BEST PICTURE
A Star Is Born

BEST DIRECTOR
Alfonso Cuarón – Roma

BEST ACTOR
Rami Malek – Bohemian Rhapsody

BEST ACTRESS
Olivia Colman – The Favourite

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Mahershala Ali – Green Book

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Regina King – If Beale Street Could Talk

Best of 2018: Top 20 Acting Performances


A few years ago, acclaimed writer Aaron Sorkin argued in a leaked email to the New York Times that female roles in film lack the degree of difficulty of their male counterparts. But as I look back on the year's most compelling performances of 2018, the strength and complexity showcased by actresses resoundingly refuted that specious claim. From major blockbusters to small indies, there were dozens of challenging and daring performances which explored what it means to be a woman. Some of the most memorable characters included flailing mothers and mighty warriors, while a trio of teenage girls kept me rapt in their fraught coming of age journeys.

At the end of the year, it came as no surprise to me that my Top 20 Performances of the Year was dominated by women, as 14 actresses claimed spots on the list. While my #1 pick went to a male actor, there was no denying that 2018 was yet another amazing year for female performers. So without further ado, I proudly present my Top 20 Acting Performances of 2018:

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Best of 2018: Top 10 Foreign Language Films


One of the biggest stories of 2018 was Netflix’s continued disruption of the traditional models of film distribution. Their slate of auteur-driven films was the envy of their competitors, signalling their intentions of world domination in the industry. Fittingly, that extraordinary international appeal is reflected in their most prized possession, a black-and-white, foreign language film in the form of Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma”. As one of the most talked about films of the year, it helped to significantly rejuvenate attention towards non-English cinema. Indeed, many of the most celebrated films of the year came from filmmakers from all corners of the world. And the best of them explored themes surrounding love, war, class conflict and the meaning of family, showcasing the universal language of film. Here are the Top 10 Foreign Language Films of 2018:

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Friday, January 11, 2019

Best of 2018: Top 10 Documentaries


If there was any doubt that we are living in a Golden Age for documentaries, look no further than 2018’s slate of feature-length films. Over the past twelve months, documentaries generated audience interest and critical acclaim at nearly unprecedented levels. From animation hybrids to intimate character studies, non-fiction filmmaking in 2018 further proved that cinema is unmatched in its ability to generate empathy. The year’s best documentaries inspired us, enlightened us and sometimes, they even broke our heart. Here are my picks for the Top 10 Documentaries of 2018:

Read more at The Awards Circuit

Thursday, January 10, 2019

INTERVIEW: Vincent Lambe


It’s never easy to depict a highly sensitive topic on screen, especially when it’s a horrific murder of a child by two other children. Such is the true story of Vincent Lambe’s “Detainment“, which poignantly recreates the early 90s investigation into the shocking murder of two-year-old James Bulger by a pair of 10-year old boys. Decades later, the highly publicized incident still touches a raw nerve with British and Irish citizens, who struggle to comprehend this heinous act of violence. In honor of its recent selection to the Academy’s shortlist for Best Live Action Short film, I caught up with Lambe to discuss the challenge of exploring the film’s touchy subject and the sense of understanding he aspired to convey. Below is an edited version of that discussion.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

INTERVIEW: Barnaby Blackburn


Featuring a suspenseful storyline filled with surprising twists, Barnaby Blackburn’s “Wale” is easily one of the most thrilling films in the Oscar shortlist for Best Live Action Short. But the film, which follows a fateful day in the life of a young black man in London, also makes a clear statement about the harsh realities of social injustice. In our edited conversation below, I spoke with Blackburn to discuss the inspirations behind the film and his filmmaking style.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: Memoir of War


Throughout the history of cinema, war films have long been the domain of male protagonists, often focusing on their efforts in combat and the aftermath. But these films have also shown us the long-lasting and far-reaching effects of war, including the trauma afflicted on the women they leave behind. In his new film “Memoir of War,” Emmanuelle Finkiel reflects on the painful consequences for one such woman, as she excruciatingly awaits the return of her prisoner of war husband.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

INTERVIEW: Likarion Wainaina


One of the most interesting developments in the Oscar race for Best Foreign Language Film this season was the selection of the Kenyan film. After the much publicized controversy surrounding the LGBT-themed “Rafiki,” many presumed it would be the country’s final pick. But the official list of submissions came with a surprise, as Likarion Wainaina’s “Supa Modo” was named as Kenya’s representative. Telling a touching story about a cancer-stricken young girl and her love of cinema, “Supa Modo” has since emerged as significant dark horse for to progress to the upcoming Oscar shortlist. As we await that announcement, I spoke with Wainaina about the meaning behind the film and its place in the promising future of Kenyan cinema. Below is an edited version of our chat.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: Supa Modo


In the first scene of Likarion Wainaina’s “Supa Modo“, we are introduced to our bright-eyed protagonist Jo. Perched in front of a screen, she is among friends watching a kung fu movie. Their smiling faces suggest that they aren’t unlike your average, carefree child. And for this brief moment, they are. But we soon learn that these are patients in a children’s hospital, many of them with terminal illnesses.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

INTERVIEW: Rima Das


As you gaze upon the sophisticated direction of “Village Rockstars“, you wouldn’t guess that its helmer Rima Das had no formal training in film. And when you further realize that she made shot, wrote, produced and edited the film on her own, you would agree that “Village Rockstars” is in her words, a miracle. Recently I caught up with Das to get further insight into the long journey of making this award-winning drama, which is now India’s official Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Film. In our edited interview below, she discusses honing her craft with children as her inspiration and how her acting dreams led her to becoming a successful director.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: Village Rockstars


It’s been quite a year for musical dramas, with “A Star Is Born” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” currently making noise at the box office, thanks to their melodramatic storylines and catchy soundtracks. You’d therefore be forgiven for expecting more of the same from a film with the name “Village Rockstars.” But this Oscar submission from India is a much more muted affair. Far from the dazzling lights of the concert stage, director Rima Das crafts a simple story of a young girl with a dream.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

INTERVIEW: Gustavo Steinberg and Daniel Greco


Most politically-charged films arise out of a desire to comment on a prevalent issue. In rare instances, however, they can actually foreshadow the zeitgeist. With their animated Oscar contender “Tito and the Birds“, director Gustavo Steinberg and co-producer Daniel Greco have accomplished just that, crafting a tale about a pandemic of fear which is all too relevant to today’s world. I recently caught up with this filmmaking duo, as we engaged in a fascinating discussion about the film’s unexpected prescience regarding the rise of Donald Trump, as well as the sensitivity of exploring fear in the context of a children’s film. Read below for an edited version of our interview.

Read more at The Awards Circuit

REVIEW: Tito and the Birds


It’s hardly a novel idea for animated films to include hidden political messages, but few are as overtly topical as “Tito and the Birds.” Though its story takes place in Brazil, American viewers will particularly identify with its allegory for the contagious affliction of fear. Foreseeing the great sociopolitical divide in modern American society, directors Gabriel Bitar, André Catoto and Gustavo Steinberg have crafted a strikingly relevant tale for 2018.

Read more at The Awards Circuit