Monthly Archives: March, 2018

My Predictions For The 2017 Oscars

Chocolate Oscar

The Oscars will be awarded Sunday night. Jimmy Kimmel will be back. Last year’s ‘envelope guardians’ from PWC, Brian Cullinan and Martha Ruiz, won’t be for obvious reasons. I’ve seen enough movies and shorts to make up 90 of the nominations here. And to think just before Christmas, the only big-time contender I saw was Dunkirk. Whatever the situation, I succeeded again for the seventeenth year in a row in seeing all of the Best Picture nominees before Oscar night.

And now here are my predictions:

BEST PICTURE WRAP-UP:

Interesting how last year I did ‘summaries’ where I reviewed three in one blog. This time I had the energy to do one blog per film. So here’s my summary. All titles have links to my reviews:

-Call Me By Your Name– This is an excellent story about a love that’s meant to be, but is only temporary. It’s best quality is the story happening in a picturesque background. Excellent film, but I don’t think it has what it takes to win Best Picture.

-Darkest Hour– This is one film that was not considered a huge threat to the Best Picture race, but it did it. It has a lot to admire, especially Oldman’s acting. However I don’t think it has what it takes both as a picture and in terms of campaigning to win.

-DunkirkThis is a film that first appears like it has Best Picture material. This makes for n excellent case, but the script is lacking and there’s no single acting performance that stands out for this year. Excellent film, nevertheless.

-Get OutThis is one of the Top 3 bets for Best Picture. It has a lot of what it takes to win, and especially since this is a come-from-nowhere story. However the Academy has never taken well to horror movies. I think this is the first ever to be nominated for Best Picture? I think the Academy will back off in favor of the ‘other two’ contenders.

-Lady BirdThis is a charmer of a film and one of the more significant films of the year. It’s a film written and directed by a woman and sends the message about how much of an impact women can have in film. Excellent work, but usually the Academy doesn’t normally reward movies where a teenager is the central character.

-Phantom ThreadThis is a film that had the luck of a ‘late surge.’ The film was first seen having its best chances in nominations in Day-Lewis’ acting, Anderson’s writing and Bridges’ costuming. Instead it also acquired Best Picture and Best Director. Very good film, but lacks the muscle of some of the other contenders.

-The PostThis is another excellent Spielberg film. However it doesn’t compare to some of his more legendary works like Schindler’s List or Saving Private Ryan or even E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Not this time Steven.

-The Shape Of WaterThis is the one film of the bunch that I can truly describe as ‘having it all.’ Top acting, top directing, top script, and even a lot of pluses along the way like top set design, excellent costuming, excellent make-up and excellent music. This is my pick for Should Win and Will Win.

-Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, MissouriThis is a film packed with top acting and a top script. I liked it because of its unpredictability. I don’t think it will win Best Picture, but I think this is the film that has the best chances of upsetting The Shape Of Water.

BEST DIRECTOR:

Should Win & Will Win – Guillermo del Toro, The Shape Of Water

How many of you have seen Pan’s Labyrinth? How many of you fell in love with that film? I’m one that has. I’ve been waiting for the longest time for Del Toro to get his acclaim as a director. Finally he gets his chance with The Shape Of Water.

BEST ACTOR:

Should Win and Will Win – Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Many people have felt that Gary Oldman is one of the most underrated actors around. He’s given us a lot to appreciate ever since he burst onto the scene with Sid And Nancy. After so long, he finally gets his long overdue respect. And if you saw Darkest Hour, you’d know it’s for all the right reasons.

BEST ACTRESS:

Should Win and Will Win – Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Frances knows how to mix the comedic with the dramatic. Those who saw Fargo ought to know. That’s where she won her first Best Actress Oscar. I read that Frances tried to adopt John Wayne as an influence for Mildred Hayes. In retrospect, I think she was dead on! It’s no wonder she’s favored to win her second Oscar here.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:

Should Win and Will Win – Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

This year’s favorites for the acting categories are rather predictable. All of them have won the Golden Globe, The SAG and the BAFTA awards. The Oscar is a forgone conclusion. Same here for Sam Rockwell. Nevertheless he is deserving of it as he does some excellent character acting that makes him unrecognizable.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:

Should Win and Will Win – Allison Janney, I, Tonya

I’m sure all of you can name at least one movie where you saw Allison Janney catch your eye in a supporting role. Primary Colors, American Beauty, Nurse Betty, The Hours, Hairspray, Juno, The Help, The Way Way Back, the list goes on. Even if the role is small, she helps make the movie. Now it’s her turn for Oscar glory, and rightly so. She’ll leave you wondering if the movie’s about Tonya or LaVona.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:

Should Win – Jordan Peele, Get Out

Will Win – Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

It’s a tough call between the two scripts. I’d like to see Get Out because everybody loves a come-from-nowhere story. I think it will go to Three Billboards on the strength of it Best Picture buzz.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:

Should Win and Will Win – James Ivory, Call Me By Your Name

I can see why it’s so highly acclaimed. It plays out like a lot of European films, even though it’s actually a love story about two Americans in Europe. Nevertheless the best choice in this category.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE:

Should Win and Will Win: CoCo

2017’s line-up of animated movies really couldn’t compare to that of 2016. We’re talking a year where The Boss Baby was nominated and there was even the mere release of The Emoji Movie! However it’s like they saved the best for the end of the year with Ferdinand, CoCo and Loving Vincent. A lot of people loved the humor of Ferdinand, but I went with CoCo. I always love it when an animated movie takes you to another world, and CoCo is the movie that did it this year.

BEST ART DIRECTION:

Will Win: Paul Denham Austerberry, Shane Vieau and Jeff Melvin, The Shape Of Water

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY:

Will Win: Roger Deakins, Blade Runner 2049

BEST COSTUME DESIGN:

Will Win: Mark Bridges, Phantom Thread

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:

Will Win: Faces Places

BEST FILM EDITING:

Will Win: Lee Smith, Dunkirk

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:

Will Win: The Square (Sweden)

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING:

Will Win: Darkest Hour

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE:

Will Win: Alexeandre Desplat, The Shape Of Water

It seems like every time John Williams creates a film score, it gets nominated. Actually his score for The Post–which had bigger nomination expectations than his score for The Last Jedi— didn’t get nominated! That’s odd. I always considered a nomination for John Williams a default. Whatever the situation, Alexandre Desplat looks to be the film composer most poised to be the next great one. He won for The Grand Budapest Hotel and he’s highly likely to do it again.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG:

Should Win & Will Win: ‘Remember Me’ from CoCo

BEST SOUND MIXING:

Will Win: Dunkirk

BEST SOUND EDITING:

Will Win: Dunkirk

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS:

Will Win: Blade Runner 2049

BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM:

Click here for reviews and predictions.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM:

Click here for reviews and predictions.

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT:

Will Win: Edith+Eddie

JUST ONE MORE – TOP OSCAR UPSETS

Here are the five upsets I feel are most likely to occur:

  • Three Billboards wins Best Picture
  • Willem Dafoe wins Best Supporting Actor for The Florida Project
  • Jordan Peele wins Best Original Screenplay for Get Out
  • ‘This Is Me’ from The Greatest Showman wins Best Original Song
  • A Fantastic Woman from Chile wins Best Foreign Language Film

And there you have it. My predictions for this year’s Academy Awards. The 90th edition. I’m expecting them to show a lot of memories of the past. One thing I hope for this year is that they have all their envelopes right. Whatever the situation, it looks to be one entertaining night.

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Oscars 2017 Best Picture Review: The Shape Of Water

Shape Of Water

Sally Hawkins (left) plays a mute who develops a bond with a sea creature (played by Doug Jones) in The Shape Of Water.

At first one would think that The Shape Of Water is another science fiction movie with a bizarre story, but it turns out to be a story that’s a lot more than that.

Eliza Esposito is a mute woman in Baltimore in 1962. Orphaned at a young age, she lives in an apartment just above a movie theatre and works as a janitor in a secret government laboratory. She only has two friends. The first is Giles: a gay advertising artist who lives next door to her. They often eat pie and watch entertainment together. The second is Zelda: an African American woman she communicates with in sign language. It’s through Zelda she can tell her biggest secrets.

One day, a creature is brought to the laboratory. It’s a sea creature from South America captured by Colonel Richard Strickland. Right when she sees the creature, she notices something about him. That the creature has some human-like traits. Both Zelda and Eliza sense something wrong with Colonel Strickland as he comes across in a gruff manner. They also notice he brought a cattle prod that has blood on it. Eliza notices the blood travels in a unique pattern.

Later Strickland is attacked by the creature, bleeding badly and lost two of his fingers which get reattached shortly after. As Strickland is being tended to, Eliza wonders who is this creature and what do they want from him? Eliza soon develops a bond with the creature and discovers it’s a humanoid amphibian. She gives him eggs to eat, music to listen to, and communicates with him through sign language.

There are different plans people have for this creature. General Hoyt wants Strickland to dissect it for the possibility of an advantage in the Space Race. Scientist Robert Hoffstetler, who is secretly a Soviet spy, tries to convince his masters to keep the creature alive for scientific study. The Soviet spymasters disagree and want him euthanized.

When Eliza learns of Hoyt and Strickland’s plans for the creature, she tried to persuade Giles to assist, but he rejects at first. It’s after a failed attempt at hitting on the pie man that he agrees to comply. Zelda is also opposed to it at first, fearing for but her job and Eliza’s, but she agrees to help. Hoffstetler tells Eliza he’s aware of her plan and is willing to help.

The plan is to help the creature escape where no one can see. Zelda keeps a close eye on the coast. Hoffstetler helps in the distracting of the surveillance cameras just as Zelda makes the adjustment, and even has a bomb on the power base set to explode at the right minute. Giles rents a truck and paints it to look like the laundry pick-up truck. Eliza is able to get the creature into the laundry bin. Just as it appears that Giles is about to get stopped by security, Hoffstetler injects sleeping medicine into the guard’s neck. The pick-up and escape is successful, but not without smashing Strickland’s new blue Cadillac!

Eliza keeps the creature in her apartment. She keeps it in her bathtub which she mixes with salt and plants. She plans to release it into a canal in a few days one it opens to the ocean. She’s well aware that Strickland still wants the creature. Strickland even meets with Eliza and Zelda to interrogate, but both are able to keep the truth hidden from him.

Back at the apartment, the creature leaves Eliza’s suite and visits Giles’ suite. He takes an interest in his drawings and the television, and thinks one of his cats is food! The creature runs off again just after he slashes Giles’ arm. Eliza goes searching for the creature and finds him in the movie theatre staring at the screen. The relationship between Eliza and the creature grows. She becomes more than just his protector, but his lover. She herself can even acquire the ability to make shapes with water. She even tells all to Zelda, to her surprise. The creature even helps Giles heal from his wounds. Giles eventually opens up to him just after. Eliza gets sexually involved with the creature even to the point she tries to flood her whole bathroom to have underwater sex! Much to the disappointment of the cinema owner down below!

However time is running out for all. General Hoyt gives Strickland an ultimatum of 36 hours to return the creature back. For not helping with keeping the creature, Hoffsteler is told by his superiors he will be extracted in two days. However the creature’s health is failing and he will have to be returned to the water. The day Eliza planned to take the creature to the canal comes. Giles agrees to help drive the creature to the canal when the day comes.

Meanwhile Hoffsteler meets with his handlers and is shot, but not until Strickland intervenes and shoots the handlers dead. He forces Hoffsteler to reveal who took the creature. Strickland then goes to Zelda’s house. To the shock of her and her husband, Strickland arrives and threatens Zelda to reveal Eliza has been keeping the creature. Zelda then telephones Eliza and Giles warning them of Strickland. The time to take the creature to the canal is now. The creature wants Eliza to come with him, but Eliza insists it’s better for him to go alone. The scene ends on a dramatic note and an ending that’s unexpected, but is the right ending for the film.

This does make for a bizarre story of a recently-discovered sea creature and a woman’s romantic connection to the creature. We’ve seen Beauty-And-The-Beast type of movies before like King Kong or Creature Of The Black Lagoon. The funny thing about this is that it actually succeeds as a romance. The first thing that makes it work is that there’s a real connection between the woman and the creature. Rightly so because Eliza is the first to connect with the creature and connects with him in the biggest way. All Eliza had before was her job and the friendships with Giles and Zelda. Here she finds a being that she not only connects with, but becomes her soul mate. The one that completes her. They were two lonely people who were united by fate of the most impossible kind. You could understand why the ending made sense. It was through the magic of the creature’s healing that she is able to live in his world and his world only.

The most interesting thing of the film is its connection of the various arts. It’s more than just nostalgia. It reminds you of the charm and the feel of such entertainment back then that most people overlook. However it’s through those various arts that the sea creature gets a sense of human vitality and even embraces it into his own life. The art he comes across helps him communicate in the human world and gives him his human-like qualities. From the music Eliza plays to the images on the movie screen to even watching a hokey episode of Mr. Ed on Giles’ television, the entertainment is his connection to his human traits. It even helps him experience his feelings of love which he has for Eliza. You could understand why that one scene where Eliza was not a mute –that musical number where she dances with the creature– makes sense. It’s through art that she’s able to express her love for the creature: the one being that doesn’t make her feel like an outsider at all.

The creature doesn’t just affect the lives of Eliza, but of the two closest to her too. Soon after Giles has a change of heart and helps the creature’s escape, Giles opens up to the creature and soon makes him a part of his own art. As Zelda helps the creature escape, she too develops an inner strength in her and is able to stand up for herself to her husband. It’s something to think about. The three main characters are all misfits in 1962 Baltimore. Eliza is a mute, Giles is gay, and Zelda is black. However it’s through this creature that Eliza finds a soul mate, Giles finds a purpose and Zelda finds an inner strength.

I give top credit to Gullermo del Toro. The story he directed and co-wrote with Vanessa Taylor is comical and had a lot of good drama, but it’s the human element that shines in the story line. Del Toro would admit in an interview that this is inspired by The Creature From The Black Lagoon and always dreamt of seeing Gill-Man succeed in the romance to Kay Lawrence. I can sometimes see hints of Pan’s Labyrinth in the story. It’s interesting how he creates this story that romanticizes the entertainment of the time as well as reminds us of the hysteria of Communism at the time too, as well as the racism. All of this makes the charm of the film.

The acting is the biggest strength of the film. The best comes from Sally Hawkins in playing a mute who best communicates to the sea creature with her feelings and with the power of art. Richard Jenkins is also excellent as Eliza’s loner friend who finds a new purpose in life through the creature. Another excellent performance is from Octavia Spencer playing the friend closest to her side. Also very good acting from Michael Shannon. You often wonder if Strickland is heartless or just plain under the thumb of the Colonel. You know he’s troubled when you see the amount of pills he takes. Excellent work for Doug Jones. One again, he does excellent work as the creature in Guillermo del Toro’s movies. Most of you remember him as the Faun in Pan’s Labyrinth. You could say Doug Jones is to del Toro’s movies what Andy Serkis is to Lord Of The Rings’ Gollum.

The film has a lot of excellent technical aspects too. There’s the costuming and make-up team that made up the costume of the creature, as well as the visual effects team that made the ‘blue effect’ of the creature’s skin. There’s the production design team that made an excellent set that dates back to the early 1960’s to a tee, even with the movie theatre. There’s Luis Sequeira that designed the right costumes and outfits for the actors as well. Finally, there’s the mix of the music of the time mixed with the imaginative score of Alexandre Desplat. Desplat knows how to compose for a movie.

The Shape Of Water is more than just a creature-and-woman romance we’re familiar with. It succeeds in having the feel of an actual romance and successfully convey the feelings of love. In the end, the romance looks so right! That’s its magic.

Oscars 2017 Shorts Review: Live-Action and Animation

Cinema

Once again, I had the luck to see the shorts nominated for the Oscars for Best Live-Action Short Film and Best Animated Short Film. All were entertaining in their own way and all showed the qualities of why they were nominated.

Anyways here are my thoughts on this year’s nominated shorts:

LIVE ACTION SHORT FILMS:

Last year, all nominated shorts were in a language other than English. This year, four of the nominated shorts were in English. This year’s crop of stories are impressive to see. All five have a wide variety from the funny to the thought-provoking.

DeKalb Elementary: dir. Reed van Dyk – Today is supposed to be an ordinary day at an elementary school in the US, but a young man with an assault rifle comes in and threatens people. The receptionist tries deal one-on-one with him. She notices some mental instability and even some flaws in his thinking. She feels she can talk him into withdrawing his gun. She is able to talk with him, talk to law authorities, and get him to cooperate. In the end, the man is arrested and no one dies.

This is a remarkable story, especially since this is being shown during a time when a shooting incident in a Florida high school made headlines. It’s remarkable because it takes you there into the moment. You feel the intensity. Plus seeing in the film how brains win over brawn make this an incredible story to watch. That’s why this is my Will Win pick.

The Eleven O’Clock: dirs. Derin Seale & Josh Lawson  – A psychiatrist in 1980’s Australia has an appointment with a delusional mental patient who thinks he’s a psychiatrist. The doctor thinks he can handle it until he meets face to face with the patients. Soon it becomes an all-out verbal battle of madness and idiocies. Looks like he finally met his match.

For once, it’s nice to take a break from some of the more serious stuff and see something comedic. It was very enjoyable and can leave you hating the patient. However it has an appropriately bizarre ending where you’re left to wonder is he the doctor or the patient?

My Nephew Emmett: dir. Kevin Wilson Jr. – This is a depiction of what may have happened the night before the 1955 abduction and lynching of 14 year-old Chicago boy Emmett Till who was just staying with his uncle’s family in Money, Mississippi, but was a victim of racism instead. His murder and his alleged killer’s acquittal would play a part in the Civil Rights Movement.

This might be a fictional depiction of what happened before, but it was very good in sending the message that all Emmett Till was doing was being a typical 14 year-old boy. Having it from the uncle’s point of view is important as the uncle would be interviewed by the media shortly after. It does a very good job of storytelling from the uncle’s point of view as well as recapturing the moments as they happen.

The Silent Child: dirs. Chris Overton & Rachel Shenton – A rich family hires a tutor to help with their 4 year-old deaf daughter. The tutor works very well with the daughter and gets her to sign. The results are pleasing to the father and her siblings, but the mother has higher demands. It gets to the point the mother makes a questionable drastic choice for the daughter.

The story is very good. It also catches your intrigue whether the mother has these high demands because she has high expectations or because she’s trying to cover up a family secret? The story reminds us that the connection between the deaf child and the tutor is a bond we so easily forget about.

Watu Wote/ All Of Us: dirs. Katja Benrath & Tobias Rosen – This is based on a true story. This takes place on a bus trip close to the Kenyan-Somali border. Christians and Muslims travel in the same bus. All have animosity towards each other. One passenger, Jua, has a certain animosity towards Muslims. Her husband and child were killed by a Muslim. She lets the Islamic ‘teacher’ raising money for his student know it. Then the bus is attacked by the group Al-Shabaab. They demand that all Christians be brought forth, but the Muslims defend by quoting scriptures from the Koran to protect them. At the end, police arrive and the teacher is shot. Jua is the one looking after him as they drive to safety.

This is the only film not in the English language. This story may be the darkest of all the stories nominated, but it’s very thought-provoking and it sticks with you. It packs a lot in its 20 minutes of time. You can really feel the hurt in Jua and you’re surprised to see her compassion in the end. That’s why I make this my Should Win pick.

ANIMATED:

This year’s animated shorts made news of what was included and what was not included. Ever since In A Heartbeat, the animated short of boy meets boy, went viral on YouTube back in August, people predicted it would win the Oscar. Even though it made the shortlist of ten back in December, it did not get nominated. A shock to all fans of the short! As for those that did get nominated:

Dear Basketball: dirs. Glen Keane & Kobe Bryant – This is a pencil-and-paper style of animation drawn by Glen Keane, son of Family Circus cartoonist Bil Keane, and narrated by Kobe Bryant. It’s of the letter Kobe wrote to the sport of basketball upon his retirement.

The film is excellent in how it takes a simple style of animation and successfully makes the audience embrace the athlete’s story of passion. Excellently done. You’ll feel the heart and soul of the story within its four minutes. That’s why I choose this as my Will Win prediction.

Garden Party: dirs. Victor Caire & Gabriel Grapperon – This is funny. A bunch of frogs find themselves over at a mansion. They go around exploring and eating whatever comes their way. Then right as they make their way to the pool area, we learn it’s party time for all!

This is a fun humorous story. The events are slow, but they’re still fun to watch. They’re especially funny when the frogs accidentally find themselves in a mess. The ending is a complete surprise. Nevertheless the short is enjoyable from start to finish.

Lou: dirs. Dave Mullins & Diana Murray – This is the short shown before Cars 3. When kids come in from recess at an elementary school, you can guarantee there will be lots of things left behind. A certain ‘thing’ comes from the lost-and-found bin, which have its L, O and U missing, and gathers up all the stuff in the bin. The school bully J.J. steals the kids’ toys and it’s up for this thing to teach J.J. a lesson, and actually be a friend.

Pixar not only knows how to make a great feature, but they also know how to make a great short too. Even though there’s some dialogue in this short, it is definitely entertaining and fun to watch.

Negative Space: dirs. Max Porter & Ru Kuwahata – A son talks of how his father taught him how to pack and how it’s been passed on as a skill. The son reminisces about it at his father’s funeral.

This is an adaptation of a poem by Ron Koertge. This is a charming story with stop-motion animation. It has a humorous look at a story a son reflects around his father’s funeral. The story ends on a note one didn’t expect it to end on. Nevertheless it’s funny and it has its own unique charm.

Revolting Rhymes: dirs. Jakob Schuh & Jan Lachauer – This is done by the same studio that did the Gruffalo series. This time they return with a story of a babysitter meeting up with a wolf. There we learn the shocking truth of what happened to Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, and The Three Little Pigs!

It’s a funny and charming short. Does get a bit confusing when you learn about these new ‘truths’ and even surprising when you learn some shocking things like the Seven Dwarfs’ gambling problem. Well-written, well-animated and very entertaining. That’s why I give it my Should Win pick.

And there’s my look at this year’s Oscar nominated short films. Lots of creativity and a lot of good storytelling. However the shorts are two of the hardest categories to predict the winner. The winners are often a surprise. Time will tell this Sunday.