My Predictions For The 2021 Academy Awards

The date of the Oscars have been moved up an extra month from last year’s awards. One thing that hasn’t changed is that we’re still in the midst of a pandemic, but we are seeing a possible end in sight. Also unlike last year, we had a lot of chances this year to see films in the theatres. Although you can be sure many people did not want to go inside a theatre. They were still nervous, and understandably so. Once again, the Academy was a bit more forgiving towards streamed films although it still encouraged theatre releases. Nevertheless streaming was still the best way to get your view of the Oscar contenders for this year.

This year’s Oscars are to be held on Sunday March 27th. The show is bringing all the stars back in the theatre and with spectators. There is planning to be a big revamp of the Oscars show, and you can understand why. In 2021, almost every awards got less than half the ratings they got the previous year. Even the Oscars weren’t immune as they got their lowest ever and also cut in half! You can understand why a lot of changes to the show. Also the controversial choice of them to have unbroadcasted awardings of seven “lesser” categories. To thing it created a firestorm in 2019, but they are going ahead with it this time. The stars and presenters have all been announced. This will be the first Oscars since 2018 with a host, and there will be three comediennes hosting. That should add to the fun! So now here are my picks for the winners of the 2021 Academy Awards:

BEST PICTURE

Once again, it’s tradition for Olly Gibbs to do a Best Picture drawing that sums up the Oscars well. Great stuff with the ten! While I had to stream all of last year’s Best Picture contenders, this year I only had to stream two. I saw two during the VIFF and six others in the cinema. I like going back to the theatre to see film. It always looks better on the big screen. Since I’ve been taking a lot of courses lately, I didn’t have time to write reviews of all the Best Picture nominees. I think that will come in time. In the meantime here’s my summary of the ten Best Picture nominees:

Belfast- It seems like a film hard to describe. One minute, it’s about a child caught in between political conflict. Another minute, it’s a child living out his childhood and dreaming. One minute you see scenes of hostile hatred and violence. Another minute you get the warm-and-fuzzy moments of the closeness of the family. You figure the two elements won’t mix in a film, but Kenneth Branagh makes it work in a story that’s as charming as it is intense. That’s what Belfast was in the eyes of Little Kenny Branagh. My favorite of the ten-set, but one thing I’ve noticed in the 20 years of tracking the Oscar races is that warm-and-fuzzy films have less of a chance than ever of winning Best Picture. And this film is no exception.

CODA- The buzz started out slow and grew. Now it’s the heavy favorite and both my Will Win and Should Win pick. This is a story you rarely hear about, but it’s worthy of knowing. It does an excellent job of focusing in on what it’s like to be a child of deaf parents and the insecurities they can feel as they’re young. At the same time, it’s of a 17 year-old girl realizing of a talent she never knew she had and having dreams and goals along with it. It also includes the hurdles she has to overcome as her deaf parents and deaf brother are struggling to go into the fishing industry for themselves. It’s also a story of people with a disability and how they are trying to fit into the world, and of how left-out they can feel. This is a very multi-dimensional story that’s deep and a joy to watch too.

Don’t Look Up- What can I say? This is an end-of-the-world story that becomes a comedy about how everyone else from everyday citizens to showbiz hosts to political powers would take such an encroaching incident. And it’s done so with Adam McKay’s bluntly cynical no-apologies cuss-laden fist-in-your-face style of humor! The same comedic vibe McKay brought showing bankers treat the mortgage industry like a toy in The Big Short and showing how former vice president Dick Cheney infamously shaped US politics to be the way we know it in Vice is back in this apocalyptic story. You will be disgusted with what you see, but also think to yourself “I can see that happening” at the same time. On top of that the film ends with what you first think of as a sad ending, but actually an ending that will make you angry. However I don’t this sad comedy about “common nonsense” has what it takes to contend for the Best Picture win.

Drive My Car- It seems like for the fast few years, there would always end up being at least one Best Picture contender that’s a foreign-language film. Not every year exactly, but often enough to think that. This year, it’s a Japanese film. Despite it being slow and too long, this is an impressive story of how two strangers from two completely different world and endured two different tragedies end up being united together through the grief they share. And done during the rehearsals and eventual performances of Uncle Vanya in Hiroshima. It’s a film where one will not sense a connection at first and doesn’t become apparent over the run of the story until the end. The connection was there, but only the two knew it. And it was through sharing the heartache that we see the bond. Excellent surprise contender for this year, but a foreign-language film like this will need Parasite-sized buzz in order to win Best Picture..

Dune- Three of the ten Best Picture nominees are remakes or re-adaptations. This is a remake of a David Lynch film from the 80’s that didn’t go too far. Frankly David Lynch was more of a director for arthouse cinema than sci-fi. This revamp by Denis Villeneuve is just what we needed. Sci-fi is more welcome than ever and its writing has definitely improved with time. This film really makes the story come alive and capture our attention with amazing visual effects and edge-of-your-seat moments. A great accomplishment. However the Academy hardly ever rewards sci-fi with the Best Picture Oscar.

King Richard- We all know the Williams sisters, but few of us really know of their father Richard. We may see one image of Richard Williams and have one set of feelings about him, but this film shows a whole new angle to Richard Williams. One whom very few of us know about. It gives a sense of the man and his beliefs. However it also shows how his influence can be overbearing to others. It’s interesting to watch and deserving of its Best Picture nomination, but I don’t think it will win.

Licorice Pizza- This is a rarity. A Best Picture contender that doesn’t have to get you thinking too much. A Best Picture contender that you can just simply sit back and enjoy. Mind you I didn’t entirely welcome this at first. I was frequently wondering what is up with independent filmmakers and their love affair with the 1970’s that they can’t let go of it? Despite that, I enjoyed seeing this film about a love between a former child actor and an older woman trying to make her way in the world. And what’s a story about 70’s love without an awesome soundtrack to go with it? This film is second only to Belfast of the contenders I’ve enjoyed. However I don’t see the Academy going for a comedy like this.

The Power Of The Dog- To think we were all talking about gay cowboys when Brokeback Mountain looked like a heavy favorite to win the 2005 Oscar. For those that don’t know, The Power Of The Dog was originally a novel written in 1967 when same-sex love was still criminalized in the US and homosexuality was still labeled a form of mental illness. You can imagine to raised eyebrows back then. It would also inspire Annie Proulx to write her short story Brokeback Mountain and the rest in history! This is an intriguing story of Phil Burbank: a man who you will first think of as despicable, but he’s harboring a secret. At first you think Peter Gordon would be the victim of his that would get hurt the hardest. Instead he ends up being the one person Phil is able to soften up to and come to terms with. It started out with huge buzz winning major awards, but the Producers Guild Award going to CODA has made it lose some ground. I predict this film as the one Most Likely To Upset.

Nightmare Alley- The question is would you watch a remake of a 1940’s film about a killer who escapes to a traveling freak show and finds love? The film didn’t hit it well at the box office but it does provide a lot in terms of spectacle, suspense and a story of intrigue. A lot has changed in terms of effects and dramatization in the seventysomething years since the original was released. Mind you Guillermo del Toro is the director who knows how to deliver the goods in this remake. Don’t forget Nightmare Alley is originally a novel so del Toro and co-writer Kim Gordon are free to do their own interpretation or adaptation of the story. And an excellent adaptation it is! Despite that, having the Best Picture nomination and nominations only in the technical categories is not going to help it win Best Picture.

West Side Story- Now most of us have already seen West Side Story. We’ve either seen it as the Broadway play, the 1961 film (which won Best Picture that year) or as a high school production. You have to ask do we really need a reboot of this Romeo And Juliet musical? Steven Spielberg is one director who can make us say “Yes!” Spielberg and writer Tony Kushner put some unique twists in this reboot of the legendary musical. One is turning the character of Anybodys from “tomboy” to a trans character. Another is the inclusion of a new character: Valentina, played by Rita Moreno, who played Anita in the 1961 film. But most noticeably for me, it’s the emotions being more intense. That is what stood out most in this musical remake. However even though I feel it deserves its Best Picture nomination, I don’t see lightning striking twice.

BEST DIRECTOR

Should Win and Will Win: Jane Campion – The Power Of The Dog

Back when Campion was nominated in this category for The Piano in 1993, she became only the second female director in history to be nominated ever. The first being Lina Wertmuller, who died this past December. Campion already became the first female to achieve a second Best Director nomination. This time, she looks poised to be the third ever to win! And rightly so. She did an excellent job in directing a cinematic telling of a novel that has grown more significant over the years. She does a great job as both director and scriptwriter of conveying the insecurities of Phil Burbank and of how Peter Gordon is the only one who can soften him in any which way. Also showcasing it in Montana along with a cowboy’s way of life adds to the film. She makes a very deserving winner.

BEST ACTOR

Should Win and Will Win: Will Smith – King Richard

A lot of people have had to struggle with accepting the actor/rapper formerly known as “The Fresh Prince” as a serious actor. One thing about this modern-day Academy is that they seem less willing than ever to give acclaim to A-listers. As for Will Smith, he’s received two Oscar nominations in the past, but neither achieved a SAG Award nomination. His performance in King Richard appears to be the performance that helped him win major awards right across the board. And rightly so. He does an excellent job in portraying Richard Williams in his emotions, his moral beliefs and his physical traits. He does an excellent job of portraying him inside out. That’s why I’m happy to say that Will Smith deserves the Oscar this year!

BEST ACTRESS

Should Win and Will Win: Jessica Chastain – The Eyes Of Tammy Faye

For those who remember Tammy Faye Messner (formerly Tammy Faye Bakker), one can easily see her as a cartoonish person. Her perkiness, her overly emotional personality, her heavy makeup, one can easily do a cartoonish impression of her. Jessica Chastain doesn’t do that. She does an excellent job in portraying Tammy Faye for all of her traits. She does a great job in depicting Tammy Faye’s entertaining style and her emotional personality, but she also taps into her deep feelings and her insecurities very well. Chastain does an excellent job in turning Tammy Faye from this cartoonish person to this person hurting deep inside that we all overlooked in the past. On top of that, Chastain does an excellent job of singing like Tammy Faye. It’s because off all that she mastered is why I feel Chastain is deserving of the Oscar!

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Should Win and Will Win: Troy Kotsur – CODA

Can you believe Troy’s co-star Marlee Matlin is so far the only deaf actor to win an Oscar? Those that saw Children Of A Lesser God already know that. Troy is heavily poised to be the second, and rightly so. He does an excellent job of portraying a character who’s fun loving and loose one moment, but quietly hurting and full of insecurities the next. He does an excellent job of displaying through Frank Rossi the hidden insecurities of people with disabilities that we rarely see, or they might keep hidden. He helps us notice it and pay attention. It’s because of that I feel Troy deserves the Oscar in this category.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Should Win and Will Win: Ariana DeBose – West Side Story

Sometimes the Oscars for supporting performances go to performances of roles that know how to steal the show. Back when the first West Side Story was released, Rita Moreno played Anita and she won Best Supporting Actress. Yes, the Rita Moreno that plays Valentina in this adaptation. We’re very likely to see it happening again with Ariana DeBose. Those who remember Rita’s portrayal of Anita may be tempted to compare her performance to Ariana’s. Ariana adds her own twists to the role. One thing about the dancing is that Ariana’s appears to flow more freely while Rita’s is more fierce. Also the emotions Ariana conveys are more intense than the emotions Rita conveys. It’s because of this remastering of the role why I feel Ariana is a worthy winner.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Should Win and Will Win: Sian Heder – CODA

It’s a shame that Sian Heder is not nominated for Best Director while CODA is heavily poised to win Best Picture. This could’ve been the second straight year of the Best Director category having two female nominations. Nevertheless her writing of the screenplay has not gone overlooked. In fact it has been heavily rewarded. And rightly so. She does as excellent of a job of depicting a story of a teenage girl who grew up in a deaf family and trying to master a newly discovered talent while also dealing with personal insecurities. She also does an excellent job of intertwining that with her deaf family and their own insecurities as they try to start a business and develop a sense of belonging in their fishing community. Something they feel they’re missing. Heder does more than just tell the story. She lets us experience the people surrounding it. That’s why I feel it deserves the Oscar in this category.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Should Win : Adam McKay – Don’t Look Up
Will Win: Kenneth Branagh – Belfast

I have to admit there are times I find Adam McKay’s fist-in-your-face style of humor annoying, but I have to say that the screenplay for Don’t Look Up is the best of the year. Sometimes the films I feel are the best aren’t exactly films among my favorites. However I won’t complain if Belfast wins. This story from Kenneth Branagh does an excellent job of telling the story of his childhood where he dreamed of the stage and screen while also living in Belfast around the time The Troubles first started and was becoming a threat to his family. Even to children like him. This story of a child playing and dreaming during political hostility and a family that stuck close together to protect each other makes for a deserving winner of this category.

ADDITIONAL CATEGORIES:

Alright. Now that I’m done speaking my mind on the major categories, I will be straightforward and give straight predictions of the technical categories. Only in very few categories where I feel I’m qualified to make such a judgement will you see me give a Should Win pick. So here goes:

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Should Win and Will Win: Encanto

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Should Win: Ari Wegner – The Power Of The Dog
Will Win: Greig Fraser – Dune

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Will Win: Jenny Beavan – Cruella

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Will Win: Summer Of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

BEST FILM EDITING

Should Win: Peter Sciberras – The Power Of The Dog
Will Win: Joe Walker – Dune

BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM

Should Win and Will Win: Drive My Car (Japan)

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

Will Win: Linda Dowds, Stephanie Ingram and Justin Raleigh – The Eyes Of Tammy Faye

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Should Win: Jonny Greenwood – The Power Of The Dog
Will Win: Hans Zimmer – Dune

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

Will Win: “No Time To Die” – No Time To Die

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

Will Win: Patrice Vermette and Zsuzsanna Sipos – Dune

BEST SOUND

Will Win: Dune

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Will Win: Dune

BEST AMINATED SHORT FILM and BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM

Predictions can be seen in this blog. Click here.

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT

Prediction can be seen in this blog. Click here.

**BONUS** OSCAR CHEER MOMENT
I know this is not really an official Oscars category and even some people panning this category, but I thought I’d give it a guess:

Will Win: Spider-Man Team-Up! – Spider-Man: No Way Home

JUST ONE MORE – MOST LIKELY OSCAR UPSETTERS

Sometimes I like predicting which upsets will happen to my main predictions for wins. I know I predict Dune to clean up in all of its technical categories but the Oscars have always had a surprise or two and I’m expecting surprises for this year. Here are the six biggest surprises I anticipate, and they’re listed in category order:

  • Nicole Kidman for Best Actress in Being The Ricardos
  • Kodi Smit-McPhee for Best Supporting Actor in The Power Of The Dog
  • Attica for Best Documentary Feature
  • Pamela Martin for Best Film Editing for King Richard
  • “Dos Oruguitas” for Best Original Song in Encanto
  • Spider-Man: No Way Home for Best Visual Effects

And there you have it! Those are my predictions for this year’s Academy Awards. Tune in tomorrow night where you can see the Oscars go back to being the Oscars. Let’s also hope they get their ratings back too!

2021 Oscars Shorts Review: Animation and Live-Action

Last year, I was only able to see the Oscar-nominated short films online through VIFF Connect. This year, they returned back to the theatre. I had the good fortune to see the nominated films for both the Animated and Live-Action categories. All the films are unique and deserving of their nominations. Here’s my review of the nominated films for Animation and Live-Action:

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM

Affairs Of The Art (dir. Joanna Quinn) – Beryl is a struggling artist. She comes from an eccentric family. She has a sister whom, as a younger child, had a fixation with deceased animals and dissecting them. It paid off for her as her sister has done a very profitable post mortem business in Los Angeles and has attracted many big name celebrities. Beryl has always had an obsession with drawing and colors and has a goal of being an ‘artiste of note,’ but it’s only paid off very humbly for her. How can she make it work?

This is a charming animated film. Full of quirky drawings with a quirky story and charming characters. Not to mention very colorful 2D animation. It’s a story that will get you either laughing or weirded out. You will find yourself liking it in the end.

Bestia (dir. Hugo Covarrubias) – This stop-motion animated film tells the story of a Chilean woman. She has a good relationship with her dog. The outside world on the other hand, she is savage to. She is cold and calculated in every move she does. She cuts her meat in sinister fashion. Whenever she plays music, it’s in cold fashion. And she’s cold to the people she meets. She just comes as a very sadistic emotionless person.

The character is inspired by a female prison guard who is one of the most infamous Chileans ever. The film in stop-motion is done excellently giving a cold feel of the story. Although most of us outside of Chile may never know this person, it does an excellent job in capturing someone cold, merciless and emotionless. Also a reminder of how Chile still harbors silent wrath over some of its past infamy.

BoxBallet (dir. Anton Dyakov) – The film is a story of two people. One is a female ballet dancer, slender and graceful. The other is a male boxer, rough and laden with visible scars. Boy meets girl and opposites attract. But can it result in love? What unfolds is a love story between two people that one would not expect to see happen.

This is another charming 2D animation story. It has its own quirky style of animating and telling the story. The visuals are comedic and entertaining to watch. The story does seem odd at first, but the relationship and the story does come across as right in the end. Very enjoyable.

Robin Robin (dirs. Dan Ojari and Mikey Please) – This is a sweet fable of a robin who is raised by mice since birth. The mice have a habit of stealing from humans houses. But every time they attempt stealing, the robin gets the ‘who-mans’ angry and after them. It happens every time. The Robin breaks the top rule of their stealing: “Don’t attract attention.” And now they’re down to the last house in the neighborhood. On Christmas, the robin wants to prove to the mice, and a cat who’s pursuing her, that she can be a good mouse and steal the Christmas Star. In her attempt she fails again, but she later learns a lesson of self-acceptance.

This is a charming story, a fable put to good visuals, Kind of what most of us expect of animation. Aardman Animations, the studio famous for the Wallace and Gromit and Shaun The Sheep movies, does an excellent job in telling the story with great visuals and great characters in its short time. A charming delight for all to see. It’s because of this I give it my Should Win and Will Win picks.

The Windshield Wiper (dir. Alberto Mielgo) – Inside a cafe, a man is smoking a whole pack of cigarettes and reading a newspaper. Then he poses a question he asks all of us: “What is love?” The film then goes over his narrative of how humans view love along with visual images of dates, encounters and even dating apps.

The film is a 2D film full of visuals that are key to telling the story. It gives us colors and various images that we can identify with and also add more significance to what the man is talking about. Funny thing is in these 2D images, we can see us. Sometimes it makes it look like humans nowadays are more clueless about love than ever!

To sum up the five nominated films, all are good in their storytelling. Some are 2D and some 3D. All have their own different style. No two are alike. What’s most surprising is that none of the films shown before the Disney Studios or Disney Pixar films were nominated this year! Most years, one of the films is nominated. That’s a surprise!

BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM

Ala Kachuu: Take And Run (dir. Maria Brendle) – Sezim is a young girl in a village in Kyrgyzstan who dreams of going to college. Her friend Aksana is supportive of her and arranges an interview with the college for her. She even gives her a brief driving lesson. This does not sit well with Sezim’s mother who wants her to be more traditional. One day while working at the bakery, three men come looking for one of her female co workers. The co-worker is absent for her shift. They first leave, but then return to abduct her and have her married off to a man she never met before. This breaks Sezim’s heart because she had so many future goals. Her mother is very approving. The village is supportive of this and her husband acts loving to her. However Sezim is frustrated and needs to find a way to escape. Can she seize the opportunity?

This is an excellent film from director Maria Brendle. It deals with the taboo of marriage-by-capture or “bridenappings.” This is something that is happening in many countries. In most of them, they’re illegal, but law officials are too laxed to enforce the law. Traditionalists often embrace it as the way to be. Often the woman is pressured to stay in the marriage by the society and even her families. This story puts a human image to this taboo issue. Even seeing of how her mother is approving of this sends a message of one of the barriers to stop it. That scene where Oksana is searching for Sezim, but her mother talks scornfully to her about her independent way of living also adds to how traditionalism adds to this problem. Even the attitude of traditionalists to “city girls” says a lot about this issue. It’s because of how a hot but taboo topic is tackled is why I give it my Should Win pick.

The Dress (dir. Tadeusz Lysiak) – Julia is a woman with dwarfism in her thirties who works cleaning motel rooms. She’s been single all her life. Her best friend, Renata, her co-worker for years, is a full-grown divorced woman and the mother of three. Julia often confides to Renata her personal feelings. Julia hates feeling like a misfit. She strongly feels if she was “normal-sized,” she’d have a man in her life. One day, she attracts a patron named Bogdan. She later learns Bogdan lives in the same building as her. Bogdan has been showing attraction to her, but it’s hard to date since he has a trucking job where he frequently goes to Kyiv and back. Could she finally have a chance at love? Julia always dreamed of having a nice dress. Renata helps assemble a dress for her for the big night. The big night between her and Bogdan finally happens, but it turns out to end not how she expected at all.

This is a story you want to have a happy ending. Like finally Julia meeting the man of her dreams. Finally Julia’s in love. Instead, Bogdan turns out to be a misogynist. The ending of the film leaves you wondering if the overall message of the film is about the way women are treated. Julia learned Bogdan gets misogynist in his lust, but Renata has an abusive husband. Maybe the message is saying that it doesn’t matter whether a woman is full sized or small like Julia. Women share the same struggle with their treatment from men. I mean the story appears to be one about a woman with dwarfism searching for a purpose or a belonging but maybe it was meant to be something else.

The Long Goodbye (dirs. Aniel Karia and Riz Ahmed) – The film begins with an Indian family in the UK getting ready for a wedding. Everyone in the house is excited and panicking at the same time. They all want to look their best but will they be ready? However the simple concerns about being dressed properly end as they notice a group of white nationalists enter their area with a van and a gun. Riz is the first to notice and warn the family, but it’s too late. The nationalists enter and demand the family get out of the house where they are lying down on the street. Then one of the men shoots five of his family. Riz gets up and does a rap full of anger about British imperialism and how his people have been treated by the UK in history.

White nationalism is on the rise in many countries, including the UK. Something that many were hoping to see become a thing of the past has seen a recent resurgence as many right-leaning politicians in the world have help embolden racists and stimulated in them a will to be more vocal. Most threatened are the racial minorities. Like families from India who come to settle in the UK. And this is where Riz starts his angry rap about where he’s from. They came to the UK to get a better life only to get this racist incident. He doesn’t know whether to see the UK as a country of opportunity or this monster who’s constantly running his people through the mud time and time again. The mix of drama and Riz’s rap really makes a strong angry statement. He concludes it well when he says “Where I’m from is not your problem, bro.” That’s why I give it my Will Win pick.

On My Mind (dir. Martin Strange-Hansen) – It’s morning in a bar in Denmark owned by a husband and wife named Preben and Louise. Louise doesn’t have too many customers to serve which allows Preben to do accounting of all the receipts from the previous night. A depressed-looking disheveled man comes into the bar and asks for a large amount of a whisky. His name is Henrik. As he’s drinking, he notices the bar has a karaoke microphone. He asks Louise if he can do a song for his wife: the country song “Always On My Mind.” The problem is the karaoke system isn’t on until the evening. Henrik can’t wait until the evening. He has to do it now. He even gives the two 500 Krone to do it. Preben is stingy about it, but Louise is more willing. Preben begrudgingly allows him one chance. Henrik starts singing and Louise records his singing on his smartphone, but it’s interrupted by a message. Henrik attempts to do it again, but Preben cuts the power to the screen. He’s had it with him, especially since running the karaoke machine is costly. He even gives Henrik his money back, but it’s there when Henrik explains the reason why this is so important; his wife doesn’t even have an hour to live. It’s there when Preben is willing. Henrik is finally able to complete his rendition of the song and play for his wife to hear, even if she’s brain-dead when he plays it for her.

At the end of the showing of the shorts, I was with some Danish students who said it’s very common in Danish student movies to have it set in a bar. I never knew that. Whatever the situation, this is a good story. You think it’s one thing but it turns out to be something more instead. You think it’s a simple karaoke song, but instead it’s Henrik’s last opportunity to tell his wife he loves her. Even though she’s brain-dead, he senses she got the message. The film gets you believing in the human soul and it convinces you the love between Henrik and his wife is eternal. Not just “til death do us part.”

Please Hold (dirs. K. D. Davila and Levin Menekse) – A young man named Matteo is just living his life normally when all of a sudden, a police drone, gun and all, has let him know he’s under arrest. He’s ordered to enter the automated police car which takes him to the automated holding centre. He’s instructed to go to his cell, where he’s unattended and supervised by video cameras. He can see a lawyer, but it’s through an online legal service where lawyers meet through Zoom-style meetings. Making phone calls to anyone is very costly and credits can be earned back through time or hobbies automatically delivered. That’s especially frustrating since Matteo is in danger of being sentenced to over 20 years in prison. He needs a lawyer bad. He takes a knitting hobby which he slowly earns credit. He does get the lawyer money he needs from his mother, but the appointment fizzles out, leaving him extremely frustrated. However there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

This is a very unique “What If” scenario. We have computers and Zoom meetings taking care of a lot of our duties. Can we really trust an automated justice system or police drones? Sure, the flesh-and-blood police have lost a lot of our trust, but replaced by computers? This film seems to think computerized technology can’t replace human interaction. Also Matteo’s scenario of being in a prison where he can only communicate through automation could even remind a lot of people of the pandemic and of its tightest days of how people had to confine themselves to their houses. A lot of ways you can look at this film.

To sum up the nominated Live-Action Shorts nominees, all of them are very good films. There are a lot of stories that are well thought-out and some stories that end up being more than what one originally expects. Some have topics that are very relevant to what’s happening now, like about racism and sexism. There’s one that focuses on a futuristic topic and fancies what the future of justice will be like, which is nothing to fancy over. And there’s one about a universal topic of love beyond death that has always been one of thought and continues to be one of thought.

And there you go. This is my summary of the films nominated for the Oscars for Best Animated Short Film and Best Live Action Short Film. Hope you’re lucky enough to catch them in the movie theatre like I did. Some may be seen on streaming services or YouTube, but the big screen experience can’t be beat.

2021 Oscars Shorts Review: Documentaries

The documentary shorts nominated for this year’s Oscars had a combined running time over three hours. So it’s understandable why I chose to see the Animation and Live-Action shorts one day while seeing the Documentary nominees another day. The documentary nominees for this year are an impressive range of films. All have a unique topic of focus that gets one thinking. Some were positive stories while some were more on negative issues. All have something to say. And here are my thoughts on this year’s nominees:

Audible (dir. Matthew Ogens): The film focuses on the football team on the Maryland School For The Deaf. For sixteen years, they’ve had the best deaf football team in the nation. But the film begins as they show their first loss in sixteen years. Although the film showcases the school’s students and the football team, the prime focus is on student Amaree McKenstry-Hall. We see Amaree as he bonds with the team and conversates with the students. Sometimes it can get heated. We learn that he and the team play in memory of a former student who committed suicide after being send to a regular school. We learn of his family background of how his father left the family shortly after his birth. Soon he reunites with his father, who’s now recovered from his drug addiction and is the head pastor of a church. Then the homecoming game happens. This is to be the last game for many of the players.

This story couldn’t have come at a better time, just as CODA is a heavy favorite to win Best Picture! And just last year, The Sound Of Metal was a Best Picture nominee! The unique thing about this is it’s about deaf athletes. You learn about how deaf football players play, you learn how they communicate. However you also get a glimpse of what it’s like to be a deaf teenage. You see they have the same fun stuff you and I had as a teenager, but you also see they have problems, concerns and insecurities all their own. It’s not only about deaf teenagers and how they live out their teenage years, but it also shows us about Amaree and his own issues, his own battles. It’s a story that goes through so many angles, but is very insightful, and very much an eye-opener.

Lead Me Home (dirs. Pedro Kos and Jon Shenk): The film focuses on the homeless situation in the cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle between 2015 to 2019. The film also focuses on some individuals whom they interview. They’re various men and women, and one trans female. They come from various races. The come from various backgrounds. The interviewees are asked three main questions: their names and ages, how they ended up as homeless, and would they live in a home. The people range in ages from 26 to their 50’s. How they became homeless are a mixed bag of scenarios from drug addiction to a criminal past to the trans female disowned by the family to abusive family scenarios to the mental illness of some one messed over by the welfare system. Many would like to live in their own house, but one does not. He says every time he moves into a place, he finds himself back to being homeless soon. He would like his own van.

This is an inciteful film about the homeless situation we rarely see. We see the people interviewed on how they deal with whatever sleeping situation they can fix up, their bathing or showering opportunities they can seize, the food they’re lucky to eat and whatever counseling they get. In some cases, we’re shown the homeless in their surrounding areas, and the homeless camps in that area are large in size. We’re also shown how the homeless are in debate in their civic and state rallies and how some citizens speak their disgust at them. It wouldn’t surprise me if there are some with Trump-fueled rage at the time. The film doesn’t exactly have too much of a beginning, middle and end. Nevertheless this film is a good showcase to a problem that we don’t really know a lot about, but think we do.

The Queen Of Basketball (dir. Ben Proudfoot): Lusia Harris is possibly the greatest basketball player you’ve never heard of. Born in Mississippi in 1955, she grew up poor in a segregated town. At the time, there were very few opportunities for African-American girls. However basketball for her was a way out. She would watch NBA games with her brothers and they would try to imitate the moves. Lusia stood out with her moves and her 6’3″ height. Her basketball prowess helped her pursue post secondary education at Delta State. During her first season (1974-75), the goal was to dethrone the Mighty Macs of Immaculata University who were considered the best female college basketball team ever. It paid off as Lusia and the girls were able to win over Immaculata and a new era had begun. The following year, Lusia and the Deltas did it again. Her prowess allowed her to represent the US at the Montreal Olympics where women’s basketball was being held for the first time. The US team won silver behind the Soviets. The following year, Delta repeated their win, duplicating Immaculata’s feat, and Lusia was crowned MVP. But it ended right there. There was no WNBA for Lusia to go to. She was also diagnosed as being bipolar over time. She was offered to play for an NBA team and was offered big publicity, but she turned it down. Instead she devoted her life to administration at Delta State, coaching and teaching. She married shortly after she graduated and bore four children. Looking back she has no regrets.

This appears to be a great story sold in a simple manner, but when you look at it, it makes for a great story worth telling. It often appears like the story of a pioneer in female basketball. Like she’s one of the many women who brought women’s basketball to where it is now. It showcases her achievements and her big moments and her post-basketball life. In that same manner, it’s told through her. It’s like it’s her story and it’s rightful that she is the narrator of this story. It makes sense as she’s the one who made it happen. In recent time, it also appears like a retrospect. Back on January 18th of this year, Lusia died at the age of 66. The documentary almost appears like a case where Lusia is looking back on her life. I’m glad she had the chance to do this documentary. A great way to remember her. That’s why I give it my Will Win prediction.

Three Songs For Benazir (dirs. Gulistan and Elizabeth Mirzaei): Shaista Khan is a man living in a camp for Afghanis displaced during the war in Kabul. He is recently married to a woman named Benazir, and he sings a song of his love to her. He has plans to start a family but he also has ambitions to join the army along with starting a family. He doesn’t know how hard of a balance this will be. His father does not look upon his goal of joining the army as a good thing. Finally he is given the opportunity to join the army as he will have a meeting with a sergeant. He celebrates with friends and with Benazir, who is pregnant in expecting their first child. He again sings to her. However when he goes to the military base, he learns he needs to be endorsed by a family member if he’s to join. Strict rules in the Afghani military. When he goes to his father and brother, they refuse. Shaista is distraught. The film flashes ahead four years. Shaista is now in an addictions treatment centre. Benazir comes to visit. He is overjoyed at seeing her and his two songs. He sings one last song to her.

This is a poignant documentary. Shaista is simply an Afghani man who wants to make something of himself for himself, his family and for his family to be. We should also remember that Afghanistan is the poorest nation in the continent of Asia. What you see in Shaista appears to be the common struggle of the Afghani people as they try to pick up their lives now that the war is over. Sometimes the losses end up bigger and more hurtful in the end. Nevertheless the film ends with an image of hope. It’s needed now especially since we learned six months ago that the Taliban have returned to power. This is a film that does get you thinking and hoping.

When We Were Bullies (dir. Jay Rosenblatt): While director Rosenblatt was watching a bullying film from the 50’s, a single incident brought back a memory of an incident when he was in the fifth grade. That was when he started a fight with a boy named Richard, who was the odd kid in the class, and other classmates joined in. This Richard was also the inspiration for his first film The Smell Of Burning Ants (1994). Soon he wanted to investigate more into this. What happened to Richard? Do the other students from the class remember that moment? Did they participate? Are they remorseful of it? What does the teacher feel of it? He goes to the school to look into more pictures. He meets with other former classmates at a school’s reunion. Over time, he was able to talk more and find out how they felt about Richard and the incident. He even learned his teacher from his grade is alive and mostly well and he’s able to talk with her. She’s able to give her opinions on bullying and even mentioned her late daughter was bullied too. Later Jay reveals he lost a brother the year before so he was carrying burdens too.

This is a surprising documentary. It’s surprising how one image can suddenly trigger back an unfortunate memory of the past of when you were young and stupid. It’s full of clever imagery mixed with animation as it goes about telling the story. The visuals and the audio make for a good mix. You can call it what you want. Some will say this is a very inciteful story, especially sine bullying is a hot topic. Some will say the film was done in a ridiculous manner. Some will even say this film was a work of Jay’s egotism. Nevertheless it does get one intrigued about human nature. Even its ugliest sides. That’s why I give it my Should Win pick.

Additional Note: Although we don’t know who this Richard is or see what his face was back then, we do learn that he’s still alive and he’s actually a film producer.

And there you have it! That’s my review of the Best Documentary Short nominees. We’ll see on Sunday not only which one wins, but if it’s one of the eight categories whose award won’t be broadcast!

My Predictions For The 2021 Oscar Nominations

The one plus about this year’s Oscar nominations for this year is that it is more likely that you will be able to go to theatres. The restrictions are down, the theatres are open and you can watch on the big screen. Like movies are supposed to be seen. However do expect to see some of the Best Picture contenders and contenders in other categories on streaming services. Once again this year, the Academy is giving grace to films that could not be shown in theatres and streamed online. And I think it will continue this way until the whole world gets this pandemic under wraps and indoor visiting becomes as close to as free as it was before this pandemic.

This year’s Oscar awards will be awarded on Sunday, March 27th. The last Sunday of March. This year’s nominations will be happening tomorrow. More than a month earlier than last year. Part of the adjustment of slowly getting back to normal. Anyways here are my predictions for the Academy Award categories:

BEST PICTURE
Belfast
CODA
Don’t Look Up
Dune
King Richard
Licorice Pizza
Power Of The Dog
tick,tick…BOOM!
Tragedy Of MacBeth
West Side Story

BEST DIRECTOR
Paul Thomas Anderson – Licorice Pizza
Kenneth Branagh – Belfast
Jane Campion – Power Of The Dog
Steven Spielberg – West Side Story
Denis Villeneuve – Dune

BEST ACTOR
Javier Bardem – Being The Ricardos
Benedict Cumberbatch – Power Of The Dog
Andrew Garfield – tick,tick…BOOM!
Will Smith – King Richard
Denzel Washington – Tragedy Of MacBeth

BEST ACTRESS
Jessica Chastain – The Eyes Of Tammy Faye
Olivia Colman – The Lost Daughter
Nicole Kidman – Being The Ricardos
Lady Gaga – House Of Gucci
Kristen Stewart – Spencer

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Ben Affleck – The Tender Bar
Ciaran Hinds – Belfast
Troy Kotsur – CODA
Jared Leto – House Of Gucci
Kodi Smit-McPhee – Power Of The Dog

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Catriona Balfe – Belfast
Ariana DeBose – West Side Story
Kirsten Dunst – Power Of The Dog
Aunjanue Ellis – King Richard
Ruth Negga – Passing

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Paul Thomas Anderson – Licorice Pizza
Kenneth Branagh – Belfast
Asghar Farhadi – A Hero
Adam McKay and David Sirota – Don’t Look Up
Aaron Sorkin – Being The Ricardos

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Jane Campion – Power Of The Dog
Maggie Gyllenhaal – The Lost Daughter
Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Tamakasa Oe – Drive My Car
Sian Heder – CODA
Eric Roth, Jon Spaihts and Denis Villeneuve – Dune

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Encanto
Flee
Luca
The Mitchells vs. The Machines
Raya And The Last Dragon

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Bruno Delbonnel – Tragedy Of MacBeth
Greig Fraser – Dune
Janusz Kaminsky – West Side Story
Ari Wegner – Power Of The Dog
Haris Zambarloukos – Belfast

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Jenny Beavan – Cruella
Massimo Cantini Parrini – Cyrano
Robert Morgan and Jacqueline West – Dune
Paul Tazewell – West Side Story
Janty Yates – House Of Gucci

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Ascension
Flee
In The Same Breath
The Rescue
Summer Of Soul

BEST FILM EDITING
Sarah Broshar and Michael Kahn – West Side Story
Uni Ni Dhonghaile – Belfast
Andy Jurgenson – Licorice Pizza
Peter Sciberras – Power Of The Dog
Joe Walker – Dune

BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM
Drive My Car – Japan
Flee – Denmark
The Hand Of God – Italy
A Hero – Iran
The Worst Person In The World– Norway

BEST MAKEUP and HAIRSTYLING
Cruella
Cyrano
Dune
The Eyes of Tammy Faye
House Of Gucci

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Nicholas Britell – Don’t Look Up
Alexandre Desplat – The French Dispatch
Germaine Franco – Encanto
Jonny Greenwood – Power Of The Dog
Hans Zimmer – Dune

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
“Be Alive” – King Richard
“Dos Uguguitas” – Encanto
“Down To Joy” – Belfast
“Here I Am (Singing My Way Home)” – Respect
“Just Look Up” – Don’t Look Up

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Dune
The French Dispatch
Nightmare Alley
Power Of The Dog
West Side Story

BEST SOUND
Dune
The Matrix Resurrections
A Quiet Place Part II

Spider-Man: No Way Home
West Side Story

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Dune
Godzilla vs. Kong
The Matrix Resurrections
Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Spider-Man: No Way Home

Just like I did in past years, I not only did predictions for the nominees but also possible upsetters in most of the categories. Those who’ve tracked Oscar nominations over the years will be very familiar with upsetters. So here are my picks for the potential upsetters:

BEST PICTURE
Being The Ricardos
Cyrano
Drive My Car

BEST DIRECTOR
Maggie Gyllenhaal – The Lost Daughter
Ryusuke Hamaguchi – Drive My Car

BEST ACTOR
Mahershala Ali – Swan Song
Peter Dinklage – Cyrano

BEST ACTRESS
Alana Haim – Licorice Pizza
Rachel Zegler – West Side Story

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Bradley Cooper – Licorice Pizza
Jamie Dornan – Belfast

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Ann Dowd – Mass
Rita Moreno – West Side Story

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Pedro Almodovar – Parallel Mothers
Zach Baylin – King Richard

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Joel Coen – Tragedy of MacBeth
Tony Kushner – West Side Story

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
My Sunny Maad
Sing 2

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Dan Lautsen – Nightmare Alley
Linus Sandgren – No Time To Die

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Ruth E. Carter – Coming 2 America
Luis Sequeira – Nightmare Alley

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Attica
Procession

BEST FILM EDITING
Myron Kerstein and Andrew Weisblum – tick, tick…BOOM!
Pamela Martin – King Richard

BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM
Compartment No.6 – Finland
Prayers For The Stolen – Mexico

BEST MAKEUP and HAIRSTYLING
Coming 2 America

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Alberto Iglesias – Parallel Mothers
Daniel Pemberton – Being The Ricardos

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
“Beyond The Shore” – CODA
“No Time To Die” – No Time To Die

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Belfast
Nightmare Alley

BEST SOUND
Belfast
No Time To Die

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
No Time To Die

Those are my predictions for the nominations for the 2021 Academy Awards. The nominees will be revealed the morning of Tuesday the 8th. It will be interesting which expected ones got it and which unexpected ones got it too!

VIFF 2021 Review: The Worst Person In The World (Verdens verste menneske)

Julie (played by Renate Reinsve) looks for long-term love with Aksel (played by Anders Danielsen Lie) in the film The Worst Person In The World.

Establishing your career and settling down in love is normally something done when your in your late-20’s, early-30’s. It seems like it’s harder than ever nowadays. The Worst Person In The World has a look at a Norwegian woman trying to do exactly that.

The film starts with a prologue, leads into a twelve-chapter story, and ends with an epilogue. Julie is a woman about to turn thirty. Her road leading up to this age has been bumpy with career pursuit decisions in her academic years starting as a medical student, then switching to psychology and then pursuing a direction in photography. Approaching thirty gets to her as she finally has a serious boyfriend. This haunts her as she compares her life at 30 to her mother and many generations of her grandmothers before her. Things change when one of her photography subjects is Aksel Willman: an acclaimed politically-incorrect cartoon book author who is 15 years older than her. This is just as his cartoon Bobcat is to be adapted to a feature-length film.

Julie drops her old boyfriend for Aksel. The relationship gets more serious and it even stimulates Julie to pursue a career in writing. One weekend, the two spend it at Aksel’s parents’ house in the woods. There she meets Aksel’s brothers and nieces and nephews. That is a sudden reminder that Julie is reaching the family-planning years. To add to the frustration, Julie crashes a party after a publishing event for Aksel. There she meets a coffee barista named Eivind whom she becomes attracted to. They spend the night together, but urinate in the bathroom together to not spark any rumors of the two cheating on their significant others.

Things become more serious between Aksel and Julie. Julie writes a blog about oral sex in the age of #MeToo and Aksel is impressed with it. Then Julie has her 30th birthday with her mother and sisters. The father is a no-show. He does show up hours later as his excuse is his back. She’s hurt her father hasn’t read her blog. On the ride home, Aksel says she should make her own family. That’s difficult for her, especially with Aksel, because she’s sensing love for Eivind. One morning while everything and everyone in Oslo stands still, she’s able to meet with Eivind at his coffee store and kiss him. Over time, Julie gets disillusioned with her relationship with Aksel. The turning point is where Aksel has dinner with her and his sister-in-law. During the dinner, Aksel is constantly ranting how the film of Bobcat is a watered-down family-friendly Christmas-themed version of his comic stories.

It’s after a date with Eivind Julie is convinced Eivind is the one and breaks up with Aksel. But not after sex one last time! Becoming one with Eivind was a bit of a wait. He was married to Sunniva. However even before he met Julie, his love for Sunniva was fading. She learned from a DNA test she had Sami ancestry, albeit a small percentage. She changed herself to embrace her ‘Sami roots,’ pursue yoga, and become a climate-change activist. He met Julie at the right time, but there was still the wait to divorce. With the divorce finally settled, Julie and Eivind can finally become a pair. Eivind still follows Sunniva on Instagram, which Julie doesn’t have a problem with. However things take a turn for the bizarre when Eivind hosts a party and gives everyone psychedelic mushrooms. Julie takes some, and it sends her on a trip where she sees bizarre visions of the wrath to her father, her fear of having children, and images of Bobcat’s insanity. She feels she can be herself around Eivind.

It’s clear Julie still has feelings of attraction to Aksel as she’s at a gym working out and she watches a television interview he has where he staunchly defends the cartoon series’ past misogyny to the female host. However Aksel’s brother soon visits Julie at her job to tell her she has pancreas cancer and it’s inoperable. Soon after, Eivind discovers a short story she wrote which he believes is about her family. Julie angrily denies this and in her anger, belittles Eivind for staying a barista. Her perceived irresponsibility of Eivind is also why she doesn’t tell him she’s pregnant at first. Julie meets Aksel at the hospital. Aksel is devastated over the fact he doesn’t have a future. Aksel tells Julie after she tells him she’s pregnant she’d be a good mother. However she can’t decide whether to keep the baby or not, especially after she finally reveals to Eivind the pregnancy and she breaks up with him. Julie does see Aksel one last time. She does a photo essay of him where he visits his past places, including the school he attended where he was first inspired to be a cartoonist. The last thing he says to her is he regrets he can’t live on as something more than a memory to her. The film then ends with the prologue showcasing Julie’s current profession, and a chance encounter with Eivind all this time later.

Entering into adulthood and establishing yourself has never been easy. We have a protagonist many people can relate to. She’s made three different major decisions in her schooling as a reflection of her career choice. She’s finding her way, but now she’s at the age where she’s expected to establish herself, to settle down, and to form a family. The career path choices were hard enough, and along sparks a new career ambition after meeting Aksel. What makes it hard for establishing a relationship is the two men she’s torn between. One is a comic book artist who appears to have it together. The other man appears not to have it all together, but she’s in love with him. It’s there where she has to make decisions about her situation and who she will want to spend the rest of her life with. Her choices will eventually seal her fate.

The funny thing about it is this is happening in our modern times. Adulthood is hard to define. Julie compares her life at 30 and where it should be in comparison to past generations of her female ancestors. Meanwhile she’s torn between two men whom she loves, but can’t help but see as man-boys. One is a 44 year-old cartoonist of an obnoxious comic series about to be adapted into a film. He’s actually quite mature, if you take away the fact of his profession. Then she’s also attracted to a barista who’s more of a boy and has a lot of irresponsibilities. It’s a concern to her. Who should she love? Should she have a child? If she does want one, who should be the father? Will she be a good mother? Will either of the men accept the role of fatherhood? Add to the mix of things like social media-think, each person’s professions, current family situations and other people in their lives. You can understand the confusion in there.

The most unique thing about this story is that it goes from being a comedy of love in our times and the complications around it to suddenly adopting a more tragic tone. That comes as Julie learns Aksel is dying and Eivind’s true colors are starting to expose itself, especially after she learns she’s pregnant with Eivind’s child. We suddenly find ourselves no longer laughing at the irony and bizarreness of the situation and now sensing the seriousness of the situation. As Aksel is dying admitting personal thoughts to her, Julie starts wondering if Aksel was the one all along. The one worth loving and having a family with. We even wonder if it’s worth it for Julie to bear Eivind’s child. Mother a child to a man-boy so self-indulgent? In the end epilogue, we see a glimpse into the present that is a surprise for all to see how time elapsed for Julie and Eivind.

Norwegian-Danish director Joachim Trier directs a delight of a film. It’s common to see a film in chapters, but a film with twelve chapters, a prologue and an epilogue, and to make it all work in two hours of time, that’s something! The story he directs and co-wrote with constant colleague Eskil Vogt is the last film of his ‘Oslo Trilogy.’ I can’t compare to the other two because I haven’t seen them. As for this film, it’s a creative story as it tells of a common love triangle mixed with the confusions and distractions of the time along with the protagonist’s dreams and the wrath of Bobcat mixed in. Somehow Bobcat makes his way into Julie’s personal life! All of it is a complicated process, but the film makes it work by putting it all together in winning fashion.

Despite the story and direction working together, it’s also the excellent acting of Renate Reinsve as Julie. This story is all about Julie. Reinsve embodies her dreams, desires, confusions and frustrations in winning fashion. She embodies the comedic side of Julie as well as she embodies her tragic side. It’s a complex performance she does in remarkable fashion. The actors who played her two lovers were also great. Anders Danielsen Lie is great portraying Aksel as a man quite mature for a comic book artist and then transitioning to Aksel being a hurting man facing death too soon. Herbert Nordrum is also great in his role as Eivind, embodying his immaturities quite well.

When I first saw this film, on the last day of the VIFF, it was in the running between two other films to be Norway’s entry for the Best International Feature Film category for the upcoming Oscars. Recently it was announced to be the official entry. Even outside this Oscar category, the film has already won a lot of acclaim. It was a nominee for the Palme d’Or for the Cannes Film Festival this year. Reinsve’s performance as Julie won the Best Actress award at Cannes. The Jerusalem Film Festival awarded it the Best International Feature. The Ghent Film festival nominated it for it’s Grand Prix Award. Cinematographer Kaspar Tuxen won some film festival awards of his own including the Silver Camera 300 Award at the International Cinematographers Film Festival and the Silver Hugo award at the Chicago Film Fest. The latter of which gave him a claim for use of 35mm film, inclusion of natural light and carefully rendered interiors.

The Worst Person In The World is a funny but sad story of a woman trying to make it in a career and find a partner she can settle down with. It’s a film that does get you thinking in the end.

VIFF 2021 Review: Spaghetti Code Love (スパゲティコード ラブ)

Thirteen different young people in Tokyo. Thirteen different dreams, desires and heartache make for the story of Spaghetti Code Love.

I’ve seen films that have involved multiple story lines strung together. The Japanese film Spaghetti Code Love is a film that takes the genre to new heights.

The story begins as a brief introduction of the thirteen characters just after a woman tends to a young boy screaming hysterically in a Tokyo arcade. We have a young couple hurting about life, a street singer who sings self-composed songs about down feelings, a photographer from another city who is looking for his big break, a model from a privileged family he’s about to photograph but has a prima donna attitude, a social media influencer he’s interested in who is coming to Tokyo to meet with him and pursue her dream of stardom, a call girl seeking her own success, a lonely man who lives daily in capsule apartments unsure of his ambitions, a delivery man on a bicycle hoping to achieve enough money to meet with his girlfriend, a housewife who wants to be the perfect wife to her husband even though she works part-time at a restaurant, a young woman in an apartment seeking post-breakup advice from an online fortune-teller and her next-suite neighbor who deals with her own breakup by eating jars of peanut butter. In the middle of it all is a high school student given a written assignment where he’s to plan out what to do with his life even up to his 60’s and 70’s.

All of them go after their goals or live life as they routinely do. The photographer sets up his set, but the model is disgusted with it and labels it ‘amateurish’ out loud. The boy fills in his assignment, but erases his writing when he gets a new idea. The delivery man has a target goal of 1000 total deliveries before quitting and reuniting. The couple decide on a suicide, but undecided how. The two young women continue on with their post-breakup habit, but never really meet. They just think whatever judgmental thought of the other. The housewife is thinking of quitting her waitress job at the restaurant to be with her husband after dealing with a rude customer. The call girl is heartbroken by the way she’s treated. The singer is affected by a laugh at a song from a passer-by.

Then all of a sudden, and simultaneously, something sudden happens to all 13 that causes them to say ‘shit!’ The deliveryman misses his target at his intended time at 999. The housewife doesn’t have the chicken ready for her dinner. The peanut-butter girl accidentally spills all her empty jars of peanut butter down the apartment stairs. The model finds out her outburst went viral on social media. The high school boy accidentally tears his sheet upon erasing a response. And the woman trying to settle the screaming boy can’t do it after such a long period of time.

Then all of them either come across something life-changing or heartbreaking during the night. The two apartment neighbors finally meet and talk. They learn about each other. The social media star finally meets with the photographer and has sex. He is disinterested in a relationship, but she makes him face the fact of the job he’s to do. However she can’t return back to her home city because returning after trying to make it big in Tokyo is regarded as failure. The housewife learns her ‘husband’ is actually a married man with a wife and children in another city and plan to move back this night. The suicidal couple contemplate jumping off a roof, but the girlfriend is undecided. The singer decides to quit as a musician. The model is confronted by her agency and is faced by an angry agent at a face-to-face meeting. The peanut butter girl is at a grocery store stocking up on more peanut butter, but changes her mind. The delivery man does achieve delivery 1000 after a long wait and he’s in tears after his accomplishment.

At the end of it all the next day, things change for all when they see a ray of hope. The two neighbors start up a friendship and drop their habits of online fortune telling and peanut butter eating. The woman who hoped to be a housewife tells her heartbreak to a cab driver and he responds in a caring way. The photographer decides he does love the social media star after all and they become a pair. The suicidal couple decide not to jump after all. The bratty model decides to quit and pursue her dream of interior design. The singer changes her mind about quitting and gets back to playing. The woman does succeed in stopping the screaming boy from screaming. The delivery boy finally quits and meets with his girlfriend. And the high school boy writes on his assignment in big letters ‘No Plan’ and heads back home on his skateboard.

For those that don’t know, the term ‘spaghetti code’ is based on a computer term for a source code that’s unstructured and difficult to maintain. You can say at the start this film is a spaghetti code. Up until I saw this film, the film with the most plots strung into one story that connects has to be 1999’s Magnolia. I remember it well. Many different stories, few times people intersect with each other, but they’re connected somehow. This is one of those complex stories. Thirteen characters in total! You will first feel confused at the beginning. You’ll wonder who’s the lead character? What’s this to be about? Will this story make sense? Over time the characters do connect despite few intersecting. We get the first sign of it right in the middle when all thirteen have a sudden incident where they all say ‘shit.’ Then we see them all as they go through something that hurts them or sets them back. Then in the end, many see a brighter road ahead or a resolution, while some get their comeuppance. You could rightfully say this film does the impossible!

The film shows thirteen individuals with hopes and dreams. Some are simple like being a good loving housewife or making enough money to be able to see his girlfriend. Some are dark, like the couple’s desire to commit suicide. And then there are some that are basic, like the two apartment neighbors who just simply long to just be happy again after their break-up. It shows how each of them with their dreams hit a sudden bad incident that causes friction in their ambition. It also shows how for many, things don’t turn out as they want it, or they all learn a hard lesson. Then it ends with either a radical decision they make or a ray of hope sending the message that it will all work out in the end. I believe that was the point of the story. To send the message that things may look difficult, but it’s not the end of it all. Things can and do work out.

The film isn’t just about being a young adult with dreams and ambitions and then things changing or falling apart. It’s also about how other people see others. There are scenes of some intersecting for a split second and thinking one thing about a person, but their mental words show another side of them. Like the singer who comes across as depressing, but it’s just her inspiration. Also the peanut butter girl thinking one thing about her neighbor at first, unaware of her own post-breakup bad habit. Even the bratty model who comes across as arrogant, but has this believe that achieving mammoth success is completely about looks and popularity, and it affects her self-esteem.

This story is also about it happening in the city of Tokyo. For many of the young adults, they came to Tokyo to pursue their dreams. For some of the young ones, Tokyo is where they’ve lived their daily life. Life in a big city like Tokyo is fast and tough and can be frustrating. However for a lot of them, Tokyo is seen as the place to make it. As one put it, once they arrive in Tokyo, they can’t head back home. If they arrive back to their home city after attempting to pursue their dreams in Tokyo, they are regarded as a failure. You can understand the pressures for a lot of them. I think that’s the overall message of the film. That just because your dreams don’t go as planned, it doesn’t mean total failure and it’s all over.

This film is an accomplishment not just for the genre of multi-plot stories, but also for director Takeshi Maruyama. Maruyama’s previous accomplishments include music videos, commercials and documentaries. This is his first feature-length film and he does it as if he’s very well-experienced in film directing. The film is also an accomplishment for scriptwriter Naomi Hiruta. Hiruta is well-experienced in writing for a TV mini-series, a teleplay, and two other feature-length films. She creates a complex screenplay and successfully makes it work from start to finish. You think when you first see the beginning it won’t work out, but it does in the end! Excellent work from the many actors involved in this film. Even long after the film is over, you will be left questioning who is the main protagonist in the film? Or is there even one? I’ve decided the main protagonist to be the high school boy. He has an assignment where he has to plan his life while the others that are either young adults or teens close to the adult ages showcase their dreams and plans. I just have a sense he’s the one whom they all revolve around.

Spaghetti Code Love is not just a film with multiple plots revolving around characters. It’s a film that will will surprise you not just of the multiple stories in the film, but how they’re successfully strung together and with a message that unites all the plots. It’s an achievement of a film and entertaining to watch at the same time.

VIFF 2021 Review: Drive My Car (ドライブ マイ カー)

A young Hiroshima chauffeur (played by Toko Miura) and the director she drives around (played by Hidetoshi Nishijimi) form an unexpected bond in the Japanese film Drive My Car.

Drive My Car is one of two Japanese films I saw at the VIFF on Saturday the 9th. It’s a film that turns out to be more than what one expect of it.

The film begins with Yusuke Kafuku and his wife Oto. They appear happily married at the start. Oto is a housewife while Yusuke is a stage actor, and doing very well. Oto frequently gives Yusuke story ideas which he could one day adapt and direct, even while they both have sex! They were parents to a daughter, who died at a young age 20 years earlier. They still hold a religious memorial for her on the anniversary of her death. He has just finished doing a play with rising young Japanese actor Koji Takatsuki. Soon after, he is given an assignment to do a directing job in Russia. Just before he is to board the plane at Narita, he’s told of a one-day delay. He goes back to his house, only to find Koji having sex with Oto, which they don’t notice. Days later, Yusuke has a car accident and learns of glaucoma in his right eye. Yusuke tries to recover, but soon, Oto dies of a hemorrhage.

Yusuke needed two years to recover from this all. It started affecting his work as he had trouble dealing with his first role after her death: the role of Vanya in Uncle Vanya. His first project is to co-direct a multilingual adaptation of Uncle Vanya with a Korean director names Lee Yoon-a. It is to be staged in Hiroshima during a theatre festival. One thing is that Yusuke meets a young woman named Misaki. She is to be his driver from hotel to theatre. Yusuke doesn’t like the idea of a driver. He wants to do his own driving. However festival insurance rules means having a driver for the directors is a must. One of their directors from years past died in a car accident during production. That’s why directors for this company have drivers. Yusuke reluctantly agrees to allow her to drive his Saab.

The drives to and from the theatre start without conversation. Misaki simply drives Yusuke to the theatre. Some friction starts when Yusuke wants to use the car’s tape player to recite his lines: something he commonly does as he rehearses shows. It starts with friction, but she complies. Yusuke and co-director Lee start the auditions for the play. They audition many actors from various parts of Asia and other countries. The languages vary from Japanese to Korean, Taiwanese and even Korean sign-language. One of those auditioning is Koji. Koji switch from television to theatre after his career was one tabloid scandal after another. You can tell Yusuke has feelings of contempt for him. Yusuke declines to be an actor himself in the production because of how emotional Chekhov’s works are too emotionally draining.

The film starts read-through rehearsals. Most are Japanese-speaking, but there’s also Korean-speaking, a Taiwanese-speaking American and the woman who does Korean sign-language. Koji has also been cast in the play. Both Yusuke and Lee go through the rehearsals. The friction is no bigger than your typical friction on a theatre set. Misaki continues to drive Yusuke and the two start to develop conversation. Misaki is a chain-smoker and just briefly tells Yusuke of the death of her mother in a landslide disaster.

As the play starts progressing to the physical rehearsals, where an LED screen above flashes the dialogue in many languages to the audience, the play gets its common friction. If there are any hostile feelings between Yusuke and Koji, Yusuke keeps it to himself. He has to get along with Koji as they are producing. One night, the director Lee invites Yusuke to dinner at his house. Misaki is also invited. Lee meets the wife, who is the actress who is performing in sign-language. It’s a happy marriage.

One night Yusuke and Misaki go into the town for drinks. They come across Koji. Koji is at the bars hoping to get away from it all. However people trying to get his photo annoys him even to the point he gets violent with one. Since Koji is too drunk to drive, he gets a ride with Yusuke from Misaki. During the time, Koji confesses his affair with Oto. He tries to give Yusuke words of comfort of what a wonderful woman Oto was. He even tries to suggest that it was through Oto they meet by fate here.

Just a week before the show is about to start, it was learned that Koji is under investigation for committing manslaughter from that night at the bars. The play continues rehearsals despite the temporary detainment of Koji. After the rehearsal, Yusuke allows Misaki to go to the area where the landslide that took her mother happened. They go to the area. Misaki starts letting out her feelings and breaks into tears. There, Yusuke also confesses his failings to Oto after the death of their daughter. He too is in tears and they embrace together. Uncle Vanya is then staged with Misaki watching from the audience. She watches the ending scene with intensity where the actress playing Sonya signs about the need to stoically carry on living in the face of crushing disappointment. The film ends in a questionable way.

This is a rare story. This is a case of a director of theatre being escorted by a young driver who’s the same age his late daughter would be. We don’t notice it at first, but both are hurting inside and both need healing. Over time, they are mostly silent. Then over time, they strike up an unlikely friendship that eventually takes them to where they grieve together. One is first tempted to think around the middle of the film, Yusuke would soon be romantically interested in Misaki, but that’s for you to judge for yourself.

It’s not just about Yusuke and Misaki. It’s also about Yusuke trying to make peace with himself as the husband who failed. Maybe he blames himself for Oto’s premature death. It’s also about making peace with Koji, Oto’s ‘other man.’ In a lot of ways, it’s about Yusuke criss-crossing with a lot of people as he’s on his journey to heal and make peace. He’s a man trying to heal from his failed marriage and his driver is trying to heal from her mother’s death which she blames himself for. Yusuke is a television actor who quit television for theatre after his daughter’s death. Koji, the ‘other man,’ quit television for theatre with the scandals of his behavior plaguing his life. Yet they find themselves working together in the film. It could be a case where the fates are a case where Oto brought them there to forgive each other, as Koji suggested.

The mixing in of the story of Uncle Vanya being done in multilingual fashion adds into the story. I think that’s the point of the story. I believe it’s to show how art is universal in its feelings and connections. Art transcends language barriers to deliver the feelings of love and hurt we all share. Even the detail of the play that’s being staged in Hiroshima has a bearing of importance in this story.

This is a smart film about a director who is trying to make peace over the sudden death of his adulterous wife. The inclusion of a ‘chauffeur’ who herself hasn’t fully come to terms with her mother’s death in a disaster and the young actor in his play who was one of his wife’s ‘other men’ adds to the story of the healing process for both the director and the driver. One glitch about the film is that it goes for a long period of time. Possibly too long. Even at the start, forty minutes of story go by before the opening credits roll. The story in itself is almost three hours long. It’s a very good story that deals with universal human emotions intertwined with art, but it is drawn out for too long of a period of time. You’re left wondering if all that time was really worth it.

This is a very good film for director/writer Ryusuke Hamaguchi. He’s had renown before for his filmmaking like Wheel Of Fortune and Fantasy and Happy Hour. Here he creates a smart film of three people that need healing and how it’s through the power of art that they are able to make it happen and be given the will to live despite all that’s happened. There are some noticeable mistakes like the length of the film and the ending that gets you wondering, but it’s still a good film to watch. Hidetoshi Nishijima does a great performance as Yusuke being a man that needs healing, but doesn’t show it on the outside. Toko Miura is also very good as Misake. Just like Nishijima as Yusuke, she does a good job of playing a character with hurts she tries to keep hidden until it all comes out that moment together. Masaki Okada is also very good as the troubled Koji. You can tell despite the ego on the outside, he has some personal feelings underneath.

This film has already won an excellent amount of awards. The film won the Best Screenplay Award and the FIPRESCI Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and was a nominee for the Palme d’Or. The film was also a nominee for the Best Feature Award at the Chicago Film Festival and a nominee for the Audience Award at the San Sebastian Film Festival. The film was recently selected as Japan’s entry in the category of Best International Feature Film for this year’s Oscar race.

Drive My Car is a film of two individuals who meet by fate, but help each other heal. It does a good job of mixing the story line with the art of theatre and the mixing of languages, but it’s too long of a film. A good story, but too elongated nevertheless.

VIFF 2021 Review: Queen Of Glory

The sudden passing of a doctoral student’s mother becomes a path of self-discovery, transformation and learning of her Ghanian routes in Queen Of Glory.

It’s not that often that I see American films at the VIFF. Queen Of Glory caught my attention and it turned out to be a very nice story.

Sarah Obeng has been a doctorate student at Columbia University as long as she can remember. Approaching thirty, she’s thinking of abandoning her Ivy League career and follow her married-with-children lover on a cross-country trip. She’s tired of the same life of studying, preparing for an Ivy League job, dinner with her religious mother and sharing an apartment with a male roommate who’s not her boyfriend. Then things change suddenly. Her mother has a fatal heart attack. Being the only child and more responsible than her own father, she has to take care of the funeral preparations.

Dealing with her mother’s cremation and memorial service isn’t the only thing Sarah has to deal with. She also heads back to her mother’s house as her father had arrived from Ghana. She will tend to him and hope to reconnect with him. On top of it, she has to deal with her mother’s Christian bookstore in the Bronx, named King Of Glory, that didn’t have a post mortem business plan. All this happening just as Sarah’s life was about to take off. She decides to continue studying at Columbia temporarily. She also decides to sell her mother’s Christian bookstore, but spend some time in it to understand the business. She meets Pitt, an ex-con with facial tattoos who has been loyal to the business and her mother. Especially since her mother is one of few people to give him a second chance. She also finds time to take a break from all the stress when the next-door Russian-American family welcomes her in and gives her dinner.

Lots of things change over time as the funeral nears. First there’s the Ghanaian community that wants to hold a traditional funeral. They’re surprised Sarah had her cremated before. She has to do all the cooking of traditional Ghanaian food for the services. Then she has dinner with Lyle only for him to deliver some shocking news. The attempt to reconnect with her father is not working as well as she wants it. He is more interested in watching football on television and falls in love with a New York woman, which outrages Sarah. As Sarah works at her mother’s bookstore with Pitt, they start a friendship. However this is put to the test as potential buyers of the bookstore arrive, upsetting Pitt.

The day of the funeral/memorial service happens. Sarah is all dressed in a new red dress and hair. You can tell she’s ready, nut not ready. There, she’s greeted by other members of family and members of the Ghanaian community. There she’s able to properly mourn her mother’s death. Over time she’s able to make peace with her father and found a solution to her mother’s business that pleases her and Pitt.

Immigrant identity is a common theme in a lot of films. It’s about living in your current country while still maintaining a personal bond to your motherland or fatherland. We have seen this motif done many times in films about Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans and Jewish-Americans, to name the most common. Last year, there was the story of Minari of a Korean family and their attempt to achieve their own American dream. Very rarely do we see a story of an African-American and ties to their motherland or fatherland. There have been a lot of African immigrants coming to North America in the past few decades. I’m sure there aren’t enough stories of them and their experiences. This is a great story of a young Ghanaian-American as she deals with her identity. This is something you rarely see in the cinema and I’m glad it was made.

It’s not just about a Ghanaian-American daughter. It’s of a daughter who is trying to establish herself and so much happens to her at once. Over time, she gets her biggest personality changes and has a new outlook on life and herself. She starts as business-like, making decisions about her mother’s funeral and her business. Then she starts to learn a lot more from the people around her. She gets to experience more from the Ghanaian community: a community I don’t think Sarah was too close to before. She learns more about her mother’s Christian bookstore. This is more than a business. This is a place a lot of people liked and a place where an ex-con gets a second chance, thanks to her late mother. It’s right after her immediate decisions were made she learns just how apart she was. The community wanted a traditional funeral, but Sarah rushed the cremation. Also Sarah learns how much the business meant to Pitt after she put it on sale. All this happening within the days of her mother’s death and the funeral. You can understand how stressful this would be for Sarah.

This film is an accomplishment for Nana Mensah. An American born to Ghanaian immigrants herself, she has had moderate success as an actress. In film, it’s mostly been bit parts in films like The Mysogynysts, Like Father and The King Of Staten Island. Television success has been better as she had recurring roles in An African City, New Amsterdam and13 Reasons Why. This film she directs, writes and plays the lead protagonist is definitely an achievement. It’s very multi-dimensional and it gives a quality story of a daughter and her sudden changes just as tragedy happens. She does a good job of portraying a young woman who’s hurting inside, but trying to hold it all in and keep it under control. Meeko also does a very good job with Pitt. He does a great job of playing a character you least expect to be the one that will change Sarah’s outlook or one who Sarah seems least likely to befriend.

The film does a very good job in telling its story. It divides from the world Sarah knows to the world her mother knows and the world of her ancestry. It tells the story well in color with presenting images in black and white of a traditional Ghanaian funeral. It shows the story of Sarah and the bookstore while occasionally cutting to images of the man nearby selling Ghanaian movies outside. It also shows what it’s like to live or work in the Bronx. All these added aspects add to the atmosphere of the story.

The film has had a good share of awards and nominations in the film festival circuit. It was a nominee for an American film award at the Champs-Elysees Film Festival, nominee for a New Visions Award at the Reykjavik Film Fest and a Best Film nominee at the Warsaw Film Fest. It’s also won the Best New Narrative Director award at the Tribeca Film Festival and the New York Women in Film & Television Award at the Hamptons International Film Fest.

Queen Of Glory can be seen as a triumph for actor/writer/director Nana Mensah. It’s an excellent story of how one can discover themselves during a time of grief and of great personal change. It was a great film to watch. Meeko is also good to watch as Pitt. He does a great job of playing the most unlikeliest of men that will help change Sarah’s outlook.

VIFF 2021 Review: The Scary Of Sixty-First

Supernatural hauntings of a New York apartment and a ring of famous sex offenders spark intrigue in a pair (played by director Dasha Nekrasova and Madeline Quinn) in The Scary Of Sixty-First.

The Scary Of Sixty-First is an American film that’s part of the VIFF’s series of Altered States films which set one up to expect the unknown, unusual and even bizarre. Here, bizarre is an understatement.

The story begins close to Christmas with two female friends, Noelle and Addie, searching for an affordable apartment in New York City. The come across one place in the East Side which is grand in size and has just been made available after the recent death of its tenants. The realtor however makes clear that at an affordable price any place they accept is taken as is. The girls find a place in New York’s downtown area. They are willing to clean everything up even though it was left behind with a big mess, including a moldy turkey with a dead mouse found in it. After their cleaning, they decide it’s worth staying in temporarily.

They have no problem living together, even though Addie has a boyfriend named Greg. Addie is at a crossroads in her life. She doesn’t know whether to move on and establish herself, or live with Greg. One day, a young woman visits the place while only Noelle is home. She introduces herself and informs Noelle that this suite was owned by Jeffrey Epstein before he was arrested. Just when both Addie and Noelle were already starting to sense the bad vibes of the place, it gets even worse when they notice blood underneath the mattress. They find a tarot card with a provocative image that they feel holds a clue to the place.

The other woman and Nicole start having a tempestuous relationship. It almost appears the place is becoming more like Noelle’s and the other woman’s instead of Noelle’s and Addie’s. As they both are trying to get a better understanding of the place, Addie is feels drawn to the place, despite also sensing the danger of it. Addie starts having an interest in Prince Andrew as the woman tells Noelle of the stories involving Prince Andrew to the place. Things turn for the bizarre as while she has sex with Greg, she shouts in a demonic voice for him to imagine her underage. That creeps Greg out and starts the friction in the relationship. The woman and Nicole are especially freaked out by Addie’s frequent masturbation, child-like behavior, and fixation with Prince Andrew memorabilia.

As the woman and Noelle get further and further into the Epstein connection with this place, they have had enough. They go to a crystals shop where they think the man who runs the store will know what the tarot card means and will have a good sense of what’s wrong inside. The man turns out to be creepy as he appears to deride them both of what he senses in their aura. However once they show him the card, he’s convinced of the problem and warns them to leave.

Then one day, Addie arrives to the place appearing like she’s possessed by a demon. Both of the women notice Addie worshiping whatever appears to be in the place. The two have to go in, fearing the worst. The end culminates in something you would not at all expect no matter what you had anticipated. It’s even a surprise for Addie, Noelle, the woman and Greg.

This is truly a bizarre story. The story already begins on a creepy note about a house left over by deceased people which the two have to clean up themselves, only to discover a moldy turkey in the fridge with a dead mouse in it! The bizarreness just starts there and continues into weirder territory. The weirdness grows with the mention that this was owned by an associate of Jeffrey Epstein, then comes mention of Prince Andrew, and the bizarreness grows and grows after that. Sometimes, you’re left wondering what the main theme of the film is about? Sex-offenders? The supernatural? Bizarre possessions? What is the main subject? There were even other people leaving the theatre wondering what was the point?

Despite the bizarre story, I give credit to Belarussian-born Dasha Nekrasova. This is a very ambitious film she directs, co-writes with co-star Madeline Quinn and acts in. It’s a very daring story as it reaches into the supernatural, the provocative, and even the taboo. However it’s a story that gets you wondering what is the overall point? Yes, the ending is different from what one would expect, as one should be, but it doesn’t make sense in the end. Sometimes you wonder what was the film aiming to be? A scary drama? A scary comedy? A load of shock value? What exactly?

Despite my confusion with this, I will say the acting from Dasha was very good as she did an excellent job with her part. even the scenes where it didn’t appear to make much sense. Actually if anyone should understand this story, it’s Dasha. Madeline Quinn was also very good as Noelle. Being the co-writer of the story, she would most likely be the only other person who understands the story best. Betsey Brown was also very good as Addie. Being under a bizarre possession opens the door for bad acting. But Betsey pulled it off well. Mark Rapaport is also good as Greg. He has the luxury of portraying possibly the sanest character in the story!

Despite the weirdness of the film, this film has attracted awards mention. At the Berlin Film Festival, it won the Best First Feature Award and was nominated for an Encounters Award and a Teddy Award (given to LGBT films) for Best Feature Film. At the Sitges – Catalonian Film Festival, it was nominated for a New Visions Award for Best Motion Picture. Over on Rotten Tomatoes, many critics see this film as a tribute to the bad horror movies of the 80’s. Maybe these film festivals and critics are seeing something in it most of us didn’t.

The Scary Of Sixty-First is definitely far from your conventional story. However it’s a film that is often too weird or too bizarre in either subject matter or story line to make sense. Sometimes you’re left wondering what was the point? The story or shock value?

VIFF 2021 Review: Drunken Birds (Les oiseaux ivres)

A Mexican migrant worker in search of the woman he loves (played by Jorge Antonio Guerrero) is the centerpiece of the Canadian film Drunken Birds.

Drunken Birds is Canada’s official entry in the 2021 Academy Awards category of Best International Feature Film. It’s a film that meshes French with Spanish and Chinese to create a film that stands out.

The story begins with a Mexican family inside an apartment in Montreal. We learn of a man who’s searching for a woman named Marlena. Flash back many years ago. Workers for an arrested drug lord in Mexico chase down a car with a burning top. They then chase a worker for the cartel by the name of Willy down. They know what he’s been doing behind the drug lord’s back the whole time and they warn him at gunpoint.

Flask forward to the present to the Becotte farm near Montreal. The boss, Richard Becotte, is the latest to run a vegetable farm of his family going back many generations. He’s fair to the Mexican migrant workers who agree to work, but strict. Show up at 5:30am or no pay for the day. There are many who are returning, but there are some new men, including Willy. Willy does his work along with the other men, but he doesn’t really care about the pay. All that matters is he finds Marlena. In fact while the men communicate on Skype or Zoom with their wives, children and other family, Willy uses his time to search for Marlena, who has gone by a pseudonym. He has a feeling Marena lives in Montreal.

Flash back to many years ago. A Chinese art studio is given orders to either make replicas of legendary paintings of painting versions of photos. One of the photos is the picture of the Mexican mob boss. Flash to months later but still in the past, police visit the house of the drug lord some time after it was raided and the boss arrested. They talk of admiration of how they brought this tyrant with many riches down. They also notice a letter from his young wife Marlena that appears to be a suicide note. Instead it was a letter Marlena concocted with the help of Willy to plan her escape. Turns out before the raid, Willy was the ‘other man’ of Marlena. Marlena’s true love. A love that had to be kept complete secret. Four years ago, the two decided to escape together, but go their separate ways after that. Willy has been searching for Marlena for four years. He’s tried places in Mexico, knowing her pseudonym. Now hes here in Montreal hoping he’ll be able to find her here once and for all.

However the Becotte family have friction of their own. Last year in their cornfield, Julie had an affair with one of the workers. Daughter Lea knows about this and she confronts her mother about this, even mentioning Richard knows about it. This is hard to deal with as now Julie is starting to take a liking to Willy as she drives him off to a place. Meanwhile Lea is becoming an adult and she rebels against her parents. She’s trying to fit in with her friends and even try her way into the Montreal night club scene. She’s willing to try anything, including drugs and prostitution. Actually racers for the Montreal Grand Prix are in town from around the world. Lea is hoping to hook up with one of the racers and make some money. Her pimp gives her a pager and puts a drug in her mouth. She does win a driver and gets taken into his hotel room, but she leaves him, and the pimp’s phone, behind. She’s on the streets and dreams of being met up with the racer in his car, but awakens to find herself beaten up by the pimp.

Willy notices a beaten Lea in tears. He takes her in his arms and tends to her. However Richard comes in and mistakes Willy as the man who beat Lea up. Willy is in pursuit and tries to run off. However in a rainy night as he is chased in by a truck back to the Becotte farm, Richard has his men and he’s ready to square off with Willy. Richard shouts spiteful things to Willy and the Mexicans, blaming them for what happens to Lea. As the men try to beat Willy up, the Mexicans defend Willy and start charging at Richard’s men. Willy is able to find his way out and hide in a cornfield. Richard tries to search, expecting Willy to come out, but to no avail. Richard soon learns he has to make peace with his family. In the end, willy didn’t stop running. He made it to Montreal for his main goal: to find Marlena. The film ends in an expected but unexpected way.

This is a unique story. It’s a story of two worlds. The world of the past in Mexico and the world of the present as part of a farm. It’s a story of a man in search of the woman he loves and the story of a family that appears falling apart. It’s a story that deals with the issue of migrant workers and how they’re treated by their bosses in Canada. At the same time, it’s a story that blends in a colorful romance. It’s like two films in one in many ways. It’s not easy to mix the two, but it’s done successfully here.

In a lot of ways, this film shows a lot of similarities between both scenarios. Here we have Willy who’s the object of the kingpin wife’s desire. It’s a desire they have to keep well-hidden or else Willy will be killed. Both have to move on after the kingpin is arrested and his mansion raided. In Canada, we have the farm-leader’s wife who falls for the migrant workers. Willy becomes one of the men she falls for. It’s a case for Willy that both world’s collide with him. He has to cope with the aftermath of the raid and the immense possibility of never seeing Marlena again. He also comes across the possible danger of Richard crossing his path if he knows that he’s one of the workers Julie falls for.

Even though Willy is the centrepiece of the story, it’s not just about Willy. It’s about the Becotte family. Julie has her affairs with some of the migrant workers. Lea is upset with what she sees and claims Richard knows. Meanwhile Lea appears she wants to establish herself as an adult and she feels that means choosing her own direction, even if it is dangerous. When you see Richard and his men attempt to square off against Willy, blaming him for what happened to Lea, you can easily get the feeling Richard knows of Julie’s affairs and feels he has to take it out on at least one Mexican worker. Before he takes it out, you could notice by the look on his face he most likely blames himself for his family’s failures.

This is an impressive work from Serbian-born Canadian director Ivan Grbovic. His films like La Chute and Romeo Onze have won acclaim at past film festivals. This film hasn’t won as much acclaim outside of it’s Oscar entry. It did however earn a Platform Prize at the TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival). This is an impressive film that blends in modern storytelling with imagery of classic films and common Mexican dramas. What we have here is an excellent film that’s as much a joy to watch as it being a story that will keep you intrigued.

Jorge Antonio Guerrero is excellent as Willy. His performance as a man caught between his passion and always having to be on the run keeps you on the edge of your seat and hoping he succeeds in finding Marlena. Claude Legault is also very good as Richard. He does a good job of playing a man that’s supposed to be tough on the outside, but is hurting on the inside. Helene Florent is also good as the flirtatious Julie who later has to confront her wrongs. Also excellent is Marine Johnson as Lea. She does a great job of playing a teenager angry with her home life and wanting to break free, only to find herself more entrapped by her choices.

Drunken Birds is more than just a film with a story. It mixes modern drama with a social message and traditional Mexican drama to give the viewer a story that’s a delight to experience.