I know I’ve done individual reviews of Best Picture nominees in the past. This year I thought I’d try something new. I thought I’d do summaries of the nominees. Three blogs analyzing three of the nominees. It’s something new this year and I hope you like it. For my first summary, I’ll be reviewing the first three Best Picture nominees I saw: Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge and Moonlight.
When you learn Arrival is about aliens, I’m sure you have an idea of what you’d anticipate what a movie about aliens would be about. However, you’re in for a big surprise.
This is probably the first movie about aliens to earn a Best Picture nomination. The film appears to set up for a story that would most likely lead to big-time action sequences. Instead we get a film that’s very intellectual in dealing with aliens. Don’t forget Louise is a linguistics professor who was hired for this duty because of her language expertise. In this film, the focus is on communication. Louise has a way to communicate with the aliens and earn their trust even while those around her grow more hostile to the beings. Louise’s gift for communication goes beyond the aliens and she’s able to say to General Shang the words his late wife said to her. It’s like she has a sense for this.
Even with all this, the film is not just about aliens and preventing a human-alien war. The film is about Louise trying to heal after her daughter’s death. Her marriage is no more as well and she’s looking for her purpose. It’s even about Louise and her ability to foresee the future and the possibilities they can unfold. Louise is the central protagonist whom the whole story revolves around. She finds her true gifts at a time she least expects it and she’s able to find her life again. It’s almost like this alien invasion is like a godsend to her life. Right after her daughter dies, she learns of her purpose to the world and to others.
Denis Villeneuve did a top job of directing this film. He already has a reputation for films like Maelstrom, Incendies and Sicario. He’s also been hired to do the Blade Runner sequel. This film he directs is very tricky but he does all the right work for it. The script by Eric Heisserer is very smart and very deep. It does a very good job of getting the right moments of action and the right moments of drama pieced out.
The story also rested on the performance of Amy Adams. She knew the story was primarily about Louise and she had to make it work. Although the role didn’t have too much in terms of character development, her performance was solid and it held the story together. The supporting performers may not have had as big of roles but they still did well with their performances. Jeremy Renner definitely could have had more depth in his role. The music from Johann Johannson and Max Richter fit the movie perfectly. The visual effects were also excellent and just what the movie needed.
Arrival is a very intelligent movie. It’s an alien movie not like one you’d anticipate at first but you will leave the theatre pleased.
Mel Gibson is back. This time he has Hacksaw Ridge. It’s a war drama that’s about more than just the war.
This film makes for an interesting topic: conscientious objection. I know all about it. For years I went to a Protestant church where the people were known for their anti-war beliefs. Conscientious objection is something that’s bound to make one question their morals and even act out of hostility. I know that we have conservative pundits who insist that fighting in a war is the definition of patriotism and will even use scriptures to justify why was is the right thing. Upon release of this film, I was anticipating a conservative backlash against it. So far no ‘Diss The Doss’ movement has happened. No movement to have his Medal Of Honor posthumously revoked. Nothing. It’s a good thing because the film does make one reconsider what defines a ‘patriot.’ I’m glad this story was told.
One of the biggest complaints from conservatives in the last 40 years has been either the negative depictions of religion or lack of positive depictions of religion in movies. True, this is not the Hollywood where the Hays Code calls the shots. For those that read my review of Of Gods And Men, I have a quote from Barbara Nicolosi about why that’s the problem. That explains why it’s hard to get a pro-religion movie to compete for Best Picture nowadays. There’s a fine line of showing a film with a positive depiction of Christianity without it being schmaltzy, hokey or overly sentimental. Plus with all the ‘game changers’ in the last few decades, writing a winning script or creating a winning film is just that much of a challenge.
I feel they did a very good job in Hacksaw Ridge. It was a very good story of the persecution Desmond Doss had to face for his beliefs. It was a very gritty story of the war and all the damage it caused. Some say the graphicness was comparable to Saving Private Ryan. It was an honest portrayal about someone’s faith. However there was one point when I felt it was borderlining on hokey during the scenes of: “Please, Lord. Help me find one more.” I know that was something Doss said in real life but I’m just wondering if it could have been done better.
This film is the first film directed by Mel Gibson in a decade. I know he had to take a break as he had a very public meltdown with the things he said about others and problems with alcohol. You could rightfully call this film the redemption of Mel Gibson. He directs an excellent film that took a lot of effort to make. 14 years to be exact even while Doss himself was still alive going from one writer to the next until finally they had the right script and right story thanks to Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan. Gibson and the writers did an excellent job with the film with the story and the depiction of war.
In addition, the story was made thanks to the performance of Andrew Garfield. This was more than just a war story. This was a story of a person’s heart and soul. Garfield knew he had to personify Doss in his convictions in order to make this story work. He did it excellently. It’s hard to pick out any supporting players who stood out. None of the roles of the supporting actors were as developed. However Teresa Palmer did a very good job as Dorothy Doss and portraying the concerned fiancee, as is Hugo Weaving as the father Tom Doss and Vince Vaughn as the hard Sargent Howell. The visual effects and the sound mixing were top notch, as it should be in a film like this. The score from Rupert Gregson-Williams fit the film excellently.
Hacksaw Ridge is a surprising film. Who would’ve thought that the best war movie in years would be about a man that didn’t fire a single bullet? Definitely a story worth telling.
At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you’re going to be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you.
This year’s surprise critical success is Moonlight. It’s a very unique film like no other seen this year.
The film is unique as it sets itself around three key periods in the life of Chiron. There’s his childhood where he’s known as Little, there’s his teenagehood where he’s simply known as Chiron and there’s his adulthood where he’s known as Black. The film does tell a story of a man who you think would die young. He has all the ingredients: gay, living in inner city Miami, a verbally-abusive mother addicted to crack, arrested at a young age and a future of being a pusher himself. Somehow he finds the will to survive. He’s able to withstand the bullying he faces for being gay, he’s able to decide his life to the best of his abilities without his mother. Often it’s not the best choices he makes in his life but he finds the ability to survive. You wonder how does he do that? Was it from that brief time with Juan and his mentoring? Was it the love from Kevin he always knew was there? I remember that scene of Little in the school dancing classes dancing like he was in 7th heaven: his escape from the bullying. Was it a spark within Chiron himself? Whatever the situation, it results in beauty at the end.
The film is not just about Chiron. As one can see, it showcases the lives of many different African-American people living in the inner city. It may show some of the more negative depictions like drug dealers, poverty and drug addicts but it also shows positive images too like in the case of Juan and his girlfriend or even in music being played. It showcases some surprising things as well as how Juan the pusher can be a very smart man. It even dispels some myths we have of inner city people. Like how Juan was good at handling Chiron’s homosexuality and gave him words of comfort while Paula acted out in hostility. Usually you’d expect ‘gangstas’ to have a homophobic attitude. It showcases what it’s like to be black and gay in the inner city. It also showcases people’s insecurities. It is overall one man’s attempt to find himself in the harsh world that he lives in. Yet despite all its harshness, it becomes something beautiful in the end.
The film is a triumph for Barry Jenkins. This is actually his second feature as a director. His first film, 2008’s Medicine For Melancholy, won a lot of attention and even earned him many directorial debut awards. Moonlight is only his second feature. This film which he adapts a script from a drama school project from Tarell McCraney is a masterpiece in both the story and its direction. The script is also excellent that there is not too much dialogue but is able to say lots even in the silent parts. Another quality of the film; it says a lot while saying very little. Overall the film is a real delight to watch and leaves one wondering what Jenkins will have next.
The three actors who portrayed Chiron– Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes- all did a very good job with the role and portraying him at the right ages. Mahershala Ali was excellent as Juan: the pusher who becomes a mentor to little Chiron for that brief period of time. Ali had to bring the right charisma and character for a role like Juan to work not just in his scenes but to have an influence throughout the whole film. He did a stellar job. Also excellent was Naomie Harris. Possibly the one actor or actress to be a part of all three scenes, Harris was excellent as the drug-addicted mother Paula. She had to go through three stages with her role from a simple crack user to a crack addict to recovering in rehab. Each time she had to give her role dimension and inner depth to keep it from being cardboard. She did excellent too. There were additional supporting roles that were also good like Janelle Monae as Teresa and Andre Holland as the adult Kevin.
The technical bits were also excellent. The film was edited very well, the cinematography from James Laxton was possibly the best of the year. The score from Nicholas Britell was excellent but the inclusion of track music from classical to Latin to funk to hip-hop to Aretha Franklin to Motown really added to the feel of the movie. Almost feels like an anthology. In fact that scene when Kevin sees Chiron (as Black) after so many years and plays the classic Hello Stranger is one of the best scenes of the film.
Moonlight is a story of a young black man coming of age in the big city but it’s a lot more too. Those who’ve seen it will know why this film is a masterpiece.
And there’s the first of my Best Picture summaries for this year. Next one coming up in a few days.
The news shocked all of Canada. On September 4, 2012, Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois won the Quebec provincial election. She was to give her victory speech at the Metropolis in downtown Montreal when a masked gunman opened fire, killing a stage technician and injuring another. Marois was unharmed. It has not been determined whether this was meant to be an assassination attempt on Marois or not. Even if it was, politically-motivated assassination attempts in Canada are extremely rare. Nevertheless the shooting did remind us that such a catastrophe is very possible here in Canada.
Throughout the beginning of time, being a political leader has always been a position to put one’s life in jeopardy. The King of a country would be seen as the prime target for warring armies in the quest to conquer. A leader could even be assassinated by a person within their circle as Julius Caesar was. Even in modern day dictatorships or dictatorships of the recent past, a head of state would be prey for assassination attempts like Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein, Salvador Allende or Anwar Sadat. The assassin would either be an person of opposition or a militarized coup.
Even in democracies assassination attempts are still common as was the failed attempt on UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1984 and the successful attempts on India’s Indira and Rajiv Gandhi in 1984 and 1991 respectively. Even countries with a reputation of being peaceful like Sweden are not immune to assassination attempts as was the case when Prime Minister Olaf Palme was shot and killed in 1986. The most famous assassination attempts in a democracy have come from the United States. Four presidents including legendary presidents like Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy have been assassinated while in office. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan was shot while in office but survived. The most recent assassination attempt on an American politician was on January 8, 2011 on Arizona US Representative Gabrielle Giffords. She survived but six others, including US District Court Judge John Roll, were killed.
Here in Canada, we’re lucky not to have a prime minister assassinated while in office. Even infamous prime ministers like Brian Mulroney lived to see his last day in office and even Stephen Harper is still alive and active during a time of Harperphobia that’s heavily promoted through the gab of liberal Canadians. The closest call was on Jean Chretien back in November 5, 1995 when a man armed with a knife broke into his home residence to stab him. Neither Jean nor his wife were hurt.
There have only been two successful assassinations in Canadian politics. The first is Thomas D’Arcy McGee. He was both an Irish nationalist and a father of Canadian Federation. He would attack the Orange Order in his writings in the 1850’s and defended the Irish Catholic right to representation in the assembly. He was elected to the Legislative assembly of the Province Of Canada in 1858 and played a significant role in the creation of the Dominion Of Canada. Less than a year after the independence of Canada, McGee was shot to death by Patrick Whelan, an Irish Catholic and a sympathizer of the Fenians: a group of Irish Americans who wanted to take over Canada to prevent British occupancy. Whelan was hanged. McGee remains the only Canadian politician at the federal level to be assassinated.
The second successful assassination was at a provincial level and an act of terrorism. Pierre Laporte was Vice-Premier and Minister of Labour of Quebec in 1970 as Robert Bourassa was the Premier. On October 10, 1970, Laporte was kidnapped outside his home by a cell of the FLQ: A Quebec independence terrorist group. The FLQ was already regarded as a dangerous group for it had already committed seven murders, multiple mail bombings in the 60’s and bombed the Montreal Stock Exchange one year earlier. A British diplomat had been kidnapped days earlier and was still hostage. Laporte’s abduction was part of a ‘political protest’ to have ‘political prisoners’ freed. The Government of Canada under Pierre Trudeau responded with the enactment of Canada’s War Measures Act and Trudeau’s promise to punish whoever harms the two men. On October 17th, seven days after the abduction, Laporte’s body was found. The incident is remembered in Canadian history as the October Crisis. The British Diplomat was released in December and the FLQ eventually declined due to heavy police crackdown and declining public support after the assassination. Nowadays the biggest lobby for Quebec independence is through peaceful political lobbying like the Parti Quebecois.
Despite current politics in Canada being mostly peaceful, there is a chance for violence either by a cowardly person or a person with opposing viewpoints. We shouldn’t forget that Canadians have often reacted angrily to political situations in the past. We’ve had rebellions in both Lower Canada and Upper Canada before the Dominion was created. We’ve had rebellions in Manitoba in the 19th Century like the Riel Rebellion. We’ve had labor riots in various cities with the Winnipeg Riot of 1919 being the most famous.
Political violence became less admired and more looked down upon since World War II but it’s not to say it’s completely gone away. Back in the 60’s there were attacks on air force bases to protest the war. In the 80’s and 90’s, there were protests and blockades from First nations groups. Even in my city of Vancouver, there have been political riots like the G7 riot back in 1997 and various anti-Olympic protests before Vancouver 2010. There was also the G8 riot in Toronto from anarchist groups. So there’s no doubt that there’s political anger here in Canada that can turn violent.
I won’t say that the Montreal shooting was politically motivated as that has yet to be proved but I will state the facts I’ve read and know as of now. On the night of September 4th, 2012, the Parti Quebecois won the provincial election with a minority government. Party leader Pauline Marois delivered her victory speech when partway through, a masked gunman opened fire with what many thought was an AK-47. One stage technician was killed and another was injured. Marois was taken away by her bodyguards and was unharmed in the shooting. The gunman then attempted to set fire to the building with a Molotov cocktail. The shooter was quickly tackled and arrested by the police.
The victim was 48 year-old stagehand Denis Blanchette. Witnesses including Marois herself believe his actions taken that night could have prevented more fatalities. His funeral was held in a Roman Catholic church and was attended by hundreds including Marois and other political dignitaries. Police were present throughout the church. Dave Courage, the 27 year-old man who was also shot, was originally in critical condition and continues to recover in hospital. The suspect is 62 year-old Richard Henry Bain of La Conception, QC, a small town 90 miles northwest of Montreal. He faces 16 charges including first-degree murder, one count of attempted murder as well as possession of explosive material and prohibited weapons. While being placed in a police cruiser, he yelled in French “Anglos are waking up.” then in English: “It’s f***ing payback time.” Crown Prosecutor said Bain has 27 guns, all but one had been registered.
Bain is expected to reappear in court on October 11th. Despite the statement, it’s unknown whether Bain’s actions were politically motivated or the actions of a crazed man. Court trials and public reaction will define the events yet to come and could even affect the political climate in Quebec. One thing about the shooting is that it reminded Canada that political assassinations in Canada are quite possible. An extremely rare chance of happening but still likely.
WIKIPEDIA: FLQ. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FLQ>
WIKIPEDIA: October Crisis. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/October_crisis>
WIKIPEDIA: Thomas D’Arcy McGee. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_D%27Arcy_McGee>
WIKIPEDIA: 2012 Montreal shooting. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc.
Montgomery, Sue. “Shooting suspect Richard Henry Bain arraigned on 16 charges, including first-degree murder” Montreal Gazette 6 September 2012 <http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/Shooting+suspect+Richard+Henry+Bain+arraigned+charges+including+first+degree+murder/7200523/story.html>