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.
“Old theatres are irreplaceable. They could never be duplicated at today’s costs – but more importantly, their spirit could not be duplicated because they remind us of a day when going to the show was a more glorious and escapist experience. I think a town’s old theatres are the sanctuary of its dreams.”
– Roger Ebert, 1942-2013
On Sunday February 3, 2013, The Ridge Theatre in Vancouver showed its last movies. It was part of a ten-day film festival put on before its closure. For many, the closing of The Ridge was another downturn in Vancouver’s entertainment business. For others, it was the loss of what was simply a great charming building.
The Ridge Theatre first opened its doors in the Kitsilano Region of Vancouver on April 13, 1950 screening Henry V starring Sir Laurence Olivier. It was one of many single-screen theatres in Vancouver during a time when single-screen theatres were the norm. Even as the 1980’s approached with the advent of the VCR, video rentals and multiplextheatres, The Ridge still stuck around showing movies in its familiar theatre. It would even continue as an independent reparatory theatre starting in 1978 once bought by Leonard Schein. Schein would show independent and classic films to the public as well as movie fans. Owning and running The Ridge would even help Schein launch the locally-owned Festival Theatres chain which would help bring more independent and foreign cinema to Vancouver’s screens and found the Vancouver International Film Festival in 1982.
I myself saw my first film at The Ridge back in April of 2000. I remember it was Being John Malkovich. I remember seeing it with my cousin, who I’m not speaking with anymore, after eating at the Chinese restaurant in that strip mall. Since then, I would frequently go to The Ridge Theatre. I was always pleased with whatever movie I saw each time I went. It was a good small quaint theater in a nice neighborhood. When I first went, The Ridge Theatre was independently owned and had their movies planned at least two months in advance with a newspaper-like schedule. It was later possible to sign up for e-mail updates. Another thing I liked was the low-cost popcorn and a theatre that served coffee, cookies and brownies.
Things changed December 24, 2005 when it was no longer under its original ownership. It had been rebought by Schein for Festival Cinemas. It was a hard break for the original owners who wanted to keep it an independent cinema. Nevertheless the new ownership actually did a lot to enhance play as Festival Cinemas had a reputation of promoting some of the more independent films. Even after The Ridge became a full-price theatre with contemporary seating installed, people still enjoyed coming. It’s almost as if it was never hurt in the first place. The Ridge would also become a facility for showing films part of the Vancouver Film Festival and show live soccer games during the World Cup and Euro events.
Then news was heard months ago. Possibly more than a year ago. The area around The Ridge Theatre had been sold to developers. They wanted to turn it into condominiums. A common Vancouver situation where old buildings get sold for the sake of being crushed and turned into condominiums. That just shows how competitive land and its value is here in Vancouver. Many people were unhappy about it. There was even a picket over it months ago. Nevertheless the decision was firm. Sales for the new condos started some time ago. Already other businesses in that minimall had already either closed up or found a new place to do business at. You can read about it more in this Georgia Straight article.
It was unfortunate for The Ridge to close as it was yet another theatre in Vancouver to close up. Many of you have read my story about the closure of The Hollywood Theatre. The Hollywood still stands but as a church. Other theatres that have closed in the past two years have not even had that minor bit of luck. The VanEast is now closed and is now being turned into business area. The multi-screen Denman Theatre which was great as a second-run theatre has been turned into store area. The three-screen Oakridge theater is now being converted into its new business area. The seven-screen Granville 7 closed in November to make way for a condo development. And another multi-screen venue, the Station Square cinema, has been closed because of a radical redevelopment project in the Station Square area. And now The Ridge. This is hard times for Vancouver’s cinemas right now. I’m sure this is also especially difficult for the Vancouver International Film Festival to find a new venue for 2013 and have it for many years to come.
Moving ahead, February 28th would mark the end of Festival Cinemas, the movie company that organizes showings at The Ridge as well as the Park Theatre and the Fifth Avenue. I’m sure it was shocking for many. it was shocking for me too. The owners Schein and Tom Lightburn decided to retire. Fifth Avenue Cinemas and Park Theatre are now owned by Cineplex. Schein and Lightburn reassured people in the Festival Cinema’s last email to patrons that the theatres will still continue to show the films common to what was shown during the Festival Cinema years. As of today, The Fifth Avenue does show some independent films along with a blockbuster or two. It’s great to see since that’s what Fifth Avenue patrons like myself have always come to and want to continue coming to. If they went to doing nothing but blockbusters at those theaters, they could lose a lot of patrons. Good to see them being smart about taking over Fifth Avenue as they were taking over Tinseltown.
Going back to The Ridge’s closing, The Ridge was to close on Sunday February 3, 2013, but not without a bang. The last ten days consisted of what would be called the Last Film Festival in showing some of the most beloved movies as of recent and some classic gems at $5 admission to salute The Ridge’s last days. Saturday January 26th was a highlight with the last midnight showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Theatre. I was there and it was a fun night with the Vancouver Rocky Horror fan club in attendance. Virgins were called up to participate in a fake orgasm contest. I believe there was a contest for costumes. The rest of the time was devoted to watching the movie and participating whenever necessary. Unfortunately there were three times when the old celluloid reel broke. Nevertheless it was a fun time.
One problem with the showings was that many were sold out. In fact there was to be a special showing of the 1985 made-in-BC Canadian film My American Cousin on Thursday the 31st in which I was hoping to see with my friend. It was both a screening and a Q&A with a special guest which had a $10 admission. It was sold out before I could get to the box office. It was obvious that if I wanted to see the very last showing at The Ridge–Midnight In Paris at 9:10pm– I would have to buy my ticket well in advance. I bought it that Thursday evening. Smart move.
When I arrived, it was 8:20. Already there was a long line-up. It was halfway down the block and growing quickly before they finally let the people in. I looked around at the buildings in that minimall. The bowling alley is still active but for how long? The Chinese Restaurant will close by the end of the year upon the owner’s retirement. All the other businesses in that mall have either closed or have moved to a new location. The only other businesses still active were the McDonalds and the office buildings on the outside facing 15th Ave. Just outside there were people who were too late to get tickets for the show and waiting to be the last lucky ones. Reminds me of me back on Thursday for wanting to see My American Cousin. I think all the Ridge shows sold out.
After I entered, I wanted to tour and take pictures. I was able to take pictures of the main floor before Midnight In Paris was to be shown. The top floor which had the crying room and the camera room was off-limits for that time. I even remember as I was taking pictures outside the main entrance before the show, a man talked about his first time at The Ridge in which it was a date with the woman who would become his wife. His wife was in attendance with him too that night.
As the show was about to start, the emcee didn’t talk much before Midnight In Paris was shown. It wasn’t like the long goodbye with speeches that happened over at the Hollywood Theatre. He kept it brief and he just simply welcomed us all to the last screening at The Ridge. Actually instead of a long goodbye, we were told of all the theatres that were to get certain ‘pieces’ of The Ridge. One film company was to get its display projector, another was to get the stained glass windows, another was to get the doors. Good to see that certain items of The Ridge will be kept for a long time. Midnight In Paris played after. So the image of Owen Wilson and Lea Seydoux walking off together on a Paris street makes history as the last image to grace the screen at The Ridge.
As the credits were rolling, some left. More left as the credits finished but at least a hundred people wanted to stick around and get their last looks at The Ridge Theatre. I was taking pictures all over the place: the crumbly snack bar, the movie signs, the ads on the billboard, many things. I also took some photos of the inside of the theatre too and its nice set-up. Something you don’t see much of. Then I finally had my chance to check the top floor. Outside of the women’s restroom, there was a meeting room that had paper of old Ridge letterhead, a sound-proof crying room in the balcony and the projection room. The projection room was a marvel to see. It was nice to see the projector they were using. It was also nice to see the view of the screen from the projection area. I took more photos around the place.
Then finally I returned back to the theatre area. Half an hour and people still wanted to stick around. This was different than the Hollywood closing. The thing I remember most was there were three women from a writing group whom I met. They wanted pictures of them at the theatre. They also got me to take a picture of them showing they don’t want to leave 2012 when the theater was still alive and well. Yeah, I wished it was still 2012 too and The Ridge was still alive, well and thriving. Then after sticking around and taking some last photos, I finally left.
Just when you thought it was all over after I left The Ridge Sunday night, it wasn’t. The following night, I went to the Rio Theatre to see two movies and guess what I saw? Low and behold, I saw the doors of The Ridge theatre. I was happy to see that pieces of The Ridge were already being kept around. Yes, this did mean that the dismantling of The Ridge already started the day after but I was happy to see that the memory of The Ridge will be kept alive.
The closure of The Ridge was not the happiest of occasions. Yes, it was a not-so-pleasant display of the sign of the times. Nevertheless it was happy to see a theatre close surrounded by a lot of people who loved the theatre. For those that attended the last showings at The Ridge, The Ridge was a theatre that meant something to everyone. I know it meant a lot to me and I’m happy I had a chance not just to go to The Ridge Theatre but to experience it during the last thirteen years of its life. Goodbye Ridge Theatre. You’re gone but you still exist in the hearts of many.