Tag Archives: Story

My Predictions For the 2019 Academy Awards

Chocolate Oscar

It’s interesting that this year’s Oscars are being held the second Sunday of February. Usually they’re held the last Sunday or the first Sunday of March in a Winter Olympic year. It was pretty evident will all my cramming of my Best Picture reviews. I didn’t start until three weeks to go and I didn’t think I could review all nine in time. But I did! The last of the Best Picture reviews I posted on Wednesday. Next year they’ll be going back to the last Sunday of February. So hopefully reviewing them all will be a lot more relaxed.

Anyways I’m able to make predictions for this year’s Oscars. I’m even able to make some calls for what should win in some categories. I’ve seen enough films to make up 96 of the 124 nominations. They range from single-nomination films like Knives Out to Joker with the most nominations with eleven in total. Most categories have been very predictable with the same film or same effort winning film award after film award. That could help me with my Oscar bingo I’ll be playing once again this Sunday! However there are a few that appear unpredictable. So without further ado, here are my predictions for the 2019 Academy Awards:

BEST PICTURE

Oscar nominees

All credit to Olly Gibbs for that excellent image of this year’s nominees. This year has a wide range of film among the nine nominees. Two are set during World Wars. Two are written and directed by a Hollywood couple. Four have had a domestic gross at the box office of over $100 million. Two are films that got moved to NetFlix after an initial box-office release. One is done by a master of gangster movies and another is done by his heir apparent, but not a gangster movie at all. One is a modern-day adaptation of a classic novel. One is a fictional account of a cartoon villain. One is of car racing. One is of a failing marriage. One if of classic Hollywood. One is of Hitler through a child’s eyes. One is a possible answer to a popular whodunit. One is of a journey during war. And one is of an impoverished family trying to break free. All are seen worthy of being nominated in the Best Picture category this year. So here is my rundown of the Best Picture nominees:

1917 – War movies usually win the Academy over, as long as they’re done well. This has been the darling of most awards shows. I predict this as my Will Win pick. I myself admire it for its cinematography and it’s storytelling, but it’s not the film I most want to win Best Picture. Usually for Best Picture, I feel it should have much of the best of the year in the three top categories: acting, directing and writing.

Ford v Ferrari – Very rarely do auto racing movies get nominated for Best Picture. This is more than an auto racing film. It’s about those that were behind the big moment and the family relation of the racer who was shunned behind. Definitely a crowd-pleaser, but it doesn’t look like an Academy-pleaser.

The Irishman – What can I say? This is the film in which I most want to win because this is a film that went above and beyond what I expected out of it. I admire films that go above and beyond what I expect. Plus it had top-notch acting, directing and writing. However it lost a lot of its energy it had back in November. That’s why I think it won’t win.

Jojo Rabbit – This is one movie that would normally not be Best Picture material. I have to say of all nine Best Picture nominees, this is my favorite. This is the most entertaining of the nine. However I know how to separate my personal favorite from the films I feel are the best. Besides I know how stodgy the Academy is towards comedies.

Joker – Last year was something how a superhero movie finally got a Best Picture nomination. This year is a case of a story of the genesis of a villain won crowds and won movie awards. This is an impressive story too. However I feel that it faces stiff competition in the Best Picture race from other films.

Little Women – To think this is the first Little Women adaptation to be nominated for Best Picture! I can’t complain at all as the film took some different twists and it came out a winning story. I admire the way it was directed, written and acted, but there are films that have more boost in this competition.

Marriage Story – Sometimes all it takes to win people is a story that connects with people. That’s the magic of Marriage Story. This film’s best qualities are the acting and writing. However this is another film that appears prone to fall under the weight of bigger competition. Plus this being on NetFlix may be an additional reason why its chances were hurt.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood – This is one salute to the Golden Age of Hollywood with a twist. Also it will cause a lot of people to reassess their definition of what a Quentin Tarantino movie is. I know my parents still think Tarantino movies are all ‘blood and guts’ but this film shows a side of Quentin most people overlook. I do rank this as a film in the Top 3 most expected to win, but it’s not my top pick. I think its summer release may have caused it to lose much of its buzz.

Parasite – This is definitely the foreign-language film of the year. Undisputed! This is my Should Win pick because this film has accomplished more than any of the other nine Best Picture nominees. It’s a case once again that the best film of the year is not in the English-language. However I’m very doubtful it will win. I remember last year Roma was the best film but it lost out to Green Book. That solidified my belief the Academy will never make a foreign-language film a Best Picture winner.

I know a lot of people often think the Academy Awards are a case of Hollywood patting itself on the back. One can say an excellent example of this was last year when Roma lost Best Picture to Green Book. If Once Upon A Time In Hollywood wins this, then it will further prove their point. I am very doubtful Parasite will win. However if 1917 wins, it won’t look like Hollywood patting itself on the back because it’s a British film!

BEST DIRECTOR

Should Win: Bong Joon-ho – Parasite

Will Win: Sam Mendes – 1917

I chose Bong Joon-ho naturally. Most people feel the common belief that The winner for Best Director should be the director of the Best Picture winner. It happens over 70% of the time at the Oscars. As a result my Best Director pick for Should Win is from the same film as my Should Win for Best Picture. I feel it’s right since Parasite is the film I admire most and it’s Bong who made it happen. I feel it will go to Sam Mendes because of his past awards success this year. Nevertheless I would not be disappointed if it did because 1917 is a film that’s worth admiring.

BEST ACTOR

Should Win and Will Win: Joaquin Phoenix – Joker

What can I say? It’s not just about being widely praised as the acting performance of the year but of the movie role of the year. Nobody — not even the most loyal of Batman fans — expected Joker to be the film that it is. It’s a film that not only tells the story of the emergence of the Joker, the chaos of Gotham City and the genesis of Batman, but it takes one into the mind of Arthur Fleck. One knew that Arthur would snap any minute. What can I say? One could argue that it’s Joaquin that single-handedly made the work!

BEST ACTRESS

Should Win and Will Win: Renee Zellweger – Judy

I never reviewed Judy in my blog after I saw it back in November. It’s an excellent story of a period in the last year of Judy Garland’s life. It focuses on her attempt for a comeback and how it appeared showbiz took everything out of her. It also flashed back to her childhood and how she was raised to think that a normal life that the other girls were having is for mortals. Renee was excellent in embodying Judy as she looked like a person who just couldn’t come to terms with herself and even feared what she would mostly be remembered for. Renee was spot on in epitomizing Judy from the voice, to the singing to the hostile attitude to the troubled personality to even writing left-handed.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Should Win: Joe Pesci – The Irishman

Will Win: Brad Pitt – Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

One thing about this year’s acting nominees. A lot of people talked about the lack of racial diversity. That is true, and I even reminded people in social media of Spielberg saying the Academy is like a member-only club.

As for actors, another lack of diversity is that only six nominations went to performances from five actors who were never nominated before. For Supporting Actor, this is normally a ‘newbie-friendly’ category but all five have been nominated before in the past and only Brad Pitt has never won an Oscar. That appears likely to change as he is the heavy favorite to win for his scene-stealing in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. Actually Brad has enough screen time to qualify for the Best LEAD Actor category! However I would be likely to go with Joe Pesci for his portrayal as a mob boss who appears like a father figure. Nevertheless Sunday will be Brad’s moment.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Should Win and Will Win: Laura Dern – Marriage Story

Some performances nominated for Supporting Actor/Actress are usually lead roles that are ‘politicked’ as supporting roles, like I I mentioned about Brad Pitt earlier. Some supporting acting nominations and wins are because they’re good at stealing the show from the lead actors. And some nominations and wins in the supporting acting categories can also be because they do an excellent job of character acting. That’s why I have no problem with Laura Dern winning. She made you hate Nora! She did an excellent job as the manipulative sly-talking lawyer and she made her character of Nora almost look like she was a snake!  Actors are taught about even using animal-like behaviors to enhance characters. This award is Laura’s for the taking. And on the day before her 53rd birthday to boot!

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Should Win: Boon Jong-ho – Parasite

Will Win: Quentin Tarantino – Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

If there’s one major category that I feel will be the hardest to predict, it’s actually both screenplay categories. Lately some of the award shows have given alternating views on who they think is the best. I agree with what Bong Joon-ho said in his acceptance speech at the Golden Globes: “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you’ll be introduced to so many more amazing films.” I agree, but I doubt if the Academy agrees. Roma may have won last year, but I don’t think they’ll make it two in a row.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Should Win: Steve Zaillian – The Irishman

Will Win: Greta Gerwig – Little Women

It’s interesting that Greta and her common-law partner Noah Baumbach are both nominated for screenplays this year. I had to go with The Irishman on this one because it’s a complex story that Zaillian is able to make work. I think they will give it to Great for putting a new twist to a story that’s been adapted numerous times. I think the biggest upset could come from Jojo Rabbit, but I’m still set on Little Women.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Will Win: Toy Story 4

This year I did not see any of the nominated films. I only saw three animated films and none of them got nominated here. Even though Klaus won the Annie Award and the BAFTA, I have a feeling Disney is going to take it again. This is the one category Disney wants to win most. wouldn’t that be something if Toy Story 4 loses to a NetFlix film?

BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM

Should Win and Will Win: Parasite (South Korea)

For those wondering, this is a new title for the category that used to be called Best Foreign Language Film. This year I saw four of the five nominees in this category, which is extremely rare for me. The others I saw are Pain And Glory, Honeyland and Corpus Christi. That means I can also make a ‘should win’ judgement in this category. It’s safe to say Parasite is the foreign-language film of the year. Also Honeyland makes history as the first documentary to be nominated in this category.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Will Win: Roger Deakins – 1917

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Will Win: Jacqueline Durran – Little Women

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Will Win: Honeyland

BEST FILM EDITING

Will Win: Yang Jin-mo – Parasite

BEST HAIR AND MAKE-UP

Will Win: Kazu Hiro, Anne Morgan and Vivian Baker – Bombshell

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Will Win: Hildur Guðnadóttir – Joker

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

Will Win: “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” – Rocketman

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

Will Win: Barbara Ling & Nancy Haigh – Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

BEST SOUND EDITING

Will Win: Ford v Ferrari

BEST SOUND MIXING

Will Win: Ford v Ferrari

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Will Win: 1917

SHORT FILM PREDICTIONS

For my reviews of the nominees and predictions of the wins for Best Animated Short Film, Best Live-Action Short Film and Best Documentary Short Subject, click on this paragraph.

JUST ONE MORE – TOP OSCAR UPSETS

Here are the five upsets I anticipate are most likely to happen. In category order:

  • Taika Waititi for Best Adapted Screenplay for Jojo Rabbit
  • Klaus for Best Animated Feature
  • Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland for Best Film Editing for Ford v Ferrari
  • American Factory for Best Documentary Feature
  • The Lion King for Best Visual Effects

And there you go. My predictions for the winners, and possible upsetters of the 92nd Academy Awards. Having a hostless Oscars last year was such a success, they did it again this year. Will it be as entertaining? Will there be some shock winners like Olivia Colman was last year? It will all be decided Sunday night.

Oscars 2019 Best Picture Review: Marriage Story

Marriage Story

Marriage Story is the story of a marriage between an actress (played by Scarlett Johannson) and a theatre director (played by Adam Driver) that’s falling apart. And the child caught in the middle.

There have been films about marriages falling apart before. You could understand that a film like Marriage Story would be expected to deliver a lot in order to separate itself from the other divorce films. It will surprise you.

The film begins on the two in the marriage: Charlie and Nicole Barber. Charlie is a successful theatre producer in New York and Nicole is a former teen actress originally from California who’s part of his production and has helped her career as an adult actress. We see images of Nicole and we hear Charlie’s voice of what he loves best about Nicole. We see images of Charlie and we hear from Nicole what she loves best about Charlie. We then see Charlie and Nicole sitting in the office of a marriage mediator. What we heard are the written essays both were requested by the mediator to write of each other. The mediator requests Nicole to read first, but she’s too embarrassed and they forego the counselling.

The marriage troubles appear to have happened when Nicole was offered a starring role in a Hollywood television production. After she left the New York production of Charlie’s, Nicole moved back temporarily into her mother’s house taking their 8-year-old son Henry with them. Charlie chose to stay in New York as his play is moving to Broadway. They want the split to be amicable and to forego lawyers. However right after shooting, one of her castmates recommended a family lawyer she had for her ow divorce.

Her name is Nora and she is known to have experience in family situations, especially those in showbiz. Right from the start, Nora appears ready to deal with Nicole’s case, even before she hears it. Nicole does state her case. She tells of how she feels neglected by him and he constantly rejects her ideas and desires. She also suspects him having an affair with the stage manager of the theatre company.

Charlie goes to Los Angeles with the intention of visiting Nicole’s family. Nicole’s family is very affectionate to Charlie, but Nicole wants them kept out of it since this divorce is happening. The family try to make like it’s a normal visit until Charlie is served the divorce papers. Charlie first meets with Jay Marotta in Los Angeles who’s known to be an aggressive lawyer who fights dirty. Charlie declines hiring him, but he receives a phone call from Nora saying he needs to find a lawyer or risk losing custody of Henry. It’s on his return flight he finds a lawyer who’s not one Nicole previously consulted.

His name is Bert Spitz and he’s retired from family law and favors a civil approach to handling divorce. However Bert does make it clear there are some thing Bert will need to do to win custody of Henry such as move to Los Angeles. Charlie finds an apartment and remodels it to look modern. However he still has to fly back to New York frequently to work on his show. Charlie doesn’t want this to be a dirty court show so he gets Bert to arrange a meeting between the two of them, Nicole and Nora. From the start, Nora is the one in control as she brings up Nicole claim of him not being warm to her ambitions and revealing Henry prefers to stay with his mother instead of fly between the two cities. A frustrated Bert recommends Charlie move to Los Angeles completely.

A frustrated Charlie has had it. He fires Bert. During his Broadway run, he wins a lucrative Fellowship Grant. The first payout is enough to buy Jay on retainer. The case then moves to court. A confident Nora reassures Nicole that everything will be for her success, until she sees Jay coming to the court office. She knows it will get ugly. And it does get ugly in the court as Nora tries to portray Charlie as a bad person with past infidelity and emotional distance and Jay tries to portray Nicole as a bad person by making her wine drinking look like alcoholism and a criminal for hacking Charlie’s emails.

This whole lawyer vs. lawyer action frustrates both Nicole and Charlie. They act in a friendly way, especially around Henry. They don’t want this divorce to be a burden to Henry but he makes it obvious the back and forth is an annoyance to him. They hope a private discussion without either lawyer present will lead to a better resolve to the situation. Instead it starts as friendly and then turns into a heated argument. So heated, it a case Nicole claims he has gotten too involved with himself and an angry Charlie wishes she would die. However it’s Charlie realizing what he said that he breaks down, with Nicole comforting him.

The divorce drama isn’t over. Charlie is to have nightly visits with Henry where he is monitored by an expert evaluator. The visit appears to go well until Charlie shows both Henry and evaluator a trick he does with his carpenters knife in front of castmates. The trick failed and it left a long cut on his arm. The court process ends as both agree to relax their demands. At a family party with Nora as guest, Nora reveals the 50/50 agreement is actually 55/45 in her favor with terms Nicole didn’t want. At a party with his Broadway castmates, they console Charlie and he sings a song which seems to reflect his feelings of defeat.

One year passes. Charlie’s play has a successful year-long run and Nicole was nominated for an Emmy for directing. She also has a new boyfriend, possibly the boy she met at a party a year earlier. It’s on the day of Halloween Party. Nicole’s family is excited to see Charlie and Charlie tells them all he accepted residency to spend more time around Henry. Just before Charlie is about to take Henry to the party, he notices Henry trying to read something written on paper. Charlie tries to read it, but realizes it’s what Nicole wrote about Charlie in preparation with meeting with the mediator over a year ago. Charlie reads it as Nicole just enters in, and is in tears. At the end of the party, Nicole notices Henry tired on Charlie’s shoulder. Nicole agrees to let Charlie have him for the night, even though it’s her night with him.

There have been films about marriages falling apart and even films about actual divorce battles. Some will remember 1979’s Kramer vs. Kramer. That film won the Oscar for Best Picture and even highlighted a touchy topic about children caught in the middle of their parents’ divorces. This film is unique as this is about a divorce and it’s a divorce of a showbiz couple with differing career paths whose ambitions can be best met thousands of miles apart. The thing about this film is that anyone who’s been married, been in a long-term relationship, or are even going through divorce themselves can see certain instances in the Barber story that mirror their own. Maybe it’s at the beginning where Charlie’s and Nicole’s essays reflect one’s pre-divorce feelings towards their spouse. Maybe it’s the nasty court battles. Maybe it’s those child custody situations. Maybe it’s even those moments where instead of keeping it all together, they just let it out and just vent out their hostile frustrations towards them. I’m sure one can see their own situation mirrored in this film.

The film does a very good, very thorough, if not completely thorough, look at the divorce of the Barbers. The film starts with the two talking of what wins them to the other. It progresses when we learn of their past career moments, present career situations and obvious future goals. It leads into how the split gets to the point a divorce is necessary and how lawyer involvement is needed. It gets to the legal preparation and even how one tried to prepare himself to win a custody battle. It even gets to moments where both bring out the worst in each other. Then there’s the two aftermaths: the first aftermath being right after the divorce and the second being much later with the calm after the storm. The film is very good at showing how the ambitions of the two, whom both describe the other as ‘a competitive person’ at the beginning, cause the friction. The film is good at showing how one state’s divorce laws conflict with another’s laws. The film is good at showing how divorce battles interfere with their child’s life. The film is also creative as it shows the first part of the aftermath of the court battle with a musical note. Nicole, her mother and sister perform a song from a Stephen Sondheim musical at a post-trial celebration party while Charlie sings a song from a Stephen Sondheim musical at a New York return party about heartbreak. It fits the film and story perfectly.

I feel the biggest focus of the film is not just the marriage falling apart, but of the involvement of lawyers. One of Jay’s assistants said: ‘Criminal lawyers see the good in bad people. Divorce lawyers see the bad in good people.’ That is very true. We see it at the trial as both Nora and Jay try to vilify their client’s spouse and expose the dirt in them. Even after we heard Nicole and Charlie describe each other at the beginning as ‘a competitive person,’ we see in the court battles that their competitiveness is nothing compared to Jay and Nora. Many divorce lawyers like Jay and Nora end up being this kind of ‘cutthroat competitive.’ You can see it puts a strain on Nicole and Charlie. Sometimes you’re left to wonder if their most frustrated by the divorce proceedings or by their lawyers’ involvement. Both lawyers even showed animal-like mannerisms in the way they did their business; Nora appeared to be coming off like a snake while Jay appeared to be coming off like a bull. What can I say? It’s like my father once said “The only people that really win in a divorce are the lawyers.” Very true, Dad!

It would be interesting to compare this to Kramer vs. Kramer. One think that’s noticed is that this film is a lot more intense. One difference is Kramer focuses on a neighbor who’s in support while Nicole has more of a support system of a family. Both films are about a divorce and a custody battle. However the role of Henry in this film is not as dimension as that of the role of Billy in Kramer. Both boys have similar bowl-cuts, but Billy was the bigger role. Actually the bigger roles in this film were the lawyers. There was some ‘lawyer moments’ in Kramer, but not as much. I think that’s the thing with this film is that it’s not just about a divorce but about lawyer interference too.

Interesting note is that Scarlett has been married once and has a daughter from that marriage to Ryan Reynolds. Adam Driver is currently married and has a child. Noah Baumbach is currently married to Greta Gerwig but was married to Jennifer Jason Leigh for some time before and fathered a child through her. Sometimes it’s tempting to think this is about that marriage, especially when Jennifer, like Nicole, was a teen movie star with her breakthrough coming in Fast Times At Ridgemont High. Noah will admit it’s partially about that, but it’s about other divorces too like his own parents and through people he worked with. He even interviewed lawyers, judges and mediators. In case you’re wondering, Jennifer did see it and she’s cool with it. That bit about Nicole having directorial pursuits, I think that’s more like Gerwig than Leigh.

This has to be the best film ever made by Noah Baumbach. Up until now, I felt his best work was The Squid And The Whale which ironically is what it’s like being a teen during a divorce, and was semi-autobiographical. This film he directs and writes really appears to be a mirror on what’s happening in a lot of people’s marriages today. It reminds me of what won people to certain independent films of the late-1980’s and early 1990’s. Those films consisted of actors playing regular people who won audiences over by being reflections of themselves. This film does that. Scarlett Johannson and Adam Driver were also excellent in their parts. There were times when they had to be their own individual character and then times to be a character that was part of a couple. Both did an excellent job of making their characters work. Laura Dern was hateably-excellent as the divorce lawyer that was appeared more interested in winning for her than her client and was going to manipulate her way into getting it. Julie Hagerty was also very good as the mother trying to be supportive for Nicole but still having high regards for Charlie. Azhy Robertson was also very good as Henry, but his role lacked the dimension and the screen time of that of Billy Kramer. I feel the role didn’t touch on the frustrations of the child that well.

Marriage Story is the story of two people in the arts whose marriage falls apart. However what they go through is what one can see mirrored in their own lives or what they see happening to couples close to them or what one experienced in their own divorce. That’s the film’s best quality.

Oscars 2015 Best Picture Review: The Revenant

Revenant

Hugh Glass (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) will soon find himself at odds with his former trapping partner John Fitzgerald (played by Tom Hardy at left) in The Revenant.

If there’s one movie that’s had its box office results significantly after the nominations, It’s The Revenant. If you’ve seen it already, you’ll easily see why it could have done excellently even without the Oscar buzz.

It’s 1823 in an unsettled wilderness part of the northern area of the Louisiana Purchase. A group of trappers under the command of Captain Andrew Henry search for pelts until a surprise attack from Arikara Native Americans kills many from the camp and cause the survivors to flee on a boat. Part of the camp is Hugh Glass who is on friendly terms with the Natives–even being a widow to a Native American woman and fathering their ‘half-breed’ son Hawk who’s part of the camp– and knows the area well. At Glass’ recommendation, they abandon ship and walk on foot to return to their outpost Fort Kiowa. This does not settle well with some of the trappers including John Fitzgerald who has a hostile attitude towards Natives after being scalped years ago. He is noticeably hostile to Hawk.

Glass scouts ahead alone for a while but he is mauled by a mother bear protecting her cubs. The attack is brutal and Glass is severely mauled but he’s able to stab the bear. The other people in the camp find Glass but doubt his chances for survival. Henry commands to three men in the camp–Hawk, Fitzgerald and the young Jim Bridger–to stay with Glass until he dies and give him a proper burial. Fitzgerald tries to smother Glass when alone but Hawk stops him. Unfortunately stabbed is killed by Fitzgerald as Glass can only lie and watch. Fitzgerald attempts to bury Glass prematurely but stops when he sees Bridger flee and follows.

Abandoned with only a canteen, Glass is somehow able to survive and slowly heal. Days later, he’s able to heal to the point he can move, then crawl, then walk. As he heals he’s haunted by visions of his deceased wife. He even sees visions of her as he comes across an abandoned church. However he also has to deal with the Arikara whose chief is searching for his kidnapped daughter Powaqa and trusts no white man.

Both Fitzgerald and Bridger are heading to Fort Kiowa but Fitzgerald scares Bridger into being fully under his control. One at the Fort, Fitzgerald tells Henry that Glass died and Hawk was attacked by the Arikara. Henry gives both Fitzgerald and Bridger a cash reward. Fitzgerald accepts without guilt but Bridger refuses.

Glass encounters Hicuk, a friendly Pawnee who gives him food and shelter and helps him along the path back to Fort Kiowa. Hikuc has also lost his family. Upon hearing from Glass his intent for revenge, he tells Glass “Revenge is in the Creator’s hands.” The day after the blizzard, Glass wakes to find Hikuc hanged by French pelters. Not only that, he finds Powaqa being raped by leader of the French pelters. He’s able to kill the two leaders and free Powaqa but has to escape with Hikuc’s horse and Bridger’s canteen. An ambush by the Arikara causes Glass to flee on horse only to fall off a cliff. Glass survives but the horse is dead. Glass uses the horse’s carcass as a shelter overnight.

Meanwhile word has gotten around to Fort Kiowa that Glass is in fact alive. This is known as a French hunter brings Bridger’s canteen there. Henry however thinks it’s stolen from Hawk and organizes a search party but Fitzgerald knows the truth and flees. Henry finds Glass alive in the search. Infuriated, he charges Bridger with treason after returning to the Fort but Glass insists it’s all Fitzgerald’s doing.

The operation then goes to find Fitzgerald and bring him to justice. Henry however is caught by Fitzgerald in an ambush and is killed and scalped. It’s now up to Glass who hatches a plan to finally get his revenge. It works in catching Fitzgerald and having him shot but not without Fitzgerald being able to run off. It then comes down to a fight between the two for Glass to get his revenge. It ends with Glass making a decision and an ending we’re all left to decide for ourselves Glass’ fate.

Now just to get things straight, this is not the true story of Hugh Glass getting revenge on John Fitzgerald. In fact historic documentation shows Glass let Fitzgerald live because he knew the heavy penalty of killing a soldier in the U.S. Army. Fitzgerald became a soldier in the U.S. army and was stationed in Fort Atkinson, Nebraska. Fitzgerald did give Glass his rifle back.

This film is actually a revenge story adapted from the 2002 novel The Revenant: A Story Of Revenge by Michael Punke. I think the focus of the film is more about telling the story than it is about retelling history. I have not read Punke’s novel but I’m sure that was how Punke would have wanted Fitzgerald to face the music upon abandoning Glass to die. There is actually very little information about who John Fitzgerald was or even what type of person he was in real life. We have the historical documentation of what happened to Glass and what happened in his pursuit of Fitzgerald but not much else. The novel was not only Punke’s chance of creating his own revenge fantasy in Fitzgerald but giving Fitzgerald a character of his own. The film helps Punke’s story come alive and even paint a picture of Glass, Fitzgerald, the times, the terrain and the domain of all that happened.

This revenge story is not your typical revenge story you’d see in your typical Hollywood movies or even from the likes of Quentin Tarantino. This revenge story is also a story of survival and also shows a human side of the perpetrator Hugh Glass. Yes, he was as tough as a frontiersman and a trapper of the time should be. However he did have a soft side. He still has feelings towards his deceased wife who was a Native American woman and he truly loved his son despite others seeing him as a ‘half-breed.’ He also had to be tough as he needed to survive the brutal bear attack and recover from his wounds in order to pursue Fitzgerald. He also had to develop the will to live knowing that his son was killed by Fitzgerald. He also had to be right in his mind in deciding what he had to do to Fitzgerald in the end.

I will admit there were times when I questioned if this film was becoming too much of a tall tale. One example is when seeing Glass pursue Fitzgerald in what appeared to be just days before his attack. I often asked: “Would someone who suffered such a brutal bear attack recover in that fast of a time?” Even that scene where Glass and his horse fall off a cliff. The snowy tree broke Glass’ fall and helped him live without any severe bodily damage but the horse died. That scene also had me scratching my head. Maybe those scenes and the elapsed time were also part of Punke’s novel. Nevertheless it still had me questioning its believability.

First off I’d like to give respect to Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for delivering an excellent movie. He may be renowned for his ‘filmwork’ but here he takes his first steps in directing a movie intended to draw big crowds while still maintaining some top film making qualities. Very little was compromised and the end result was excellent as it both succeeds as a film and as a movie. I’ll admit I was unhappy about Birdman winning Best Picture last year because it didn’t give much for a film audience to either enjoy or appreciate. Yes, it had top-notch acting, directing and scriptwriting but who truly enjoyed it?  This is ten times more enjoyable while still maintaining top acting and directing. Yes, there were some scenes that can scare many. In fact I’ll admit the film made me hope I never walk in the woods again. Nevertheless it was a very good movie full of drama and thrills. As I said, I have never read Punke’s novel but the script Inarritu co-wrote with Mark L. Smith definitely makes the novel come alive. I know the script was not nominated for an Oscar. However the unspoken scenes in the movie told as much as the scripted scenes.

The film would simply be a popcorn movie if it weren’t for the acting. Leonardo DiCaprio did an excellent job of Hugh Glass. He said a lot especially in the scenes where Hugh Glass was unable to speak. His performance was as much about telling a lot through physical actions as it was through dialogue. Hey, it’s been said 80% of communication is non-verbal and Leo was able to say a lot in those scenes. That’s why I’d be shocked if he doesn’t win the Oscar. Also just as excellent is Tom Hardy. He didn’t play your typical rotten-to-the-core villain. He gave John Fitzgerald some fears and insecurities to the role and conveyed them well. Nevertheless he also made Fitzgerald hateable as a remorseless villain who even calls the dead Hawk a ‘pussy’ in Glass’ face. Additional performances of respect include Bill Poulter as Jim Bridger, the young trapper who possesses the conscience Fitzgerald lacks, and Forrest Goodluck as Hawk.

Additional qualities of acclaim is the cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki, the costuming by Jacqueline West including its use of furs and hides, the film editing by Stephen Mirrione, the visual effects including that of the bear attack, the excellent use of both natural settings and constructed sets that fit the times and scenes perfectly and the film’s score by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Carsten Nicolai and Bryce Dessner.

An additional note. I also give the film respect for its treatment of Native Americans. I may have been a baby when Sacheen Littlefeather refuted Marlon Brando’s Oscar on his behalf and spoke of his protest to the on-screen depiction of Native Americans or First Nations peoples as Canadians commonly refer to them as. However I already know of Hollywood’s past and how they’re famous for shelling out ‘cowboys and indians’ movies from decades past. I can completely understand why Brando would have been angry with that depiction as Brando has had a history of activism in the 1970’s on behalf of people of various races. I will admit Hollywood has been better at its depiction of indigenous Americans from films like 1990’s Dances With Wolves and even the character of Chief in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest that was shown in theatres a mere three years after Brando’s Oscar protest. I’m sure there are some people that can spot imperfections in Hollywood’s current treatment of Native Americans including in this film but I found it hard to pinpoint a scene that was insulting to them. Sure there were battles with tribes and there were bigoted attitudes among many white characters but there were many positive Native American characters in this movie. In addition the main protagonist Hugh Glass had positive interaction with the Native people including marrying one and treating his son with love while many despised him as a ‘half-breed.’

The Revenant isn’t just a dazzling movie. It’s one that will keep you intrigued from start to finish and not know what to expect next.

VIFF 2015 Review: A Syrian Love Story

A Syrian Love Story focuses on a Syrian couple from the start of 2011's Arab Spring to the present.

A Syrian Love Story focuses on a Syrian couple from the start of 2011’s Arab Spring to the present.

I saw quite a few documentaries at this year’s VIFF. A Syrian Love Story was one documentary that gets one thinking.

This is a documentary filmed year by year over five years. It starts in 2010 while Syria is going through its start of political turmoil. It had been under turmoil since the 1970’s when Hafez Al-Assad took power and any reforms promised by his son Bashar, who succeeded Hafez in presidency after his death almost ten years earlier, doesn’t deliver in the reforms he promised. Images of protest met with a violent response from government forces are too common. Caught in the middle is a married couple of Amer Daoud and Raghda Hasan. They have four sons from 6 to 22. Amer is living in Damascus being a father to the children. Raghda is in a prison for publishing a book about their relationship of all things. Amer and Raghda are no strangers to political oppression in their home country. Raghda has face imprisonment because she’s a communist revolutionary and Amer was once imprisoned with his ties to the PLO. In face they both first met in prison and fell in love through communicating through a prison wall.

Sean McAllister is in Syria looking for something about Syria’s crisis to film but something out of the ordinary. He finds it in Amer and Raghda. McAllister also shows us their four sons. The first year he films Amer’s phone conversations with Raghda while she’s in prison. He gets her sons to talk with her as well. McAllister was even imprisoned for a few days for a journalism crime and was able to listen first-hand to the torture in Syria’s prisons. He even meets the older son who broke up with his girlfriend because she was pro-Assad. Despite all this, McAllister does show a case of hope for the future, for all.

In 2012, Raghda is finally free. She is reunited with her husband, sons and the rest of her family. But they can’t stay in Syria, not while there’s civil war that started once Syrian people revolted against Assad during 2011’s Arab Spring. The family move to a refugee area in Lebanon. They do it not simply for the sake of themselves but their sons too. McAllister is nervous for the couple’s future since he knows behaviors of prisoners after they’ve been freed. He hopes Raghda doesn’t exhibit behavior that will hurt their marriage.

In 2013, they find themselves in Paris, France. Things are definitely better for the two youngest children Kaka and Bob. Bob is in a good school and Kaka is able to become a disc jockey at his high school. Things appear to go well for Amer and Raghda as they’re able to make a living for themselves but there’s a sense that something’s wrong. The children sense it.

In 2014, we get a good sense of what’s wrong. Amer and Raghda’s marriage is crumbling. Amer feels distant from Raghda and has a French girlfriend of his own. It upsets Raghda to the point she changes the password on his laptop. She even attempts suicide by cutting her wrists. No doubt it upsets everyone. She them admits she never had the chance to find herself and she feels that despite her  political freedom in France, she still feels she can do more for Syria or for others hurt by war.

The film ends in 2015. They two youngest sons have a promising future in France. Their older son reveals his pro-Assad former girlfriend was killed. Asad runs a chicken farm in France and is without Raghda. He wishes her well in whatever she does. Raghda is now in Turkey in a city 20 miles from the Syrian border. She works with refugees and is happier with her life now.

This is a unique story of love that starts with one hoping for a happy ending. We know Syria won’t turn out for the better but we hope that Raghda will be free and will return to her family and they’ll live happily ever after. We all want that storybook ending. Unfortunately it doesn’t end up that way. McAllister knows the problems prisoners exhibit after they’re free and he lets Amer and all of us know it. Over time, it shows after the moves, after Syria’s continued strife and after one senses the love between the two fading over time. It was unfortunate. The moment of hope doesn’t end up being when Raghda is free but rather when Amer is still in France and Raghda is in Turkey. That’s where the true scene of hope for the better is present.

The story is not just about the couple. It’s also about the surrounding family. This is especially noteworthy of the two youngest sons, Kaka and Bob. Bob is six at the beginning and the youngest. He tried to be a carefree child but the hurt of knowing his mother’s in prison is evident. Kaka is ten at the start and familiar with the realities in Syria. He’s able to tell Sean in good enough English his feeling of the situation, and of how he’d either like to fight or kill Assad. As they grow, the changes are present. Bob is getting bigger but has difficulties fitting into his school in Paris because his long hair causes other boys to call him a girl. Kaka is getting a better education but can’t ignore what’s happening to his parents. He can sense what’s happening and has his own opinions on what he feels should happen. Although the two are not the main protagonists, their presence in this story is vital.

One thing about this documentary is that the story focuses more on the fading marriage than it does in the strife in Syria from civil oppression to public outcry to a civil war to the eventual crisis with ISIS. However it does focus on the couple as they were fighting their own war with each other. They go from loving each other and having a closeness while Raghda’s in prison to the love fading over time after Raghda is free and they’re together again. It’s sad that they were closer together when Raghda was in prison. It’s even hard to pinpoint who’s the bad guy. Is it Amer for his fading commitment? Or is it Raghda for her inner strife? Amer appears like a jerk not even willing to try when he says things like “Syrians love prisoners,” but Raghda’s suicide attempt gets you wondering was she thinking of her family at the time?

Watching this documentary, I believe that this isn’t the type of documentary meant for the big screen. With the camera quality, editing and McAllister’s voice over, it fares much better as something for television broadcast. I’m sure that’s what it intends to be. I have to give McAllister credit for having the ability to do all this filming over time and to present a unique story. I also give Amer and Raghda credit for McAllister willing to film them while their marriage was hitting rock bottom and they were showing terrible behavior such as Amer threatening to smash his laptop and Raghda slitting her wrists. It surprises me that they were willing to show things that personal on camera.

A Syrian Love Story may not be a documentary meant for the big screen but it’s a very revealing story that reminds us not all love story has the fairytale ending. despite the hardships they show, it does end on a hopeful, if not happy, note.

Has Pixar Lost Its Spark?

The release of Monsters University shows Pixar putting more emphasis on commercialism and less in remarkable writing.

The release of Monsters University shows Pixar putting more emphasis on commercialism and less in remarkable writing.

Remember how for many years Pixar animated movies would be some of the best made of the year? Monsters University showed signs of Pixar heading in a more commercial direction with more emphasis on profit than on script quality. The question is will Pixar return to the greatness it had for many years?

Pixar started off as a small animation studio that made computer animated shorts. Actually shorts was as far computer animation got as far back as 20 years ago. That all changed when they received a phone call from Disney. There they teamed up to make the first ever animated feature. The end result, Toy Story, was history in the making. Released in the fall of 1995, it won over the critics and was a big hit at the box office. Director John Lasseter even received a special honorary Oscar for his achievement.

Eventually over the years the success of Toy Story would pave the way for successes of other 3D animated features over the years. Much of which was done by Pixar itself with the successes and critical renown of A Bug’s Life in 1998 and Toy Story 2 in 1999. In fact in teaming up with Disney/Buena Vista, it became clear that 3D would be the next big thing in animation as it would even fare better with the critics and outgross 2D animated movies from Disney like Mulan in 1998 and Tarzan in 1999.

However it would soon be clear that Pixar would soon get some rivalry in terms of 3D pictures. DreamWorks animation would release Antz just weeks before A Bug’s Life. Then they’d release Shrek in 2001 which did even better critically and financially than Pixar’s Monster’s Inc. that year. The rivalry would eventually lead to the eventual domination of 3D animation in shelling out animated features.

Pixar teamed up with Disney would have continued success and critical renown with other pictures like Finding Nemo in 2003 and The Incredibles in 2004. The movies were not your typical Disney movies in terms of marketing characters in toys but they did continue to score well with the public with both grossing over $250 million and score excellently with the critics. However 2006 gave a sign that Pixar was leaning into commercial directions with Cars. The movie scored 74% on Rotten Tomatoes—the lowest for a Pixar feature at the time—but the movie succeeded in toy merchandise. Its gross was also an impressive $244 million.

2007 to 2010 saw continued success and critical renown with Pixar’s features like Ratatouille in 2007, Wall-E in 2008 and Up in 2009. The big bang came in 2010 with the release of Toy Story 3, the finale to the Toy Story series. Like most of Pixar’s previous movies, it scored excellently with the critics. Its box office result was also excellent as it grossed $415 million: the most ever for a Pixar feature.

Vanity Fair saluted Pixar for its fifteen years of remarkable entertainment with this picture in its Oscar issue.

Vanity Fair saluted Pixar for its fifteen years of remarkable entertainment with this picture in its 2011 Oscar issue.

I still remember right after Toy Story 3 came there was countless mention of the success Pixar has made both financially and critically over the years. Entertainment webpages around that time made note of the successes they gave over the years. Rotten Tomatoes even pointed out that except for Cars, each Pixar movie up to then scored 90% or higher on its Tomatometer. Even Vanity Fair had a picture during the time of the Oscars of all the characters of Pixar movies. It was almost like around that Oscar time there was a big salute to Pixar for the 15 years of entertainment they gave. 15 years of excellent quality entertainment. 15 years of entertaining families and charming critics. A total of almost $3 billion gross. Forty-one Oscar nominations and eleven Oscar wins including seven wins in the Best Animated Feature category. In fact you could give credit for movies like Toy Story or Toy Story 2 for why the Best Animated Feature category was added by the Academy back in 2001.

Then it seems like right after Toy Story 3 and the glory that followed, things went downhill for Pixar. First came Cars 2 in 2011 with a lot of hype and merchandise. The film grossed a humble $191 million at the box office. However it was the Rotten Tomatoes result that was the big shocker. 39%: the first Pixar feature ever to be certified a Rotten Tomato. It even became the first Pixar feature to fail to receive a Best Animated Feature Oscar nomination ever since the category’s inception. As for the merchandise…

2012 gave a bit of hope that Pixar would be back into the swing of things with Brave. Brave was also a milestone as this would be the first Pixar feature with a female protagonist and would include two female co-writers and a female co-director. Unfortunately Brave received 78% at Rotten Tomatoes: falling short of Pixar’s finest efforts. The film did gross $237 million at the box office but still something was missing.

2013 seemed like another year where Pixar was aiming for quantity instead of quality. Monsters University, the prequel to Monsters Inc., was the only Pixar feature released in 2013. That hit a 78% on Rotten Tomatoes but still grossed an impressive $260 million. In terms of merchandise…

This weekend came Planes, a movie that was going along the same line as the Cars movies. It’s not necessarily a Pixar movie but it did have John Lasseter create the story for it. It scored only 24% on Rotten Tomatoes and opened the weekend with a paltry $22.2 million. That could be bad news about Lasseter’s creative juices.

It’s a question to what happened to Pixar as they always aimed for quality not just in terms of animation but also in the story and script. In fact seven of Pixar’s features have also been nominated in the screenplay categories and it’s those that have stood out as Pixar’s finest achievements. However as seen in the past, the desire to go more commercial does make the quality take a backseat. The animation is still top-of-the-line however the lack of inventiveness in its writing is making itself more evident.

It’s not to say that this is the end of Pixar’s legacy. 2014 will have The Good Dinosaur coming out. This was made from a concept of John Lasseter and will introduce a new scriptwriter to Pixar’s dream team. 2015 also shows Pixar keeping its creativity active with The Inside Out and also giving another commercial try with Finding Dory. How these movies will do both commercially and critically is something only time will tell.

Pixar has left a legacy of animated movies over the past twenty years. However it has been right after the release of Toy Story 3 that they appeared to be taking their legacy for granted. Their upcoming releases should send the message if they’ll return to it or not.

2010 Oscars Best Picture Nominee: Toy Story 3

Hi. With every Academy Awards, I usually review all the Best Picture nominees and give my feedback on them. So begins it this year. This year, we again have ten nominees for Best Picture. They range from big budget blockbusters to arthouse or filmfest pictures. From live action to animation. From timepieces to movies in current settings. From Hollywood to England.  From summer hits to the usual end-of-year serious lineup. I really can’t complain about this year’s set. With that in mind, I will start off with probably the most popular nominee of the year, Toy Story 3.

The first Toy Story, released back in 1995,  has to rank as one of the best animated pictures ever. Before the first Toy Story, there was no real 3D animation feature that was created. As Toy Story was released, that all changed. It not only was a hit but made a name for the Disney/Pixar collaboration and paved the way for many more 3D animation movies to where now 3D is the cream of the animation crop. As Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs made film history as the first ever feature-length animated film, Toy Story made history as the first ever 3D animated feature. Toy Story 2 proved that the Toy Story fever can happen again and even compete with live action. Eleven years later, we have the third and final installment of the groundbreaking series, Toy Story 3.

SPOILER WARNING: This review will have some spoilers of the movie’s plot and even the ending but I don’t think it should matter; assuming most of you have seen it already anyways.

It starts as the toys act out Andy’s toy fantasy as he plays with them while still a kid. Fast forward to the present, we see Andy’s all grown up, college-bound and hasn’t played with Woody, Buzz and friends for years. The toys face an uncertain future, unsure if they’ll be given away to those in need or trashed. Andy keeps Woody to take to college while bagging the rest for Sunnyside Daycare. The mother mistakes the bag of toys as trash and puts them to the side of the road. They manage to escape thanks to Woody and find themselves at Sunnyside. They’re first introduced to the place by Lots-O’-Huggin’-Bear, or ‘Lotso’, and it seems fine until they’re played with by, or should I say abused by, two year-olds. To make matters worse, Lotso has the place run like a toy prison and convinces all they were thrown away.

Meanwhile Woody is picked up by a toddler named Bonnie and decides she’d be best for the gang. He also finds out what happened to his friends from a clown named Chuckles and of how Lotso became the sinister toy svengali he is. Woody helps plan an escape for all the toys until Lotso cuts the escape short. He takes Woody to the dump truck with him and the toys all follow Woody to the dump where they find themselves on an incinerator leading to the furnace. Lotso attempts to help, only to trick them all into saving himself and leading them all to the furnace. All are spared a fiery demise as the squeeze toys rescue them through the claw they were fascinated by. All escape and return to Andy’s house while Lotso is strapped to the grill of a garbage truck for life.

Upon returning to Andy’s house, the toys place themselves in a box and Woody posts a note to be given to Bonnie. Andy gives all the toys except for Woody to Bonnie, but Woody does get her attention. Reluctant since Woody is his most prized childhood toy, Andy eventually does hand it over to Bonnie where he spends his last time with Woody playing with Bonnie. In the end, Woody and the gang are played with again by Bonnie and the Sunnyside tots and things work for the better as Sunnyside is no longer a prison and become beloved by the kids.

Overall this movie was excellently written and succeeds in becoming a surprise tearjerker. In animated movies, a script has to be top notch in order for it to succeed on screen and it does just that. Just as important is having top notch animation. Pixar is known for having graphics in their movies perfect to the minutest detail and they keep up their excellent work with the graphics in Toy Story 3. The voices and characters retain their original charm and the new toys are given a charm of their own. We even see a unique twist in Buzz Lightyear as he’s often reverted to Spanish mode. Overall the movie is completely enjoyable and will please Toy Story fans all over again.

Hard to believe the first two Toy Story movies were out when there was no Best Animated Feature Oscar. The first Toy Story was nominated for the 1995 Golden Globe for Best Picture – Comedy or Musical and in three Oscar categories including Best Screenplay. Director John Lasseter was even awarded a special Oscar for creating the first ever computer animated feature. Toy Story 2 scored a perfect 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and won the 1999 Golden Globe for Best Picture – Comedy or Musical. The Academy only had the heart to give it a single Best Original Song nomination for ‘When She Loved Me’. The Best Animated Feature category was introduced at the 2001 Academy Awards, two years after Toy Story 2.  A win for Toy Story 3 in the Best Animated Feature category would not only be a win for the movie itself but an excellent ‘last hurrah’ for the groundbreaking series.  Not to mention the first Toy Story movie to win an Oscar. Toy Story 3 has already won the lion’s share of Best Animated Feature awards however it was dealt a shocker at the recent Annie Awards when it lost to How To Train Your Dragon. I doubt if there will be a shocker like that at the Oscars. Disney/Pixar movies have won five of the nine Best Animated Feature Oscars and it looks like Toy Story 3 will be #6. As for Best Picture, knowing the Academy, I don’t think Toy Story 3, or frankly any animated movie ever, will get Best Picture.

If you’re one of the many who saw Toy Story 3, consider yourselves satisfied to know you saw one of the best movies of 2010. A perfect ending to arguably the best animation series in film history.