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.
DISCLAIMER: Seeing all the hits made in the past week to my Super Bowl blog from last year prompted me to publish my pre-Super Bowl blog earlier than expected. Just to let you know my prediction could change in the days leading up to the Bowl.
Can you believe this will be the 50th Super Bowl? For some who are old enough to remember the first, it would be hard to believe. Nevertheless this American ritual will be having its 50th on Sunday February 7th at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. This year it’s the AFC’s Denver Broncos versus the NFC’s Carolina Panthers.
THE START OF AN AMERICAN TRADITION
The Super Bowl actually came out of a league rivalry. The NFL began in 1920 but there was an AFL, the American Football League, that formed in 1960 and it provided some heated rivalry with the NFL. In 1966, a merger was worked out between the NFL and the AFL in which would take full effect in 1970. In the meantime, both league’s top teams would compete in a ‘World Championship’ event.
The first Super Bowl which was actually called the ‘First AFL-NFL World Championship Game’ was held on January 15, 1967 in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The NFL team was the Green Bay Packers led by Vince Lombardi. The AFL team was the Kansas City Chiefs. NBC had the rights to broadcast NFL games while CBS had the rights to broadcast AFL games which meant both networks could show the first Super Bowl: the only Super Bowl which was telecasted by two networks at once.
There was a halftime show but it wasn’t the show as we know it. The show featured trumpeter Al Hirt with the marching bands of the University of Arizona and Grambling State University followed by the release of 300 pigeons and 10,000 balloons and a flying demonstration by the Bell Rocket Air Men. There was also pregame entertainment and performances after each quarter from the Los Angeles Rammettes. The game was held on a sunny day with 22º Celsius (or 73º Fahrenheit) weather and the game was won by the Packers 35-10. Interesting fact: the players of the winning team the Packers were each paid $15,000 and each player of the Chiefs were paid $7,500. Oh yeah, the cost of airing a 30-second commercial was $42,000.
Over time the Super Bowl would grow in both ratings and stature. The Packers’ win in the second Super Bowl, which would be the first Super Bowl by name, would add to the legend of coach Vince Lombardi. Ratings would grow considerably, the cost of airing a 30-second commercial would also grow hugely, marching band performances during the Halftime show would eventually be replaced over time first in 1976 by the ensemble Up With People–the first of four Super Bowl appearances for the ensemble– and would follow with performances by Disney, Michael Jackson, New Kids On The Block, Aerosmith and of course the infamous duo of Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake. The Super Bowl is now watched over 100 million Americans. In fact last year’s game amassed a record US audience of 114.4 million viewers. It’s even attracted viewers worldwide with a total worldwide audience of 160 million last year.
Okay. So what does this year’s Super Bowl have planned? For starters, let’s focus on the stadium. The host venue will be the Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, the home venue for the San Francisco 49ers and the newest stadium of the NFL. It took over two years of construction to complete at an expense of $2 billion. It has a regular capacity of 68,500 that can be expanded to 75,000 which will of course happen Super Bowl Sunday. As of press time, it has not been decided who will sing the national anthem.
Oh yes, the half-time show. Two months ago it was revealed that ‘multiple acts’ will perform in the show. Remember the alleged financial fiasco last year that led Coldplay and Rihanna from balking out of last year’s show? Well Coldplay agreed back in December to perform this year and be the headlining act. Two headlining acts from past Super Bowls Beyonce from Super Bowl XLVII and Bruno Mars from Super Bowl XLVIII, have been confirmed by Pepsi that they will also be performing.
AND NOW A WORD…
Yes, the Super Bowl ads. Every Super Bowl provides us with memorable ads like Mean Joe Greene’s Coke And A Smile, Apple’s 1984, McDonald’s Jordan/Bird hoops showdown, the Budweiser frogs, Mr. Old Spice and Volkswagen’s Darth Vader ad. Last year is most memorable for a commercial remembered for worse thanks to Nationwide Insurance. That commercial about the boy who died in the car accident sparked a social media outrage because most felt it interfered with their enjoyment. Nationwide responded they did the ad to start conversation.
Much to many people’s relief, Nationwide does not appear to back advertising this year. Advertising for a 30-second spot will come at the expense of $5 million. Surprisingly this will be the last year Anheuser-Busch will be advertising multiple ads during the game at a steep discount as part of their contract. This is also the tenth and last year Doritos will have their ‘Crash The Super Bowl’ contest to allow viewers to air their ads. The Pokemon Company will be airing an ad to celebrate their 20th anniversary and QuickBooks is sponsoring a contest to allow ten businesses to air their commercial during the game. Also expect a lot of movie companies to plug their upcoming releases.
THE LOW DOWN
Now enough of the hype. Let’s get down to the game. One thing about this Super Bowl is that with it being the 50th, it will be known as Super Bowl 50 instead of Super Bowl L. Also with it being the 50th, the winning team will not only hold the Super Bowl all year but will also receive an honorary 18-karat gold-plated 50 weighing 66 lbs. The game will pit the AFC winner Denver Broncos against the NFC winner Carolina Panthers. So how do they fare?
The Broncos are no strangers to the Super Bowl. This Super Bowl makes them the fourth team ever to make a record eight Super Bowl appearances. They’ve only won twice, back-to-back in 1997 and 1998. Hey, there was a big long AFC dry-spell which the Broncos broke.
This year the Broncos were one of three teams in the AFC including the Cincinnati Bengals and the New England Patriots that had a 12 win-4 loss season this year. The Broncos came out on top because of less points conceded. The season started with a new head coach in Gary Kubiak and John Elway, who helped the Broncos win both Bowls, continuing as general manager. There were 15 departures and more than 30 signings and three trades and eight signed in the NFL draft.
The Broncos started their regular season on a stellar note winning their first seven games. Their only losses came against the Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers. During the AFC playoffs, they were able to avenge their loss to the Steelers by winning 23-16 and won the championship against the New England Patriots 20-18.
This has been an excellent year for the Broncos. No doubt about it Peyton Manning is still on even after a tear in his foot back in November and the defense is the admiration of the league. However I saw the AFC game and I saw both the Broncos and the Patriots commit a lot of fumbles and clumsy errors. I was tempted to think neither of them deserved to qualify for the Bowl. Whatever the situation, the Broncos will have to get their game on for the big day.
While the Broncos know how to play in a Super Bowl, the Panthers are almost like rookies. They’ve only played in the Super Bowl once and it was back during Super Bowl XXXVIII where they lost to the Patriots. This year they deliver what could be their best team ever. Heck if there’s one team that could truly call this year their year, it’s the Panthers. Winning their first thirteen games, they set an NFC record for best start of a season and one of only three teams in the NFL’s history to have a 13-0 start. Their only loss of their regular season games came from the Atlanta Falcons. On top of it, this was Cam Newton’s year as he became the first quarterback to throw 30 touchdowns and rush for 10 in a single season. As for playoffs, they faced a stiff challenge from the Seattle Seahawks but won 31-24. However it was their NFC Championship game where they really put on a show by beating the Arizona Cardinals 49-15.
If you saw that game against the Cardinals, you could tell that the Panthers were on fire. They committed few errors and delivered team play like no other team. On top of that Cam Newton looked like the player of the year. However they have not played the Denver Broncos so they might know what type of defense they have. As for Panthers’ defense, they faced a setback in Sunday’s game as Thomas Davis broke his arm. Even though he’s undergoing rehab and plans to play in the Super Bowl, it’s still a question if he’ll be healed in time to play.
MY PREDICTION FOR THE WIN
This is not going to be easy. One’s experienced in Super Bowl play while one is more eager than ever. The Broncos have the top defense but the Panthers have the offensive edge. This could be a game where Peyton Manning ads to his legacy or the game where a new legend by the name of Cam Newton arrives. Sure, the Broncos won in clumsy fashion on Sunday while the Panthers were brilliant but that was one day. Super Bowl Sunday could tell a different story. So I will predict that Super Bowl 50 will be won by the Carolina Panthers 25-20. Plus it’s always a delight to see a team win a Super Bowl for the first time ever.
And there you have it. My thoughts on Super Bowl 50. Should be a delightful game. The entertainment both on the field and during commercial time should also be memorable and hopefully very entertaining. Both teams’ fates will be decided Sunday February 7th.