Tuesday, January 16, 2018

My fearless 2017 Oscar Nomination Predictions

Expect "The Shape of Water" to claim the most Oscar nominations.

Nomination will be announced on Jan. 23; These are just guesses.

Best Picture
Call Me By Your Name
Dunkirk
Get Out
I, Tonya
Lady Bird
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Director
Guillermo del Toro, "The Shape of Water"
Luca Guadagnino, "Call Me By Your Name"
Martin McDonagh, "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"
Christopher Nolan, "Dunkirk"
Jordan Peele, "Get Out"

Best Actor
Timothee Chalamet "Call Me By Your Name"
Daniel Day-Lewis, "Phantom Thread"
James Franco, "The Disaster Artist"
Daniel Kaluuya, "Get Out"
Gary Oldman, "Darkest Hour"

Best Actress
Jessica Chastain, "Molly's Game"
Sally Hawkins, "The Shape of Water"
Frances McDormand, "Three Billboards Ouside Ebbing, Missouri"
Margot Robbie, "I, Tonya"
Saoirse Ronan, "Lady Bird"

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Movie Review: A 'Happy End' to Haneke's Latest? Yes.

Sony Pictures Classics
Happy End (2017, directed by Michael Haneke. France/Germany/Austria, French/English with subtitles, Color, 107 minutes) Michael Haneke's newest film opens and closes with moments recorded on a character's cell phone. I felt this was appropriate considering society's dependence on the device, especially in movie theaters where people are on them until the film starts, and they whip them out when the end credits roll. It's a subtle note Haneke makes about society in "Happy End", the auteur's first film in five years that takes a step back to his earlier works of observing people and cultures without a clear narrative. It was definitely a "happy end"-ing.

True to Haneke form, the film revolves around the Laurent family with an all-star cast who play the characters of construction firm owner Anne (Isabelle Huppert), her brother Thomas (Mathieu Kassovtiz) and their father Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) as the fractured leads of an emotionally broke family. The film is a quilt of slightly loose pieces, both structurally and emotionally, that form together a coherent story about their troubles to realize lethal realities and the changing social climate around them. Anne is dealing with a construction site accident, and her equally unstable son, while her father tries to fight off dementia with several failed suicide attempts. Meanwhile, Thomas deals with multiple lovers and his emotionally distant teenage daughter who knows everything about his salacious encounters. 

Haneke has (had) a way of forming loose parts into a coherent narrative. That has been seen with his own "71 Fragments" and "Code Unknown"; "Happy End" is no different. Intricately weaved into a lot of static shots and long takes, sometimes both, is a story about really naive characters who don't realize the realities around them. The smartest characters are Georges and his granddaughter, Eve, who are both fascinated by death that they connect on a level of empathy that no one else has yet to realize because of all of the distractions around them. The dichotomy between the oldest and youngest characters who seem to realize the most around them is a revelation. No one else understands life more than these two. There is a scene late in the movie where they express their unhappiness with others. An over 70-year age difference and yet these two people have the most true relationship than anyone else in the film. 

"Happy End" focuses on our obsession with the things we can control versus the things we have no control, yet are responsible for. Why? Because it's convenient of course. That's what Haneke has usually focused on, and "Happy End" harbors that energy into a more subtle picture about current political/social norms. Going into a Haneke picture you should expect a very bland, stark level of audience integration. His films are made for audiences to observe the characters' actions and to make interpretations about things we see. "Happy End" lacks a true emotional connection to some in its plot points, even though they're acted at the highest caliber, but it drives home the ideas that people can actually be so oblivious to the real problems that surround them. "Happy End" is a welcome return to the Haneke who could reflect upon us the realest reactions to the social problems around us. He uses the bourgeois setting to show how detached all people can be to the events that truly matter.

Rating: B+

Sunday, December 31, 2017

'The Florida Project', 'Three Billboards' among 2017's best films

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri/Fox Searchlight
And another year comes to a close. Inner turmoil about the state of the country and the values and norms we have long held have been thrown into chaos by a never stopping whirling dervish we call America. It was a strong year that had us more engaged - maybe too much? - as a society and more stubbornly steadfast. A more defined understanding of what we want our world to be was never made more clear until 2017 and it appeared on silver screens, and computer screens, all over the world.

The first movie to hold up a mirror to make us reflect on who we are was February's "Get Out", that awesome horror comedy film from first-time director Jordan Peele who created a crazy original story about racism in America. It opened the floodgates for a lot of films to tackle pertinent issues, and it wasn't confined to documentaries- just look at Steven Spielberg's star-studded "The Post" as a big F-you to the Trump Administration and Fatih Akin's overbearingly trite hate crime film "In The Fade".

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Movie Review: 'Ex Libris' proves libraries are the greatest community centers on earth

Zipporah
Ex Libris- The New York Public Library (2017, directed by Frederick Wiseman. U.S.A., English, Color, 197 minutes) "Ex Libris- The New York Public Library" is one of, if not the most important films in years. This over three-hour examination of the largest library system in the country reinforces the crucial role that a library serves to a community. With approximately 90 branches serving millions in the boroughs of Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island from all walks of life we see that people rely on their local library for all sorts of things. It's a safe haven from the outside troubles; it's a learning center for children; it's a job resource center for the unemployed; it's a building that records all levels of history; it's one of the great cultural institutions that costs next to nothing for the public to use. Libraries are the greatest things in the world and "Ex Libris" reminds us of that.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Movie Reviews: 'The Shape of Water' and 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' are exciting, lovable films

Lucasfilm
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017, directed by Rian Johnson. U.S.A., English, Color, 152 minutes) Grab your lightsaber and favorite droid because you'll be in for a good time with the latest "Star Wars" movie. After dishing out a lot of fan service in "The Force Awakens", the seventh episode in the "Star Wars" franchise, "The Last Jedi" really opens up its potential with a methodical film that gives us deeper characters and emotions than its lighter predecessor. Now that audiences have been reacquainted with old friends and have welcomed new ones, we can get into the meat of this new trilogy. The First Order continues to drive out the Resistance as Rey tries to lure Luke Sykwalker to help with the cause and Finn and Poe try to keep ahead of the Order's trailing forces.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Movie Review: Important message outshines 'The Post'

20th Century Fox
The Post (2017, directed by Steven Spielberg. U.S.A., English, Color, 115 minutes) As a journalist I'm automatically bias toward films about my profession. I get wrapped up in watching the whole process of sourcing, interviewing, uncovering great secrets, the emotional attachment to the story; I love it all and "The Post" doesn't disappoint on that front.

Released at the most appropriate time when the press is constantly being discredited and attacked, "The Post" is a throwback to one of the defining journalism cases of the 20th century: The publication of the highly classified Pentagon Papers. Unfortunately, "The Post" uses that watershed moment as nothing more than a platform for the filmmakers' own political message. This story deserved more than what Steven Spielberg rushed to get made.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Movie Review: 'Call Me By Your Name' is the ultimate love fantasy

Sony Pictures Classics
Call Me By Your Name (2017, directed by Luca Guadagnino. Italy/France, in English/Italian/French, Color, 132 minutes) "Call Me By Your Name" is the ultimate gay fantasy escapist film. It has a lush, sweeping romance playing out between two handsome guys against a gorgeous, foreign locale. Lazy summer days in Northern Italy where the sun kisses your face on leisurely bike rides with your crush seems like perfection, and a hyper-realized ideal that will have the gays (and anyone else, really) swooning. It is so stylized and precise that it makes you wish we could experience love in such a way. What could be better than beautiful people falling in love in a beautiful space? Not much. 

But does a beautiful setting make up for another run-of-the-mill love story?  No.