Film Review: To Die For (dir by Gus Van Sant)


The 1995 satire, To Die For, is a very clever film about some seriously stupid people.

Of course, you could debate whether or not Suzanne Stone-Maretto (Nicole Kidman) is actually dumb or not.  Suzanne may not know much about anything that isn’t on TV but she does have a natural understanding for what makes a good story.  She knows exactly the type of story that the public wants to hear and she does a good job of faking all of the right emotions.  As she proves throughout the course of the film, she’s also very good at convincing people to do stuff.  Whether it’s convincing the local television station to put her on the air as a weather person or convincing two teenagers to murder her husband, Suzanne always seems to get what she wants.

Of course, what Suzanne really wants is to be a celebrity.  She wants to be a star.  As she explains it, that’s the greatest thing about America.  Anyone can become a star if they just try hard enough and find the right angle.  If the film were made today, Suzanne would be a social media junkie.  Since the movie was made in 1995, she has to settle for talk shows and murder.

So maybe Suzanne isn’t that dumb but her husband, Larry (Matt Dillon) …. well, if we’re going to be honest, Larry’s more naive than dumb.  He’s the favored son of a big Italian family and it’s obviously never occurred to him that a woman would possibly want something more than just a husband and a lot of children.  He thinks it’s cute that Suzanne’s on TV but he’s also fully convinced that she’s going to eventually settle down and focus on starting a family.  It never occurs to him that his wife would be willing to sacrifice him on her way to stardom.

Of course, if you really want to talk about dumb, just check out the teenagers who Suzanne recruits to kill her husband.  They’ve been appearing in a documentary that Suzanne’s been shooting.  The documentary’s title is “Teens Speak Out,” which is something of an ironic title since none of the teens that Suzanne interviews really has anything to say.  Lydia (Allison Folland) is just happy that the “glamorous” Suzanne is pretending to care about her.  Russell (Casey Affleck) is the type of grinning perv who drops a pen just so he can try to get a peek up Suzanne’s skirt while he’s on the floor retrieving it.  And then there’s Jimmy (Joaquin Phoenix), with his flat voice and his blank stare.  Jimmy is briefly Suzanne’s lover before he ends up in prison for murdering her husband.  It doesn’t take much to convince Jimmy to commit murder, either.  Apparently, all you have to do is dance to Lynard Skynard while it’s raining outside.  Media interviews with Lydia, Jimmy, Suzanne, and Larry’s sister (Ileana Douglas) are sprinkled throughout the film and Jimmy continues to insist that he will always love Suzanne.

As for Suzanne, she’s got stardom to worry about….

Though the subject matter is a bit familiar and the film, made before the age of Twitter and Instagram, is a bit dated, To Die For‘s satire still carries a powerful bite.  One need only watch A&E or the Crime and Investigation network to see that Suzanne was absolutely correct when she decided that killing her husband would make her a star.  If To Die For were made today, you could easily imagine Suzanne leveraging her infamy into an appearance on Dancing With The Stars and maybe Celebrity Big Brother.  At the very least. she could get her own house hunting show on HGTV.  Delivering her often sociopathic dialogue with a perky smile and a positive attitude, Nicole Kidman is absolutely chilling as Suzanne.  Meanwhile, Joaquin Phoenix’s blank stare will continue to haunt you long after the film ends.

And speaking of endings, To Die For has a great one.  You’ll never hear Season of the Witch the same way again!

A Halloween Film Review: A Ghost Story (dir by David Lowery)


To quote Taking Back Sunday:

“What’s it feel like to be a ghost?”

That’s the question that is asked in the hauntingly beautiful film, A Ghost Story.

How to describe the plot of A Ghost Story?  It’s not going to be easy because A Ghost Story is a film that defies easy description or categorization.  It’s power comes less from the specifics of the story and more from the mood that it creates.  A Ghost Story makes you think and it makes you feel and, to a certain extent, you’re just going to have to take my word on that.  This is one of those film that, to truly understand, you simply must see.

Casey Affleck plays C and Rooney Mara plays M.  They live in a small house, near Dallas.  They’re like any couple, really.  Sometimes, they appear to be in love.  Sometimes, they appear to be on the verge of breaking up and never seeing each other again.  Sometimes, they are happy.  Sometimes, they are sad.  The film starts with an almost random series of scenes, showing their life together.

Suddenly, we see a smashed car sitting in front of the house.

Just as abruptly, we’re in the hallway outside a sterile hospital room.  We can see that, inside the room,  M is staring down at a body on a slab.  The body has been covered with a sheet.  M leaves.  Slowly, the sheet-covered body sits up.  We watch as the sheet-covered ghost walks down the hallways of the hospital.  Briefly, it pauses to look at what appears to be a portal to … somewhere else.  The ghost does not enter the portal and the portal closes.

We spend the rest of the movie following that sheet-covered ghost as he wanders through our world.  No one living sees it and the ghost never says a word.  He watches as M mourns over his passing.  Time passes.  People enter and leave the house.  Life goes on but the ghost is stuck forever where he is, powerless to do anything other than occasionally break a dish, play a piano, or open a book.  Time passes.  The ghost sees the future, the past, and the present.  Why is the ghost still there?  Does the ghost know?  Is the ghost just waiting for someone who it has forgotten?

If I’m making A Ghost Story sound like a sad movie … well, it is.  There are moments of humor, largely coming from the fact that the ghost is literally a sheet with some eye holes.  For the most part, though, this film is a somber meditation on life, death, and what makes it all worth the trouble.  It’s a film that makes you wonder whether you would have entered that portal or if you too would have returned to your old house so that you silently watch the world go on without you.

From the stillness of the morgue to the view of a futuristic cityscape that the ghost can see but probably no longer appreciate, director David Lowery gives some truly beautiful and haunting images while telling this story.  (It’s not surprising to learn that the Dallas-based Lowery previously worked on Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color.)  A Ghost Story came out earlier this year and really didn’t get the attention that it deserved.  It’s a thought-provoking film and definitely one of the best of the year.

Here’s What Won At The Oscars!


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Here are your Oscar Winners!

Best Picture — La La Land Moonlight

Best Director — Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Best Actor — Casey Affleck, Manchester By The Sea

Best Actress — Emma Stone, La La Land

Best Supporting Actor — Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Best Supporting Actress — Viola Davis, Fences

Best Original Screenplay — Manchester By The Sea

Best Adapted Screenplay — Moonlight

Best Animated Feature — Zootopia

Best Art Direction — La La Land

Best Cinematography — La La Land

Best Costume Design — Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them

Best Editing — Hacksaw Ridge

Best Makeup — Suicide Squad 

Best Sound Mixing — Hacksaw Ridge

Best Sound Editing —Arrival

Best Visual Effects — The Jungle Book

Best Original Song — “City of Stars” from La La Land

Best Original Score — La La Land

Best Documentary Feature — OJ: Made in America

Best Foreign Language Film — The Salesman

Best Animated Short — Piper

Best Documentary Short — The White Helmets

Best Live Action Short — Sing

Lisa Marie’s Thoughts On The Oscar Nominations


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Okay, I’ve had plenty of time to think about today’s Oscar nominations and now I’m ready to share my thoughts.  Obviously, my picks were a lot different from what the Academy selected.  That’s okay.  That’s the way it goes every year.  I don’t mind being a contrarian.

So, let’s take a look at what was nominated, category-by-category.

(If you need a refresher as to what was nominated, here’s a complete list of nominees!)

Best Live Action Short, Best Animated Short, Best Documentary Short: I’m sure that these three categories are full of wonderful nominees that were created by wonderful people but I don’t believe that I’ve seen a single one of them.  So, with that in mind, I can only imagine that the Academy did a perfect job selecting all 15 of these nominees!  Good work, Academy!

Best Foreign Language Film: Again, I have seen none of the nominees so I really can’t comment one way or another.  Normally, this would make me feel like a failure but I imagine that 90% of the people reading this post are in the same boat.  I imagine Toni Erdmann will win, just because of all the good things I’ve read about it.  But, since I haven’t actually seen any of the nominees, I will refrain from making any sort of prediction.

Best Documentary Feature: I’m disappointed that my favorite documentary, The Witness, was not nominated.  And, quite frankly, I’m shocked that Weiner was not nominated.  That said, I can’t complain about any of the documentaries that actually were nominated.  It was a good year for documentaries.  In fact, it could be argued that it was a better year for documentaries than for features.

Should Win: O.J.: Made in America

Will Win: 13th

Best Original Song: Not a single song from Sing Street was nominated and that is amazingly disappointing.  Original song can be surprising.  Remember last year when that terrible song from SPECTRE somehow won?  That said, I’m expecting that this year will see a huge sweep by La La Land and one of its nominated songs will probably win.

Should Win: Audition (The Fools Who Can Dream) from La La Land

Will Win: City of Stars from La La Land

Best Original Score: The Neon Demon deserved a nomination but I’m not surprised it was snubbed.  There’s no way the Academy was going to honor Nicholas Winding Refn’s subversive masterpiece.  La La Land is going to win this one easily.

Should Win: La La Land

Will Win: La La Land

Best Visual Effects: I was glad to see that Kubo and the Two Strings was nominated and I wish that Arrival had been nominated as well.  I’m going to go ahead and predict that Doctor Strange will be the first MCU film to win an Oscar.

Should Win: Doctor Strange

Will Win: Doctor Strange

Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing: Let’s be honest.  I couldn’t explain the difference between sound editing and sound mixing and, unless you specifically work in the sound department, neither could you.  As a result, these categories are always difficult to predict.  But Hacksaw Ridge has to get some love somewhere and I bet it would happen here if not for La La Land.

Should Win (Both): Hacksaw Ridge

Will Win (Both): La La Land

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: As soon as I saw that Deadpool wasn’t nominated here, I knew it wouldn’t be nominated anywhere.  Can you believe that fucking Suicide Squad is now an Oscar nominee?  I haven’t seen A Man Called Ove but I’m going to predict its victory because I just can’t imagine the Academy honoring either Star Trek Beyond or Suicide Squad.

Should Win: Star Trek Beyond (that had good makeup in it, right?)

Will Win: A Man Called Ove

Best Film Editing: I can’t complain about any of the films nominated here.  La La Land is pretty much a guaranteed winner here.

Should Win: La La Land

Will Win: La La Land

Best Costume Design: I was shocked that Love & Friendship was not nominated.  If La La Land sweeps, it’ll win here.  When I made out my list of my personal picks for the Oscars, I gave the costuming Oscar to La La Land but now that I’m looking at the actual nominees, I’m remembering just how good everyone looked in Allied.

Should Win: Allied

Will Win: La La Land

Best Cinematography: My personal pick for this award was The Neon Demon but it wasn’t nominated.  Out of the nominated films, I would go with Moonlight but I think La La Land is going to sweep.

Should Win: Moonlight

Will Win: La La Land

Best Production Design: Well, it won’t be Passengers!  How the Hell did that get nominated for anything?  I think, of the nominees, Arrival deserves the award for making science fiction feel and look like science fact.  But, again, I think La La Land is going to win here.  (Are you sensing a theme in my predictions?)

Should Win: Arrival

Will Win: La La Land

Best Animated Feature: I was happy that Kubo and the Two Strings, Zootopia, and Moana were all nominated.  I haven’t seen The Red Turtle or My Life as a Zucchini but, on the whole, the Academy has a record of nominating the right films for this award.  I loved Kubo and I think it might win, just because it picked up that Visual Effects nomination as well.  Zootopia, however, would allow the Academy to make a political point and Moana has Lin-Manuel Miranda.  I’m going to go out on a limb and predict a Kubo victory but I wouldn’t be surprised if any of these five nominees won.

Should Win: Kubo and the Two Strings

Will Win: Zootopia Kubo and the Two Strings Moana Zootopia Kubo and the Two Strings

Best Adapted Screenplay: With La La Land likely to sweep the technical awards and Manchester By The Sea and Moonlight set to pick up some acting awards, this category will give the Academy a chance to acknowledge Arrival.

Should Win: Arrival

Will Win: Arrival

Best Original Screenplay: I think this is one of the few awards that La La Land will not win.  This category gives the Academy a chance to honor Hell or High Water.

Should Win: Hell or High Water

Will Win: Hell or High Water

Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis is a guaranteed winner, even though her performance was a lead role.

Should Win: Naomie Harris, Moonlight

Will Win: Viola Davis, Fences

Best Supporting Actor: I was really happy to see that Michael Shannon got a nomination because Shannon is a great actor who always seems to be taken for granted.  That said, Mahershala Ali is almost as much of a lock as Viola Davis.

Should Win: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Will Win: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Best Actress: Let’s just get this out of the way.  Amy Adams not only deserved a nomination, she also deserved the Oscar.  Arrival works because of a twist that occurs halfway through the film.  The twist works because of Amy Adams’s performance.  If not for Amy Adams, Arrival would never have been nominated for best picture.  The fact that she was not nominated will be remembered as one of the biggest mistakes in Academy history.

This morning, I was happy to see that a lot of people on twitter agreed with me about the Amy Adams snub.  What took me by surprise was how many people also agreed with me that Meryl Streep essentially took a spot that should have been given to Amy Adams.  This morning, among other things, I discovered that there’s actually a growing backlash against the annual tradition of automatically nominating Meryl Streep, regardless of whether the film was any good or not.

Could Meryl win yet again?  It depends on whether or not the Academy wants to hear another Meryl Streep speech.  Given the political climate, I wouldn’t discount that as a possibility.  Since I’m on the subject and it’s possible that everyone stopped reading a few categories ago, I’m going to go ahead and admit my unpopular opinion.  While I’m definitely not a fan of the new President, Meryl’s Golden Globe speech felt like almost a parody of upper class white liberalism.  Listening to her, it was easy to imagine Meryl at a cocktail party, bragging about how she’s on a first name basis with her maid.

But, I’m in the minority as far as that opinion is concerned.  The Industry loved Meryl’s speech and, after Donald Trump’s overreaction to it, giving an Oscar to Meryl and giving her a chance to repeat the speech on a much bigger stage would be the perfect way to give the finger to the current administration.

That said, I think Emma Stone will be carried along in the La La Land sweep.  Whether justified or not, many members of the Academy will look at her character and see themselves.

Should Win: Amy Adams in Arrival (Yes, she wasn’t nominated but she should still win, goddammit.)

Will Win: Emma Stone in La La Land

Best Actor: Could anyone other than Casey Affleck win this one?  Denzel Washington is popular and giving him an Oscar for Fences would be a nice to way to reward all of the effort that he put into bringing this acclaimed play to the screen.  Affleck was sued for sexual harassment by a producer and a cinematogrpaher and ended up settling with both of them.  However, I doubt if it will stop him from winning the Oscar.  If the allegations were going to hurt Affleck’s chances, it would have happened long before now.

As for the nominees — well, I have no complaints.  While I wasn’t as impressed with Affleck’s performance as some, I think he did well enough. I would have liked to have seen either Sully‘s Tom Hanks or Hell or High Water‘s Chris Pine nominated.  I’m glad that Andrew Garfield picked up his first nomination.

Should Win: Denzel Washington, Fences

Will Win: Casey Affleck, Manchester By The Sea

Best Director: I’m going to go out on a limb and predict a minor upset.  I think La La Land is going to win in a lot of categories but I think that Moonlight‘s Barry Jenkins will win this Oscar.  Best Picture and Director have been split fairly regularly over the past few years and, after both the #OscarsSoWhite controversy and the 2016 presidential election, it may be felt that it’s time for a black director to finally win the Oscar.  Based on the skill shown in Whiplash and La La Land, Damien Chazelle will have other opportunities.

Should Win: Denis Villeneuve, Arrival

Will Win: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

Best Picture: Though I don’t necessarily think it was one of the best films of the year, I would have loved it if Deadpool had actually scored a nomination.  It would have been an unexpected surprise and it would have shaken up a race that’s gotten rather predictable.

But no.  Deadpool received no nominations and the expected films were nominated.  Perhaps the only thing that could be considered surprising (though not that surprising)  was that Martin Scorsese’s passion project, Silence, was not only snubbed for best picture but also only picked up one nomination. Passengers picked up more nominations that Martin Scorsese’s latest film.  When it comes to total number of nominations, Silence is tired with Suicide Squad.

La La Land is going to win.  It’s probably going to win nearly all 14 of the Oscars it has been nominated for.  My pick for the best film of 2016 was American Honey.  Of the nominees, I think Arrival is the one that deserves to win.  But La La Land is an exuberant valentine to both the Academy and the industry.

La La Lands going to win.

Should Win: Arrival

Will Win: La La Land

2013 oscars

Here Are The Oscar Nominations!


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Here are the Oscar nominations.  La La Land tied Titanic’s record with 14 nominations and I’m going to predict right now that it’ll win nearly everything that it’s been nominated for.  Amy Adams was totally snubbed.  Meryl Streep was technically nominated for Florence Foster Jenkins but we all know it was actually for her Golden Globes speech.

I may have more to say about this later but until then, here are the noms:

Best Picture

  • “Arrival”
  • “Fences”
  • “Hacksaw Ridge”
  • “Hell or High Water”
  • “Hidden Figures”
  • “La La Land”
  • “Lion”
  • “Manchester by the Sea”
  • “Moonlight”

Best Director

  • Mel Gibson – “Hacksaw Ridge”
  • Kenneth Lonergan – “Manchester by the Sea”
  • Barry Jenkins – “Moonlight”
  • Denis Villeneuve – “Arrival”
  • Damien Chazelle – “La La Land”

Best Actor

  • Casey Affleck – “Manchester by the Sea”
  • Andrew Garfield – “Hacksaw Ridge”
  • Ryan Gosling – “La La Land”
  • Viggo Mortensen – “Captain Fantastic”
  • Denzel Washington – “Fences”

Best Actress

  • Isabelle Huppert – “Elle”
  • Ruth Negga – “Loving”
  • Natalie Portman – “Jackie”
  • Emma Stone – “La La Land”
  • Meryl Streep – “Florence Foster Jenkins”

Best Supporting Actor

  • Mahershala Ali – “Moonlight”
  • Jeff Bridges – “Hell or High Water”
  • Lucas Hedges – “Manchester by the Sea”
  • Dev Patel – “Lion”
  • Michael Shannon – “Nocturnal Animals”

Best Supporting Actress

  • Viola Davis – “Fences”
  • Naomie Harris – “Moonlight”
  • Nicole Kidman – “Lion”
  • Octavia Spencer – “Hidden Figures”
  • Michelle William – “Manchester by the Sea”

Best Original Screenplay

  • “20th Century Women”
  • “Hell or High Water”
  • “La La Land”
  • “The Lobster”
  • “Manchester by the Sea”

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • “Arrival”
  • “Fences”
  • “Hidden Figures”
  • “Lion”
  • “Moonlight”

Best Animated Feature

  • “Kubo and the Two Strings”
  • “Moana”
  • “My Life as a Zucchini”
  • “The Red Turtle”
  • “Zootopia”

Best Production Design

  • “Arrival”
  • “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”
  • “Hail, Caesar!”
  • “La La Land”
  • “Passengers”

Best Cinematography

  • “Arrival”
  • “La La Land”
  • “Lion”
  • “Moonlight”
  • “Silence”

Best Costume Design

  • “Allied”
  • “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”
  • “Florence Foster Jenkins”
  • “Jackie”
  • “La La Land”

Best Film Editing

  • “Arrival”
  • “Hacksaw Ridge”
  • “Hell or High Water”
  • “La La Land”
  • “Moonlight”

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

  • “A Man Called Ove”
  • “Star Trek Beyond”
  • “Suicide Squad”

Best Sound Mixing

  • “Arrival”
  • “Hacksaw Ridge”
  • “La La Land”
  • “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”
  • “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi”

Best Sound Editing

  • “Arrival”
  • “Deepwater Horizon”
  • “Hacksaw Ridge”
  • “La La Land”
  • “Sully”

Best Visual Effects

  • “Deepwater Horizon”
  • “Doctor Strange”
  • “The Jungle Book”
  • “Kubo and the Two Strings”
  • “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

Best Original Score

  • “Jackie”
  • “La La Land”
  • “Lion”
  • “Moonlight”
  • “Passengers”

Best Original Song

  • “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” from “La La Land”
  • “Can’t Stop the Feeling” from “Trolls”
  • “City of Stars” from “La La Land”
  • “The Empty Chair” from “Jim: The James Foley Story”
  • “How Far I’ll Go” from “Moana”

Best Documentary Feature

  • “Fire at Sea”
  • “I Am Not Your Negro”
  • “Life, Animated”
  • “OJ: Made in America”
  • “13th”

Best Foreign Language Film

  • “Land of Mine”
  • “A Man Called Ove”
  • “The Salesman”
  • “Tanna”
  • “Toni Erdmann”

Best Live Action Short

  • “Ennemis Interieurs”
  • “La Femme et le TGV”
  • “Silent Nights”
  • “Sing”
  • “Timecode”

Best Documentary Short

  • “Extremis”
  • “4.1 Miles”
  • “Joe’s Violin”
  • “Watani: My Homeland”
  • “The White Helmets”

Best Animated Short Film

  • “Blind Vaysha”
  • “Borrowed Time”
  • “Pear Cider and Cigarettes”
  • “Pearl”
  • “Piper”

The Georgia Film Critics Association Names Moonlight The Best of 2016!


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The Georgia Film Critics Association announced their picks for best of 2016 on January 13th!

Here’s what won:

Best Picture
“Moonlight”
Best Director
Damien Chazelle – “La La Land”
Best Actor
Casey Affleck – “Manchester By The Sea”
Best Actress
Natalie Portman – “Jackie”
Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali – “Moonlight”
Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis – “Fences”
Best Original Screenplay
“Manchester By The Sea”
Best Adapted Screenplay
“Moonlight”
Best Cinematography
“Moonlight”
Best Production Design
“La La Land”
Best Score
Justin Hurwitz – “La La Land”
Best Original Song
“City Of Stars” – “La La Land”
Best Documentary
“O.J.: Made In America”
Best Foreign Film
“Elle”
Best Animated Feature
“Zootopia”’
Breakthrough Award
Mahershala Ali (“Free State Of Jones,” “Hidden Figures,” “Kicks” & “Moonlight”)
Best Ensemble
“Moonlight”
Oglethorpe Award For Excellence In Georgia Cinema
“The Nice Guys”