Here Are The Nominations From The San Diego Film Critics Society!


The San Diego Film Critics Society announced their nominations for the best of 2017 earlier today!  The actual winners will be announce on December 11th.

Check them out below!

(I know this might seem a little dry to some people but I love lists.)

(By the way, in case you’re wondering which sites I usually put the most trust in when it comes to Oscar coverage, here they are: AwardsWatch and AwardsCircuit.  Two of my favorite sites ever, right there.)

Best Picture
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
DUNKIRK
GET OUT
LADY BIRD
THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE OF EBBING, MISSOURI

Best Director
Christopher Nolan, DUNKIRK
Greta Gerwig, LADY BIRD
Guillermo del Toro, THE SHAPE OF WATER
Jordan Peele, GET OUT
Martin McDonagh, THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE OF EBBING, MISSOURI

Best Actor
Gary Oldman, DARKEST HOUR
James Franco, THE DISASTER ARTIST
James McAvoy, SPLIT
Robert Pattinson, GOOD TIME
Timothée Chalamet, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME

Best Actress
Frances McDormand, THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE OF EBBING, MISSOURI
Margot Robbie, I, TONYA
Sally Hawkins, MAUDIE
Sally Hawkins, THE SHAPE OF WATER
Saoirse Ronan, LADY BIRD

Best Supporting Actor
Ethan Hawke, MAUDIE
Oscar Isaac, SUBURBICON
Sam Rockwell, THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE OF EBBING, MISSOURI
Willem Dafoe, THE FLORIDA PROJECT
Woody Harrelson, THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

Best Supporting Actress
Allison Janney I, TONYA
Bria Vinaite, THE FLORIDA PROJECT
Catherine Keener, GET OUT
Holly Hunter, THE BIG SICK
Laurie Metcalf, LADY BIRD

Best Comedic Performance
Daniel Craig, LOGAN LUCKY
Ezra Miller, JUSTICE LEAGUE
James Franco, THE DISASTER ARTIST
Lil Rel Howery, GET OUT
Ray Romano, THE BIG SICK

Best Original Screenplay
Christopher Nolan, DUNKIRK
Greta Gerwig, LADY BIRD
Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, THE BIG SICK
Jordan Peele, GET OUT
Martin McDonagh, THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE OF EBBING, MISSOURI

Best Adapted Screenplay
James Gray, THE LOST CITY OF Z
James Ivory, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, THE DISASTER ARTIST
Sofia Coppola, THE BEGUILED
Virgil Williams & Dee Rees, MUDBOUND

Best Documentary
EX LIBRIS: THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY
FACES PLACES
JANE
LAST MEN IN ALEPPO
THE WORK

Best Animated Film
COCO
LOVING VINCENT
MY ENTIRE HIGH SCHOOL SINKING INTO THE SEA
MY LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI
THE BOSS BABY

Best Foreign Language Film
BPM (BEATS PER MINUTE)
FACES PLACES
THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE
THE SQUARE
THELMA

Best Editing
Jonathan Amos & Paul Machliss, BABY DRIVER
Jon Gregory, THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI
Lee Smith, DUNKIRK
Sarah Broshar, Michael Kahn, THE POST
Sidney Wolinsky, THE SHAPE OF WATER

Best Cinematography
Ben Richardson, WIND RIVER
Dan Laustsen, THE SHAPE OF WATER
Darius Khondji, THE LOST CITY OF Z
Hoyte Van Hoytema, DUNKIRK
Roger Deakins, BLADE RUNNER 2049

Best Production Design
Anne Ross, THE BEGUILED
Alessandora Querzola and Dennis Gassner, BLADE RUNNER 2049
Nathan Crowley, DUNKIRK
Paul D. Austerberry, THE SHAPE OF WATER
Sarah Greenwood, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

Best Visual Effects
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
BLADE RUNNER 2049
DUNKIRK
THE SHAPE OF WATER
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES

Best Costume Design
Jacqueline Durran, BEAUTY and the BEAST
Jenny Eagan, HOSTILES
Luis Sesqueria, THE SHAPE OF WATER
Mark Bridges, PHANTOM THREAD
Sonia Grande, THE LOST CITY OF Z
Stacey Battat, THE BEGUILED

Best Use of Music
BABY DRIVER
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
DUNKIRK
THE SHAPE OF WATER

Breakthrough Artist
Barry Keoghan
Brooklyn Prince
Greta Gerwig
Jordan Peele
Sophia Lillis
Timothée Chalamet

Best Ensemble
GET OUT
LADY BIRD
MUDBOUND
THE POST
THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE OF EBBING, MISSOURI

Zack Snyder tweets Justice League Teaser for Comic-Con


Zack Snyder’s thrown his hat into the Comic Con fray with a special teaser trailer for Justice League, by way of a recent tweet. The film focuses on Bruce Wayne/Batman(Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) as they gather a group of associates to defend against a great threat. So far, it looks interesting (if not a little rushed).

Also on board are Jason Momoa as Aquaman, Ezra Miller as The Flash / Barry Allen and Ray Fisher as Cyborg. The movie has a release date of November 17, 2017.

Playing Catch-Up With 6 Mini-Reviews: Amy, Gloria, Pitch Perfect 2, Sisters, Spy, Trainwreck


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Amy (dir by Asif Kapadia)

Amy opens with brilliant and, in its way, heartbreaking footage of a 14 year-old Amy Winehouse and a friend singing Happy Birthday at a party.  Even though she’s singing deliberately off-key and going over-the-top (as we all tend to do when we sing Happy Birthday), you can tell that Amy was a star from the beginning.  She’s obviously enjoying performing and being the center of attention and, try as you might, it’s impossible not to contrast the joy of her Happy Birthday with the sadness of her later life.

A star whose music touched millions (including me), Amy Winehouse was ultimately betrayed by a world that both wanted to take advantage of her talent and to revel in her subsequent notoriety.  It’s often said the Amy was self-destructive but, if anything, the world conspired to destroy her.  By focusing on footage of Amy both in public and private and eschewing the usual “talking head” format of most documentaries, Amy pays tribute to both Amy Winehouse and reminds us of what a great talent we all lost in 2011.

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Gloria (dir by Christian Keller)

The Mexican film Gloria is a musical biopic of Gloria Trevi (played by Sofia Espinosa), a singer whose subversive songs and sexual image made her a superstar in Latin America and challenged the conventional morality of Catholic-dominated establishment.  Her manager and lover was the controversial Sergio Andrade (Marco Perez).  The movie follows Gloria from her first audition for the manipulative Sergio to her arrest (along with Sergio) on charges of corrupting minors.  It’s an interesting and still controversial story and Gloria tells it well, with Espinosa and Perez both giving excellent performances.

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Pitch Perfect 2 (dir by Elizabeth Banks)

The Bellas are back!  As I think I’ve mentioned a few times on this site, I really loved the first Pitch Perfect.  In fact, I loved it so much that I was a bit concerned about the sequel.  After all, sequels are never as good as the original and I was dreading the idea of the legacy of the first film being tarnished.

But the sequel actually works pretty well.  It’s a bit more cartoonish than the first film.  After three years at reigning ICCA champions, the Bellas are expelled from competition after Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) accidentally flashes the President.  The only way for the Bellas to get the suspension lifted is to win the World Championship of A Capella.  The plot, to be honest, really isn’t that important.  You’re watching the film for the music and the interplay of the Bellas and, on those two counts, the film totally delivers.

It should be noted that Elizabeth Banks had a great 2015.  Not only did she give a great performance in Love & Mercy but she also made a respectable feature directing debut with Pitch Perfect 2.

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Sisters (dir by Jason Moore)

It’s interesting how opinions can change.  For the longest time, I really liked Tina Fey and I thought that Amy Poehler was kind of overrated.  But, over the past two years, I’ve changed my opinion.  Now, I like Amy Poehler and Tina Fey kind of gets on my nerves.  The best way that I can explain it is to say that Tina Fey just seems like the type who would judge me for wearing a short skirt and that would get old quickly, seeing as how I happen to like showing off my legs.

Anyway, in Sisters, Tina and Amy play sisters!  (Shocking, I know.)  Amy is the responsible one who has just gotten a divorce and who wants to make everyone’s life better.  Tina is the irresponsible one who refuses to accept that she’s no longer a teenager.  When their parents announce that they’re selling the house where they grew up, Amy and Tina decide to throw one last party.  Complications ensue.

I actually had two very different reactions to Sisters.  On the one hand, as a self-declared film critic, it was easy for me to spot the obvious flaw with Sisters.  Tina and Amy should have switched roles because Tina Fey is simply not believable as someone who lives to have fun.  Sometimes, it’s smart to cast against type but it really doesn’t work here.

However, as the youngest of four sisters, there was a lot of Sisters that I related to.  I saw Sisters with my sister, the Dazzling Erin, and even if the film did not work overall, there were still a lot of little scenes that made us smile and go, “That’s just like us.”  In fact, I think they should remake Sisters and they should let me and Erin star in it.

Spy2015_TeaserPoster

Spy (dir by Paul Feig)

There were a lot of very good spy films released in 2015 and SPECTRE was not one of them.  In fact, the more I think about it, the more disappointed I am with the latest Bond film.  It’s not so much that SPECTRE was terrible as there just wasn’t anything particular memorable about it.  When we watch a film about secret agents saving the world, we expect at least a few memorable lines and performances.

Now, if you want to see a memorable spy movie, I suggest seeing Spy.  Not only is Spy one of the funniest movies of the year, it’s also a pretty good espionage film.  Director Paul Feig manages to strike the perfect balance between humor and action.  One of the joys of seeing CIA employee Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) finally get to enter the field and do spy stuff is the fact that there are real stakes involved.  Susan is not only saving the world but, in the film’s best scenes, she’s having a lot of fun doing it and, for that matter, McCarthy is obviously having a lot of fun playing Susan and those of us in the audience are having a lot of fun watching as well.

Spy also features Jason Statham as a more traditional action hero.  Statham is hilarious as he sends up his own macho image.  Seriously, who would have guessed that he could such a funny actor?  Here’s hoping that he, McCarthy, and Feig will all return for the inevitable sequel.

Trainwreck_poster

Trainwreck (dir by Judd Apatow)

There’s a lot of great things that can be said about Trainwreck.  Not only was it the funniest film of 2015 but it also announced to the world that Amy Schumer’s a star.  It was a romantic comedy for the 21st Century, one that defied all of the conventional BS about what has to happen in a romcom.  This a film for all of us because, let’s just be honest here, we’ve all been a trainwreck at some point in our life.

But for me, the heart of the film was truly to be found in the relationship between Amy and her younger sister, Kim (Brie Larson).  Whether fighting over what to do with their irresponsible father (Colin Quinn) or insulting each other’s life choices, their relationship is the strongest part of the film.  If Brie Larson wasn’t already guaranteed an Oscar nomination for Room, I’d demand that she get one for Trainwreck.  For that matter, Amy Schumer deserves one as well.

Seriously, it’s about time the trainwrecks of the world had a film that we could truly call our own.

Playing Catch-Up: The Stanford Prison Experiment and The Tribe


The_Stanford_Prison_Experiment

The Stanford Prison Experiment (dir by Kyle Patrick Alvarez)

The Stanford Prison Experiment tells a true story.  It’s important to point that out because this is one of those films that, if you didn’t know it was based on a true story, you would probably be inclined to dismiss as being totally improbable.

In 1971, Professor Philip Zimbardo (played in the movie by Billy Crudup) conducted a psychological experiment at Stanford University.  A fake prison was built in the basement of a campus building, complete with cells and even a room to be used for solitary confinement.  15 students volunteered to take part in the experiment.  For $15.00 a day, some of the students were randomly assigned to be prisoners while others got to be guards.  The experiment was supposed to last for two weeks but Zimbardo ended it after 6 days.  Why?  Because the students had started to the take the experiment very seriously, with the guards growing increasingly sadistic towards their “prisoners.”  Afterwards, many of the prisoner students claimed to have been traumatized while the guard students felt they were just playing a game.

(As one of the guards says in the film, “Am I still going to get paid?”)

The Stanford Prison Experiment tells the story of that controversial experiment and it is, at times, quite a harrowing experience.  Interestingly, when the film begins, the focus is on the prisoners.  I immediately noticed that Ezra Miller was one of the prisoners and, being familiar with his work in Perks of Being A Wallflower and We Need To Talk About Kevin, I naturally assumed that the majority of the film would revolve around him.  After all, among the actors playing the prisoners, Ezra Miller was the “biggest name.”  And, when the film began, it did seem to be centered around Miller’s likable and rebellious presence.

But then something happened.  Miller faded into the background.  In fact, all of the “prisoners” faded into the background and the actors became almost indistinguishable from each other.  Instead, the film started to focus on one of the guards.  Outside of the prison, Christopher Archer (Michael Angarano) is a laid back and rather amiable California college student.  But, once he shows up for the night shift, Archer starts to talk about all of the prison films that he’s seen.  He starts to speak in a Southern accent.  He says stuff like, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”  And soon, Archer is making the rules inside the prison.

In much the same way that Christopher Archer takes over the experiment, actor Michael Angarano takes over the film.  While Zimbardo and his colleagues watch Archer’s actions with a mix of fascination and fear, the film’s audience becomes enthralled with Angarano’s intense performance.  Wisely, neither Angarano nor the film allow Archer to turn into a cardboard villain.  He’s not a bad guy.  Instead, he’s playing a role.  He’s been told to act like a guard and that’s what he’s going to do, regardless of whatever else may happen.  The most fascinating part of the film becomes the contrast between Archer the likable student and Archer the fascist authority figure.

It’s frustrating that more people didn’t see The Stanford Prison Experiment when it was released in 2015.  Considering the blind trust in authority that is currently so popular in certain parts of the American culture, The Stanford Prison Experiment is a film that a lot of people really do need to see and learn from.

The_Tribe_poster

The Tribe (dir by Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy)

Anyone who says that they truly understand everything that happens in the disturbing Ukrainian film The Tribe is lying.  Taking place at a school for the deaf and exclusively cast with deaf actors, The Tribe is a film where everyone communicates in Ukrainian Sign Language and there are no subtitles.  However, the actors are often filmed with their back to the camera and occasionally, their hands are out of frame so, even if you do know Ukrainian Sign Language, there’s still going to be scenes where you have no idea what anyone is saying.

And it’s appropriate really.  The Tribe is a film about alienation and, by refusing to give us either an interpreter or subtitles, it forces the audience to feel the same alienation that the film’s characters have to deal with on a daily basis.  It quickly becomes obvious that these permanent outsiders have created their own society and the least of their concerns is whether the rest of the world understands it.

What can be learned about the film’s story largely comes from the body language of the actors and the audience’s own knowledge of gangster movies, which is what The Tribe basically is.  A new student at a boarding school for the deaf is recruited into a gang that deals drugs and pimps out two female students as prostitutes at a truck stop.  When the new student falls in love with one of the girls, it leads to some truly brutal acts of violence, all of which are somehow made more disturbing by the fact that they take place in total silence.

(The talkative criminals of most gangster films allow audiences to focus on something other than the violence.  When people talk about the opening of a film like Pulp Fiction, they talk about John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson talking about Amsterdam.  They don’t focus on the guys getting gunned down in their apartment.  In The Tribe, there are no quips or one-liners before people are hurt and we are forced to pay more attention to the consequences of brutality.)

The Tribe is made up of only 34 shots.  The wide-angle lens forces us to consider these alienated characters against the barren Ukrainian landscape and the camera constantly moves with the characters, tracking them as closely as fate.  Intense and dream-lie, The Tribe is a hauntingly enigmatic film.  It’s not an easy film but it is a rewarding one.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #120: We Need To Talk About Kevin (dir by Lynne Ramsay)


We Need To Talk About KevinThis is a historic occasion!

Two months and one week ago, I started on this journey that we call Embracing the Melodrama, Part II.  At the time, I announced that I would be reviewing 126 film melodramas and that I would get it all done in 3 weeks.  Well, I was 6 weeks off as far as the timing was concerned but I am going to reach the 126 mark.

(And then I’m going to pass out and sleep for a year…)

We started this series by taking a look at the 1927 silent classic Sunrise and now, 119 reviews later, we have reached the disturbing 2011 film, We Need To Talk About Kevin.

We Need To Talk About Kevin tells the story of Eva (Tilda Swinton).  Eva was once a very successful travel writer, who explored the world and lived a life of total independence and sophistication.  Now, however, she has a demeaning job at a travel agency.  She lives in a dilapidated house that is the frequent target of vandals.  Everyone in town views her as a pariah, either deliberately avoiding her or greeting her with open hostility.

You see, Eva is the mother of a teenager named Kevin (Ezra Miller) who is currently in prison.  One day, Kevin locked all of his high school classmates in the gym and, using a bow and arrow set that was given to him by his father, Franklin (John C. Reilly), Kevin proceeded to kill or maim them all, one-by-one.  When Kevin finally surrendered to police, he looked over at his mother and he smirked.

We Need To Talk About Kevin unfolds in flashback as Eva looks back on her former life and tries to understand how her son could do something so evil.  From the time that Kevin was a baby, Eva suspected that there was something wrong with her son and found it impossible to bond with him.  While Franklin spoiled him and refused to accept that there was ever anything wrong, Eva went the opposite direction.  When Eva became more and more convinced that Kevin was evil, Franklin refused to listen to her.

And, make no mistake about it, Kevin is evil.  For the majority of the film, he is one of the most evil characters that you’ve ever seen.  (It’s even suggested — though thankfully never shown — that he may have deliberately blinded his little sister.)  We, like Eva, wonder if Kevin was born evil or if he became evil as the result of the way he was raised but there’s no doubt that he’s evil.

And then, one day, Eva goes to visit her son in prison and we see a different Kevin.  Kevin is about to turn 18, which means that he’ll be transferred to an adult prison.  Kevin admits that he’s scared.  In this scene, the cocky and hateful Kevin is one.  This new Kevin has shaved off his previously unruly mop of hair.  His face is bruised and he has a cut above his eye, suggesting that, within the walls of the justice system, he’s no longer the attacker but instead the one being attacked.  He no longer smirks or glares at his mother.  Instead, he looks lost and vulnerable.

And, at first, I actually felt sorry for Kevin when I saw that scene.  I guess it was maybe my own maternal instinct coming out or maybe my own tendency to feel compassion for those who have no freedom.  But, at that moment, I felt as if maybe Kevin finally understood that what he did was wrong.  Just like Tilda Swinton’s Eve, I suddenly felt compassion for this hateful creature…

Until, of course, it occurred to me that the only time that Kevin showed any fear or regret was when it came to his own situation.  As scared as Kevin is, Kevin never expresses any regret over what he did.  Instead, he’s scared for himself and upset that he no longer has control of his situation.  Though the film never states it, that’s classic sociopath behavior.  (One is reminded of the BTK Killer, who unemotionally talked about those he killed but then cried when talked about having to spend the rest of his life in prison.)

At that point, I realized that Kevin hadn’t changed at all.  Much like Eve, I wanted to believe that Kevin had changed because that, at least, would give the story some sort of closure.  But, unfortunately, the Kevins of the world can never change.  We may not know how someone like Kevin is created, whether he’s born evil or becomes evil due to circumstances.  But we do know that evil can never change.  That’s the burden that both Eve and the audience must carry.

We Need To Talk About Kevin is a lot like Million Dollar Baby.  It’s well-directed and fiercely well-acted but, at the same time, it’s so sad and disturbing that I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to watch it again.  There are a few moments of very dark humor, mostly connected to just how oblivious everyone, with the exception of Eve, is to Kevin’s evil.  But make no mistake, this is a seriously dark film.

(For those keeping track, that’s 120 reviews down and 6 to go.)

Back to School #74: The Perks of Being A Wallflower (dir by Stephen Chbosky)


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“We are infinite.” — Charlie (Logan Lerman) in The Perks of Being A Wallflower (2012)

So, here’s the thing.  In general, I try not to judge people.  I have friends (and family) of all races, religion, and political ideologies.  I may not always agree with you but I will always respect your right to disagree.  With that being said, if you don’t love the 2012 film The Perks of Being a Wallflower, then I’m worried about you.

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower is based on a novel that I read and loved right before I entered high school.  In fact, I loved the novel so much that I had my doubts about whether or not the film could do it justice.  Of course, if I had been paying attention, I would have noticed that the film was directed by the same man who wrote the book, Stephen Chbosky.  Everything that made Wallflower such a powerful book — the honesty, the understanding of teen angst, the underlying sadness — is perfectly captured in the film.

Wallflower tells the story of Charlie (Logan Lerman), a painfully shy and emotionally sensitive high school freshman.  Charlie starts the school year under the weight of two tragedies — the suicide of his best friend and the death of his aunt.  Because he’s so shy, Charlie struggles to fit in and make friends, though he does find a mentor of sorts in his English teacher, Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd, playing the type of teacher that we all wish we could have had in high school).

Charlie, however, does not find a mentor in shop class, which is taught by Mr. Callahan (Tom Freaking Savini!).  However, he does meet Patrick (Ezra Miller), a witty and cynical senior who, because he’s openly gay, is as much of an outcast as Charlie.  Patrick introduces Charlie to Sam (Emma Watson).  Charlie assumes that Sam and Patrick are dating (especially after he sees them dancing together) but later he learns that they are actually stepsiblings and that Patrick is secretly seeing a closeted jock named Brad (Johnny Simmons).  That works out well for Charlie because he has a crush on the free-spirited Sam.

The rest of the film follows Charlie as he survives his first year in school and Patrick and Sam as they complete their final year.  It’s a long but exciting year in which Charlie discovers everything from drugs to the mysteries of sex to the pleasures of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.  Even more importantly, it’s a year that forces Charlie to confront his own unresolved emotional issues.

Sensitively acted by the three leads and featuring a great soundtrack, The Perks of Being A Wallflower is one of the best films about growing up that I’ve ever seen.  For me, there is no scene that best captures everything that’s great about being young than the scene where Sam, upon hearing David Bowie’s Heroes on the radio, demands to be driving through a tunnel.  It’s a great scene from a great movie that celebrates both just how scary and amazing it is to have your entire life ahead of you and the special friendships that help us survive.

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Dance Scenes That I Love: The Perks of Being A Wallflower


I really probably shouldn’t share this scene until I actually post my review of The Perks of Being A Wallflower.  But I’ve still  got three other Back to School films to review before I get to Perks and I want to share this scene now!  In this dance scene that I love, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller take over the dance floor in spectacular fashion!