Playing Catch-Up: A Monster Calls (dir by J.A. Bayona)


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As our regular readers are undoubtedly aware, I was born in Texas and I grew up all over the Southwest.  I don’t believe in trigger warning and quite frankly, I lose respect for anyone who I hear whining about having to have one.  That’s the way we are down here.  If you can’t handle potentially being upset by something or someone, that’s you’re own damn problem.

That being said, I do feel like I should give everyone a heads up about A Monster Calls.  Don’t consider this to be a warning because a warning suggests that something bad is going to happen and A Monster Calls is actually a very good movie and one that I highly recommend.  But I do think I should say that I sobbed almost all the way through A Monster Calls and I wasn’t alone.  When I saw this movie on Sunday, there wasn’t a dry eye in the Alamo Drafthouse.

That’s just the type of film it is.  It’s a movie that deals very sincerely and very forthrightly with what it means to lose someone who you love.  It’s a coming-of-age story that deals with fear, loss, guilt, and those moments when — even while dealing with unbelievable pain and sadness — we can still find happiness in the moments that we have and in the imagination that all people — especially young people — possess.

Technically, A Monster Calls is a fantasy though it actually deals with very real emotions and events.  Conor O’Malley (Lewis McDougall) is a shy and introverted 13 year-old who is haunted by nightmares, one in particular.  His parents are divorced.  His father (Toby Kebbell) lives in America and is barely a presence in Conor’s life.  His mother, Lizzie (Felicity Jones, giving an amazing performance), gave up her own artistic ambitions when she became pregnant.  Now, she’s sick and every day, Conor is told that his mother is starting yet another new treatment because she’s “not responding as expected” to the previous treatment.

With Lizzie growing more and more ill, Conor finds himself living with his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver).  To Conor, his grandmother appears to be overly strict and unemotional but, as the film makes clear, she’s not.  If she seems strict, it’s because she knows that she will soon have to take over as Conor’s guardian.  If she seems unemotional, it’s because she’s trying to stay strong for both her daughter and her grandson.

Meanwhile, at school, Conor finds himself targeted by a strange bully named Harry (James Melville).  The scenes with Harry are some of the oddest in the film.  At times, Harry seems to look at the perpetually miserable-looking Conor with almost an expression of empathy and you wonder if he feels some sort of guilt over what he’s doing.  But whenever Harry approaches Conor, a viscous sadism emerges.  Though Harry always seems to be the one who is staring, he continually demands to know why Conor is always looking at him.  When another student tries to hit Conor, Harry announces that only Harry is allowed to hit Conor.

And then there’s the Monster.  At night, the Monster visits Conor.  A gigantic, humanoid tree, the Monster speaks in the voice of Liam Neeson and he alternates between being threatening and being almost paternalistic.  When Conor gets angry, the Monster encourages him to destroy things.  When Conor gets sad, the Monster taunts him for thinking that his sadness is somehow different from everyone else’s sadness.  The Monster is frightening but, at the same time, he seems to be the only thing in Conor’s life that he can depend on.  The Monster’s words may be harsh but there’s also something oddly comforting in their harshness.  It helps that he sounds like Liam Neeson.

The Monster tells Conor three stories, all of which are full of ambiguity and end with uncertain lessons.  The Monster tells Conor that, after he finishes the third story, Conor will be required to tell him about his greatest nightmare.  Conor finds himself both frightened and fascinated by the Monster but, as quickly becomes clear, his main fear is talking about his nightmare.

A Monster Calls is a beautifully done story about dealing with loss, one that will make you cry but, at the same time, will leave you feeling almost grateful for those tears.  The Monster is a truly spectacular creation and Liam Neeson does a perfect job voicing him.  What makes A Monster Calls so special is the way that director J. A. Bayona deftly balances Conor’s apocalyptic encounters with the Monster with the small, every day details of real life.

It makes for a powerful film.

Just make sure you’re ready to shed some tears.

The Las Vegas Film Critics Society Take A Gamble With Their 2016 Nominees!


Let’s take a gamble with the nominees of the Las Vegas Film Critics Society!

(Ha ha — I’m so cute.)

Anyway, the winners will be announced tomorrow!

Best Picture
Moonlight
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
Nocturnal Animals
Hell or High Water

Best Actor
Chris Pine – Hell or High Water
Jake Gyllenhaal – Nocturnal Animals
Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
Ryan Gosling – La La Land
Denzel Washington – Fences

Best Actress
Emma Stone – La La Land
Natalie Portman – Jackie
Taraji P. Henson – Hidden Figures
Amy Adams – Arrival
Annette Bening – 20th Century Women

Best Supporting Actor
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals
Ben Foster – Hell or High Water

Best Supporting Actress
Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
Naomie Harris – Moonlight
Viola Davis – Fences
Greta Gerwig – 20th Century Women
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea

Best Director
Garth Davis – Lion
Theodore Melfi – Hidden Figures
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
J.A. Bayona – A Monster Calls
Tom Ford – Nocturnal Animals

Best Original Screenplay
Manchester by the Sea
The Witch
Hell or High Water
Moonlight
La La Land

Best Adapted Screenplay
Hidden Figures
Lion
Nocturnal Animals
Arrival
A Monster Calls

Best Cinematography
Moonlight
Nocturnal Animals
Arrival
La La Land
Rogue One

Best Editing
La La Land
Moonlight
Nocturnal Animals
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge

Best Score
Jackie
Nocturnal Animals
Arrival
Lion
La La Land

Best Song
“City of Stars” (La La Land)
“How Far Will I Go” (Moana)
“I See Victory” (Hidden Figures)
“The Great Beyond” (Sausage Party)
“Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song) (Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping)

Best Action Film
Deadpool
Captain America: Civil War
Rogue One
Hacksaw Ridge
Doctor Strange

Best Documentary
8 Days a Week
Weiner
OJ: Made in America
13
The Eagle Huntress

Best Costume Design
Jackie
The Witch
Fantastic Beasts
Love & Friendship
La La Land

Best Visual Effects
Jungle Book
Doctor Strange
Fantastic Beasts
Arrival
A Monster Calls

Best Art Direction
Jackie
La La Land
Arrival
A Monster Calls
Fantastic Beasts

Best Animated Film
Kubo and the Two Strings
Sausage Party
Finding Dory
Zootopia
Moana

Best Foreign Film
Elle
Neruda
The Handmaiden
Toni Erdmann
The Salesman

Best Comedy
Deadpool
Don’t Think Twice
The Edge of Seventeen
Sausage Party
The Nice Guys

Best Horror/Sci-Fi
The Witch
The Neon Demon
Arrival
10 Cloverfield Lane
Don’t Breathe

Best Family Film
The Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Moana
Zootopia
The Jungle Book
Kubo and the Two Strings

Best Ensemble
Hidden Figures
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight
Fences
Hell or High Water

Breakout Filmmaker
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
Robert Eggers – The Witch
Kelly Fremon Craig – Edge of Seventeen
Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert – Swiss Army Man
Nate Parker – Birth of a Nation

Youth in Film
Madina Nalwanga – Queen of Katwe
Lewis MacDougall – A Monster Calls
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
Hailee Steinfeld – Edge of Seventeen
Alex B. Hibbert – Moonlight

Oscar Season Continues With The 2016 Phoenix Film Critics Society Nominations!


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The winners will be announced on the 20th!

BEST PICTURE
A Monster Calls
Arrival
Florence Foster Jenkins
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Manchester By The Sea
Moonlight
Nocturnal Animals
Sing Street

BEST DIRECTOR
Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge
David Mackenzie – Hell or High Water
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester By The Sea
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight

BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
Casey Affleck – Manchester By The Sea
Denzel Washington – Fences
Ryan Gosling – La La Land
Tom Hanks – Sully

BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Amy Adams – Arrival
Emma Stone – La La Land
Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins
Natalie Portman – Jackie
Ruth Negga – Loving

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Ben Foster – Hell or High Water
Hugh Grant – Florence Foster Jenkins
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Felicity Jones – A Monster Calls
Greta Gerwig – 20th Century Women
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea
Naomie Harris – Moonlight
Viola Davis – Fences

BEST ENSEMBLE ACTING
Fences
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight
The Lobster

BEST SCREENPLAY ADAPTED
FROM OTHER MATERIAL
Arrival
Fences
Hacksaw Ridge
Lion
Love & Friendship

THE OVERLOOKED FILM OF THE YEAR
Anthropoid
Captain Fantastic
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Sing Street
The Lobster

BEST ANIMATED FILM
Finding Dory
Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
Trolls
Zootopia

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
A Man Called Ove
Between Sea and Land
Desierto
Elle
The Handmaiden

BEST DOCUMENTARY
13th
Gleason
Oasis: Supersonic
OJ: Made in America
Weiner

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
La La Land – Audition (The Fools Who Dream)
La La Land – City Of Stars
Moana – How Far I’ll Go
Rules Don’t Apply – The Rules Don’t Apply
Sing Street – Drive it Like You Stole It

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Arrival
Jackie
La La Land
Lion
Nocturnal Animals

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Lion
Silence

BEST FILM EDITING
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Moonlight
Nocturnal Animals
Sully

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Hacksaw Ridge
Jackie
La La Land
Silence

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Florence Foster Jenkins
Hacksaw Ridge
Jackie
La La Land

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Arrival
Captain America: Civil War
Doctor Strange
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
The Jungle Book

BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE
Anya Taylor-Joy – The Witch
Lewis MacDougall – A Monster Calls
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Ruth Negga – Loving

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A YOUTH
Alex R. Hibbert – Moonlight
Lewis MacDougall – A Monster Calls
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
Neel Sethi – The Jungle Book
Sunny Pawar – Lion

The Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Go Crazy For La La Land!


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Oscar season continued today as the Washington D.C. Area Film Critics announced their picks for the best of 2016!  What films and performers were honored in America’s capitol?

Here the complete list!

Best Film

Best Director

Best Actor

Best Actress

  • Amy Adams (Arrival)
  • Annette Bening (20th Century Women)
  • Ruth Negga (Loving)
  • Natalie Portman (Jackie) — Winner
  • Emma Stone (La La Land)

Best Supporting Actor

Best Supporting Actress

  • Viola Davis (Fences) — Winner
  • Greta Gerwig (20th Century Women)
  • Naomie Harris (Moonlight)
  • Molly Shannon (Other People)
  • Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea)

Best Acting Ensemble

Best Youth Performance:

  • Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea) — Winner
  • Lewis MacDougall (A Monster Calls)
  • Sunny Pawar (Lion)
  • Hailee Steinfeld (The Edge of Seventeen)
  • Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch)

Best Voice Performance

  • Jason Bateman (Zootopia)
  • Auli’i Cravalho (Moana)
  • Ellen DeGeneres (Finding Dory)
  • Ginnifer Goodwin (Zootopia)
  • Liam Neeson (A Monster Calls) — Winner

Best Motion Capture Performance

  • Liam Neeson (A Monster Calls)
  • Mark Rylance (The BFG) — Winner

Best Original Screenplay

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • Eric Heisserer, Based on the Story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang (Arrival) — Winner
  • August Wilson, Based on his Play (Fences)
  • Luke Davies, Adapted from the Memoir “A Long Way Home” by Saroo Brierley (Lion)
  • Patrick Ness, Based on his Novel (A Monster Calls)
  • Tom Ford, Based on the Novel “Tony and Susan” by Austin Wright (Nocturnal Animals)

Best Animated Feature

Best Documentary

  • Gleason
  • I Am Not Your Negro
  • O.J.: Made in America
  • 13th — Winner
  • Weiner

Best Foreign Language Film

  • Elle — Winner
  • Julieta
  • The Handmaiden
  • The Salesman
  • Toni Erdmann

Best Production Design

Best Cinematography

Best Editing

Best Original Score

The Joe Barber Award for Best Portrayal of Washington, DC