The Alliance of Women Film Journalists Announced Their Picks For The Best of 2016!


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The Alliance of Women Film Journalists (of which I am not a member and what’s up with that!?) announced their picks for the best of 2016 earlier this week.

And here they are:

AWFJ BEST OF AWARDS
These awards are presented to women and/or men without gender consideration.
Best Film
Arrival
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

Best Director
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
David Mackenzie – Hell or High Water
Denis Villeneuve – Arrival

Best Screenplay, Original
20th Century Women – Mike Mills
Hail Caesar – Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Hell or High Water – Taylor Sheridan
La La Land – Damien Chazelle
Manchester by the Sea – Kenneth Lonergan

Best Screenplay, Adapted
Arrival – Eric Heisserer
Lion – Luke Davies
Love & Friendship – Whit Stillman
Moonlight – Barry Jenkins
Nocturnal Animals –Tom Ford

Best Documentary
13th – Ava DuVernay
Gleason – Clay Tweel
I Am Not Your Negro – Raoul Peck
OJ Made in America – Ezra Edelman
Weiner – Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegma

Best Animated Film
Finding Dory – Andrew Stanton andAngus MacLane
Kubo and the Two Strings- Travis Knight
Moana – Ron Clements, Don Hall, John Musker, Chris Williams
Zootopia – Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush

Best Actress
Amy Adams – Arrival
Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Ruth Negga – Loving
Natalie Portman – Jackie
Emma Stone – La La Land

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

Best Actor
Casey Affleck – Manchester By The Sea
Joel Edgerton – Loving
Ryan Gosling – La La Land
Tom Hanks – Sully
Denzel Washington – Fences

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

Best Ensemble Cast – Casting Director
20th Century Women – Mark Bennett and Laura Rosenthal
Hail Caesar – Ellen Chenoweth
Hell or High Water – Jo Edna Boldin and Richard Hicks
Manchester by the Sea – Douglas Aibel
Moonlight – Yesi Ramirez

Best Cinematography
Arrival – Bradford Young
Hell or High Water – Giles Nuttgens
La La Land – Linus Sandgren
Manchester by The Sea – Jody Lee Lipes
Moonlight – James Laxton

Best Editing
Arrival – Joe Walker
I Am Not Your Negro — Alexandra Strauss
La La Land – Tom Cross
Manchester By The Sea – Jennifer Lame
Moonlight – Joi McMillon and Nat Sanders

Best Non-English-Language Film
Elle – Paul Verhoeven, France
Fire At Sea – Gianfranco Rossi, Italy
The Handmaiden – Chan-Wook Park, South Korea
Julieta – Pedro Almodovar. Spain
Toni Erdmann – Maren Ede, Germany

EDA FEMALE FOCUS AWARDS
These awards honor WOMEN only

Best Woman Director
Andrea Arnold – American Honey
Ava DuVernay -13TH
Rebecca Miller – Maggie’s Plan
Mira Nair – Queen of Katwe
Kelly Reichardt – Certain Women

Best Woman Screenwriter
Andrea Arnold – American Honey
Rebecca Miller – Maggie’s Plan
Kelly Reichardt – Certain Women
Lorene Scafaria – The Meddler
Laura Terruso – Hello, My Name is Doris

Best Animated Female
Dory in Finding Dory –Ellen DeGeneres
Judy in Zootopia – Ginnifer Goodwin
Moana in Moana – Auli’i Cravalho

Best Breakthrough Performance
Sasha Lane – American Honey
Janelle Monáe – Moonlight and Hidden Figures
Madina Nalwanga – Queen of Katwe
Ruth Negga – Loving

Outstanding Achievement by A Woman in The Film Industry
Ava DuVernay – For 13TH and raising awareness about the need for diversity and gender equality in Hollywood
Anne Hubbell and Amy Hobby for establishing Tangerine Entertainment’s Juice Fund to support female filmmakers
Mynette Louie, President of Gamechanger Films, which finances narrative films directed by women
April Reign for creating and mobilizing the #OscarsSoWhite campaign

EDA SPECIAL MENTION AWARDS

Actress Defying Age and Ageism
Annette Bening – 20th Century Women
Viola Davis – Fences
Sally Field – Hello, My Name is Doris
Isabelle Huppert – Elle and Things to Come
Helen Mirren – Eye in the Sky

Most Egregious Age Difference Between The Lead and The Love Interest Award
Dirty Grandpa – Robert De Niro (b. 1943) and Aubrey Plaza (b. 1984)
Independence Day: Resurgence – Charlotte Gainsbourg (b 1971) and Jeff Goldblum (b 1952)
Mechanic Resurrection – Jason Statham (b. 1967) and Jessica Aba (b. 1981)
Rules Don’t Apply – Warren Beatty (b. 1937) and Lily Collins (b. 1989)

Actress Most in Need Of A New Agent
Jennifer Aniston – Mother’s Day and Office Christmas Party
Melissa McCarthy – The Boss and Ghostbusters
Margot Robbie – Suicide Squad and Tarzan
Julia Roberts – Mother’s Day
Shailene Woodley – Divergent Series

Bravest Performance
Jessica Chastain – Miss Sloane
Naomie Harris – Moonlight
Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Sasha Lane – American Honey
Ruth Negga – Loving

Remake or Sequel That Shouldn’t have been Made
Ben-Hur
Ghostbusters
Independence Day: Resurgence
The Magnificent Seven
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

AWFJ Hall of Shame Award
Sharon Maguire and Renee Zellweger for Bridget Jones’s Baby
Nicholas Winding Refn and Elle Fanning for The Neon Demon
David Ayer and Margot Robbie for Suicide Squad
David E. Talbert and Mo’Nique for Almost Christmas

Here Are the 2016 Seattle Film Award Nominees!


Here are the 2016 Seattle Film Award Nominees!  I don’t know what the cat’s yawning about; these nominations are actually an interesting mix of the usual suspects (Moonlight, Manchester, La La Land) and a few unexpected but intriguing picks (like 13th and The Witch).

THE 2016 SEATTLE FILM AWARD NOMINEES:

BEST PICTURE OF THE YEAR:

BEST DIRECTOR:

  • Damien Chazelle – La La Land
  • Robert EggersThe Witch
  • Barry JenkinsMoonlight
  • Paul Verhoeven – Elle
  • Denis Villeneuve – Arrival

BEST ACTOR in a LEADING ROLE:

  • Casey Affleck – Manchester By The Sea
  • Ryan GoslingLa La Land
  • Logan Lerman – Indignation
  • Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
  • Denzel Washington – Fences

BEST ACTRESS in a LEADING ROLE:

  • Amy Adams – Arrival
  • Kate Beckinsale – Love & Friendship
  • Isabelle Huppert – Elle
  • Natalie Portman – Jackie
  • Emma StoneLa La Land

BEST ACTOR in a SUPPORTING ROLE:

BEST ACTRESS in a SUPPORTING ROLE:

  • Viola Davis – Fences
  • Lily Gladstone – Certain Women
  • Naomie HarrisMoonlight
  • Kate McKinnonGhostbusters
  • Michelle Williams – Manchester By The Sea

BEST ENSEMBLE CAST:

BEST SCREENPLAY:

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE:

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:

  • EllePaul Verhoeven, director
  • The HandmaidenPark Chan-wook, director
  • The InnocentsAnne Fontaine, director
  • Under The ShadowBabak Anvari, director
  • The WailingNa Hong-jin, director

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY:

BEST COSTUME DESIGN:

BEST FILM EDITING:

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE:

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN:

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS:

BEST YOUTH PERFORMANCE (18 years of age or younger upon start of filming):

BEST VILLAIN:

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Embracing the Melodrama Part II #90: Showgirls (dir by Paul Verhoeven)


ShowgirlsWell, this is it!

Showgirls in the 1995 film that, 20 years after it was first released, is still held up as the standard by which all subsequent bad films are judged.  The story behind the production is legendary.  Screenwriter Joe Ezsterhas was paid a then-record sum to write a script that ripped off All About Eve and featured lines like, “Come back when you’ve fucked some of that baby fat off,” and “You’re the only who can get my tits poppin’ right!”  (And let’s not forget the heroine’s oft-repeated catch phrase, “It doesn’t suck.”)  A major studio specifically hired Paul Verhoeven with the understanding that he was going to give them an NC-17 rated film.  And finally, the lead role was given to Elizabeth Berkley, an actress whose previous experience amounted to co-starring on Saved By The Bell.

(And, let’s be honest, the only reason Jessie Spano was a tolerable character was because she wasn’t Screech.)

Berkley plays Nomi Malone, a sociopath who wants to be a star.  She hitchhikes her way to Las Vegas where, as is destined to happen to anyone who shows up in Vegas or New York with a clunky suitcase, she is promptly robbed of all of her possessions.  “Fuck!  Fuck!  Fuck!  Fuck!” she yells, showing off the very expensive dialogue that was written for her by Joe Ezsterhas.  Eventually, Nomi starts to take her frustration out on a random car.  The car, it turns out, belongs to sweet-natured Molly (Gina Revara), who is a seamstress for a tacky Vegas show called Goddess.  

(Seriously, Goddess makes Satan’s Alley from Staying Alive look like a work of quiet genius.)

Soon, Nomi is living in Molly’s trailer and working as a stripper at the Cheetah Club.  The Cheetah Club is owned by Al, who is amazingly sleazy but who is also played by Robert Davi.  Robert Davi is one of those actors who knows how to make terrible dialogue interesting and it’s instructive to watch him perform opposite Elizabeth Berkley and the rest of the cast.  Whereas the majority of the cast  always seems to be desperately trying to convince themselves that their dialogue is somehow better than it actually is, Davi knows exactly what he’s saying.  Watching his performance, it’s obvious that Davi understood that he was appearing in a bad film so he figured that he might as well enjoy himself.

The same can be said of Gina Gershon, who plays Cristal Connors, the star of Goddess.  Sexually voracious Cristal is basically a male fantasy of what it means to be bisexual.  Cristal hires Nomi to give a lapdance to her sleazy boyfriend, Zack (Kyle MacLachlan, giving a good performance despite having to spend the entire film with hair in his eyes) and then arranges for her to be cast in the chorus of Goddess.  There’s absolutely nothing subtle about Gershon’s performance and that’s why it’s perfect for Showgirls.  It’s been argued that Showgirls is essentially meant to be a huge in-joke and, out of the huge cast, only Gershon, Davi, and occasionally MacLachlan seem to be in on it.

Certainly, it’s apparent that nobody bothered to tell Elizabeth Berkley.  Berkley gives a performance of such nonstop (and misdirected) intensity that you end up feeling sorry for her.  She’s just trying so hard and she really does seem to think that she can somehow make Nomi into a believable character.  And it’s actually a bit unfair that Elizabeth is always going to be associated with this film because I doubt any actress could have given a good performance in a role as inconsistently written as Nomi.  One second, Nomi is a wide-eyed innocent who is excited about living in Las Vegas.  The next second, she’s screaming, “FUCK OFF!” and threatening strangers with a switch blade.  She may be a survivor (and I imagine that’s why we’re supposed to root for her) but she’s also humorless, angry, and apparently clinically insane.

Hilariously, we’re also continually told, by literally everyone else in the movie, that she’s a great dancer, despite the fact that we see absolutely no evidence of this fact.  Check out this scene below, where Nomi dances with a lot of enthusiasm and little else.

Once Nomi is cast in Goddess, she promptly sets out to steal both the starring role and Zack from Cristal.  Nomi’s cunning plan, incidentally, amounts to fucking Zack in his pool and shoving Cristal down a flight of stairs.  Nomi’s finally a star but when a Satanic rock star named Andrew Carver (William Shockley) comes to town, Nomi is confronted with the sordid truth about Las Vegas and, because this long film has to end at some point, Nomi must decide whether to take a stand or…

Well, you can guess the rest.

(Incidentally, I like to assume that Andrew Carver was meant to be a distant cousin of the great short story writer Raymond Carver.)

There seems to be two schools of thought when it comes to Showgirls.

Some critics claim to Showgirls is just crap.  They say that it’s a terrible film with bad dialogue, bad acting, and terrible direction.  These critics view Joe Eszterhas as being the villain of this tale, a misogynist who conned the studios into paying two million dollars for a terrible script.

And then other critics claim that Showgirls is crappy on purpose.  They claim that Verhoeven meant for the film to be a satire of both American culture and Hollywood showbiz dramas.  For these critics, Verhoeven used Eszterhas’s terrible script and Elizabeth Berkley’s inexperience to craft a subversive masterpiece.

Myself, I fall somewhere in between.  Based on Verhoeven’s other films — Starship Troopers comes immediately to mind — I think his intent with Showgirls probably was meant to be satirical and subversive.  But, at the same time, I would argue that Verhoeven’s intent doesn’t change the fact that Showgirls is a surprisingly boring film.  For all the sex and the nudity and the opulent costumes and sets and all of the over-the-top dialogue, Showgirls is never really that interesting of a film.  It barely even manages to reach the level of being so-bad-that-it’s-good.  Instead,  it’s slow, it’s draggy, and — satiric or not — the bad performance, the bad dialogue, and the nonstop misogyny get a bit grating after a few minutes.

Of course, that’s why you should never watch Showgirls alone.  Showgirls is a film that you have to watch as a part of a group of friends so that you can all laugh together and shout out snarky comments.  The first time I ever saw Showgirls was at a party and it was a lot of fun.  But, for this review, I rewatched the film on Netflix and I was surprised by how much of a chore it was to sit through the entire running time.  This is one of those films — like Birdemic and The Room — that you have to watch with a group.  You watch for the experience, not the film.

Review: Unknown (dir. by Jaume Collet-Serra)


In 2009 Liam Neeson began a new phase of his career as an actor. Before 2009 he was always put into roles as the father figure and mentor to a younger protagonist. He did quite well in handling these roles. Most of the time he was the only good thing about the films he was in and it was due to how he handled the supporting role given to him. But 2009 changed everything as Liam Neeson arrived on the film scene as a bonafide action hero in his role as a former CIA Special Activities Division operative in the action-thriller, Taken. That film surprised many and Neeson’s badass portrayal of a father out to save his daughter opened the eyes of many filmgoers who always saw him as the calm, wise elder. He has taken on the mantle of older, action-hero characters from Harrison Ford who lived off and became rich doing roles such as the one in Taken.

Two years later we have another film where we get to see Liam Neeson in another role which cements his place in the action-hero pantheon. Also like Pierre Morel’s film, this one takes place in Europe and directed by another European filmmaker trying to make a name for himself in Hollywood, Jaume Collet-Serra. It would be disingenious to say that Collet-Serra had it in him to direct a film as tight and fast-moving as Unknown. His two Hollywood productions were the remake of the classic horror film, House of Wax, and the underappreciated horror film from 2009, Orphan. With this new action-thriller, Unknown, Collet-Serra and Neeson create a film which owes much of its film dna to Hitchcock and his mistaken-man classic, North by Northwest. I would also say that this film also owes much of its action and characters to one of the early 1990’s best sci-fi action films, Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall.

The film begins with Neeson’s character, Dr. Martin Harris, and his wife Liz (played by Mad Men‘s January Jones) arriving in Berlin to attend a biomedical conference. Right from the start Neeson makes us believe in Harris being an everyman. The good professor doesn’t seem the alpha male-type. But after certain seemingly random circumstances and events puts Harris in a coma for four days we begin to see signs and glimpses that Neeson’s character may have more to him than meets the eye.

It’s when Harris’ awakens from his coma that the meat of the film’s story begins. We know going in that Neeson’s character knows he’s not crazy and that someone out there has made things appear as if he is becoming insane. Maybe the accident in the beginning of the film have given us a false perspective on the film. What we might be seeing could be a manifestation of Harris’ mental breakdown from the accident and subsequent coma. But little clues in the film’s dialogue keeps things vague, but not so much that our initial stance that Harris’ is being manipulated won’t be the final endgame.

It is the endgame in the film which may make or break the whole production for some people. The screenplay by Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cromwell is not the strongest out there and it tries to be too complex with its red herrings when trying to keep it simple would’ve sufficed. One could almost sense that the two writers were trying to be too Hitchcock that they lost sight of how Hitchcock’s films were simple affairs which only appeared to be complex. Yet, despite some necessary leaps of logic that audiences needed to make to continue believing in the film, Unknown manages to keep the core story moving forward to it’s inevitable conclusion.

The performances by everyone involved is what keeps this film from spiralling out of Collet-Serra’s capable hands. One would almost certainly point out the strong work by Neeson as the Harris. January Jones’ Liz Harris, at first, seemed like an extension of her Betty Draper character from Mad Men, but as the story moves forward we get to see more layers of personalities in her character to make her interesting beyond the dutiful and supportive wife. But the standout performance outside of Neeson has to go to Diane Kruger as Gina, the taxi driver who was involved in Neeson’s character getting in his accident in the beginning of the film.

Kruger arguably is one of Hollywood’s classic beauty, but she has an ability to actually keep that beauty in check with her acting that we believe her to be the “everywoman” in some of the roles she plays. Beauty doesn’t come into the Gina character’s personality. Kruger does a great job of playing the pawn in a much larger game being played on Neeson’s character. Her reluctance to help him gradually crumbles as she soon realizes that her own safety and survival is now inextricably linked to unraveling the mystery of who Martin Harris really is.

Unknown is one of those films that actually has an advantage being released in the so-called dead season which runs from January and into March. It’s a film season when studios put out films they have no faith in being a major blockbuster which means summer and Holiday season release are out. It’s not prestigious enough to be put out in the Fall and early Winter. But as a piece os well-done escapist fare it’s perfect for this so-called dead season. Jaume Collet-Serra has shown that even when working from an average screenplay he knows how to get the best out of his cast to sell the film to the audience. He also has a firm grasped on pacing and how to handle action sequences.

In the end, the film still loves or dies by how the audience reacts to Liam Neeson’s character. While his Martin Harris is not the Bryan Mills from Taken, by the time the final scene fades to black we begin to see how similar the two characters really are and how much they share. Until the big name films start dropping in beginning in March (blockbuster season seem to come earlier and earlier with each passing year), Unknown is one of those films that should help make this early months of the film season more entertaining than it usually is in year’s past.

As an aside, for those who know their films would understand why I say that, in addition to this film having aspirations of being Hitchcockian, Unknown definitely borrows or has been influenced by some of the story and character developments of Verhoeven’s Total Recall. I almost half-expected for a half-mutant seer named Kuato to make an appearance to explain it all to Neeson’s ccharacter.