Category Archives: Academy Awards

Oscars 2018: Why ‘Get Out’ Could Win for Best Picture

After a startling presentation mix-up for the best picture award, Barry Jenkins, at the mic, and the Moonlight cast accept the award at the Oscars on Sunday.
Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Not so long ago, the Academy Awards had to contend with the #OscarsSoWhite movement with its goal of greater diversity in movies. And, some may argue, that led to “Moonlight” winning for Best Picture in 2017. Now, we also have the #MeToo and the #TimesUp movements that all add up to the public demand for change from the status quo. In that spirit, to have “Get Out” win for Best Picture this year, would definitely further steer the Oscars on a more enlightened path. The Oscars ceremony this year is on Sunday, March 4, 2018 with predictions on the winners taking in all the factors.

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) in the throes of an existential crisis.

If all movies are cut from the same cloth and we keep to the old and wrong ways, then serious problem remain. That said, any movie will ultimately need to be judged by the quality of its content. In the new era that is unfolding before us, we really can have it all. A good part of what makes “Get Out” an exceptional movie is how it subverts your expectations no matter your background or race. The viewer can empathize with a person thrust into meeting their lover’s parents. We all have our advantages and disadvantages, whether they are real or only perceived as such.

Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams

Now, let’s get to the heart of the matter. There are specifics to this story. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is African American and his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), is Caucasian. From the moment Chris and Rose arrive at her parent’s home, it is emphasized in the extreme how race doesn’t matter but, in truth, it matters all too much–even to a life-threatening level. Everyone Chis comes into contact at this family gathering makes it painfully clear something is very wrong. This pushes Chris into an intense existential crisis.

Sidney Poitier and Katharine Houghton

For a new generation that believes it has seen it all, writer/director Jordan Peele brings something new. And this is not to say that we make a wholesale dismal of generations of moviemaking. No, what people are clamoring for now is a collective correction. When “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” came out in 1967, and presented viewers with a mixed race couple, it helped to stir a much needed discussion on race. Peele is able tap into that same energy. People are asking to tear down the old gods and build on all the good we have achieved. “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” and “Get Out” are part of a continuum of moviemaking at its best.

“Get Out”

At least both of these movies were nominated. It’s interesting to note that Sidney Poitier was not nominated for Best Actor for his pivotal role. However, Daniel Kaluuya is up for Best Actor this year. Step by step, we continue to make progress. We are just asking to pick up the pace. This is certainly not lost on Jordan Peele. “Get Out” came out in 2017, on the 50th anniversary of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” a big studio movie of its time, a little more polite and a lot more circumspect than we will tolerate today.

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Filed under Academy Awards, Movie Reviews, movies, Oscars, Race, Race Relations

Movie Review: THE POST

Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham

The Washington Post is in an awkward spot as one of the objects of disdain for Donald Trump. However, the Trump White House requested copies of “The Post” and 20th Century Fox has obliged. So, despite the bad blood, apparently, the Donald is curious. And, if he should see it, he’ll discover that The Washington Post knows how to handle itself. Compelling stuff but the heavy-duty serious subject matter may bore Big Don. Besides, it won’t work for him if he’s rooting for Tricky Dick Nixon. For the rest of us, this movie about newspapers and freedom of the press is quite compelling.

We don’t really have spoilers to worry about too much. The Washington Post is inextricably linked in history with the Nixon White House, The Pentagon Papers, the paper’s owner and publisher Katharine Graham, and the paper’s executive editor Ben Bradlee. It’s all the peculiar facts that add up to show the courage involved for Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and especially for Graham (Meryl Streep). The tension resides in the nerve-racking decisions leading up to whether or not to publish material the government deems too sensitive for public, and political, consumption. The key word here is “political,” as the information in The Pentagon Papers was a political bombshell–but never put American lives in danger, as the Nixon White House claimed. In fact, it would save lives as it helped to put a stop to the war in Vietnam.

Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee

“The Post” is a perfect companion piece to Alan J. Pakula’s 1976, “All the President’s Men.” Director Steven Spielberg would certainly be mindful of comparisons. But the screenplay, written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, is on a decidedly different track. This is more of a character study and not so much a political thriller. That said, it certainly shares some of the same energy. As much as Hoffman, Redford, and Robards commanded the screen, so too does Streep and Hanks.

June 21, 1971: Ben Bradlee and Katharine Graham leave U.S. District Court in Washington.

You can also make a favorable comparison with Adam McKay’s 2015 “The Big Short,” another movie that neatly presents a myriad of facts in an easily digestible form. Both movies are about confronting deception at an outrageous level. In one, the public has been duped into falling victim to Wall Street greed. In the other, the public has been duped into feeding the military industrial complex with the lives of its sons. The Pentagon Papers were, at their core, a study in failure intended for scholars at some future time. To have this study released to the public while the war was raging, was unthinkable. It uncovered deception at a massive scale going from Truman to Nixon. In order to publish, The Washington Post had to be willing to defy the courts’ understanding at the time that this act would amount to treason. To publish was an easy enough task for Bradlee to commit to. But for Graham, it was a gamble that put the very paper at risk of extinction.

Finally, “The Post” is an even closer companion piece to Spielberg’s own 2012 “Lincoln.” This all perfectly dovetails with Spielberg’s films of America at war as well as his biopics of American leaders in crisis. Katharine Graham is the pivotal character going against the status quo and conventional wisdom. Why can’t she just lay down and accept the Nixon White House’s demands, right? Streep gives a memorable performance that tenderly follows Graham’s journey from tentative caretaker of a vulnerable family business to a confident leader at a national, as well as an international level. For Hanks, he takes Bradlee from a man born confident to a man more modest and empathetic. Both must and do rise to the challenge of a White House that perceives the American free press as an enemy of the state. Sound familiar? Do you really think Donald Trump has watched this–as well as processed it?

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Filed under Academy Awards, Movie Reviews, movies, Oscars, Steven Spielberg, Vietnam War

Movie Review: ‘Toni Erdmann’

Peter Simonischek plays the role of Winfried Conradi (alias Toni Erdmann).

Peter Simonischek plays the role of Winfried Conradi (alias Toni Erdmann).

The poet, Philip Larkin, advised “don’t have any kids yourself” in his celebrated poem on parenting, “This Be The Verse.” In the film, “Toni Erdmann,” the dynamic between parent and child is explored to heroic, and hilarious, levels. Ines Conradi (played by Sandra Hüller) is all business and seems to be doing well in her corporate career. But her father, Winfried Conradi (played by Peter Simonischek), thinks he knows better.

Ines Conradi (played by Sandra Hüller)

Ines Conradi (played by Sandra Hüller)

Ines’s father knows his daughter is terribly unhappy and he aims to fix that. Part of his plan is to amuse her with his jokes. But the jokes keep getting more and more elaborate to the point that he dons an alter ego, Toni Erdmann, made up of fake clown teeth, fright wig, and nonstop blustering. It’s pretty maddening and just a matter of time before something has got to give.

“Toni Erdmann” is written and directed by Maren Ade. It is nominated for an Academy Award this year for Best Foreign Film. And it so inspired Jack Nicholson that he has come out of retirement to play the lead, alongside co-star Kristen Wiig, in the upcoming American remake. Indeed, there is something special about this film so go seek out the original. But be prepared for a European view that certainly runs counter to your typical mainstream American big studio movie. But if you enjoy offbeat/absurdist humor, then this is definitely for you.

"Toni Erdmann," written and directed by Maren Ade

“Toni Erdmann,” written and directed by Maren Ade

What I think may happen with the upcoming Americanized version is that all the playful and theatrical quality to this original film will be explained far more than necessary. The gritty European sensibility will most likely be wiped away in favor of something that seems to make more sense to most Americans. That said, dysfunctional families are every bit a part of the American scene as anywhere else. And, it is dysfunction that is at the root of this film. Ines, the daughter, is a mess. Winfried, the father, is a mess. But, despite a high level of tension between them, the two share a secret language and seem to be at their best in each other’s company. At least, there are enough positive signs to encourage the dad to keep trying to find his daughter.

Where it gets sort of weird is how insistent the dad is in his practical joke therapy path to winning over his daughter. Winfried Conradi cannot cope for very long without enacting some jarring gag. To say he is a compulsive jokester would be putting it mildly at best. No, this guy has some coping disorder and it’s pretty serious and kinda creepy. This film does address the dad’s problem but in a deceptively light way. It gradually builds. Before you know it, you’ve come to know this father and daughter in a truly remarkable way. And you come to realize that a rather heroic and rambling tale about a father and daughter can add up to a truly remarkable film.

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Filed under Academy Awards, Germany, Movie Reviews, movies, Oscars

Movie Review: ‘La La Land’

In love with the magic of Old Hollywood.

In love with the magic of Old Hollywood.

“La La Land” is as much a movie about movies as it is an exploration of a relationship, at least within the unique confines of a musical. That’s a tall order but back in the heyday of movie musicals, the best ones managed to strike a chord that rang true. Even today, if you’re in Hollywood working toward your big break, part of you has to believe in make believe. We all do. The best of the musicals of yesteryear intertwined a believable depiction of the everyday with the large-than-life. “La La Land” rises to that level.

Going in, I wasn’t sure if this was going to be a revamping of 1964’s “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” this time set in Los Angeles. By that, I mean that I was ready to hear every word of dialogue in song. That is not the case and I’m grateful. Maybe it would have worked but I cherish the moments the two leads have together. If two crazy kids aiming for the stars were ever meant for each other, it is Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone). I keep coming back to how the movie evokes a believable day-to-day reality. The fact is that this has more references to past musicals than any casual observer, including myself, would likely spot.

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone)

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone)

Hollywood movie musicals used to be quite common, with a glorious run from 1929 to 1969, and occasional success ever since. With their unique capacity to fill the screen, a successful movie musical was easily a favorite pick for Best Picture come Oscar time. There have been some all-time greats that have done just that: 1951’s “An American in Paris,” 1965’s “The Sound of Music,” all the way to the most recent and last, 2002’s “Chicago.” Which brings us to “La La Land,” with its beautiful homage to that old Hollywood magic.

"La La Land," written and directed by Damien Chazelle

“La La Land,” written and directed by Damien Chazelle

“La La Land” wears its self-awareness well. Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, this musical provides that giddy feeling of uplift, a touch of irony, and a compelling contemporary narrative. These two star-crossed lovers don’t see stars for each other, at first. Aspiring actress Mia is too busy recovering from the latest humiliating audition. Aspiring jazz artist Sebastian is too busy trying to carve a place for himself with his idealism. It looks like boy will never meet girl and then they do meet and things get complicated as their relationship and dreams come into conflict. Interlaced within this story are songs to knock your songs off (music by Justin Hurwitz; lyrics by Damien Chazelle).

A special kind of fairy tale magic used to come more easily to Hollywood. The conflict between new and old is very much a theme here. Both Sebastian and Mia represent a standard of excellence that makes huge demands. The results are likely to be bittersweet. But when it looks like your dream will come true, then any hardship seems worth enduring. It’s a dream that may seem corny and unreal, but there are plenty of people in Hollywood right now that will attest to just how real it really is. Mia and Sebastian are wondrous, yet decidedly grounded, examples of contemporary, yet utterly timeless, star chasers. Sure, these characters were created from a runaway imagination filtered through some of the greatest musicals of the past. Ah, the stuff that dreams are made of!

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Filed under Academy Awards, Hollywood, Movie Reviews, movies, Musicals, Oscars

Chris Rock Leaves Big Shoes to Fill

Once upon a time, you could rely on one host for the Oscars, Bob Hope, who hosted for 19 years, a record that is never to be broken. No, not when we look upon Ellen DeGeneres, Jon Stewart, and Chris Rock as old-timers with each of them having hosted twice. No doubt, each would make a great host again, maybe as early as next year. Speculation is already brewing on who the next host will be for 2017. As for this year, the Oscars will be remembered for one thing: what Chris Rock had to say.

We once had the Bob Hope gold standard full of wry humor and brash for its time. Bob Hope told it like it was. And Chris Rock tells it like it is today. After all the mounting pressure from #OscarsSoWhite, Rock masterfully defused, and refocused, the situation with some passionate humor and honesty. He began by asking, “Why this year? Why now?” and then went for the kill, “In all those other years, we had more important things to protest about, like getting lynched!” His monologue was the highlight of the show, a message for today and beyond. As I had stated earlier, I was in a perfect vantage, the 25 Degrees bar in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, site of the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929. What I observed was a very attentive audience for Mr. Rock.

Making a political statement at the Oscars is far more challenging than it may appear. Chris Rock did it with skill and heart. He had been honing new material in the days leading up to his monologue and it resulted in something that ranks up with the best. The Oscars have that tradition of protest. It rarely works. However there are exceptions. The best, perhaps the first, is Sacheen Littlefeather refusing to accept the Best Actor Oscar on behalf on Marlon Brando for “The Godfather” in 1973. This was a protest over the treatment and depiction of Native Americans in the media as well as reaction to Wounded Knee. Talk about arguing for diversity! It is a graceful, articulate, and authentic moment, a far cry from the blather of today.

Chris Rock interviews Compton moviegoer

Chris Rock interviews Compton moviegoer

The 88th Academy Awards ceremony had a number of responses to the current outcry. One of the funniest had notable African-American stars Leslie Jones, Whoopi Goldberg, Tracy Morgan, and Chris Rock green-screened into nominated films. Leslie Jones steals the show as the bear from “The Revenant.” And Tracy Morgan follows with his line, “I’m a Danish Girl!” as he bites into a pastry. More to the point, a segment with Chris Rock interviewing moviegoers in Compton helped to demonstrate that the typical outcrop of Oscar nominated films like “The Big Short” and “Spotlight” did not resonate with a black audience.

In the end, Chris Rock rose to the occasion. He was presented with a significant moment in time, recognized it, and ran with it. On that night, he filled the big shoes of the likes of Bob Hope and left a pair of big shoes of his own.

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Blu-ray review: BIRDMAN

Birdman-Michael-Keaton-Edward-Norton

There’s the legendary tragic story of 19th century American actor, Edwin Booth. He was so celebrated for his performance as Othello that he kept to that role, made a career out of it, and died with it. If only actor Riggan Thomson (played by Michael Keaton) were so lucky. He’s stuck with being known as the guy behind the Birdman mask in a ridiculously successful superhero movie franchise. “Birdman” is about a lot of things, including Riggan’s journey toward redemption. After so much water under bridge, he feels he’s found something meaningful he can do with all that he’s learned. He’s adapted Raymond Carver for the Broadway stage. It’s an audacious move and one that rankles those who position themselves as arbiters of taste, specifically the New York theater critic, Tabitha Dickinson (played by Lindsay Duncan). The role of Tabitha is relatively small and yet so pivotal. She’s the one who, for better or worse, holds the fate of Riggan’s play and perhaps much more. And she’s the one who should be most eloquent on matters of culture except her delivery is all too pointed. In a great balancing act, “Birdman” arrives at its satire with grace.

“Birdman” is one of those films that hits the nail on the head so well that it leaves you wanting more. The winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Director for Alejandro González Iñárritu, “Birdman” is an instant classic. Forget about anything you may have heard or read from naysayers giving it a nonsensical label of being “pretentious.” I read that’s what, of all people, shock jock Howard Stern labeled this film as being. That absurd assessment, that twisted view of culture, is the sort of thing that is lampooned in “Birdman.” It’s as if Federico Fellini and Paddy Chayefsky were both alive today and created a masterpiece speaking to where we find ourselves. And where do we find ourselves? We find ourselves with the Howard Sterns of the world making empty gestures each day to countless fans.

We are stuffing ourselves with pop culture that often, some would say always, proves to be as fulfilling as cotton candy. In a film full of great conflict, the resounding head-butt is between high and low culture. Not only do we have snooty critics like Tabitha, but we have snooty thespians out to make life a living hell for Riggan. Enter Mike Shiner (played by Edward Norton). When Riggan finds himself in need of a replacement for a lead role, Mike is fortuitously available. He also happens to be notoriously rude and unstable. He thinks Riggan is incapable of genuinely caring about anything. He laughs at Riggan’s personal story about Raymond Carver. Mike also realizes that he has a very crazy way of showing that he cares.

And to care about something is at the heart of this film. Riggan is given many reasons to care, including his daughter, Sam (played by Emma Stone). There’s a wondrous scene where Sam lashes out at her dad. What’s remarkable is how much is said and conveyed. Sam goes from being triggered into conflict, to full-on rage, to a descent into regret. It’s the sort of sustained moment you would experience in theater. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu pushes the boundaries of what can be conveyed in film, particularly with a series of awe-inspiring continuous shots. It’s theatrical on one level. It’s hyperreal on another. And, you better believe it, it makes you want to care.

“Birdman” is available now on DVD and Blu-ray. The feature with a behind-the-scenes look at the film is priceless. For more information, visit Fox Searchlight right here.

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‘Gahan Wilson: Born Dead Still Weird’ Campaign Kicks Off August 18, 2013

Gahan-Wilson-Born-Dead-Still-Weird-2013

“We’re going all the way!” says filmmaker Steven-Charles Jaffe about his fundraising campaign in support of his documentary on master cartoonist Gahan Wilson, “Gahan Wilson: Born Dead, Still Weird.”

Beginning on Sunday, August 18, 2013, at noon PST, fundraising for the documentary resumes after the Kickstarter effort.

Many of the original pledgers are now renewing their pledges on the official “Born Dead, Still Weird” website which you can visit here.

Gahan-Wilson-art-Born-Dead-Still-Weird

Gahan-Wilson-The-New-Yorker

From the “Born Dead, Still Weird” site:

We have launched this new funding website for our ACADEMY AWARD® campaign to enable all of you awesome supporters to renew your pledges and receive your rewards.

Please browse through our rewards and choose one or more. Note: some previously listed rewards have changed, so take a look and choose one or more. There is also the option to make a pledge without a reward. You can purchase using Paypal or credit card.

The reasons we need your help remain the same. We’re in a tough race to get the documentary submitted to the Academy® so we must reach our goal of $26,000 by Monday September 16.

Thanks again for your continued enthusiasm and support. We will do this!

Sincerely,

Steven

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Filed under Academy Awards, cartoon, Cartooning, Cartoonists, Cartoons, Comics, Documentaries, Gahan Wilson, Illustration, Kickstarter, Playboy, Steven-Charles Jaffe, The New Yorker

ACADEMY AWARDS: HEAD OVER HEELS WINS 2013 ANNIE AWARD

Head Over Heels animated short 2013

Academy Award-nominated animated short, “Head Over Heels” has won a 2013 Annie Award, the most prestigious animation award in the world, and could very well be on its way to an Oscar. The story about a most unusual old married couple is decidedly original and twisted good fun. It is a major achievement for its director, Timothy Reckart. See the trailer here. This is a student film that has made a spectacular debut onto the entertainment scene. Learn more about the National Film and Television School here.

Press release follows:

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Movie Review: LINCOLN

Tad Lincoln
It was on a bright day in January in 1865 that the United States, despite feverish opposition, passed the 13th Amendment and abolished slavery in the land. The fight to outlaw slavery, once and for all, is the focus of Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.” Even if the final outcome is already known to the audience, the full story will likely be new. Remarkably, this film, with its familiar director and familiar subject, feels new too. This is a 21st Century Lincoln led by Daniel Day-Lewis’s brilliant interpretation of a man of his time with a keen sense for the timeless.

Mr. Spielberg uses his Lincoln capital wisely as we begin this film. After some scenes of bloody fighting, we cut to a close-up of two African American infantrymen. They are being interviewed about the Civil War. One man seems content. The other lists the injustices suffered by his people. The interviewer is Pres. Lincoln. We then float up to a dreamworld and there’s the tall and lonely figure in a stovepipe hat standing on the bow of a vast ship. Restraint. Elegant restraint. “Lincoln” proves to have the elegant restraint to make such a movie.

After all the hype, and there’s more to come, “Lincoln,” proves to be a very engaging film. It is not a Frank Capra treatment of our 16th president and that is an understandable concern. As we now know, Daniel Day-Lewis turned down more than one screenplay for this film. The one that finally won him over is based on the book, “Team of Rivals,” by Doris Kearns Goodwin and adapted for the screen by Tony Kushner. It provided a way to maintain that elegant restraint that Mr. Day-Lewis knew was essential.

With the sense of urgency clearly stated, we see a president determined to use all his political capital to steer the country in the right direction. In short order, he means to legitimize his Emancipation Proclamation. The only way to end slavery in the United States is to pass a Constitutional Amendment and the only way to do that is to act immediately. For political junkies, the ensuing dramatization is nirvana. You can almost hear Doris Kearns Goodwin reciting from her popular book in the background. However, this film does offer much more. There is a special urgency you feel in the filmmaking. When Lincoln speaks, everyone listens. We see a jaw drop a bit when the president exercises his distinctive skill to make a point. We feel history being made in a refreshing way as all the players are allowed to live and breathe.

At one point in the film, we see Mr. Day-Lewis in an scene where he ponders over Euclid, the ancient Greek mathematician. It is during a pivotal moment in the war that Lincoln thinks out loud with a couple of young staffers. One of them says he’s an engineer by profession. This sparks Lincoln to quote some Euclidean geometry, “Any two sides that are equal to the whole are equal to each other. Euclid, three thousand years before, stated that this was self-evident.” It is a delightfully low-key moment, one of many, that Mr. Day-Lewis plays masterfully.

In keeping with the restrained vibe in this film, we follow the journey of radical Republican, Thaddeus Stevens, played by Tommy Lee Jones. At first, we don’t seem to know which side he’s on or whether he can be relied upon to check his ego at the door when he needs to. It’s a great performance. One particularly good scene is when he’s confronted by the First Lady, played by Sally Field. She is greeting visitors at a reception and seizes the opportunity to put Stevens in his place. Coming across as a Hillary Clinton complaining over Whitewater investigations, she chides Stevens for his investigating her overseeing renovation of The White House. We see that Stevens can take a good chiding and take it to heart.

The Spielbergian touch is most evident in what we see from a child’s point of view in this film. There was a little boy who lived in the White House, the President’s son, Tad Lincoln. He’s there so often in the film as to be its anchor, conscience, and sense of innocence. When Lincoln and his men gather for a war meeting, the war map is found to have suffered a burn at one corner. Tad Lincoln was there. When Lincoln is patiently awaiting the final vote of the 13th Amendment, he is entertained by Tad Lincoln building a monument from various books and legal briefs. When Lincoln needs to keep up his sense of purpose, all he needs to do is observe the photographs of slaves that Tad Lincoln has been observing. And, when the President is shot, it is Tad Lincoln’s sorrow we focus upon. This is not Doris Kearns Goodwin’s or Daniel Day-Lewis’s doing. This is Steven Spielberg’s.

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