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I, Tonya – Director, Craig Gillespie

There are no bad nominees for Best Picture this year. All the films are worthy and while some (Bladerunner 2049) were snubbed I can’t find fault with anything that made the list. However, all the buzz is about The Shape of Water and Three Billboards with an occasional pitch for Get Out but I am pretty sure that the most deserving film is I, Tonya, and it also got snubbed. The story of Tonya Harding is ugly and brutal and no one who remembers “the incident”, the breaking of Nancy Kerrigan’s knee ostensibly to guarantee that Tonya made the US Olympic team, has much sympathy for Harding. However the real story (and I am not sure how much of this movie is true) is much more complex as this film suggests. The story is brutal, funny, and in your face with some absolutely stunning performances from Margot Robbie as Tonya and Alison Janney as her mother as well as a great supporting cast. The film is a dramatic recreation of Tonya’s career that is interspersed with pseudo documentary style interviews with the main characters and brilliant little soliloquys to the audience. What is one of the most infamous episodes in US Olympic history is brought to life with great writing (what no nomination?) acting and direction. I had a very emotional response to the movie that had me going in many directions. Trying to figure out how to convey that was hard until I found this quote from Colin Covert the reviewer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune: “Scene by scene, it made me laugh, cringe, get angry, upset, confused, enlightened, entertained, almost tearful and awed”. Spot on Colin. Other reviewers have noted the clever editing that gives the film an incredible energy. You will not look at your watch I promise. It is nominated for Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress and Best Film Editing. I think it deserves all three but will likely win for Best Supporting Actress (Best Actress is going to Frances McDormand I suppose) and maybe just maybe it will win Film Editing. Damn it, it deserves something for being one of the best movies I have seen in a long long time.

Best Documentary and Best Animated Feature at the Oscars

Time to complain a bit about the Oscars and I do this with just a modicum of background on the history of the Academy Awards but with a big interest in documentary film and animation. Trying to pick out the Best Documentary or Best Animated Film in 2018 is a total fools game. What on earth are the criteria? When it comes to the traditional Hollywood dramatic films we get to recognize directors, actors, editors, cinematographers, writers and on and on but do the directors, writers or cinematographers of the documentaries or animated films ever get nominated for these awards. That’s a rhetorical question and the answer is: No.

All the nominees in the Feature Documentary and Animation categories have qualities that deserve recognition but only one can win and the others (particularly the docs) will fade away. As I look at the documentary category I can only guess at the winner despite seeing all of them. Some feature excellent writing, cinematography, theme and direction. The choice however will be likely on the theme that resonates most with the viewers at this point in the year rather than on overall quality. All deserve more. In the animation category the Academy seems to be driven by Walt Disney’s foray into the feature length animated film with Snow White back in the 1930’s. So the films are seen as for children, have cute stories and are a nod to kids. In fact animation is way beyond that now with powerful stories told with artistic quality and aimed at general audiences. They deserve consideration for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Writing and so forth but are apparently excluded out of a blindness for their quality. The same can be said for documentary films as well. Wake up Academy and other award groups and recognize quality beyond live action drama.

The Breadwinner – Director, Nora Twomey

I think this should win the Oscar for being the by far the best animated film I have seen in a long time. I am basing this not only on the quality of the animation art itself which is superb but also on the importance of the story and the need for us to see more stories that make us think about Islamic culture and people. I would compare this to the live action short Watu Wote which you can read about here: https://wordpress.com/post/movie-rants-and-raves.net/1241

The film tells the story of a young girl who disguises herself as a boy to get a job and support her family after her father is arrested by The Taliban and her mother is beaten for going out after curfew for women. The story is full of hope and courage and while open to a young audience is a moving story for adults as well.

I am making this judgement on the basis of only seeing one of this year’s nominees but I am not going to vote for Boss Baby or likely even see it, I am totally opposed to Disney or Pixar winning anything in the animation area despite Coco being the likely winner this year. When our choices to recognize films are so limited in areas like animation and documentary we need to support and recognize people and films that take a bit further than simply making $200 million dollars as Coco did. That shows its popular, well promoted and put in many theatres. The Breadwinner made less than $230,000 or .01% of what Coco made. I suppose it is lucky the film even got a nomination but it clearly deserves more in my opinion.

Strong Island – Director, Yance Ford

An very unsettling documentary about racism in the US. The documentary revolves around the murder of a young black man, a murder that is never prosecuted as Grand Jury determined no crime had been committed. It was reminiscent of the Colton Bushie trial here recently. The story is however more complex. It is narrated by the young man’s sister who is trying to figure out why there was never any prosecution but in the course of the telling we are taken deeply into the place of blacks in contemporary US society. Set in New York City we learn that segregation and hatred are still rampant and barely concealed. We also learn about the impact of the murder on the man’s family; the personal impact that would be true of any family to which a similar event occurred. It is hard not to identify with the narrator, her mother and the other family members. It is powerfully filmed putting the narrators and other members telling the story in the centre of the screen and close up. The images of the site of the killing, the home of the family are filmed in the same manner as if standing witness themselves. While this is an important film, the style is such that after a while one becomes beaten down by the story and its unrelenting tragedy. I am not sure this is a good way to address this important issue but one cannot avoid the impact and sadly what seems the hopelessness of this family’s situation and by extension the situation of many black Americans. A good chance this wins the Oscar.

Icarus – Director, Bryan Fogel

This documentary is about the recent Russian doping debacle. It starts with Bryan Fogel, an amateur bike racer and film maker wanting to see if doping would make him better in a major amateur bike race in France called the Haute Route, a seven day race through the mountains that is incredibly difficult. The first time he competes he is totally clean. There are 400 racers and he hopes to finish in the top 100. He finishes 14th but that is not good enough as he sees he is well below the standard of the top 10 and he wants now to be among them. He is also aware now of Lance Armstrong’s story and he wants to see if he can, like Armstrong use doping to advance his performance and not be caught. So he recruits Grigory Rodchenkov a Russian physician and doping expert in the Russian anti-doping lab to help him. Its really just planning to be a film about how doping works and if it works and the first part of the film takes us through the injections, urine collection and finally the race. Sadly while the doping likely improved Fogel’s physical ability his bike develops mechanical problems and he finishes well down in the standings. However the film now takes a sinister turn and he and Rodchenkov actually become part of the exposure of the Russian doping plot that has led ultimately to the banning of athletes in Rio and most currently in Korea. The story is told very well and you will learn a great deal about how doping works, how it can be hidden, how it can only be exposed by those involved and how dangerous it can be to cross Vladimir Putin. I must admit I watched the whole thing… all over 2 hours of it… which to be honest was too long by far. For this reason, I would not want to see it win the Oscar but it was very interesting and damn it, I did watch the whole thing. If you are interested in athletics and politics this is the film for you.

Live Action Short Films 2018 Oscars

Unlike the animated shorts all these films are excellent, so it is hard to choose. Four were super serious and one (pictured above) was great comic fare from Australia. So quickly, we have My Nephew Emmett based on the true story of a racist murder in Mississippi in 1955. It really puts a powerful spotlight on the nature of racism in the American south and is brilliantly scripted and acted with the tension building to the end. The film does not recreate the actual murder of a young black man visiting family in Mississippi from Chicago. It ends however with a surprise film clip from the real event in which the boy’s uncle describes the event in an interview to the press. Very moving. Next up is Dekalb Elementary, again we have a dramatization of an actual shooting event at a suburban elementary school in the US. This was maybe the weakest of the nominees but that is not to say it wasn’t good. I found myself hoping the worst would not happen and in fact it doesn’t but it paints a very scary picture. Then we move to racism of a different sort with Watu Wote, a story set in Kenya where Al Shabab terrorists threaten the Christian population. The country is rife with Muslim/Christian antagonism leading to massacres and murders. Again we have a dramatization of a true story of a bus that is ambushed by Al Shabab terrorists. The terrorists order everyone out and demand that the Christians be identified in order to kill them. The film follows one Christian woman who has already expressed her dislike of her fellow Muslim passengers having lost her husband and child to a terrorist attack. The Muslims on the bus are however understanding and in the crisis hide her from the terrorists during the attack leading to a story of redemption from the hatred that permeates the country. A very interesting take on racial/religious prejudice and hatred. Next up The Silent Child about a young deaf girl whose family really doesn’t understand how to help. The film is aimed at pushing signing as a solution to integrating those with hearing deficits into everyday life. Very moving again and well done. Finally we have the only one to make my audience break out laughing. The Eleven O’Clock is about a psychiatrist who is awaiting his next patient. He has a temp filling in as his secretary who tells him that the next patient is deluded and thinks he is also a psychiatrist. As the patient arrives for his appointment we begin to question who is the real patient and who is the psychiatrist. The dialogue is fast, furious and totally Monty Pythonesque. I would like it to win because I love comedy and if I end up owning any of these movies it will be The Eleven O’Clock – look up the other short I bought for much the same reasons – Boogaloo and Graham. The truth however is that the Oscar will likely go to Watu Wote or My Nephew Emmett – both very deserving.

The Animated Short Films 2018 Oscars

I was not that impressed with the films chosen for consideration in this category in 2018. The picture above is from the film I think should win. Lets start with why the others shouldn’t. Dear Basketball is Kobe Bryant’s good bye to the game. A great player with an ego to match. This film is just dumb. Two films – Negative Space and Garden Party are just weird from the story perspective particularly Garden Party which has stunning animation but is about a bunch of frogs cavorting around what emerges is a murder scene in the garden of a mansion. This only comes to light slowly but is just totally strange and pointless. Negative Space is about the relationship of a father and son over how to pack luggage. It ends with a very bad joke at the father’s funeral. Finally there is a film called Lou which is a Disney/Pixar production which should lose just for being that. It is very professional and about bullying getting confronted but totally lacking any insight or new perspective. So – the winner is Revolting Rhymes from the UK. Based on a Roald Dahl story and illustrations by Quentin Blake it is a very funny, witty take on Snow White, the Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood. Just made the audience with me laugh out loud several times. Voices included Dominic West of The Hour and The Wire and Rob Brydon from The Trip film series. Great stuff. I will be very disappointed if it doesn’t win.