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.
I really like Marvel Comics movies and of all those I love the Thor movies. With Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Tom Hiddleston as Loki it’s a no miss buddy God franchise. What can I say. Instead of saving the Earth this time Thor saves Asgard from his sister – the evil Hela played but Cate Blanchett. The special effects are great, the supporting cast of Mark Ruffalo, Benedict Cumberbach, Anthony Hopkins, Karl Urban, Idris Erlba and especially Jeff Goldblum you really can’t miss. Goldblum is classic in a totally comic role and a new comer – Tessa Thompson also provides great comic relief. I have to admit that comic relief from a script that is totally tongue in cheek is not really necessary, but it is really fun anyway. Not Oscar stuff but truly Great Trash!! I promise. If you like super heroes you will love this movie. Oh by the way, the director Taiki Waititi is a New Zealander and plays a cameo role. You won’t recognize him except by his broad New Zealand accent since he plays a rock creature. The movie is up there with Guardians of the Galaxy in my opinion and I really like Stan Lee taking such delight in having fun with his characters. Oh yeah, Stan Lee also has a cameo. Look for him when you go to see it.
I am sort of surprised to see this film in the Best Film category, not because it isn’t good enough but because it is so unusual and has a director who is not mainstream. Jordan Peele is one of my favourite comics and with Keegan-Michael Key was part of a comedy team (Key and Peele) who did some very out-there sketches around issues of racism and the experience of being black in a white society which you might still find on the Comedy Channel or samples on YouTube. But on to the movie. Following on the theme of being black in white America, the movie creates a horror film around that experience. It plays on the dehumanizing experience of what it means to integrate for white American society and it is very scary. Peele can’t however avoid his comic roots and there are great comic scenes that overlay the horror. The more I try to describe this movie the more I realize how complex it really is and I mean that in a good way. An interesting note is that this movie cost only $4.5 million to make and so far has earned over $250 million in release. Definitely worth a watch but I suspect it will not win any of the big prizes in this year’s competition. Nonetheless having four major nominations says a lot and makes me look forward to Jordan Peele’s next project.
Coming of age is a fairly common theme for directors and film makers and I often avoid films when the review starts out “This moving, funny, insightful, profound (whatever the descriptor) coming of age film…” Fortunately I did not read the reviews of Lady Bird before going to see it. Otherwise I would have missed a well crafted coming of age story. There see… I found another way to describe one of these. At any rate Saoirse Ronan, who plays the young woman and Laurie Metcalf who plays her mother are very much worthy of their nominations for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. They battle each other as Lady Bird fights to realize her dream of escaping boring stupid Sacramento and head to where the action is – New England and Ivy League College. Her mother supports the family working as a nurse while her father is unemployed. So you get all the usual stuff, fumbling through first sexual relationships, rebellion against social pressure to follow a certain path, parents who provide love and hope but also strings that need cutting. While the themes are not new the acting more than overcomes the usual prejudices I have against this kind of movie. Worth its five major OSCAR nominations and winning Best Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes. Golden Globes is right to have a Musical or Comedy Best Film award and I suppose Lady Bird was lucky to be nominated in this category but I would hesitate to call it a Comedy other than that it has a relatively uplifting ending. Still a deserving film and well worth your time to see it.
Martin McDonagh has done two of my favourite films, In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. Both are thrillers/dramas with a black sense of humour that are totally engaging. Three Billboards lives up to his reputation. The story is more drama than thriller and the focus on character is better than McDonagh’s previous efforts. The black humour however survives. The basic story is about a mother who has lost her daughter to a horrible murder that is as yet unsolved. She decides to take action and force the police to do a better job of finding the killer. As the story unfolds a series of some very improbable and in some cases irrelevant events take place all to develop the characters more so than the plot but this flaw is more than compensated for by the clever writing which draws out humour in the midst of tragedy. The film won the writing award at the Venice film festival and is likely to win several Oscar nominations particularly for the lead Frances McDormand who carries the film and without which this film might well go unnoticed.
Armando Iannucci is the director of great political satire most notably VEEP starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus of Seinfeld fame. This movie is very much in that tradition. As satire both VEEP and this film move between comedy and making you feel slightly uncomfortable. This film tells the story of Stalin’s death and the subsequent events as members of the politburo fight for power and control. Stalin was one of the world’s most cruel and controlling dictators and his sudden death left a void that created a real crisis for the Soviet Union. The contest mainly between Khrushchev and Beria, the head of the secret service, was a devious and ruthless competition for power. Iannucci however manages to create a comic look at the struggle without taking away from the cruelty of the regime or the power struggle. The film did not shy away from the violence and reign of terror that Stalin created but managed to build comic relief and distraction in the relationships among the surviving members of the politburo. The cast is amazing including Steve Buscemi and Michael Palin among other lesser known character actors. The acting was smart with all the key roles contributing to the overall story. The Q and A was one of the best I have attended. Iannucci and four of the actors including Buscemi were there. Iannucci and Buscemi were particularly eloquent, funny and informative in their comments and we learned a lot about how the film was put together including rehearsals and use of improvisation when necessary. All in all an excellent experience and a film worth your time to see.
Paterson was a popular film at TIFF last year and one I couldn’t fit into my schedule which I now regret. I just saw it at a local review cinema and totally loved it. The cast consists of some not very well known character actors who turn in an ensemble performance that is captivating. Adam Driver plays a bus driver named Paterson in the small New Jersey town of Paterson. Yes, he has the same name as the town he was born in and has lived in all his life. The film follows a week in Paterson’s life, each day much the same as the next and giving us a glimpse into the day to day lives of our hero and his community. The unique aspect of our bus driver is his love of poetry and he himself is a poet, writing his poetry in a small secret notebook during his free time. As far as I could tell, Paterson kept his poetry to himself and shared only snippets to his wife. His wife urges him to make a copy of his work and he promises to do so but in the end never gets around to it.
The film’s charm lies in the dialogue and the quirky characters including Paterson’s flakey artistic wife, the bartender at his local pub and its customers, the conversations of the bus riders, and Marvin the English Bulldog Paterson takes for a walk each evening. The climax of the film, if one can have a climax in a film with no real plot, comes when Paterson’s secret notebook is destroyed and all his poetry is lost. He is clearly devastated but the emotion is hidden. He clearly wrote the poetry for himself and meant it only to record his personal view of life and the world. At the end of the film he has an unexpected encounter with a visitor to the town that reopens the door to his poetry and redeems his loss. A simple but moving end to a simple but remarkable look at an ordinary life. For an entertaining evening and a relaxing hopeful look at life, I can’t recommend this film more. Enjoy!
There are some things that you can only experience at TIFF and this was one of them. Matt Johnson and Jay McCarrol made their names if we can call it that with a web tv show called “nirvanna the band the show” that you can all find on YouTube if you like. The views for the web tv show are in the 1K to 4K level so it was not an international hit by any means. The guys are high school buddies who may have been the class clowns and the episodes on YouTube are funny in the high school humour kind of way but the fans are super fans. They were lucky however and managed to get the attention of more polished producers and have managed to snag a series on CTV this fall called: nirvanna the band the show. (By the way nirvanna is spelled with 2 “n’s”) Then to promote the show they managed to get three episodes strung together at TIFF. I saw this at Hot Docs and from what I can tell all the fans of the web tv show were there. Enthusiastic would not be sufficient to describe their love. They cheered the introduction, the pre-screening commercials and then laughed continuously all through the show. And… to be fair it was pretty funny. The guys have upped their game and are in the Kids in the Hall category now. The premise of the show is two guys with a band who want to get a gig at The Rivoli in Toronto. To get attention they try several different strategies not connected to music at all. The three episodes that were screened were very funny but production quality is not the greatest. The guys are funny and may well improve with experience. There is some real talent here although polishing will be needed. Nonetheless the fans are clearly there.. or at least the few hundred at Hot Docs. I will watch the series this fall although the real fun today was the audience. Oh right – I should mention, I felt very old since the average age of the audience had to be under 30.
I have to admit I liked this movie despite being very suspicious based on reviews. Lee has based his anti-violence, anti-gun, anti-war movie on Aristophanes’ comedy Lysistrata. The Greek play is about an Athenian woman who acts to end the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. She allies with the women of Sparta to swear a vow and deny their men sex until the war is ended. The original play works well in the context of gang wars in Chicago. Samuel L. Jackson plays the chorus/narrator and is perfect in the part. The rest of the cast is great and the story really works. Have to admit I found the dialogue hard to follow at times but the story is great fun and while essentially a comedy, Lee makes his political points. Guns are killing young black men, children and other innocents. Lee makes it clear that it’s the guns that do the killing. He condemns the violent conflict and points to its origins in unemployment, poor education, and poverty. The latter points are made in a somewhat ham handed way but on the other hand the story is portrayed in a classical theatric format rather than the realism we might otherwise expect. Its stage play on film and works really well. Good fun and with a message that we all need to hear.
I have now seen all the Wes Anderson films who is one of my favourite directors. Bottle Rocket is old – well 1996 – and puts together the Wes Anderson team that includes Owen and Luke Wilson. The story is odd and off the wall but lots of fun. You can see in this movie Anderson’s use of colour and framing that make most of his films really beautiful to look at while remaining totally odd and weird. Owen Wilson’s acting style is also a great part of the film. It tells the story of a trio of young men who have a career goal of becoming master thieves. They start small in a hilarious robbing of a local bookstore for a few hundred dollars and basically stay small until they join up with a real crook played by James Caan. This last caper turns into a sad but very funny ending to their ambitions. If you are also a Wes Anderson fan and have not seen this yet – it is highly recommended.
By the way, Bottle Rocket is based on a short that is Wes Anderson’s first film to win awards at a small US film festival. You can see it on YouTube here: