Category Archives: Oscar 2016

Theeb – Director, Naji Abu Nowar

Unlike Room ( see below), which also focuses on a young boy at the centre of the story, this film is far more powerful and interesting. It is set in 1916 in Hijaz province (Western Saudi Arabia today) of the Ottoman empire. It is during the First World War at the time of Lawrence of Arabia and tells the story of a young boy named Theeb or Wolf in Arabic and his older brother. They are asked to guide a English soldier to a well on the way to Mecca. They are moving through a war torn area and are victims of a conflict they have nothing to do with. The cinematography in this film is beautiful and reminiscent of David Lean’s masterpiece. The boy is a great actor and not nauseatingly cute as in Room but very real. Unlike Room I was entranced for the full hour and a half. This movie has a high rating from reviewers but like many foreign language films has had very little exposure. The knock on this movie is that it is a simple coming of age adventure film with a predictable outcome. I am not sure this is entirely fair. The world in which it is set and the time is a violent one and this movie avoids any gruesome violence or unjustified confrontations or death.It’s a good adventure story and I would highly recommend it to you. it will be at review cinemas and the Lightbox so get out and see it.

Room – Director, Lenny Abrahamson

I really did not like this movie despite its 96 percent rating on RottenTomatoes. It is boring, unbelievable and pointless. It is winning because the kid is so damn cute but if not for that I think this film would disappear into oblivion which I suspect it will after February 28th passes. I am clearly way off the popular consensus. This starts with a woman who is a prisoner in a room with her young son. They have access to food and basic comforts but she is visited by her captor and is clearly a sexual slave to him. She has been there for seven years and the son is only 4 or 5 and is clearly the son of her and her captor. The focus of the film is that her son has no concept of the outside world except through the small television they have. The whole scenario seemed unbelievable to me. They behave as would any mother and son in a normal situation which I could not believe. The boy has concepts that he would never have if brought up in this situation. I don’t know if this is based on a real case or not or on research about people in similar circumstances but I just couldn’t believe the scenario at all. They escape in yet another unbelievable plot involving the son feigning death. Once they get out the story shifts to introducing the boy to the world he has never known. It is totally wrapped around the relationship between mother and son but it is just pointless unless you identify with the cute little boy. Sorry but this movie really is not very interesting at all. Just my opinion however. Enjoy… if you like that kind of thing.

Creed – Director, Ryan Coogler

Has it really been 40 years since the first Rocky movie? Creed is a homage to the Rocky series and is a remake in many ways of the original film only this time focussing on the rising career of Apollo Creed’s illegitimate son played by Michael B. Jordan. Coogler’s previous very well received film is called Fruitvale Station also starring Jordan. I have not seen the latter but will definitely hunt it down now. As for this film, I have to wonder how Jordan does not get a nomination or how Coogler (who is black) doesn’t get one either for directing. This is particularly bad when I look at the nominated films some of which simply do not measure up to this one. If it had been nominated it would have also gone some way toward addressing the whiteness of the Academy’s process.

It is clear why Stallone gets a nomination in the acting category. Although he is not known for great performances outside of the Rocky series he is actually really good in this film. I hope I am not being overly generous here and channeling my memories from 40 years ago but hey…I had a great time watching this movie and it took me back. So I think this counts as a really good movie and a tribute to the entire Rocky series. It has, and this is a warning, great boxing scenes and I know there are those who find this unpleasant and see it as barbaric. The latter may be true but that doesn’t take from the quality of this movie. Go see it if you can.

Son of Saul – Director, László Nemes

This is a very difficult film to watch. The Nazi’s selected skilled and fit Jews to help in the concentration camps as work commandos. They were not executed unless they fell ill or were no longer needed. They collected the clothing and possessions of the inmates who were led to the ovens and gas chambers. This film follows one of these commandos who finds his son among the dead and seeks to find a rabbi and give his son a proper burial. It is filmed from his perspective as the camera follows him around focussed on his face or what he is watching. This techniques makes it very powerful and very upsetting as the reality of the camps is revealed. The ending is inevitable if not entirely predictable. It frustrates me somewhat that these excellent films are not recognized more fully by the Academy. An award for the Best Foreign Language Film is something out of a past in which the lords of Hollywood condescended to recognize films from those countries that in their opinion sadly lacked a real film industry. This kind of American arrogance needs to be addressed with a major redo of the awards and the industry. Worth an editorial on the blog shortly. In the meantime here is a very good movie that deserves the recognition it is getting.

What Happened, Miss Simone? – Director, Liz Garbus

Okay I will confess I really like Liz Garbus. She has not made a bad documentary in her life that I am aware of including Love, Marilyn, The World Against Bobby Fischer and the Ghosts of Abu Ghraib. Go check them out if you have not seen them. This is another winner. The film uses interviews with her former husband and manager, her daughter and niece to great effect but the news footage of her and Stokley Carmichael and others is even more powerful. Nina Simone was an amazing pianist and jazz/blues singer who suffered from manic depression and who took a potentially super star career to the depths of despair as she fought against racism in the US in 60’s and 70’s. Her life was tragic but through it all her powerful voice, song writing ability and passion for her music and her community kept her alive and fighting. I cannot recommend this film more. It is nominated for Best Documentary and is up against a biographical documentary about Amy Winehouse which took the BAFTA Award this year. I don’t see it. However good “Amy” is she did not live long enough nor was she committed enough to warrant beating out this movie. In this year of ever so white Oscars they could take a mini-step in the right direction to recognize this champion of human rights and freedom.

Winter on Fire – Director, Evgeny Afineevsky








Not a great movie and likely nominated for the pro-Western political perspective it offers. The technique of the documentary is very in your face with no clear narrative but a collection of real life encounters with participants in the conflict. They include not only leaders but people in the street and so it is visceral in its impact. The director followed the style of a previous Netflix movie called The Square about the uprising in Egypt that focussed in demonstrations in Tahrir Square in Cairo. Both films take the viewer into the streets with the protestors and shows the conflict from that perspective. It is a powerful technique that builds sympathy in the viewers for those who are in the midst of the conflict. The problem in both cases is that it also simplifies the struggle going on in the country. In both situations and particularly in Ukraine the situation is not nearly as simple as it is portrayed. Ukraine is of critical strategic importance to east and west and is as a result the focus of much interference from both sides. This aspect of the conflict is not addressed in the film and so I am not entirely happy with it. I do not necessarily accuse the film makers of political propaganda but the film is of limited value because of its focus on the street alone. If you want to see better example of the technique however I would recommend The Square over this film.

Brooklyn – Director, John Crowley

Saorise Ronan (pronounced Sear-sha) is wonderful in this movie. Brooklyn tells the tale of a young Irish immigrant to America in the early 1950’s. The portrayal of her trauma from leaving her mother, sister and community to start a new life in NYC is heart wrenching. Ronan’s acting is superb and deserves recognition on February 28th. While I am a 7th generation Irish immigrant in Southern Ontario I found the experience of a new immigrant struggling between an old and new home very moving. Ultimately the opportunity of a new life wins out but I teared up a fair amount getting there. One of the most moving and beautiful scenes for me was early in the film. Ronan’s character is spending her first Christmas away alone and offers to come to the local parish to serve Christmas dinner to the street people, mostly men, who are also mostly Irish labourers now out of work and far from home. One is invited to stand up and sing, a capella, a traditional Irish folk song. Ronan’s character is brought to tears by this working man’s rendition of the haunting song Casadh an tSugain and with one listen you’ll understand why. Actually if you want to hear the song, go to this link: You don’t need any Celtic blood in your veins to be moved. Trust me.

Okay I confess, it is a real tear jerker of a movie and wonderfully acted by a cast who are young and mostly unknown here but in my opinion the absolute best of all the movies nominated for Best Picture. Hope it wins. 

A postscript. Unlike in Spotlight, the catholic church comes off much better in this film. I suppose it shows two sides of an ancient and complex organization. Ronan’s character would not have survived her trip or transition without the support of the priest and the parish in Boston. So it goes.

Mustang – Director, Deniz Gamze Ergüven

Mustang is nominated for Best Foreign Language Film and is a worthy contender. The film tells the story of five orphaned sisters in Turkey being raised by their very conservative uncle and grandmother. After a particularly exuberant walk home from school, the girls are pulled from school, locked in their home and trained to be married off. The three eldest are quickly locked into arranged marriages that they don’t want. Their reactions offer great insight into the struggle between the generations in Muslim culture. The two youngest girls are too young to be married and begin to plot their escape. The youngest, Lale, is the most liberated of them all and is the brains behind the resistance. At age 10 or 11 as best as I could guess, she leads the escape. One is left thinking what her plan is. Her plan is to go to Istanbul which is over 1000 km away. But this includes learning to drive so she can steal her uncle’s car and drive it 1000 KM and hey? how does she see two young girls surviving on their own in a big city. There is however a plan and it is revealed at the end. In fact, it is revealed at the very start of the film and I smacked my head for not seeing it. The oppression of women looks like it is going to win but in the end a somewhat happy ending for at least two of the sisters. Great film, not too long and very good.

Spotlight – Director, Tom McCarthy

Spotlight is the name given to the investigative journalism team at the Boston Globe. This film dramatizes that team’s work to expose the involvement of the Catholic Church in covering up sexual assault and pedophilia among its clergy. The story starts in Boston but the extent of the cover-up discovered by the Spotlight team reached right around the world. This film reminded somewhat of All the President’s Men. It is a tension filled story of investigation that keeps your attention throughout. The team of actors is a bit of a who’s who of Hollywood and is superb. There is not a Best Actor or Actress here because the team is the star. It suggests that the Academy, in addition to recognizing a more diverse population of actors and film makers, needs to consider an award for ensemble casts. Nonetheless Rachel McAdams and Mark Ruffalo merited nominations for Best supporting roles and really any of the cast was deserving of a nomination. I really like this kind of film, exciting, tension filled with no violence but just good writing and acting. Sadly I wonder if this film describes one of the last efforts of investigative journalism. With the concentration of media in the hands of a very few corporate masters I can see reporters being increasingly limited in their freedom to seek the truth or chase after stories that are critical of our ruling elites. So go see this one while you can still dream of freedom of the press.

Sicario – Director, Denis Villeneuve

Sicario is an American story told by a Canadian Director. The film looks at an aspect of the American War on Drugs and in particular the War on the Drug Cartels in Mexico. It is a very dark look at this issue and pulls no punches about the cartels or the US agencies (DEA, CIA and FBI) who are waging a less than successful war against them. Emily Blunt plays an FBI agent who is seconded to a CIA operation to assassinate a major Drug Cartel leader. There is no question that the target is evil to the core but the agents going after him are far off the rules of law. The moral and legal conscience of Blunt’s character is challenged to its limits putting her a risk from both sides of the conflict. The end of the film is uncompromising and leaves most of the questions asked open for the viewer to reflect about. No is the good guy in the story.

The film is graphic and violent and tough to watch in parts but Blunt, Josh Brolin, and Benicio Del Toro are very strong and believable. The pace of the film is relentless and completely engaging. It is not possible to turn away for fear of missing something important in the plot as events unfold. Great stuff. I can see why it was not nominated in some major categories like acting. It is an ensemble production that does not depend on any one thing but on a combination of really good acting, writing and directing. It has been nominated for some technical awards and I hope it wins a couple because it merits praise.