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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is one of the movies nominated for Best Feature Length Documentaries. It is a classic documentary in style as it follows the trial of the owners of a small federal bank based in Chinatown in New York City. In 2008 when the mortgage fiasco brought down the world economy this small bank was caught up in the disaster. Despite the fact that the crisis was brought about by huge unregulated banks and finance companies on Wall Street, the New York District Attorney’s office decided to make and example of the Abacus Bank which is the only financial institution to be charged with wrong doing out of the whole financial collapse. A total joke. Abacus was founded and owned by the Sung family with a goal of supporting the Chinese community especially new immigrants. As 2008 crept up the bank had a couple of employees who did do some illegal money laundering and outright theft that the family was not aware of. It was picked up and the DA’s office went into action. After a five-year investigation they charged the bank with fraud and larceny. The case went to trial and the documentary crew followed the family and trial over nearly 3 months. I will not tell you the outcome since you really should see this movie if you like documentaries or you can look it up but I can tell you that you get a close up look at the struggles of a family that truly wanted to do good for their community and got caught up in a crisis to which they contributed almost nothing and it also gives you good insight into the whole financial crisis. Great stuff.
The Post is a movie I was not that keen to see despite being about the release of the Pentagon Papers and the start of the end of Richard Nixon. It stars Meryl Streep who I have not liked in most if not all her films and lately I have not been overly impressed with the ability of the Post and the NYT etc to hold the US government to account. Not like the good old days so I was not sure I could stomach a film that was going to point to the journalistic integrity of this newspaper now owned by Jeff Bezos who cares only for money and not for truth. As many may be aware the Washington Post was a family owned paper until 2013 when it was sold to Jeff Bezos at which point I decided it could no longer be trusted to be a bastion of integrity. Besides two of my favourite movies are All the President’s Men and Spotlight both of which illustrated investigative journalism at its best and I didn’t want that good taste to be spoiled.
However, I girded myself and headed off to see it. I will confess I was pleasantly surprised. Meryl Streep is very very good as Kay Graham the owner of the paper and Tom Hanks was also excellent as the editor Ben Bradlee. There is a superb supporting cast that all lead to a great movie experience. Unlike the President’s Men and Spotlight, the film does not focus so much on the crime as on the process of acquiring the Pentagon Papers and deciding to publish them. The NYT actually beat them to the punch, but Nixon closed the story done with an injunction against the Times. Daniel Ellsberg turned next to the Post and gave them the same documentation. The Post had to decide if they could publish the story and avoid prosecution for violating the injunction against the Times. The issue was freedom of the press but at the same time the Post had just gone public and a bad legal situation could seriously hurt their chances of attracting investment. So…. They decided to go with the story to defend the first amendment and the freedom of the press. Nixon erupts and takes them to court. In fact all the way to the Supreme Court and…he loses. The story breaks and while there is much more to the Daniel Ellsberg story than the fate of the Washington Post this still made a great movie and… damn it… Meryl Streep deserves her nomination for Best Actress too.
Oh by the way Mathew Rhys played Daniel Ellsberg who has a small role in the movie. Still it is important and recently I heard a couple of interviews with him about his new book, The Doomsday Machine. Ellsberg actually stole documents related to two secret studies undertaken by the US government. He delivered the Vietnam War Pentagon Papers first and hid the other document which was all about the impact of a thermonuclear war which the US clearly was looking at conducting. The title relates to the movie Dr. Strangelove very deliberately. The papers were hidden but then lost (a long story) but Ellsberg now thinks it is worth revisiting given the current president. So I left the theatre and bought the book. I am guessing the movie (Strangelove) and the book by Terry Southern has already been done but this book will be interesting and feed my paranoia.
If you liked the original Blade Runner you will love this sequel. Set decades after the first film you will find the dystopic future has not improved much. This time however our hero is Canadian actor Ryan Gosling and his director is also Canadian which in itself makes this a must see for all us north of Trumpland. Villeneuve clearly was a fan of the first film and his recreation of the world first dreamed of by Philip Dick in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, is perfect in every way. What is really special is that that the story extends the themes and takes us in some new directions. To tell more would be to spoil what is a great story. This movie I think should have had a Best Picture nomination but instead we get 5 nominations for technical awards such as cinematography and editing. While this film definitely deserves these nods I think the nominators missed out on what is a very special film with a great story to tell. Nonetheless for quality production values and a really fun ride (and as a huge fan of the original) I cannot recommend this movie more highly. May it be blessed with some well deserved wins unlike its predecessor.
A comment – while some movies win awards and are celebrated over others, it is often the case that those winning films are long forgotten while movies that won nothing at the time are the enduring ones. Blade Runner is such a movie. Nominate for only two technical awards in 1983 and losing both to E.T. and Gandhi, I suspect Blade Runner will endure as a classic. While E.T. might also endure I would ask those reading this blog to put up their hands if they have even seen Gandhi or will ever see it again. See? No one. LOL.