Category Archives: Oscar 2018

Faces Places – Director, JR and Agnes Varda

Filmmaker Agnes Varda and photographer JR teamed up to make this charming film and while I think it is worth a nod for Best Documentary, it may lose out for not being political or serious enough. Together they tour the French countryside looking for places to put faces on. Sounds bizarre but JR’s latest thing is a van that takes giant photos and then he and a team post them on the sides of buildings, rail cars or whatever seems most appropriate. Sometimes it is just gratuitous and funny and sometimes it makes a political point but what makes this film special is the relationship between its two stars. Varda is in her 80’s and JR in his 30’s could be grandson. He clearly thinks she is something special as an artist and the friendship and mutual admiration that grows between them is great to see. For a relaxing but often thought-provoking documentary I cannot recommend it more highly. Enjoy.

Dunkirk – Director, Christopher Nolan

Gotta love a good war movie. Dunkirk counts up there with some of the best but I confess I was a bit disappointed. Dunkirk is one of those amazing stories of the Second World War and was one of the major reasons that Britain was able to withstand the German onslaught at the start of the war. The expeditionary force that had been driven to the edge of the French coast by the Nazi Blitzkrieg and might have been totally lost if not for the courage of civilians who took to their small sea going craft to cross the channel and bring the boys home when the navy could not do the job. So I was expecting something like The Longest Day without John Wayne of course. In other words a series of mini stories that all add up to a big story. Instead, Nolan chose to focus on a small number of focussed stories that, while interesting on their own, never really gives the epic size of the story. Kenneth Branagh plays a general caught on the beach and we visit him every now and then to get some sense of the enormous challenge but neither he or the scenes really succeed. Once he gets back to the few personal stories of rescuers and pilots etc it is more engrossing but I still felt a bit cheated. On the plus side this movie has been nominated for most of the technical awards like cinematography, editing etc that tell you it has been very well crafted and in many ways beautiful to watch. Look for it to capture one or more of those awards but Director and Best Picture are not happening.

Get Out – Director, Jordan Peele

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.

The Shape of Water – Director, Guillermo del Toro

With 13 nominations, The Shape of Water is up there with some of the biggest if not the best films of all time. Only three movies have more nominations, a total of 14 each: All About Eve, Titanic and La La Land. If I had to rank these three against Guillermo’s masterpiece I would allow that All About Eve is better but The Shape of Water is way better than Titanic or especially La La Land. Getting nominated does not necessarily mean winning. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King won all 11 categories it was nominated for and only two other films have won 11 awards: Ben-Hur and Titanic. However La La Land and All About Eve only managed to win 6 awards despite being nominated for 14 each. So it really comes down the competition and this year The Shape of Water is up against some excellent films. Nonetheless The Shape of Water is maybe the most interesting film of the year. The story is unusual and superbly presented. It is worth all the nominations and I would have given one more. While Richard Jenkins gets a nod for Supporting Actor I can’t understand why Michael Shannon does not get a nod for his role as the villain. He is just super evil and creepy. So I will not spoil this movie for you who have not seen it yet but I will say its a love story, a sci-fi story, a fantasy story and a fairy tale so it will appeal to many. The acting is amazing, the script is great, it was filmed in Toronto, what more can I say. Guillermo del Toro has an imagination that defies definition as demonstrated by his earlier Pan’s Labyrinth that won him 3 Oscars for Cinematography, Art Direction and Makeup. He will do better this time around.

Lady Bird – Director, Greta Gerwig

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.

Molly’s Game – Director, Aaron Sorkin

Molly’s Game is nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and in my opinion should win. Based on a true story it is a smart rapid-fire script delivered in style by Idris Elba and Jessica Chastain as the leads. Given the high quality of films last year this one got left off the Best Picture list but certainly was worth consideration. It tells the story of Molly Bloom whose career as a world class Olympic skier is dashed by injury. While her father’s coaching drove her to Olympic quality she was not without ambition herself and with her skiing career in ruins she moved on. Through a series of lucky breaks she ends up running one of most exclusive high stakes poker games in the world attracting movie stars, millionaires, sports stars and, initially unknown to her, the Russian mob. The latter leads to her downfall and arrest by the FBI. Idris Elba is the lawyer who takes her case and we move from the game to the courts. Sorkin who is debuting as a director with this film is one of my favourite screenplay writers if not my favourite, Credits include movies like A Few Good Men, A Social Network and Moneyball and TV series like West Wing and The Newsroom. Fast, smart, witty scripts that make you sit up and pay attention are his thing. Try to see this movie for a great entertaining time.

Postscript: Kevin Costner plays Molly’s father in a small but important role. At the show I attended I heard several people comment how much they liked his performance. Its true. He is very good.

The Florida Project – Director, Sean Baker II

The Florida Project is an important film to see in these days of Trump and the GOP attempt to funnel wealth to the richest one percent. It is a dramatic film shot in a cinema verité documentary style we are observers of the lives of Americans living in marginal circumstances in a motel in Orlando. The film follows the children primarily who are all around age 6 or 7 as they pursue their lives around the desperation of their parents and other adults. Dafoe is nominated for Best Supporting Actor and he certainly deserves it. He plays the manager of the motel who must collect rent, maintain the building and suffer the abuse of his tenants, neighboring businesses and pressure from the owner of the motel. Despite the pressures on him he has sympathy for his tenants, the kids and watches out as best he can to ensure they manage in their circumstances. The kids, particularly the young lead Brooklyn Prince who plays Moonee the leader of the kids, are all totally believable and put in great performances.

I found the movie very hard to watch mostly because it is so true to the hard life of its characters. As I watched I could only think of the current circumstances of many Americans for whom the politics in Washington and the rantings of Trump are completely irrelevant to their lives. Clearly they do not vote so one cannot even blame them for supporting Trump and his nonsense. They are kept down and do not have the resources to rise up against the injustice of their society. Trying to think of some way to summarize my feelings at the end of the movie I found the summary on Rotten Tomatoes perfect: The Florida Project offers a colorfully empathetic look at an underrepresented part of the population that proves absorbing even as it raises sobering questions about modern America. So yes that pretty much sums it up.

Sean Baker deserves some comment. I did not know about him until I saw this movie but he has produced some excellent and well reviewed films previously that share a critical look at aspects of American life particularly that of the poor and immigrant populations. Look him up and try to see some of them including Tangerine and Takeout.

Mudbound – Director, Dee Rees

 

MudboundI had mixed feelings about this movie. It is a powerful film full of stories about many different people. The main focus is on two men who return to their homes in Mississippi after serving over 4 years in the Second World War. One is black and served as a tank commander, the other white and served as a bomber pilot. Both suffer from some form of post traumatic stress. They return to a viciously racist society that they had left behind when they were in Europe. On their return they bond over their previous war experience and the feeling of being cut off and exiled in their country and their homes. But there are several other stories going on in support of these two. All the stories are good and well done but to be honest there is just too much for a movie like this. After a while the movie started to drag and became hard to watch. In the end, and although the ending is not tragic, thank God, I was exhausted. Dee Rees was there for the Q and A and was articulate and helpful in understanding the overall story. She admitted that the story was huge and that she wanted to blend many aspects of life at the time for blacks and the poor white farmers and the omnipresent racist tensions. So… a good movie but sadly flawed by over-reaching.

http://www.tiff.net/tiff/mudbound/

Darkest Hour – Director, Joe Wright

 

Darkest hourDarkest Hour is a film about the rise of Churchill as the war with Hitler reached a crisis; Great Britain’s darkest hour. With the German army overwhelming Europe and driving the British Expeditionary Force of 300K men to the beaches of Dunkirk, many politicians wanted to sue for peace and basically hand victory to the Nazi’s. There were however many who opposed that solution and Churchill, who was not the most popular politician, was their chosen leader to replace Neville Chamberlain. Darkest Hour follows this transition and the rescue of the expeditionary force from Dunkirk. Gary Oldman plays Churchill in what has to be an Oscar worthy performance and as Eli Glasner suggests, so should the makeup artist. You will not recognize Oldman except maybe his eyes. The film is done with humour, and modesty and does not overwhelm the audience with chest beating heroism. The script is smart and the rest of the supporting cast are great. Although we all know the outcome the tension of struggle between those wanting to cut a deal with Hitler and Churchill’s unwillingness to surrender is palpable throughout. This movie will be honoured next February and hopefully you will have a chance to see it before then.

http://www.tiff.net/tiff/darkest-hour/

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Director, Martin McDonagh

Ebbing

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.

http://www.tiff.net/tiff/three-billboards-outside-ebbing-missouri/