Category Archives: Oscar Stuff

Anthropocene – Directors, Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas De Pencier, Edward Burtynsky



Anthropocene is a stunningly beautiful look at how humans are destroying the environment and the planet to the point that we have established a new geological epoch  named after ourselves to follow the recent Holocene epoch that nurtured modern human evolution and civilization . Edward Burtynsky and Jennifer Baichwal are a Canadian photographer and filmmaker who have worked together on other projects including a great NFB film Watermark. Burtynsky is an excellent photographer who pushes the limits of the art and Baichwal adds to the photography with equally stunning film. The message of the film is clear. We are destroying the planet and all that lives here including ourselves. However rather than pontificate and scold or guilt trip the viewer we are shown the impact we are having in many different ways with images and verbal descriptions. The hope is that once we see what we are doing we will be motivated to act. There is no particular plot to describe or argument per se. Instead I encourage you to see this film and if you are in Toronto in the next few months go see the AGO exhibit before it closes in January. The film manages to be both scary and beautiful at the same time. You will be hypnotized by the film of burning elephant tusks, the seemingly endless coal train moving off into the distance, the trip down the longest tunnel in the world and the giant machines that seem to be literally eating the planet. The images will stay with you for a long time.

Green Book – Director, Peter Farrelly

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was the best movie of the week and I do not expect it to be surpassed in the remaining days. I was with the second audience to see the film and apparently the most enthusiastic. We were at the Elgin, so a huge crowd, and as the director and cast came on stage for a Q and A after the final credits they received a standing ovation that lasted it seemed at least 5 minutes. They were clearly stunned and did not know how to respond when we just kept clapping and cheering. So why?, I hear you ask.

The film is a classic road trip film but based on real events. A black jazz pianist (and very well to do gentleman) from New York City, Dr. Don Shirley, decides to take his trio on a tour through the southern US in 1964 at a time when segregation and Jim Crow laws and customs were still very much in place. He knew he was going into difficult places so he decides to hire a driver/protector to accompany him on the 8 week trip. Enter Viggo Mortensen in maybe his best acting performance ever. Mortensen plays a third generation Italian New Yorker, working class background, who has recently been laid off from his job as a bouncer for the Copacabana Club which is undergoing “renovations” following a “fire”. The mob is a part of Mortensen’s community shall we say. Mortensen’s character is also not exactly comfortable with those not of Italian extraction shall we say although he is clearly at heart a good guy. He takes the job a bit reluctantly because he needs the money. The two leave in a car rented by Shirley’s recording studio and we are taken through the 8 week trip during which we learn much about Don Shirley’s and Mortensen’s characters as they slowly bond into good friends. The film is funny, heart warming, does not shy away from the racism of the time and is brilliantly scripted and acted. I can’t say too much more except to tell you this movie comes out in November, is headed to the Oscars and if Viggo doesn’t get a nomination and even a Best Acting Oscar there is no justice in the world. The title is from an actual guide for black travelers in the deep south. It was called The Green Book and listed all the hotels and restaurants where blacks were allowed to eat and sleep while in the south.

Peter Farelly, the director is maybe best known as the director of Dumb and Dumber among other comic classics but this film goes far beyond his other work. The actors all praised his talents and dedication to the film. During the Q and A the actors were asked to tell stories about their time working on the film and how they all came to bond with each other as well. There were several good stories but I liked best the one told by Mahershala Ali who plays Don Shirley. One day while filming at one of the Green Book hotels that still exists, an elderly black man who was watching and lived across the street asked about the film. When he learned it was about Don Shirley he got excited and told them he had lived there for decades and remembered that not only did Don Shirley stay there but also Little Richard, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles and Sam Cooke among many others. He knew them all it seems and partied with them. Ali say it lent a reality for him as to what the film was about, how sad those times were and how accurate this film was in documenting that time.

I want Oscar nominations for the writing, the director, Viggo and Ali, and for the music. I did not know Don Shirley’s music and went home to listen to some more. It is superb jazz. The film has a great music score and features many examples including a great set in a blues bar near the end of the film. Look him up. See the film.

Fahrenheit 11/9 – Director, Michael Moore

My second day at TIFF ended with Michael Moore’s latest film which I think may well be his best yet (although Roger and Me remains a classic). The title if it is not obvious is a play on the title of his previous film Fahrenheit 9/11 and instead of referring to a terrorist attack it refers to the day after Trump was elected president in 2016. It is a long movie but you will not be bored. He starts with what got Trump into the presidential race mostly by accident and not to win but soon saw how he could actually become “King of the world”. The opening sequence ends with Trump’s inauguration and Moore’s narration:

“How the Fuck did we get here?”

Moore was one of the few to predict Trump could win the election in 2016 and he is also the one who called out the lie about weapons of mass destruction that got the US into unending war in the Middle East. For all of this he was dismissed as alarmist… but he was right. In this film he points out that Trump can easily win the mid-terms and win the presidency in 2020. We need to pay attention. But the film is not just about Donald Trump and his insane antics. Moore sees Trump as a symptom of a much deeper and far more dangerous trend in American politics and society. He returns to Flint, Michigan this time to address the lead poisoning crisis and the role of the Republican Governor in making the changes that resulted in poisoning thousands, mostly black and poor citizens in Flint. The decision was made to support the Governor’s business partners taking over the water supply as well as privatizing other municipal services. Moore goes on to show that the problem in Flint is still not resolved and was in fact allowed to continue even by President Obama who came to help but simply confirmed the Governor in his cover-up and lies. It was shocking, and many black voters were disappointed and abandoned the electoral system, the Democrats and Hillary Clinton in 2016. Moore does not pull any punches and points to how from Reagan to Obama the trend to Trump was clear and that Americans should not be surprised. It has been a trend to compromise, relying on old time political machines that rely on capitalist right wing funders and less and less on ordinary citizens. Democrats are just Republicans with a different name. He points to the withdrawal of nearly half of eligible voters in the US to even become engaged in elections or political discourse. (see Monrovia, Indiana).

While Moore does point to some hopeful signs in the recent primaries leading to this year’s mid-term elections, he is not hopeful. The film ends with Moore drawing a clear connection between Trump’s rise to power and Adolf Hitler. This is a comparison that many have dismissed or called over the top, but it is a trend I completely agree with and Moore is very convincing. There is literally no difference between Trump or other populist politicians and Hitler’s own rise to power in the 1930’s. Moore’s call is for people to become engaged in political discourse and elections. He is very worried that his call to arms will be ignored or countered by the incumbents who have their hands on the levers of power. The film is major warning to us all, not only Americans, and sadly it is not a hopeful film. This is Moore’s best movie yet and very important for everyone to see. Oscar is in his future I hope.

To demonstrate that America is not the only democracy at threat I will return to one story in Moore’s film. The Flint water crisis started with a decision to declare a false emergency and fire the elected municipal governments in Michigan’s five largest cities and replace them with unelected administrators giving Governor Snyder the means to implement privatization of services. This led in turn to the decision to change Flint’s water supply and the resulting poisoning. My reaction was to look to our own Doug Ford and his interference in Toronto’s civic election. I worry that if Toronto elects the wrong mayor or too many left-wing councillors Ford will decide to do the same here. Given Ford’s recent behaviour this is not beyond thinking and is certainly within his power to do. As Moore notes let us not be distracted by Trump and impeachment but understand that Trump reflects a systematic threat to our democracies that must be addressed.

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.

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.

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.

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail – Steve James

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 – Director, Steven Spielberg

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.