The 2017 Oscars: Predictions and Wishes

Best Picture
Prediction: La La Land
Perfect World: Jackie
La La Land was amazing and should hold of the surging (and great) Moonlight.  In a perfect world though I would have recognized the greatest acting performance of the decade in Jackie.

Actor in a Leading Role
Prediction: Casey Affleck
Perfect World: Casey Affleck
Denzel was great in Fences, but I think the general consensus that it’s Casey’s turn will hold out even in the face of controversy.

Actress in a Leading Role
Prediction: Isabelle Huppert
Perfect World: Nathalie Portman
I don’t understand how Nathalie Portman is going to lose this, but it looks like she isn’t even in the running behind Stone and Huppert.  I think that this is the one category that La La Land will end up losing despite being a favorite.

Actress in a Supporting Role
Prediction: Viola Davis
Perfect World: Viola Davis
Even if it hadn’t been for last years “Oscars so White” controversy, I can’t imagine a world in which Viola Davis would lose this category.

Actor in a Supporting Role
Prediction: Mahershala Ali
Perfect World: Mahershala Ali
Mahershala Ali is the heart and soul of the brilliant moonlight.  Despite only showing up in only the first of three parts, the compassion that Ali’s character shows sets the tone for the rest of the film.

Directing
Prediction: La La Land
Perfect World: La La Land
While I think, Jackie is the best film of the year, Damien Chazelle’s work keeps the kinetic La La Land afloat.  He is the reason that La La Land is the masterpiece that it is.

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
Prediction: Moonlight
Perfect World: Moonlight
The academy frequently uses the screenplay categories to recognize the great films that would otherwise go short-handed, and Moonlight will get the deserved nod for adapted screenplay.

Writing (Original Screenplay)
Prediction: Manchester by the Sea
Perfect World: Manchester by the Sea
Similar to the adapted category, the Original screenplay is where Manchester by the Sea receives its much-deserved recognition.

Animated Feature Film
Prediction: Zootopia
Perfect World: My Life as a Zucchini
Disney/ Pixar’s monopoly on this category continues to upset me.  Zootopia is a fine film, but other countries are making significantly better films than the safe studio versions.  My Life as a Zucchini’s Truffaut inspired storytelling is far more worthy of honor than the simply fine Zootopia.

Cinematography
Prediction: La La Land
Perfect World: Café Society
My perfect world pick is quite the unorthodox pick, but while Woody Allen’s most recent film was rather run of the mill, the cinematography was brilliant.  In the world of reality, La La Land wins another category.

Costume Design
Prediction: Jackie
Perfect World: Jackie
It is fitting that a film about Jackie Onassis Kennedy would win costuming, and I’m mostly just glad that it will end up with something.

Documentary (Feature)
Prediction: O.J.: Made in America
Perfect World: Kate Plays Christine
Another category where my choice wasn’t even nominated, but O.J. Made in America would have been my second choice.  The 8-hour mini-series should survive the is it or isn’t it a movie controversy to walk away with the win.

Documentary (Short Subject)
Prediction: The White Helmets
Perfect World: The White Helmets
Netflix putting its money behind short subject documentaries may prove to be a game changer.  The White Helmets should have one, but the travel ban’s impact on its subjects’ ability to attend should easily push it over the edge.

Film Editing
Prediction: La La Land
Perfect World: Jackie
Film Editing at the Oscars is a category that’s traditionally misunderstood to be most instead of vest.  I personally appreciate when a film is more content holding when necessary, but I can’t really begrudge the La La Land decision.

Foreign Language Film
Prediction: The Salesman
Perfect World: Things to Come
It was a close race between The Salesman and Toni Erdman until the travel ban thrust The Salesman into headlines as Asghar Farhadi was rendered unable to attend.  I would have loved the less rapey Isabelle Huppert film Things to Come to win, but I can’t begrudge The Salesman’s win.

Makeup and Hairstyling
Prediction: Star Trek Beyond
Perfect World: Swiss Army Man
I’m going to be honest, I don’t really care about this category

Music (Original Score)
Prediction: La La Land
Perfect World: Jackie
I love the Jackie score, but for something that experimental I understand that the nomination is the win.  The score for La La Land has been on heavy repeat with Jackie on my Spotify so I completely support it’s win.

Music (Original Song)
Prediction: City of Stars
Perfect World: Audition (The Fools Who Dream)
La La Land will win and should win (though for a different song), but I just need to bitch about the tragedy that is the complete snub of Sing Street.  Drive it Like You Stole it needed a nomination.  It’s on Spotify, give it a listen.

Production Design
Prediction: La La Land
Perfect World: La La Land
The perfect creation of a timeless musical should and probably will always win this category.  No complaints from me.

Short Film (Animated)
Prediction: Piper
Perfect World: Piper
After bitching about the Disney/Pixar monopoly on feature film, I may sound hypocritical with this choice, but Piper was amazing.  Pixar frequently gets to take more chances with their shorts, and Piper capitalizes on that.

Short Film (Live Action)
Prediction: La Femme et le TGV
Perfect World: La Femme et le TGV
Jane Birkin finally gets her career recognition with the nod in live action short.

Sound Editing
Prediction: La La Land
Perfect World: La La Land
Musicals or war movies tend to win these, but I refuse to admit that the awful Hacksaw Ridge is a serious contender in any category.

Sound Mixing
Prediction: La La Land
Perfect World: Moonlight
Either I don’t understand the film mixing category or the Academy doesn’t.  The levels were not the strength of La La Land.  Moonlight finds a way to allow sounds to fade in and out to emphasis the emotion, something that the traditional action films.

Visual Effects
Prediction: The Jungle Book
Perfect World: Kubo and the Two Strings
The Jungle Book was impressive, but I wonder if we’ve reached the point where CGI needs its own category instead of hijacking other practical effects.

My Top 25 Films of 2016

Top 25 Films of 2016

For the first time, ever, I broke 100 releases and by a decent margin.  My 2016 viewing included 2 major film festivals (South by South West and Toronto International Film Festival) and 133 releases, yet I still more than have a handful of regrets.  Not appearing on the list at least in part because I was unable to see them are: 20th Century Women, I Am Not Your Negro, Lion, The Salesman, Silence, and Toni Erdman.

The quality of films this year was exceptionally high, but I will try to keep honorable mentions to a minimum.  It was a great year for animated film, though none ended up on the list.  Miss Hokusai, My Life as a Courgette, The Red Turtle, Your Name, and Kubo and the Two Strings all were in contention.  As normal for me, my list contains no real blockbusters, though Arrival just missed the cutoff.  While three documentaries made the list, Weiner, Tower, 13th, and No Home Movie also stood out as some of the best in non-fiction film of the year.

  1. Fences – Denzel Washington

Denzel Washington and Viola Davis reprise their roles from the 2010 Broadway version of the same play.  Their familiarity with the material results in some of the strongest performances of the year, especially from Davis who must be the front runner for the Supporting Actress award.  That combined with a poignant story about race relations and toxic masculinity results in a film that would have been much higher on this list had it not been for an enraging epilogue.

  1. Cameraperson – Kristen Johnson

The most ambitious and least traditional film on the list, cinematographer Kristen Johnson put together a brilliant visual memoir through the scraps of her other works.  Through these outtakes, a surprisingly intimate tale emerges.  Though seldom actually on screen Johnson’s fingerprints are felt on every frame.

  1. Miss Stevens – Julia Hart

Probably the least seen film on my list, Miss Stevens was a small indie about a teacher who takes three of her students to a state drama competition.  Carefully setting up and the subverting most tired clichés, Julia Hart delivers a memorable film about a heartfelt character.

  1. Hell or High Water – David Mackenzie

The highest grossing indie film of the year was not a film I anticipated making this list before seeing it.  Wester action films are not traditionally my cup of tea.  And yet the testosterone saturation in Hell or High Water was not too much of a deterrent.  It was just a solid enjoyable film.  Not the smartest or most artistically fulfilling film of the year, but well-acted, written, and executed.

  1. Lemonade – Kahlil Joseph

The Beyoncé Knowles visual album was a wonderful surprise.  Executing a Malickian film better than Terrence himself could, Beyoncé with the help of Kahlil Joseph delivers a beautiful depiction of the torture a woman goes through after being cheated on.  I’ve heard from people more in tune with the music community that Beyoncé’s presence can feel overbearing, but as a cinephile ignorant of her baggage, I think this is an amazing piece of art.

  1. Things to Come – Mia Hansen-Løve

The first of two Isabelle Huppert led films of the year on the list, Things to come depicts the life of a middle-aged woman who has her entire life fall apart.  Despite the consecutive tragedies, Things to Come manages to avoid melodrama.  Instead it shows how the main character puts her life back together and finds fulfillment in her freedoms.

  1. O.J.: Made in America – Ezra Edelman

The seven and a half our documentary miniseries about O.J. Simpson was a fun revelation.  The balancing of race relations with the actual story of O.J. brings relevance to today outside of curiosity over the man himself.

  1. Elle – Paul Verhoeven

The second Isabelle Huppert film is much more difficult than the first.  Blind viewers should be warned that the film opens with a rape scene and abuse is an underlying theme throughout.  Huppert’s struggles to navigate the male dominated world post attack is reason enough to watch if you’re able.

  1. The Handmaiden – Park Chan-wook

The sexiest film on the list, The Handmaiden is a lesbian erotic thriller form the creator of Oldboy.  A thief sells herself as a handmaiden to a Japanese heiress in hopes of helping to defraud her.  Filled with twists and turns, it’s the chemistry between the two female leads that sticks with you.  While at times the relationship feels slightly exploitative, the execution is well with it.

  1. The Witch – Robert Eggers

The best horror film since The Babadook, The Witch is a terrifying experience.  Witchcraft wreaks havoc on a puritan family, and instead of finding strength in their religion, it only tears them further apart.  Complete with one of the most unsettling horror scores in years, The Witch has held its spot near the top the entire year.

  1. Kate Plays Christine – Robert Greene

The last documentary on the list, Kate Plays Christine is like no film I’ve ever seen before.  Under the false premise of an acting role, Kate Lyn Sheil begins the research to play Christine Chubbuck, the real-life news reporter who took her own life on national television in 1974.  Under this framing technique, a much more human picture of Christine is shown than a talking head interview ever could accomplish.

  1. Sing Street – John Carney

One of the most fun films of the year, a group of young outcasts create a band in hopes of finding their place.  Misunderstood by adults everywhere, the coming of age story keeps a levity about it which combined with a great new wave soundtrack keeps me coming back.

  1. Love and Friendship – Whit Stillman

Jane Austen and Whit Stillman are perfect together and I will hear no arguments against that.  You can see my full review here: https://womanwithamovieblog.wordpress.com/2016/05/28/love-and-friendship/

  1. Captain Fantastic – Matt Ross

One of the few films I saw multiple times in theaters this year, Viggo Mortensen is amazing as the father of six children who he and his late wife raised completely off grid.  Ross’s decision to neither vilify nor excuse Mortensen’s actions induce the level of nuance to let the strong acting carry the film.

  1. Sunset Song – Terence Davies

A gorgeously shot period piece about the strength of a young woman in a time where she wasn’t allowed any.  Agyness Deyn’s portrayal of Chris is heartbreaking.  The men in her life are cruel, but she soldiers on to live the best life that she is able.

  1. Certain Women – Kelly Reichardt

Kelly Reichardt very well may be my favorite active director.  While some consider her films to be slow, the time that she gives her characters to breathe create the depth that makes them endearing.  Even in the vignette styled Certain Women, each character feels fully formed and real.  The end story starting the amazing Kristen Stewart and Lily Gladstone shines above the other two, but they are all great.

  1. Nocturnal Animals – Tom Ford

Arrival was good, but Amy Adams was better in Nocturnal Animals.  See my full review here: https://womanwithamovieblog.wordpress.com/2016/12/18/movie-review-nocturnal-animals/

  1. Krisha – Trey Shults

This film actually made my list last year as well as I was lucky enough to see the premier at SXSW 2015. First time director Trey Shults shows a lot of promise on a minimal budget.  From the opening long take to the unflinching close-ups of Krisha Fairchild as she unravels during a few days, Krisha was a great discovery and I look forward to Shults’s next endeavor.

  1. The Fits – Anna Rose Holmer

The story of a young tomboy Toni who leaves the comfort of her brother’s side in the boxing gym to join a dance troupe was a wonderful story of identity and finding one’s place.  Sprinkled with a mysterious series of fits, the troupe offers Toni, played by Royalty Hightower who was a revelation, The Fits was a great female driven coming of age story.

  1. Manchester by the Sea – Kenneth Lonergan

Number six starts the first of the films that I consider to be the year’s masterpieces.  Casey Affleck is the Oscar frontrunner as the unsure new guardian of his nephew after his brother passes.  Forced to confront his history in Manchester, Affleck is devastating as the uncomfortable yet compassionate Lee Chandler.

  1. Paterson – Jim Jarmusch

Jim Jarmusch channels his inner Charlie Kaufman in this quiet poetic slice of life.  Adam Driver plays Paterson a bus driver and poet in the City of Paterson.  A love letter to small town life, the entire film plays like a poem.  Patters fill every moment and beauty is everywhere.

  1. Moonlight – Barry Jenkins

Four may be criminally low for this film which is topping most lists, and its relatively low place, but I mean no disrespect.  The three-part story shows the life of a gay black man growing in a hyper masculine world.  The masculinity results in pain and suffering for Chiron until years into adulthood, he is finally able to find comfort.  The final third of the film is the strongest of the year.

  1. American Honey – Andrea Arnold

The three-hour road trip film of a young woman looking for an escape.  She joins a group of traveling magazine sellers and heads off on a trip that changes her life.  While on her own she grows, loves, and fails.  Sasha Lane is the breakout performer of the year, and Shia LaBeouf continues his curious straddling between genius and insanity.  A fun soundtrack finishes the recipe to make American Honey amazing.

  1. La La Land – Damien Chazelle

The most fun I’ve had in theaters this year, it barely managed to fall from the top slot.  You can read my full review here: https://womanwithamovieblog.wordpress.com/2016/11/25/movie-review-la-la-land/

  1. Jackie – Pablo Larraín

This should be no surprise after my review the other day which you can read here if you missed it: https://womanwithamovieblog.wordpress.com/2016/12/18/movie-review-nocturnal-animals/

 

2016 was an amazing year for film.  Here’s hoping that 2017 can compete, and that I can see even more films this time.  150 shouldn’t be out of the question.

The Best Films of 2015

I know that top lists are cheap posts and it’s only my second entry, but this is the time of year that I think it’s permissible.  I won’t make a habit out of this kind of post, but this one should be able to double as an introduction to my taste in film.

2015 was my personal most prolific film viewing year.  I managed to see 66 2015 films this year (though some of them probably count as 2016 films), and it was the best year in film since I’ve started putting a lot of effort into film.  I maintain that my number 1 film of this year isn’t as strong as in years past, but this year’s number 20 would make my top 10 in previous years, and that is why this year I’m listing my top 20.

Before I get to the list, I do have a few regrets that I was unable to find.  Son of Saul, 45 Years, and Heart of a Dog all have not had any kind of release locally but I look forward to catching them as soon as possible.  I also have one film not on my list, but should be my number 1 film of the year.  The World of Tomorrow is the best film of the year, but I’m excluding it from the list as it’s a short.

This year’s list was reasonable in its depiction of women, with 12 of my top 20 passing the Bechdel Test, and a few others having strong female leads despite failing.  Only 1 film on my list was directed by a woman unfortunately, though that one, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, and Tangerine specifically struck me as extremely strong feminist pieces that I hope will find their places in greater film culture.  Now without further ado, my top 20.

20. Brooklyn – Saoirse Ronan put in an amazing performance as a homesick Irish immigrant who finds and struggles with love.

19. Ex Machina – Such a brilliant piece of science fiction. All three actors put in seamless layered performances.

18. When Marnie Was There – Another beautiful film by Ghibli shows the story of distant adolescent girl as she makes a friend with all of the whimsy of most Ghibli films.

17. Heaven Knows What – A brutal depiction of the life of an addict in New York. Written by and starring a former addict.

16. Tangerine – Where The Danish Girl failed to humanize Lili, Sean Baker’s film depicting transgender prostitutes Sin-Dee and Alexandra does so with brilliance and compassion. Expect a full post on this one soon.

15. Love and Mercy – The best biopic of the year, Paul Dano and John Cusack do an amazing job portraying a haunted Brian Wilson.

14. The Forbidden Room – My first Guy Maddin film was an adventure. The nested storylines composed of plots from lost films was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

13. Buzzard – This film snuck up on me. The transition from a run of the mill office comedy into a delve into the consequences of those actions and the psyche of one who makes them was seamless.

12. Inside Out – I have no idea how this didn’t make my top 10. My 3rd favorite Pixar film (behind Ratatouille and the masterpiece Wall-E) was a risk in story telling that paid off in spades. I fell in love with Riley and wish I could have spent more time with her.

11. Clouds of Sils Maria – Juliette Binoche puts in a great performance, but Kristen Stewart runs away with the film proving that she is an actress much stronger than the Twilight films would make one assume.

10. Phoenix – The slow burn of Phoenix as Nelly (Nina Hoss) reintroduces herself to her husband cumulating in the greatest final scene of the year, and potentially decade, solidifies phoenix in my top 10 for the year. As an homage to Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Phoenix delivers a similar story from the viewpoint of the female character, and dwells on the emotional trauma as Nelly accepts the fact that the one she loves may have also been to one responsible for her time in Auschwitz.

9. Room – Brie Larson is the Oscar front runner for lead actress for a reason with this film. Her portrayal of a mother who is still very much a child is believable and emotionally devastating. Her acceptance of her fate, and then inability to reintegrate with the real world once she escapes combines to show the acute emotional trauma that her character went through.

8. The Diary of a Teenage Girl – I love the underrepresented subgenre of coming of age films dedicated to female sexual awakening. The Diary of a Teenage Girl, despite the awful title, is one of the stronger entries into the genre than we’ve seen in quite a few years. Bel Powley is phenomenal as Minnie, and Marielle Heller’s decision to explore the sexual awakening of a teenage girl without coming across as condemning is refreshing in a world that still is more comfortable slut shaming women than acknowledging that they are people too.

7. Krisha – This isn’t being release until March of next year, but I saw it at SXSW in 2015 so it’s making this list. First time director Trey Shults shows a lot of promise on a minimal budget. From the opening long take to the unflinching close-ups of Krisha Fairchild as she unravels during the course of a few days, Krisha was a great discovery that I highly recommend.

6. Spotlight – The entire cast puts in Oscar worthy performances in this investigative journalism drama. Ruffalo, Keaton, and McAdams should all of nominations incoming. While there’s nothing overly showy about the execution of film, it has a very crisp feel and feels perfectly executed in its simplicity.

5. Youth – In contrast, Youth is a showy film, and in the best way. If The Great Beauty was Sorrentino attempting to make his version of La Dolce Vita, Youth is his 8 ½. Caine and Keitel both thrive as aging artists.  Dano is intriguing as the misunderstood actor Jimmy Tree, and Jane Fonda has the best cameo of the year.  While it doesn’t quite hold up to 2013’s The Great Beauty, Youth is another brilliant entry from Sorrentino.

4. Anomalisa – Charlie Kaufman’s foray into stop motion cinema alone was enough to grab my interest. What I found when exploring the film was a film that perfectly blended humor and melancholy with the surrealism that can only come from a Kaufman script. I’ve read that the crew was extremely uncomfortable while shooting the sex scene, but it’s completely worth it as the most memorable moment in the film.

3. Carol – As my most anticipated film of the year, I guess Carol is technically under performing at the number 3 slot. Rooney Mara puts in a career best performance as a somewhat naïve Therese Belivet. Mara captures the growth that her character experiences throughout the course of the film.  Back that up with a superb supporting performance from Cat Blanchett (as always), beautiful cinematography from Edward Lachman, and the best score of the year from Carter Burnwell, and Todd Haynes created an amazing film about a subject that unfortunately seems almost as taboo now as it did when the film takes place.

2. The Look of Silence – The companion piece to Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing from 2013 is just as hard to watch, but also just as important. Instead of following the still in power culprits, this film focuses on the family of a victim as a man interviews the men responsible for the death of his brother. The Look of Silence follows a more traditional documentary structure than The Act of Killing did, which makes the message hit more clearly and immediately.

1. Victoria – I’m not sure if I’m alone in thinking that this film was worthy of this recognition, or if it was just that little see. Victoria is the most impressive film of the year, and I don’t think that it’s close. The 2-and-a-half-hour single take film had me on the edge of my seat and unable to breathe for the entirety of its run.  The camera seldom leaves Laia Costa’s face for the entire run making her performance all the more impressive.  While the film takes place in real time, Sebastian Schipper’s use of non-diegetic sound to fill otherwise tedious portions of time (like waiting in an elevator) show an amazing understanding of how the film flows.  While the film may be strongly reliant on its gimmick, the gimmick pays off tenfold.  Do yourself a favor and commit your distraction free time to this film.