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Monday, February 27, 2017

Fake News Be Damned: MOONLIGHT Wins the Best Picture Oscar

And finally, after a wacky ending to a sadly predictable Academy Awards ceremony Sunday evening, Moonlight, the actual best film from 2016, takes home the night's most prestigious award for Best Picture. But not before presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were handed—then proceeded to read—the wrong card, which read that Emma Stone won best actress for her performance in La La Land. For those of you who did  not watch the show, Stone had just won this award a mere moments before this category was announced, and Dunaway, with this card in hand, decided to ignore the entire first part of this card and declare La La Land wins for best picture. This is a true story that happened on a live telecast.

I'm not going to get into the Academy's mechanics and their ridiculous two sets of winner cards, etc. I'm not going to get into why anyone who was actually at the ceremony would deliberately read the wrong winner, have them come up on stage, only for them to be quickly ushered off the stage in a truly embarrassing moment. And I'm not going to get into the fact that this could and should have been the moment of the night (for a whole other reason). While all of that is valid (and I've ranted about it ad nauseum on Twitter), mutha-effin-Moonlight won best picture at the Oscars. I'll say it again: Moonlight was awarded the best film of the year. A black gay coming-of-age film that has nothing to do with racism or slavery and everything to do with the human condition and the humanity of young queer black boys just won the industry's highest honor. And I don't want any fake news, clumsy mishap to overshadow that. Because that is the fact we deserve, and that is the part that needs to be talked about.

(To be clear, I'm still going to need a thorough Oscar investigation of what  happened ).

Damian Chazelle winning for best director (La La Land), Emma Stone (La La Land) winning for best actress (apparently twice), La La Land winning for best cinematography (Bradford Young's amazing cinematography in Arrival). and Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea) winning over Denzel Washington (Fences) is also enough to make even me declare a fake news autocracy. But I knew things had hit peak crazy when I low-key started rooting for Isabelle Huppert (Elle) for her performance in that abominable rape fantasy drama over Emma Stone for starring as the cute girl in that musical movie with the wooden dancing, and in a category that was deliberately designed for her to win.Yes, things had gotten kinda desperate in that last hour of the show.

But there were some fantastic things that happened earlier in the ceremony. Viola Davis (Fences) and Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) won best supporting actress and actor in two of the most deserving wins of the evening. Zootopia also won for best animated film. And O.J. Made in America won best documentary, though I have a theory why this 7.5-hour series won over I Am Not Your Negro. In short: I'll just say that when it comes to white America and white Academy voters, the idea of seeing O.J. Simpson's devolution (even though this film is about much more than that) over James Baldwin's ability to provide relevant on the state social and racial justice from beyond the grave is one that likely doesn't sit well with white voters. And that's not to diminish the quality of O.J., because it's very, very good.

To see a full list of winners of the 2017 Osars, click here.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Independent Spirit Awards Recap: Moonlight's Record-Breaking Win, Annette Bening's Confused Slow Clap and More

I know I say this every year, but the Film Independent Spirit Awards just get it. You know you're watching the right award show if Moonlight becomes the film with the most amount of awards of this entire decade. Why? Because 1) it's a beautiful narrative with a wonderful cast, 2) it's truly independent and exemplifies in every way what this award stands for, and 3) because it's so necessary. And this awards committee understands that.

Aside from Moonlight's record-breaking wins (a total of six, including best feature), the ceremony also boasted historic wins for Andrew Ahn, writer/director of the John Cassavetes Award-winning queer Korean drama, Spa Night (which I desperately need to see) and the horror film, The Witch, earning the award for both best first feature and best first screenplay. (To be clear, I still do not care for The Witch, but, since horror films usually get snubbed, I'm glad to see some recognition for the genre, though if it was a fair world Under the Shadow should have been its only representation). I digress.

A love/hate moment during the show came when Isabelle Huppert won for her performance in the wretched rape fantasy drama, Elle, over Annette Bening (20th Century Women), who could barely muster a lackluster slow clap from her seat in the audience. It was at that point when I realized that Bening and I were separated at birth, and we're long overdue for a chat about this foolery over a hard drink.

Same goes for Casey Affleck, who won best actor in not very competitive category (though I really need see David Harewood in Free in Deed). It's important to note here that Denzel Washington (Fences) was not nominated, and since apparently Affleck is his alternate, he won. I want you to be clear on that point,

Also, a huge congrats to director Ezra Edelman, whose terrific film, O.J. Made in America, won best documentary. I'm not going to pretend to know what this means come tomorrow's Oscars, but I think it's safe to say that the film's 7.5-hour length isn't hurting its chances. So, let's just end that debate here and now.

Oh and, OMG, can we talk about Molly Shannon (aka Mary Katherine Gallagher from SNL) winning best supporting actress for the heartbreaking dramedy, Other People? Seriously folks, if you haven't seen this movie, you must. So, so, so good and understated. It, like Moonlight, does what most films should: it normalizes the beauty of life and humanity.

Major props to the Film Independent Spirit Awards for staying true to its mission. Your move, Oscars.

For a full list of winners of the 2017 Film Independent Spirit Awards, click here.

Friday, February 24, 2017

THE TRANSFORMATION: A New Coming-of-Age Horror

I've always had a thing for coming-of-age films that are slightly off kilter and unexpected. Such seems to be the case with THE TRANSFORMATION, a film in which a young black boy and a white girl connect through their shared love of goth fantasy. Strand Releasing, which also brought us the French coming-of-age drama about black girlhood, is behind this one as well. Read the synopsis:

An official selection at the Cannes Film Festival, writer/director Michael O’Shea’s debut feature The Transfiguration follows troubled teen Milo who hides behind his fascination with vampire lore. When he meets the equally alienated Sophie, the two form a bond that begins to challenge Milo’s dark obsession, blurring his fantasy into reality. A chilling portrait of violence, The Transfiguration is an atmospheric thriller set against the grit of New York City.

THE TRANSFORMATION, written and directed by Michael O'Shea and starring Eric Ruffin and
Chloe Levine, will be have its North American premiere at SXSW next month. Hopefully we are get a chance to check this out soon.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Watch the Ensemble Cast of ALIEN: COVENANT Together in One Scene (Presumably Before They're All Killed Off Later)

This may be the truest form of a teaser I've seen in a long while. From director Ridley Scott's ALIEN: COVENANT, this clip titled Last Supper introduces the ensemble cast (including Jussie Smollett, Billy Crudup, James Franco, Danny McBride, Carmen Ejogo, Michael Fassbender, and Demián Bichir) and leads us to believe that something scary will likely happen. Spoiler alert: nothing does. In fact, you can almost hear the clip laughing at you. And what's more disappointing is that it rips off a scene from the original film, in which something hella scary does actually happen.

So, I don't know what to make of this. But I am going to try to remain hyped, mostly because—unlike many others—I actually liked the last Alien film and want to see where Scott goes with this. Here's the synopsis:

Ridley Scott returns to the universe he created, with ALIEN: COVENANT, a new chapter in his groundbreaking ALIEN franchise. The crew of the colony ship Covenant, bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, discovers what they think is an uncharted paradise, but is actually a dark, dangerous world. When they uncover a threat beyond their imagination, they must attempt a harrowing escape.

Watch the clip:

ALIEN: COVENANT opens in theaters May 19. 

Their Best Scenes: Oscar's Best Supporting Actress Nominees

The best supporting actress Oscar category may be the one I have the least complaints about. Really, I don't hate any of the performances. Do I like some more than others? I mean, are there any others aside from Viola Davis? (Hint: no). Closing out this week's Oscar series, I take a look at which scenes stand out most from the best supporting actress nominees:

Viola Davis, Fences
Whether or not you agree that Davis should be in this category (I happen to be of the small minority who believes she does), we should all feel like winners when she glides up onto that Oscar stage to accept that golden statue. The scene that presumably clenched her nomination is the pivotal scene in the backyard when her character Rose finally lets Troy (Denzel Washington) have it, unleashing years of pent up frustration. But I think the scene later in the film when Rose approaches Troy at work and tries to reason with him, extending a final olive branch to which he denies, is the kind of heartbreak that just shatters you. Davis doesn't send a single tear in this scene. Instead, we just see her walk briskly away and around the darkness of the corner. It's perfect.

Naomie Harris, Moonlight
There are two really important characters in this deeply human drama: Juan (Mahershala Ali) and Paula (Harris), the drug-addicted mother of the lead character. While I didn't always connect with Harris in this role, when Paula reappears years later in the film when an adult Chiron visits her at a home as it approaches its final act—with baggy eyes and grey-streaked hair—she embodies a sense of fatigue and regret that look like they could kill her faster than any drug. She doesn't even have to say much (she aims for redemption, however). Yet, for the first time in the whole film, we're finally ready to listen.

Nicole Kidman, Lion
At times it seems like director Garth Davis didn't know whose story he wanted to tell in this drama—Saroo's (Sunny Pawar and Dev Patel), the young man from India struggling to regain a sense of identity after being raised by two white Australia parents, or Sue's (Kidman), his adoptive mother whose maternal purpose could only be described as divine. When Sue is sitting at the dinner table with her husband (David Wenham) and her two sons (Patel) and Mantosh (Divian Ladwa), she is elation personified. Even when Mantosh acts deliberately defiant, while it rattles her, she remains grateful for the life she's had—challenges and all. It's such a proud statement of motherhood.

Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
Those folks who want to reduce this to a "feel good film like La La Land" are woefully missing its far more important commentary on the role and treatment of brilliant women of color in the workplace, and its persistence today. Which is why when Spencer's character, NASA mathematician Dorothy Vaughan, responds to her "well-intentioned" supervisor Vivian's frivolous remark, "I have nothing against y'all," with "I know you probably believe that," it's so wonderfully defiant yet pointedly subversive. It comes right after the employee restroom had become integrated and, well, white folks like Vivian were feeling a kind of way about it. It's a nod to the film's overarching message that black brilliance is an act of activism, and it's amazingly executed.

Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea
Throughout most this film, Williams is kind of background noise. We either see her, Randi, a young mom in Greater Boston, lying in bed blowing her nose, yelling at her husband (Casey Affleck) to shut the bleep up before he wakes the kids when he's running amok with his drunk buddies in the basement, or just...not there at all. It's not until toward the end of the film, when Lee (Affleck) reunites with her years later at a funeral, she takes one look at him and her face just fills with overwhelming sadness. And it wasn't even over the fact that they're at a funeral! Her despair takes you completely out of the scene yet you can't take your eyes off her.

What's your favorite scene from the acting nominees? To revisit my thoughts on each of the other categories, click below:

Best Supporting Actor
Best Actress
Best Actor

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Director of THE ONE I LOVE Returns With a New Dystopian Love Story Coming Soon to Netflix

If you're like me, you've been feening for a new film from Charlie McDowell, who directed the out-of-nowhere amazing The One I Love, for what seems like forever. That wait is finally over, because Santa's elves over at Netflix present THE DISCOVERY, a new dystopian love story directed and co-written by McDowell, boasting an impressive cast including Robert Redford, Jason Segel, Rooney Mara, and Jesse Plemons. More in the synopsis:

The Discovery stars Robert Redford, Rooney Mara, Jason Segel, Riley Keough and Jesse Plemons and is a love story set in a world where the afterlife has been scientifically proven, and as a result millions of people start taking their own lives to "get there."

Check out the trailer:

I'm ready. THE DISCOVERY premieres on Netflix March 31. 

Their Best Scenes: Oscar's Best Supporting Actor Nominees

One of this year's most talked about categories, best supporting actor not only represents cultural diversity, but also themes and age demographic. Still, there should be only one clear winner from this group (*cough* Mahershala Ali *cough*). But I'll go ahead and talk which scenes make each of the nominated performances noteworthy:

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
In a movie in which its characters are either yearning for human connection or railing against it, Ali's Juan is the one grounded soul and the one who most influences main character Chiron (portrayed in three stages of his life by three separate actors). He makes such an impact that when he's no longer in the film, his presence is still felt. The scene that continues to stick out in my mind is when he encounters Chiron's mother (Naomie Harris) and realizes he's sold her drugs before. The feeling of guilt and conflict is shown all over his face as he struggles to decide how to proceed. It's that conflict that humanizes him, and is emulated later in Chiron.

Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
Much of the time watching this No Country for Old Men knock-off (I mean that in the nicest way possible, because I really like this film), I was struggling with whether or not I like Marcus Hamilton (Bridges), the cranky old sheriff hell bent on catching two small town crooks ripping through Texas. His casual racism and curmudgeonly behavior come to a full stop once the crime hits close to home and his cops and robbers chase turns into a personal revenge mission. At that moment, while he's leaning over the body of his partner, he somehow finds the physical strength to climb up a hot mountain and trail the path of his intended target.

Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
If there is any actor this year that has literally earned an Oscar nomination for epitomizing typical young suburban white male angst, it's this guy. An angsty teen, juggling girlfriends and band lessons, and grappling with the death of his father, rages out against his temporary guardian (Casey Affleck) who threatens to disrupt his world by forcing him to relocate with him. (CAUTION: peak privilege). Like every teenager, Patrick is overly dramatic in this scene, and projecting his frustration on the nearest adult in the room. Again, this is basic material, but Oscar voters apparently like it.

Dev Patel, Lion
I still don't know how Patel landed in this category and not with the best actor nominees, but if there is one scene I have to choose with him, it's the one that is in fact the best scene in the film. Throughout the film we are taken on this journey with Saroo (Patel) to discover his true identity and the family he lost somewhere in India, and once he finally reunites with his mother, his expression is enough to make your heart burst. Then that's followed by shattering news, and Patel must manage to embody happiness, despair, and fatigue all at once. And he does, effortlessly.

Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals
Like Bridges's Marcus Hamilton, it's hard to determine whether Shannon's Bobby Andes (also a Texan) is a good guy. Always throwing massive levels of shade at everyone in his path, including Jake Gyllenhaal's grieving dad, it becomes acutely evident that Bobby gets off on pinning the punk. So when he finally catches his first suspect, he relishes every moment of it. In a cold interrogation scene, just before the film launches into its third act, you see a slight flicker of enjoyment cross Shannon's face as Bobby gears up for what could be his biggest case yet.

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