Two months ago, I encouraged several people to watch this year’s crop of Oscar-nominated documentary shorts. My only instruction: have tissues handy. Hard-hitting themes ranged from Syria, to end-of-life decisions in an ICU, to Syria, to the Holocaust, to Syria.
So months before the White House fired its missiles in the direction of the Middle Eastern country this week, the Academy was providing us privileged folk sitting in soft recliners with varied perspectives on the crisis that’s happening halfway around the world—where instead of privilege there are regular shellings, and instead of soft recliners there are scared children. The nominated documentaries, “The White Helmets” (the eventual winner), “Watani: My Homeland,” and “4.1 Miles” each offer a completely different take on Syria’s civil war, and each gives us reason to care. This is essential viewing. Below I give a brief synopsis for each film, including the full version of “4.1 Miles.”
I have a bit of an attachment to this film. “Stutterer”, written and directed by Benjamin Cleary, was submitted to a film festival of which I was a member of the screening committee. I loved it. Of the 100 or so films I screened that year, it was one of the best I had seen. I championed it to the programmers in hopes that they’d agree and add it to the festival’s slate. Alas, the film didn’t make the cut—not because it wasn’t good or deserving. Great films are often rejected from festivals for any number of reasons. Months later, “Stutterer” was nominated for an Oscar, along with one other film I screened for the same festival (which I also championed and was also rejected). “Stutterer” won. (I should start my own damn festival.)
Best Picture:La La Land Actor: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea Actress: Emma Stone, La La Land Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight Supporting Actress: Viola Davis, Fences Animated Feature Film:Zootopia Cinematography: Linus Sandgren, La La Land Costume Design: Mary Zophres, La La Land Directing: Damien Chazelle, La La Land Documentary (Feature):O.J.: Made in America Documentary (Short Subject): “The White Helmets” Film Editing: Tom Cross, La La Land Foreign Language Film:The Salesman Makeup and Hairstyling: Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo, Star Trek Beyond Music (Original Score): Justin Hurwitz, La La Land Music (Original Song): Justin Hurwitz and Benj Pasek & Justin Paul, “City of Stars,” La La Land Production Design: David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco, La La Land Animated Short Film: “Piper” Live Action Short Film: “La Femme et le TGV” Sound Editing: Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan, La La Land Sound Mixing: Andy Nelson, Ai-Ling Lee, and Steve A. Morrow, La La Land Visual Effects: Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones, and Dan Lemmon, The Jungle Book Writing (Adapted Screenplay): Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight Writing (Original Screenplay): Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
Eight years later, I’m still waiting for that magical piece of mail, inviting me to join your fine organization. But that’s not keeping me from sounding off on a few Oscar categories. I’ve seen all the nominated films, and I have some thoughts that should be considered. So allow me to make your job easier. Here’s who should win. You’re welcome.
With the Oscars just days away, we’re once again reflecting on last year’s theatrical releases. This year, I’m releasing my list later than usual so that I could have more time to watch as many 2016 films as possible. Many fan favorites didn’t make my list, including several Best Picture nominees. And some overlooked films are among my top films. If you’re still catching up, hopefully this list gives you a place to start.
Since 2002, I’ve presented a list of 20 movies. This year, I’m simplifying—really honing in on the top 10 pictures that represent a mix of personal favorites, as well as the best-made films of the year. Enjoy!
One of the most notorious feuds in Hollywood history is that of rival sisters Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. And they’re the subject of my most-anticipated show of 2017, Ryan Murphy’s newest anthology series, Feud, starring Jessica Lange as Crawford and Susan Sarandon as Davis. Have a look at the show’s recently released opening sequence. The pair’s 1962 psychological thriller What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? airs as part of TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar on March 2, just three days before Feud‘s March 5th premiere on FX.
I’ve been having conversations lately with friends who aren’t quite buying into the frenzy. They may like or dislike La La Land, but either way they’re just not getting it. “Fourteen Oscar nominations? Tied for the most in history?” La La Land may be good, but it’s not a juggernaut, they might say. Its effect on our culture is hardly titanic in scale. So why all the hype?
I’ve been seeing a deluge of posts online about how great Hidden Figures is. I like the movie, but it’s by no means as terrific as people say, in my opinion. Yes, it’s a good thing that this story has come to the surface, giving due recognition to these important people. But…
Full disclosure: I’m not black.
However, I do believe the film trivializes the African-American experience in the 1960s. There are nearly no hurdles for the women in the film to overcome. How can that be? They’re black in the 1960s South! Every obstacle is cleared in the same scene in which it’s presented. Three examples (minor spoilers ahead):
There are few SNL sketches that will top “Schweddy Balls,” based on my personal tastes and sensibilities. That sketch, perfectly written by Ana Gasteyer, is so multi-layered, so well performed, and just plain hilarious.
No, “Short Film,” which aired on last week’s Emily Blunt-hosted episode, does not top Gasteyer’s and Molly Shannon’s NPR-set sketch, but it comes pretty damn close—again, per my personal tastes and sensibilities (it’s likely not everyone’s cup of tea).