The Spark

I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but I generally attribute my love and appreciation for film to my decision to minor in film during my college years, since I got to experience a broad spectrum of different genres and styles from a multitude of different directors and eras.

Prior to that, I didn’t go to the movies all that much – at least, not as often as I would have liked. Now, I try to go once a week or every couple of weeks, and sometimes I go three times in one week, it all depends on what’s showing at the two theaters in my tiny backwoods town. I also get my friends saying things like, “Please tell me you didn’t go to see Pete’s Dragon by yourself,” like it’s a bad thing to take in a 10AM Saturday show solo to enjoy a nice Disney flick with some gummy bears.

But there is one film that I consider to be my “aha!” moment – the one that opened my eyes to how beautiful, compelling, and powerful cinema can be. And that film is Chris Nolan’s 2008 genre-breaking superhero flick, The Dark Knight.

MV5BMTMxNTMwODM0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODAyMTk2Mw@@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_This was before the days of assigned (and reclining) movie theater seating, so my parents and my best friend and I showed up an hour early in order to ensure we got the best seats in the house. As a massive Batman fan, I was psyched to see the Caped Crusader take on the newest iteration of his arch-nemesis, the menacing Joker. As the film unfurled onscreen, I was totally blown away. The music, Heath Ledger’s unforgettable performance, and the more grounded version of Gotham and Batman that Nolan crafted quickly became one of my all-time favorites, and I left the theater already yearning to see it again… which I did. Twice more, including a one hour trip to see it in IMAX with my dad. To this day, I have a huge movie poster of the Joker hanging over my bed; the first film poster I ever bought for myself. Now, many others have joined the ranks. I will still see any film that Christian Bale is in, regardless of ratings, will always spy a bit of Commissioner Gordon in any Gary Oldman performance, and will forever contend that The Dark Knight was robbed of a Best Picture nom at the Oscars.

As such, I consider The Dark Knight to be “the spark” that ignited my adoration of the cinema, the first film that made me think about how movies work and how all the parts come together to make one solid, functional piece of art capable of wowing and moving audiences. It opened the door to a whole new world, for me – and it didn’t even require a death-defying magic carpet ride to get there. Sure, I loved other movies before that, but The Dark Knight is special for me, and it always will be. Now, I’m one of those obnoxious people who love to talk about mise-en-scene and cinema verite and the male gaze and all that jazz, and I have a comic book movie to thank for that.

If any one else reading this has had a similar experience, what was your “spark?”

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5 Favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe Films

In the lead up to Infinity War this Thursday night, I thought I’d list my favorite films in the MCU thus far! Though, bear in mind, this is a list of my favorites, not what I consider to be the best.

MV5BMjM2NTQ5Mzc2M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTcxMDI2NTE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_5.) Ant-Man (2015)
I know this film doesn’t feature on many top Marvel film lists, but I thought this adventure, which feels like a fun side quest instead of a direct installment to the main, over-arcing narrative, was an absolute blast. Paul Rudd is the perfect choice for the role, combining humor and a sort of “every man” affability that made him both likable and relatable as a character (despite his prison record). It’s a superhero movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and sometimes, that’s exactly what’s needed in the midst of intergalactic wars or cities and planets in peril. I laugh every time I see the Thomas the Tank Engine scene, and for some reason, the size-changing hi-jinks don’t get old. I look forward to even more hilarity in the sequel, Ant-Man and the Wasp, dropping this summer.

MV5BMTg1MTY2MjYzNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTc4NTMwNDI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_4.) Black Panther (2018)
This film (coupled with the preceding Thor: Ragnarok) was the perfect installment in the MCU to set up Infinity War because it defies several of the common superhero tropes while still adhering to Marvel’s standards in quality and entertainment. Much like Ant-Man, this film is a palette cleanser, a nice break for those suffering from the “Marvel fatigue” as it helped rejuvenate a genre that sees more and more repetitive installments every year. T’Challa’s journey to assert himself as both an individual hero and a true leader to his people made me excited for superhero movies again, and it also has what is probably the most well-developed and exciting villain in the entire MCU. Plus, this film gave us Okoye and Shuri. Need I say more?

MV5BNjgwNzAzNjk1Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzQ2NjI1OTE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_3.) Doctor Strange (2016)
Alright, alright…. maybe I just really enjoy Benedict Cumberbatch with a beard and a snarky attitude enough to see this film twice in IMAX 3D. But Doctor Strange is a unique character with a level of sarcasm and ego to rival Tony Stark, and his transition to the big screen was a refreshing trip into the world of illusion and different deimensions, as his story focuses more on the abilities of the mind and “magical” manipulation, which provide for absolutely stunning visual segments and complex, entertaining fight scenes. The final confrontation in this film also features a unique twist that is a nice change-up from the standard “hero must beat the big bad” recipe. And the cape is easily the best sidekick in the entire MCU (sorry, Falcon).

MV5BMTAwMjU5OTgxNjZeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDUxNDYxODEx._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_2.) Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
I knew nothing about the titular characters going into this film, and came out of it blown away at how hilarious this motley crew of space adventurers could be. This film is a visual and auditory feast of bright colors, unique characters, and 80’s and 70’s jams coming together for one epic and laugh-out-loud romp across the galaxy. And while Groot is an absolute delight, and one scene in particular makes me tear up every single re-watch, Rocket Raccoon and his foul mouth will always be my favorite member of this ragtag squad. Plus, this film has the great distinction of being the only MCU film to feature a final confrontation that contains a dance-off. And that should be enough to convince any one to see it, if for some reason they live under a rock and haven’t watched this MCU gem yet.

download.jpg1.) Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
From the moment I saw Chris Evans in Captain America: the First Avenger back in 2011, his position as my favorite Avenger was sealed… and that conviction only grew stronger with the sequel, which I still consider to be one of the best all-around films in the whole MCU. Winter Soldier is equal parts political/espionage-laced thriller and action-packed superhero movie that blurs the line between right and wrong and good and bad, with an impeccable focus on character development and a lot of build up to future movies in this series, especially Civil War, which only narrowly missed this list. The Captain America-based storyline is (arguably) the most integral in the entire MCU, as his actions and decisions bear so much weight on the Avengers/S.H.I.E.L.D as a whole. For me, Steve Rogers/Captain America is the easiest character to feel attached to, to be inspired by, and his journey and development as an individual and as a member of the Avengers is the one I am most invested in, and his portrayal in Winter Soldier is him at his finest and truly coming into his own, learning that his shield cannot only be used to defend, but it must be a weapon too. Plus, this movie gave us Bucky/The Winter Soldier. Enough said.

Film Review: Chappaquiddick (2018)

Dir: John Curran
Starring: Jason Clarke, Kate Mara, Ed Helms, Bruce Dern, Jim Gaffigan, etc.
Runtime: 1hr 41min
Rating: PG-13
Spoiler level: Light

Chappaquiddick is based on the true story of the 1969 Chappaquiddick incident, in which a car accident involving senator Ted Kennedy (Clark) resulted in the death of political campaign secretary Mary Jo Kopechne (Mara). As controversy erupts regarding his level of involvement in Kopechne’s death, the senator must decide which is more important – the legacy and reputation of his family, or the truth.

Chappaquiddick_(film)Chappaquiddick presents a compelling and relevant commentary on the perceived moral infallibility of politicians and public figures versus the truth of their glaring flaws and inherent humanity. The film lingers on the word “integrity” more than once, and it seems that is the idea that haunts Kennedy as the events of that night on Chappaquiddick consume his life and threaten his career. As the senator smooths his hair and adjusts his appearance in mirrors and ensures that he looks good for the cameras, he is the picture of integrity, the image of an upstanding man of high moral character – and yet, so often, his words and actions behind closed doors contradict that. The outside fails to reflect the inside, though the outside is all that the public sees.

Clarke’s portrayal is gripping and nuanced as the last Kennedy son, living in the engulfing shadow of Robert and Jack, a man slowly breaking beneath the burdensome reputation of his celebrated family, struggling to appease the rigid demands of his wheelchair-bound, yet intimidating father (Dern), and the truth surrounding a young woman who met her death, cold and alone, in the depths of a lake. Early in the film, a wet, defeated Ted Kennedy tells his cousin Joe Gargan (Helms) “I’m not going to be president,” and that statement encompasses the truth of who Kennedy is, in this film. A man who will never escape the shadows that eclipse him.

Though Clarke’s performance easily dominates the screen, the supporting roles in this film are superb, especially Mara as Mary Jo, as she is, essentially, the ghost that trails Kennedy throughout this film, resonating long after that car plummets into the water, a presence that cannot merely be relegated to a footnote in someone else’s history. Helms also delivers a solid performance as Gargan, torn between his loyalty and familial ties to the Kennedy family, and the struggle to do what is right. Andria Blackman as Ted’s wife Joan Kennedy gets the film’s lone F-bomb, and it’s my personal favorite line in the entire film. Dern is powerful as Kennedy family patriarch, and, though the senior Kennedy was confined to a wheelchair and suffering from the effects of a stroke that left his movement and speech impaired, Dern’s portrayal makes him a dominant force to be reckoned with, with a glare that could freeze anyone in place.

One major strength of the film is how it subtly presents different “sides,” or compares viewpoints and situations. In the film, the problems swarming Kennedy are juxtaposed against the efforts of the Space Race – a fitting contrast, as Ted Kennedy’s political career and social life plunge into purgatory while Neil Armstrong takes his first victorious steps on the surface of the moon. One giant leap for mankind, and one massive misstep for Ted Kennedy. It’s a nice touch, aiding the tone of the film, and makes Ted’s mistakes all the more apparent. Another contrast is the way Mary Jo is treated, often referred to as “the girl,” by the Kennedy’s collection of black suits, but referred to by name by Gargan and those close to her, even by Kennedy himself. The core of this film is the way it shows ideas butting heads with each other – most prominently, the weight of a family’s reputation against the importance of truth and honesty, and politics versus morality and how they often fail to intersect.

What truly happened on the night of July 18th, 1969 at a bridge on Chappaquiddick island, might never be fully explained or revealed, and many of the details have remained unclear. The film does a fair job of keeping this relatively ambiguous tone, as the true nature of the relationship between Ted and Mary Jo is left to interpretation, and Ted appears conflicted enough about his choices that the film avoids entering character assassination territory. Viewers can form their own opinion of him – I’ve never held the Kennedy family on a golden, untouchable pedestal, so I found the portrayal to be well-balanced. Sharp editing and writing assist in making Chappaquiddick a partially completed puzzle that offers enough of a clear picture to satisfy audiences and answer pesky questions, while leaving enough blurred ideas and “what ifs?” and “might haves” to avoid straying too far into slanderous artistic liberty pitfalls that plague so many films based on “true” events. However, those with a rosy perception of the Kennedy dynasty might think otherwise.

Overall rating: 8/10

Film Review: A Wrinkle in Time (2018)

Dir: Ava DuVernay
Starring: Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Zack Galifanakis, Storm Reid, Deric McCabe, Levi Miller, etc.
Runtime: 1hr49min
Rating: PG
Spoiler level: Light

A Wrinkle in Time, one of the most-hyped releases of 2018, and based on the 1962 novel of the same name by Madeleine L’Engle, follows uncertain teenager Meg (Reid), who, along with her younger brother, friend Calvin, and three mysterious beings known as the Mrs., must embark on a journey across the universe to rescue her scientist father from a darkness known only as “IT.”

TAWrinkleInTimeTeaser.jpghough some folks adhere to the idea that films should be judged apart from their source material, I think it is more appropriate to judge a film both as an adaptation and then as a film. Therefore, as a fan of the original novel/series, I feel it is important to say that this film is not a good adaptation of L’Engle’s work.

Though it features characters with the same names, similar worlds, and strives to teach at least part of the same lessons, the film and the book are not on the same frequency, and for die-hard fans of the classic book, this adaptation will likely be disappointing. Much of the core message of the original book is lost to a sheen of glossy special effects, nonsensical (if beautiful) costumes, and a convoluted plot that allows some of the most beautiful sentiments from the book to slip through the cracks, lost to the universe.

A Wrinkle in Time (1962) is notable for it’s seamless blending and consideration of both science and religion, and how it handled sensitive social issues and other problems plaguing children like Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin, and continue to plague children and young adults in today’s society. The film touches on this particular aspect exceptionally well – exploring Meg’s insecurities and doubts about herself, especially – but because the focus is all over the place, the impact of that message is dampened. Religion is removed entirely from the film, as is a portion of the science, to the detriment of the narrative. So much is cut from L’Engle’s original story that the movie feels disjointed, the pacing suffers, and much of the plot comes across as confusing and the explanations insufficient for those not familiar with the source material.

It seems like those behind the film were trying to bend the book’s story to fit the message they wanted to tell, instead of adapting and doing justice to L’Engle’s work. I’m generally accepting of artistic liberties when it comes to adaptations, but when Aunt Beast gets trimmed down to a 2 second cameo so the kids can go on a CGI-laden sky ride above on a plant creature, and something that was so important to the author and a vital component of the story (religion) gets removed entirely, then I get a little steamed. And I’m an atheist, so that’s not any sort of bias speaking. There’s a difference between trimming superfluous scenes from the source material in order to accommodate run-time, and straight-up butchering the intended themes and vital components of the story itself.

I will say, however, that the “IT” stuff with Charles Wallace near the end (no spoilers) was impressive, and made me recall just how much I feared “IT” as a kid when I first experienced the book. However, though it is briefly touched upon, the whole “conformity” idea as it pertains to “IT” and Camazotz does not get explored in the film with as much depth as it does in the novel.

But… that’s just my views of A Wrinkle in Time as an adaptation.

As a film, the movie is a passable adventure aimed at children and young audiences that will charm and enchant them, and hopefully inspire them to believe in their own inner-strength and be “warriors” themselves. The message this film strives to impart upon its viewers – which, though it differs in the way L’Engle’s story is told, is no less important or powerful – about embracing your perceived “flaws” and using them as your strength will hopefully resonate with kids, and maybe even older viewers as well. Some threads of the plot – such as Meg’s insecurities about her appearance and intelligence and the father/daughter bond between Meg and Alex – are a success, but because there is so much going on in other aspects of the film, the focus is fractured, and those few shining moments often get drowned by the admittedly beautiful special effects, such as the sweeping, floral-kissed landscapes and storm-tossed forests.

The acting, for the most part, is commendable – the Mrs. (Kaling, Winfrey, and Witherspoon) do what they can, though, as a die-hard fan of the book, I was somewhat underwhelmed by the way they were depicted. The children, especially Reid as Meg and Deric McCabe as Charles Wallace, give believable and occasionally heart-wrenching performances, especially at the climax of the film, and though Levi Miller’s Calvin is underdeveloped, his acting isn’t at fault for that. Pine and Mbatha-Raw also turn in excellent performances, though the spotlight shines mainly on the younger cast members.

For a film that is meant to explore the vastness and wonder of both the light and dark of the universe, the end result feels disproportionately small. An ambitious effort on the part of the visionary director and talented cast, A Wrinkle in Time falls short of greatness and might not please fans of L’Engle’s work, but even though it’s a bit of a mess, it is a beautiful mess. For an afternoon out with the kids for some popcorn and stunning visuals, this film might be worth a watch to pass a couple of hours.

But for older viewers like myself, capable of getting into R-rated movies… if you’re looking for a female-empowering/led, diverse (which A Wrinkle in Time is, don’t get me wrong) sci-fi film with excellent visuals and an exploratory, unconventional, and compelling plot, please, please, please check out Annihilation (2018) if it is playing in your area. Fair warning, it’s got some gore and horror elements, but it completely blew me away – it’s not getting nearly enough praise, and deserves much more.

Overall rating: 6/10

2018 Oscars Reaction!

Pre-Show (I missed like, ten minutes because I was heating up my lo mein, apologies)

CHADWICK!!! He is styling tonight! What a nice suit.
Kelly-Marie!! She is so sweet.
Jordan Peele is a snazzy dresser, too.
Daniel Kaluuya’s jacket is SHARP.
Margot Robbie could make a burlap sack look good, but the top of her dress looks like a parade float.
Judd and Sorvino make a formidable team.
Thank you, technical difficulties, for depriving me of a montage. I LOVE MONTAGES, HOW EVER DARE YOU.
I wish I’d had time to see I, Tonya, simply because I love Allison Janney. It only played for like, 5 days in my town.
God, Jennifer Garner is gorgeous. Her dress is stunning!
GUILLERMO!!!!!
TIMMY!!!!!! He looks incredibly nervous, bless him. Also, white works for him. I want him to win so badly!
Saorise!!! Setting the facts straight, lol. I adore her.
HOLY CRAP I love Sandra Bullock’s dress.
Everyone is so sparkly!!!!
SINCE WHEN IS AMERICAN IDOL COMING BACK? Do I live under a rock?
Greta is great. Would love for her to win tonight.
I love Gary Oldman. Won’t be mad if he wins… but still rooting for Timmy.
There is something so suave about a nice suede/velvet suit jacket. I do my best to sell them at work but no one wants to buy them!
Mood; Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman casually catching up during an interview. But dear God, that bow on Kidman’s dress is awful.
Um… we never got the Allison Janney interview, Michael!!!!!

Monologue
Old-timey. I dig it.
Does Meryl Streep have a seat with her name engraved on it?
Thrilled that Kimmel is hosting again. Let the Matt Damon jokes commence!!!
ARMIE!
A JET-SKI????? And Helen Mirren? Oh, she’s not included. Damn.

Best Supporting Actor
It’s gotta be Sam Rockwell, right?
Wish I’d seen The Florida Project though…
YAYYYY! Well-deserved. I called it back when I saw the film in December.

Gal Gadot and Armie Hammer? Could there BE a better looking presenting pair?

Please… please let someone have their speech go too long. Please. I want a “GET OUT!!!”

Hair and Make-up
Will Darkest Hour take it home? That Churchill transformation was something else.
Marvelous! Oldman’s been thanking them in every speech, too. Nice to see their work rewarded.

Costume Design
Phantom Thread‘s got this in the bag, I think. But there might be a sneaky upset in here from The Shape of Water or Beauty and the Beast.
The dresses in PT were gorgeous. Made me want to binge Project Runway.
Oooh, have we got a Jet-ski contender?

Best Documentary
My resolution for next year is to watch the nominated documentaries. That’s my goal every year, but this year I really mean it.
It’s so nice to see the winners so happy!!!

I meant to watch Mudbound Friday night and straight-up forgot, but it’s my next Netflix watch for sure.
Mary J. Blige killing it, as usual.

I get choked up during the film montage EVERY YEAR. EVERY. YEAR. There is nothing quite like a great montage.

Best Sound Mixing/Editing
Gotta be Dunkirk for both. The sound was phenomenal, especially in IMAX.
YAY!!! Glad Dunkirk got some hardware! Even at the expense of Star Wars
Side-note… is that Kobe Bryant behind my man Chris Nolan?

Best Production Design
Lupita is STUNNING. And Kumail Nanjiani is hilarious.
Pretty sure The Shape of Water will take this one, but would love an upset by any of the others. All really visually-striking films.
That man’s sleeves are too short… or is that, like, a menswear trend I am unaware of?

Coco! I thought “Remember Me” would be usurped by “This is Me”, but it’s got a good shot, I’ll bet. That performance was BEAUTIFUL.

Best Foreign Language Film
I really want to see A Fantastic Woman, which I saw a trailer for before Call Me By Your Name a couple months ago. With that win, it might make it’s way here after all! I want to see The Square too, I’ve heard good things about both,

Best Supporting Actress
In a race that likely comes down in a battle of the moms, I’m betting on Janney, but I’m secretly rooting for a Laurie Metcalf victory.
I mean… you can’t be mad about Allison Janney. She is a freaking TREASURE. And also not winning a jet-ski, but hey, if you’ve got the stage, go for it.

Best Animated Short/Feature
STAR WARS!!!!!! I will never not love hearing that music.
Ohhhhhh that’s why Kobe is there. IT ALL MAKES SENSE. He’s so well-spoken! A+ speech.
As for feature… Coco, I’m guessing? It better not be Boss Baby. Bleurgh.
YAY! For the first time ever, I only saw one of the animated noms. Gotta work on that for next year, get back to my roots.

Daniela Vega’s dress is so lovely!
Sufjan! Call Me By Your Name! Finally! I am here for this. Also here for that suit.
I mean… it’s not going to beat Coco or The Greatest Showman but a girl can dream.

If it’s even possible, I care less about American Idol now than I did the first round.

Best Visual Effects
SPIDER-MAN!!!
I’m betting on Blade Runner, but maybe a sneaky Star Wars win?
I know I need to watch Blade Runner 2049. I have to watch the original Blade Runner first though, because I haven’t actually seen it. *cringes in shame*

I am 1000% here for men who wear jackets that are not the same color as their pants. That is my aesthetic, as long as they complement one another.

Best Film Editing
Can Dunkirk pull out a third?
YASSSS!!!!!!

I have guessed every one right so far. This has never happened! All that remains to be seen is how and when I’ll fuck it up.

If that troupe of people walked into a movie theater I was sitting in I would LOSE MY MIND. Wonder Woman AND Luke Skywalker?!?

I’m sorry… a HOT DOG CANNON? Why on earth would you want a HOT DOG CANNON? Hot dogs are disgusting. Unless they are encased in a soft pretzel, only then are they acceptable.

Best Documentary Short / Live-Action Short
I KNOW NOTHING!!!! I am uncultured swine.

Marshall was a great film! Highly recommend, especially if you love Chadwick Boseman… as you should.

Does Common ever not totally crush it onstage? He is an amazing performer.

Best Original Screenplay / Adapted Screenplay
Adapted has GOT to be Call Me By Your Name, or I will riot. Unless it’s Logan. Then I will riot slightly less.
Can everyone please take a moment to appreciate James Ivory’s amazing shirt? I love a well-dressed man, and a well-deserved win.
Original is tougher… would love The Big Sick, but I’m thinking Get Out or Three Billboards.
AW YEAH!!!! Jordan Peele! That’s the first one I officially picked incorrectly, but I’m SOOO happy to be wrong!

I knew there’d be a Matt Damon joke in here somewhere. I’m actually surprised it took this long to get one.

Also, I think Bullock’s dress is my favorite of the night.

Best Cinematography
I am secretly pulling for Darkest Hour or Dunkirk, but it will probably be Blade Runner.
And I was right, again! If I go through this and only have one wrong I will be extremely upset. But then I’ll be over it by tomorrow, so whatever.

Didn’t see The Greatest Showman and don’t really care to, but this song is a JAM.

Best Original Score
I LOVE THEM ALL. Don’t make me pick.
…It’ll probably be The Shape of Water.
Oh, look at that! The music really did suit the movie perfectly, though. Delightfully weird!

Best Original Song
Coco!!!! I loved “Remember Me.” Though even now, however many years later, I still HATE Let it Go.

Best Director
Will there be an upset, or will Guillermo cap off awards season with a win?
Look at his face, he’s so happy! Hats off to Guillermo – he directed a beautiful monster of a film and he so, so deserves this.
I maintain that Luca Guadagnino should have been nominated though… just saying…

Best Actor
It’s going to be Oldman. I so badly want Chalamet to win, but the Oldman train seems like it’s prime to keep on rolling, and I’m not gonna bet against Churchill…
DDL looks like he will straight-up murder whoever wins, if it isn’t him. I know he won’t, he’s just giving those vibes…
YAY, Gary! I do love him, and it’s so great to see him finally win one. He was brilliant in this film, and easily the best part of it.

Best Actress
Money’s on Frances McDormand. Haven’t even seen her tonight…
Wouldn’t mind a Sally Hawkins win, though. She is adorable. Or Saorise Ronan. Let’s just give them all an Oscar, okay?
HOW TALL IS JENNIFER LAWRENCE? Or HOW SHORT IS JODIE FOSTER?
No surprise!
Frances McDormand is a goddamn prize. Also, Joel Cohen looks so unimpressed, lol.
Sally looks genuinely happy for Frances, it’s heartwarming!

Best Picture
The odds are stacked against my personal fave (Call Me By Your Name) but IT SHOULD WIN, DAMMIT. However, it’s shaping up to be a The Shape of Water or Three Billboards victory, both of which rightfully deserve it as well.
Honestly, though, this category is full of worthy films. It could be a surprise, especially if the vote splits. Might get a cheeky Get Out or sneaky Dunkirk victory.
OH MY GOD THEY BROUGHT THEM BACK.
Please no replay of last year’s debacle…
Well, that’s the second one I picked wrong – I officially picked Three Billboards. But I can’t be disappointed that such a lovely film won!
I hope Mark Bridges enjoys his jet ski.

Best Picture Countdown #1: Call Me By Your Name

“We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything … what a waste!” – Michael Stuhlbarg as Mr. Perlman, Call Me By Your Name (2017)

Dir. Luca Guadagnino
Starring: Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel, Victoire Du Bois
Rating: R
Runtime: 2hr 12min

Call Me By Your Name follows 17-year-old Elio Perlman (Chalamet) and his evolving relationship with his father’s grad student assistant, Oliver (Hammer) over a summer in Northern Italy in the early 80’s. As their emotional and physical intimacy develops, Elio learns valuable lessons about sexuality, relationships, and the warring sweetness and grief that comes with love.

CallMeByYourName2017Of all 9 nominees for Best Picture at the Academy Awards this year, Luca Guadagnino’s coming-of-age drama about a sensual summer in Italy hit the hardest, spoke the loudest, and shone the brightest. It rocketed to the top of my personal list the moment I stepped out of the theater and has remained there ever since, though it wasn’t the last nominated film I saw. Upon reviewing all the nominees, Call Me By Your Name felt like the most well-rounded film; the music, the cinematography, the directing, the acting, the visuals, and the writing all combined for an utterly compelling cinematic experience, and I think it deserved more than the 4 nominations it received.

This film’s premise isn’t overly complicated – at the basest level, it’s a summer romance. And yet, it is so much more. Call Me By Your Name is an exploration into the complexities of human sexuality, a celebration of first love and savoring every sweet moment before an inevitable goodbye, and each small moment or movement – whether it be dancing in the streets,  yearning for watch-hands to tick faster, a long bicycle ride in the balmy heat of summer, or the music of a piano soaring through a room for an audience of one – bears significance. This film is a warm sweater on a rainy day, a dip in a pool beneath the scorching sun, a snapshot of a happy memory pinned to a cork board, and the sort of movie that invokes emotion without trying too hard to jerk at the heartstrings.

Gary Oldman is a juggernaut in the Best Actor category for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, and has been collecting hardware all season, but I am actually pulling for underdog Chalamet to pull out a win. His performance as Elio was breathtaking, even in moments of silence. He perfectly captured and expressed the feelings of being young, in love, and uncertain – my heart broke when he called his mother near the end of the film and asked, “Can you come get me?” with his back hunched and voice breaking. Honestly, I think he deserves the award for the last two minutes/credits sequence of the film alone. Even if he doesn’t win, a thousand gold stars to him. A THOUSAND, I SAY.

The chemistry and rapport between Hammer (who was unjustly snubbed for a Best Supporting nod, if you ask me) and Chalamet sold the romance 100%; their interactions felt genuine, their conversations natural, their hesitations understandable, and the evolution of their feelings for one another was an earnest, well-paced, and nicely developed journey, not just a mechanical “point A to point B to point C” narrative. It’s refreshing in a romance to see the less confident, more nerve-wracked person (Elio) being the one to initially make a move, contrasting with Oliver’s internal conflict over whether or not to act on his feelings due to the potential complications – a small subversion of genre expectations. The ups and downs of their relationship unfold with authenticity and passion and reveal both the positives and negatives of a consuming summer love and how it can make a heart soar, or sink, depending on the circumstances.

The rest of the cast is also excellent in their roles, especially Stuhlbarg as Mr. Perlman. His speech to Elio in the last third of the film is, in my opinion, the most poignant and powerful piece of writing (and one of the overall best acting feats) seen onscreen in all of 2017. If you glean nothing else from this film, that quote – the one I put in at the top of this post – is a message that should be taken to heart, and called upon when grief seems to usurp all other feelings.

For moments like that, and for several others, I’m predicting a Best Adapted Screenplay victory for James Ivory’s adaptation of Andre Aciman’s novel. When a screenwriter takes care of the characters and manages to add their own flair while remaining faithful and doing justice to the source material, even if they must make changes, it’s obvious that a lot of attention and care has gone into the effort. Ivory’s screenplay is superb; jam-packed with emotion and moments that linger in the mind and heart, and his words, combined with the excellent performances, made the characters feel alive. Even the smallest statements, the most subtle looks or phrases or movements, the softest sighs or simplest glances, have power in this film, and the writing is a huge part of that. I also think – like Martin McDonagh for Three Billboards – that Gudagnino was snubbed for a Best Director nom, but whatev… nothing to be done about it now.

I’m rooting for Sufjan Stevens to take home the Best Original Song award for his song “Mystery of Love,” but it’s probably going to get downed by The Greatest Showman‘s “This is Me,” or Coco‘s “Remember Me” – which is fine, because those songs are total jams. Regardless, I look forward to seeing Sufjan perform the song on Sunday night.

If Call Me By Your Name takes home the gold for Best Picture tomorrow night, I will actually scream and jump up and down in my living room, and I don’t even care if my neighbors get pissed. This film is a triumph – the kind of film you want to embrace and carry its warmth with you for as long as you can, or recall in moments of grief. It might be considered a long-shot in all categories but one, but this masterpiece deserves the highest honor on Oscar Night, and I’m really hoping that it emerges as the champion – but even if it doesn’t, it’s still my top film of 2017.

Oscar Nominations
Best Actor (Chalamet)
Best Original Song
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Picture

For my full review of Call Me By Your Name from earlier this year, click HERE!

Best Picture Countdown #2: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

“This didn’t put an end to shit, you fucking retard; this is just the fucking start. Why don’t you put that on your Good Morning Missouri fucking wake up broadcast, bitch?”Frances McDormand as Mildred Hayes, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Dir: Martin McDonagh
Starring: Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Lucas Hedges, Peter Dinklage, etc.
Runtime: 1hr55min
Rating: R

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri follows Mildred Hayes (McDormand) as she utilizes three billboards to air her grievances with the local police department over the unsolved murder of her daughter. Her desire for vengeance puts her at odds not only with the police, but with her own family and others in the town.

Whooo boy, this one was tough!

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I’m going to say this straight up, although Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was only my second favorite Oscar-nominated film this year… I do think it is going to win Best Picture. And that would be a 100% justified victory, because this film is incredible.

As a personal anecdote about how powerful this film is, my father – who does not get into awards shows or artsy/indie films to the extent that I do – asked me to tell him when the Supporting Actor, Lead Actress, and other relevant categories were announced during the BAFTAs so he could watch, and he cheered out loud when “my boy!” Sam Rockwell won the Golden Globe. He is actively rooting for this film and continues to praise it whenever it pops up in conversation. Also, when I saw this film with my parents, we were the only people in the film aside from one other man, who I’m 75% sure snuck in without paying. That’s a crime, considering how brilliant this movie is. We also call it “Three Billbos” in my house, because that’s what the marquee said when we were at the theater, but I digress…

Sam Rockwell is, as far as I’m concerned, a lock for Best Supporting Actor. I don’t think it’s even a contest. I have never, ever in my life had such a back-and-forth, rollercoaster of a reaction to a film character, and it’s all down to Rockwell’s performance. I went from thinking Dixon was a moron, to hating him, to really hating him, to kind of liking him, to rooting for his success, to feeling ambiguous about him, and so on. Though Harrelson turns in a spectacular performance as Willoughby, he’s easily eclipsed by his co-star – though the moments their characters share onscreen are a treat to witness.

Similarly, I consider Frances McDormand the front-runner for Best Actress – she perfectly executes the simmering rage of a mother out for vengeance over the cruel, unsolved murder of her daughter, spitting vitriol at anyone who would try to impede her mission, yet she also shows the vulnerability and heartbreak of a woman who has suffered an unimaginable loss and is still trying to piece together the fragments of her life. There are moments – as with Dixon – where I didn’t like Mildred, either because of some heartless jape she says, or something she does that seems more vindictive than justified, and also moments where I wanted her to torch the entire town to ashes or reach through the screen to pat her shoulder. She is the heart of this film and carries it on her shoulders, in her fury, her pain, her moments of delinquency, and her emotional struggle. The nuanced characters and the emotionally-layered performances of the actors are a major strength of this film – but it’s also a testament to the writing.

Martin McDonagh’s screenplay is rife with dark humor, sharp dialogue and a relevant social commentary, unpredictable and jaw-dropping moments, cutting insults and heart-wrenching expressions of pain and soul-stirring explosions of anger, and characters that pop off of the screen like real, breathing people. Even the side characters, like James (Dinklage), are distinct and have memorable lines and scenes. This film is poignant, dark, and the type of narrative that will illicit emotions that you might not want to feel, but the powerful, lingering message it delivers is one that deserves and demands to be heard and seen. If it doesn’t win Best Original Screenplay, I’ll be surprised – and I think McDonagh was totally snubbed for Best Director. The “window” scene with Dixon and Red was pure cinematic gold – I was actually squirming in my seat through the whole thing, and I think my pounding heart left bruises on my ribs.

Though Burwell is an underdog for Best Score, I actually like his score the best of all the nominees – regardless, I don’t think he’ll win, but it does make me excited to hear more from him in future films. Film Editing is up in the air, but I’m predicting at least three wins for Three Billboards…and maybe four, if it can edge out the rest in the close race for Best Picture. And if the awards season trend continues as it has been, Three Billboards just might take it home.
Oscar Nominations
Best Supporting Actor (Harrelson)
Best Supporting Actor (Rockwell)
Best Actress (McDormand)
Best Original Screenplay
Best Film Editing
Best Original Score
Best Film