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Tuesday, January 23, 2018


And here they are!

A few thoughts:

  • In my predictions, I got 38/44 in the 8 major categories for a score of 86%. Last year was my personal record with 91%, but cheers to a less predictable race!
  • The Shape of Water leads with 13 nominations. Coincidentally, it's also my least favorite of the ones I've seen... I'll be catching up with Three Billboards, Darkest Hour, and The Post.
  • Biggest (happy) surprise for me was the impressive showing for Phantom Thread, with unexpected nods in Picture, Director, and Supporting Actress. It's not a movie for everyone's taste, but I loved it and PT Anderson is a true visionary.
  • My favorite category is easily Best Director. I was very worried they would leave off either Jordan Peele or Greta Gerwig, and they didn't. Plus, a Paul Thomas Anderson nomination!
  • My saddest exclusions were in the Supporting categories. I actually prefer the unnominated Michael Stuhlbarg (Call Me By Your Name) and Holly Hunter (The Big Sick) to any of the nominees in their respective categories.
  • With only 2 nominations (Picture and Actress), The Post really underperformed expectations. Nevertheless, Meryl Streep keeps topping her previous records with ease, earning her 21st acting nomination.
On to the list, and a few thoughts on the race as it stands now.

Best Picture:
“Call Me by Your Name”
“Darkest Hour”
“Dunkirk”“Get Out”
“Lady Bird”“Phantom Thread”“The Post”“The Shape of Water”“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

I got 7/9 here. I thought I, Tonya would get in, and didn't predict Darkest Hour or Phantom Thread. Of what I've seen, this is a pretty great lineup.  I love 5 of them and am mixed on The Shape of Water. I've yet to see 3 Billboards, The Post, and Darkest Hour.

Should have been here: My favorite of the year, The Florida Project.  

Will Win: Conventional wisdom and precursor support say it's Three Billboards vs. The Shape of Water. I have a sneaking feeling those two may have peakeda little too soon, and we could see a come from behind win from Lady Bird or Get Out.  I think this is a truly tight race.

Lead Actor:
Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me by Your Name”
Daniel Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread”
Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”
Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour”Denzel Washington, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”

I went 4/5, putting in James Franco (The Disaster Artist) and missing Denzel Washington in a movie people really didn't talk about much.

Should have been here: Nothing jumps out.  I loved the performances of Chalamet, Day-Lewis, and Kaluuya.

Will Win: Oldman. For a minute in the season, it looked Chalamet had a shot for his transcendent performance, but Darkest Hour seems well-loved and should easily pull Oldman to a win.

Lead Actress:
Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water”
Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”
Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”
Meryl Streep, “The Post”

I went 5/5 in this expected lineup, as did most pundits.

Should have been here: Vicky Krieps for Phantom Thread. She's just as good as nominees Daniel Day-Lewis and Lesley Manville, and her performance is perhaps the most crucial in making Phantom Thread work.

Will Win: Most likely McDormand, with a small chance Ronan gets in.

Supporting Actor:
Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”
Woody Harrelson, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Richard Jenkins, “The Shape of Water”
Christopher Plummer, “All the Money in the World”
Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

I went 4/5 here, picking Michael Stuhlbarg (Call Me By Your Name), over Plummer.  Plummer makes history here as the oldest acting nominee ever, beating out Gloria Stuart from Titanic.

Should have been here: Stuhlbarg!! He is incredible in Call Me By Your Name.

Will Win: Probably Rockwell, unless the Three Billboards backlash comes on strong and Dafoe wins.

Supporting Actress:
Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”
Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”Lesley Manville, “Phantom Thread”
Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water”

I went 4/5 here, missing Manville for Holly Hunter (The Big Sick). 

Should have been here: Hunter for my favorite supporting performance of the year. I'm thrilled Manville made it, but couldn't she have replaced Spencer, who didn't have much to do in The Shape of Water? I'd also have loved to see Tiffany Haddish get in for Girls trip.

Will Win: Probably Allison Janney, but don't count out Laurie Metcalf in the much-loved Lady Bird.

“Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan“Get Out,” Jordan Peele
“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig“Phantom Thread,” Paul Thomas Anderson“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro

I went 4/5 here, missing PT Anderson for Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards).  What a great list!! I literally yelped when Peele, Gerwig, and PT Anderson all made it, along with Nolan finally getting a nomination after being snubbed for years. 

Should have been here: Sean Baker for The Florida Project. With his on location shooting and mixing of child actors, nonprofessionals, and veteran actors, it's a remarkable achievement.

Will Win: del Toro seems to be running away with this, which is too bad because all four of the others deserve to be in the conversation for the win.

Adapted Screenplay:
“Call Me by Your Name,” James Ivory
“The Disaster Artist,” Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
“Logan,” Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green
“Molly’s Game,” Aaron Sorkin
“Mudbound,” Virgil Williams and Dee Rees

I went 5/5 here.  Fun fact: Logan is the first superhero movie to get a Best Screenplay nomination.

Should have been here: The Lost City of Z.

Will win: Call Me by Your Name.  This seems to be one of the surest wins this year.

Original Screenplay:
“The Big Sick,” Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
“Get Out,” Jordan Peele
“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Martin McDonagh

I went 5/5 here in a competititve category.

Should have been here: Phantom Thread. As well as it did, I'm surprised it didn't show up here as well.

Will Win: Tough call. It's Get Out vs. Lady Bird vs. Three Billboards, and could go any which way.

Animated Feature:
“The Boss Baby,” Tom McGrath, Ramsey Ann Naito
“The Breadwinner,” Nora Twomey, Anthony Leo
“Coco,” Lee Unkrich, Darla K. Anderson
“Ferdinand,” Carlos Saldanha
“Loving Vincent,” Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman, Sean Bobbitt, Ivan Mactaggart, Hugh Welchman

Animated Short:
“Dear Basketball,” Glen Keane, Kobe Bryant“Garden Party,” Victor Caire, Gabriel Grapperon
“Lou,” Dave Mullins, Dana Murray
“Negative Space,” Max Porter, Ru Kuwahata
“Revolting Rhymes,” Jakob Schuh, Jan Lachauer

“Blade Runner 2049,” Roger Deakins
“Darkest Hour,” Bruno Delbonnel
“Dunkirk,” Hoyte van Hoytema
“Mudbound,” Rachel Morrison
“The Shape of Water,” Dan Laustsen

Best Documentary Feature:
“Edith+Eddie,” Laura Checkoway, Thomas Lee Wright
“Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405,” Frank Stiefel
“Heroin(e),” Elaine McMillion Sheldon, Kerrin Sheldon“Knife Skills,” Thomas Lennon“Traffic Stop,” Kate Davis, David Heilbroner

Best Live Action Short Film:
“DeKalb Elementary,” Reed Van Dyk
“The Eleven O’Clock,” Derin Seale, Josh Lawson
“My Nephew Emmett,” Kevin Wilson, Jr.
“The Silent Child,” Chris Overton, Rachel Shenton
“Watu Wote/All of Us,” Katja Benrath, Tobias Rosen

Best Foreign Language Film:
“A Fantastic Woman” (Chile)
“The Insult” (Lebanon)
“Loveless” (Russia)
“On Body and Soul (Hungary)“The Square” (Sweden)

Film Editing:
“Baby Driver,” Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss
“Dunkirk,” Lee Smith
“I, Tonya,” Tatiana S. Riegel
“The Shape of Water,” Sidney Wolinsky
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Jon Gregory

Sound Editing:
“Baby Driver,” Julian Slater
“Blade Runner 2049,” Mark Mangini, Theo Green
“Dunkirk,” Alex Gibson, Richard King
“The Shape of Water,” Nathan Robitaille, Nelson Ferreira
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Ren Klyce, Matthew Wood

Sound Mixing:
“Baby Driver,” Mary H. Ellis, Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin
“Blade Runner 2049,” Mac Ruth, Ron Bartlett, Doug Hephill
“Dunkirk,” Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker, Gary A. Rizzo
“The Shape of Water,” Glen Gauthier, Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Stuart Wilson, Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick

Production Design:
“Beauty and the Beast,” Sarah Greenwood; Katie Spencer
“Blade Runner 2049,” Dennis Gassner, Alessandra Querzola
“Darkest Hour,” Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer“Dunkirk,” Nathan Crowley, Gary Fettis
“The Shape of Water,” Paul D. Austerberry, Jeffrey A. Melvin, Shane Vieau

Original Score:
“Dunkirk,” Hans Zimmer
“Phantom Thread,” Jonny Greenwood
“The Shape of Water,” Alexandre Desplat“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” John Williams
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Carter Burwell

Original Song:
“Mighty River” from “Mudbound,” Mary J. Blige“Mystery of Love” from “Call Me by Your Name,” Sufjan Stevens
“Remember Me” from “Coco,” Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez
“Stand Up for Something” from “Marshall,” Diane Warren, Common“This Is Me” from “The Greatest Showman,” Benj Pasek, Justin Paul

Makeup and Hair:
“Darkest Hour,” Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski, Lucy Sibbick“Victoria and Abdul,” Daniel Phillips and Lou Sheppard
“Wonder,” Arjen Tuiten

Costume Design:
“Beauty and the Beast,” Jacqueline Durran
“Darkest Hour,” Jacqueline Durran
“Phantom Thread,” Mark Bridges
“The Shape of Water,” Luis Sequeira
“Victoria and Abdul,” Consolata Boyle

Visual Effects:

Monday, January 22, 2018

Oscar Nomination Predictions

With Oscar nominations coming up Tuesday, here are my best bets in the major categories, listed in order of likelihood.

In all likelihood The Shape of Water will lead with the most nominations, probably followed by Dunkirk.


1.Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
2. The Shape of Water
3. Get Out
4. Lady Bird
5. Dunkirk

6. Call Me By Your Name

7. The Post
8. I, Tonya
The Big Sick
The Florida Project
Darkest Hour
Phantom Thread
Wonder Woman
Phantom Thread
Molly's Game

The top 5 feel extremely locked.  We could have anywhere between 5-10, though, and that's where things get murky. I'm pretty confident Call Me By Your Name will also make it due to its passionate fan base.

While I think The Post is likely to make it in, I could also see it being snubbed. It's lost out on a lot of the precursors. After that, there's a bunch of movies that could make it. I'm pulling hard for The Florida Project, my favorite of the year.


1. Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water

2. Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk

3. Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
4. Martin McDonough, Three Billboards
5. Jordan Peele, Get Out
Luca Guadignino, Call Me By Your Name
Sean Baker, The Florida Project
Steven Spielberg, The Post
Dennis Villeneuve, Blade Runner 2049
Dee Rees, Mudbound
Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread

Please God let both Gerwig and Peele get in!


1. Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
2. Timothee Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name

3. Daniel Day Lewis, Phantom Thread

4. Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
5. James Franco, The Disaster Artist
Tom Hanks, The Post
Denzel Washington, Roman Israel, Esq.
Jake Gyllenhaal, Stronger

The Franco sexual harrassment allegations hit right during Oscar voting. Will it make a difference? It seems like most (but not all) ballots had probably already been filled out, so it's hard to say.


1. Frances McDormand, Three Billboards
2. Saorsie Ronan, Lady Bird

3. Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
4. Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
5. Meryl Streep, The Post

Jessica Chastain, Molly's Game
Judi Dench, Victoria & Abdul
Annette Bening, Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool

The top 5 have felt locked up for a long time. There's no reason to think they won't be the lineup.

Supporting Actor

1. Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards
2. Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project

3. Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water

4. Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards
5. Michael Stuhlbarg, Call Me By Your Name
Armie Hammer, Call Me By Your Name
Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World
Steve Carrell, Battle of the Sexes

This category feels murky. While he's missed a lot of precursors, I'm going with Stuhlbarg. How can you see Call Me By Your Name and NOT vote for him?

Supporting Actress

1. Allison Janney, I, Tonya
2. Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird

3. Holly Hunter, The Big Sick

4. Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
5. Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water
Hong Chau, Downsizing
Tiffany Haddish, Girls Trip
Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread
Catherine Keener, Get Out
Kristin Scott Thomas, Darkest Hour

The toughest category to predict. I would LOVE a Haddish nomination, as long as it's not at the expense of Holly Hunter.

Original Screenplay

1. Get Out
2. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
3. Lady Bird

4. The Big Sick
5. The Shape of Water
I, Tonya
The Post
Phantom Thread
The Florida Project

An insanely competitive category, so a major Best Picture contender will certainly be left off.

Adapted Screenplay

1. Call Me By Your Name

2. Mudbound
3. Molly's Game

4. The Disaster Artist
5. Logan
Wonder Woman
The Lost City of Z
Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool

I strangely underpopulated category this year, as most of the big movies are in Original Screenplay.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Top 10 of (ahem) 2016

What, you were hoping for a 2017 list? In this year of a new baby, I've procrastinated big time. On the plus side, it's given me time to rewatch some 2016 movies, and let's me know what movies have lingered as time has gone by.

First, my #16-25 in alphabetical order, all of which I really enjoyed and are worth a viewing:

Everybody Wants Some!
Hell or High Water
Sing Street
Southside with You
Toni Erdmann
The Witch

And my 5 runners-up, which on another day any could have easily made my list:

Don't Think Twice
I Am Not Your Negro
Manchester by the Sea
Things to Come

10. Krisha: A super indie family movie that plays like a horror film. Totally unique and unforgettable.

9. Hail, Caesar!: I think this will live on as one of the Coen Brothers' most underrated films. Packed to the gills with old Hollywood love and delicious performances.

8. Certain Women: Kelly Reichardt's quiet trio of female lives in the vast American west. Beautifully done, especially the breathtakingly perfect third act with Kristen Stewart and Lily Gladstone.

7. American Honey: British director Andrea Arnold sees American culture with such fresh, non-condescending eyes. Vibrant and heartbreaking at the same time, much like 2017's The Florida Project.

6. OJ: Made in America: The Oscars said it's a movie, even many called this ESPN documentary a TV show, so I'll go with that. A relentlessly watchable 8-hour dive into celebrity, policing, America, and, race.

5. The Lobster: High-concept film at it's best. A deadpan satire that hilariously illuminates so much about modern culture.

4. La La Land: Forget the haters who framed this as some sort of run-of-the-mill Hollywood pap. Director Damien Chazelle had the bravery to go all in on an ORIGINAL Hollywood musical, playing with past influences while making the film his own.

3. 20th Century Women: A beautiful, big-hearted movie about an unconventional woman, her son, and the ragtag group who help raise him. Even more impressive on a second viewing.

2. Arrival: Wins as my most tears shed at a movie last year.  Haven't had a chance to see this again yet, but can't wait to see how it plays on a second viewing. The movie's structure is played for real emotion, not as a cheap gimmick.

1. Moonlight: It's a miracle that an indie movie this delicate, artfully made, and perfect could (infamously!) triumph at the Oscars. What else is there to say? It's destined to be a modern classic, and I can't wait to see what director Barry Jenkins does next.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Best Leading Performances of 2016

Still catching up from 2017 before I jump into the Oscar season of 2016. Some very quick thoughts!


Amy Adams, Arrival

A beautiful performance that, due to the twists in the movie, has to hold a whole lot inside of it. I can't wait to watch it again.

Annette Bening, 20th Century Women

One of the most distinctive mothers ever put on screen.  Bening is so good at playing a specific character when others would turn to archetype.

Isabelle Huppert, Things to Come

She was great (and Oscar nominated) in the provocative Elle, but even better in Things to Come, a quiet but revelatory movie about a woman in later middle age who finds her life has changed.

Ruth Negga, Loving

A quiet performance, as Mildred Loving but oh the things she can do with those eyes. The two scenes on the telephone are remarkable.

Emma Stone, La La Land

Few actresses could pull off the right mix of classic and modern to sell a modern day musical, but Stone is one of them. Charming from start to finish, and particularly revelatory in the "Audition" scene.

My winner: Bening
Runner-Up: Negga

Runners Up: Kate Beckinsale (Love and Friendship), Sonia Braga (Aquarius), Krisha Fairchild (Krisha), Natalie Portman (Jackie), Rebecca Hall (Christine)

Matches with Oscar: We agreed on Stone, Negga, and Huppert (although for a different role), while Portman was on my runner-up list.  Oscar also went with its traditional Meryl Streep slot in Florence Foster Jenkins, which was good but not one of her best.


Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)

Over a year later, I'm still haunted by this performance. In his method and emotional acting, he's like a modern-day Brando.

Joel Edgerton (Loving)

Like Negga, Edgerton gives a quiet but revelatory quiet perfectly suited to the story and the film its in.

Colin Farrell (The Lobster)

The marvelous movie The Lobster couldn't pull of its tricky tone without a great deadpan performance at its center. Farrell gives his best performance ever.

Peter Simonischek (Toni Erdmann)

It's hard to describe this father-daughter movie, but suffice it to say it wouldn't work half as well without the performance of the prankish father trying to form a relationship with his self-serious adult daughter.

Denzel Washington (Fences)

A master class performance perfected on the stage. Watching, Fences, it's clear Denzel is one of our greatest actors.

My winner: Affleck. I was completely team Denzel last Oscar season, but Affleck's performance has stuck with me more.

Runner-Up: Washington

Runners Up: Josh Brolin (Hail, Caesar!), Adam Driver (Paterson), Andrew Garfield (Silence), Ryan Gosling (La La Land), Chris Pine (Hell or High Water)

Matches with Oscar: Just Affleck and Washington, with Gosling as one of my runner-ups. The other two nominated performances went to decent performances in movies I did not enjoy: Andrew Garfield in Hacksaw Ridge and Viggo Mortenson in Captain Fantastic.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Best Supporting Performances of 2016

It's now 2017, and I'm finally getting around to evaluating the last year in film. On the plus side, the extra time has given me the chance to revisit a few movies and solidify or change my opinions.

First, my favorite supporting performances from last year.

Supporting Actor

To be honest, I could have filled this category just with Moonlight folks, but I restrained myself.

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Ali fully deserved his Oscar as Juan, the father figure to young Chiron and the man who deals drugs to his mother.  While he's only in the first third of the film, he casts a spell over the whole film.

Tom Bennett, Love and Friendship

As Sir James Martin, Bennett absolutely owns this movie with every line reading. Sometimes broad performances work, and Bennett's performance plays up the comedy to just the right level.

Alden Ehrenreich, Hail Caesar!

In an incredible cast, Ehrenreich stands out as the seemingly dense Western star Hobie Doyle. Ehrenreich is so good and likable, and he'll be widely seen in some upcoming Star Wars movies.

Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea

Hedges plays Patrick, the teenager suddenly without a father being cared for by an uncle, with a deft hand. He never sentimentalizes, instead drawing us into an authentic portrayal of a sometimes unlikable teenager. Now that I've seen him play an entirely different character in Lady Bird, it's clear Hedges is the real deal.

Andre Holland, Moonlight

As Kevin in the third act of Moonlight, Holland carries much of the dialogue of the film playing opposite a taciturn Trevante Rhodes. We believe this is the same character we've seen earlier: older, wiser, and ready to reconnect. I'm hoping for lots more great roles for Holland.

My winner: Ali
Runner-Up: Ehrenreich

Runners Up: Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water), Ralph Fiennes (A Bigger Splash), Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight), Ashton Sanders (Moonlight), Ben Whishaw (The Lobster)

Matches with Oscar: 2 (Ali and Hedges). Bridges is on my runner-up list. I liked but didn't love the performances of Dev Patel (Lion) and Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals).

Supporting Actress

Viola Davis (Fences)

Davis played the role of Rose on Broadway, and she doesn't so much perform as inhabit the role.  It's perhaps the greatest performance by one of our greatest actresses, complete with a late-in-film monologue that gives added depth to Rose.

Great Gerwig (20th Century Women)

As the photographer Abbie, Gerwig brings a great warmth and complexity to her role as mentor to the young Jamie. Watching her, it makes you wish you had your own Abbie when you were 15.

Lily Gladstone (Certain Women)

Certain Women has an incredible cast of actresses working at the top of their game, and the virtually unknown Gladstone rises above them all. She plays Jamie, a lonely ranch hand forming a friendship with a law professor. The acting she does while saying so little is incredible.

Naomie Harris (Moonlight)

As Paula, Harris is the only actor to appear in all three sections of Moonlight. We see her arc in the movie, and Harris is able to gain both our revulsion and sympathy.

Gillian Jacobs (Don't Think Twice)

Jacobs gives a nuanced and multifaceted performance as Samantha, a performer in an improv group who doesn't know what the future holds, stuck in a kind of self-imposed stasis. Like a great improv performer, she gains your attention while ably supporting everyone else who's on stage.

My favorite: Davis
Runner-Up: Gladstone

Runners Up: Elle Fanning (20th Century Women), Riley Keough (American Honey), Molly Shannon (Other People), Kristen Stewart (Certain Women), Rachel Weisz (The Lobster)

Matches with Oscar: 2 (Davis and Harris). Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea) was close to my runner-up list, although her part was pretty small. I also admired but didn't love the performances of Nicole Kidman (Lion) and Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures).

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Challenge Accepted: Top 25 Films of the Century (So Far)

For whatever reason, two terrific critics, A.O. Scott and Manhola Dargis of the New York Times, decided 17 years in was a good time to release their best films of the century so far.  It's a unique and enjoyable list, with a great representation of foreign films.

Since, I'm an incessant list-maker, I couldn't resist the chance to make my own.  My own list is more centered around American films, and no documentaries made my list (while I like them, they almost never move me quite as much as a great narrative film).  I also couldn't resist double-dipping with several of my favorite directors: Richard Linklater, Todd Haynes, Alfonso Cuaron, P.T. Anderson, and the Coens.

Without further ado, here's my list. I've seen almost all of them more than once, and love them all with great passion:

Amour ( 2012): An intensely moving portrait of love in all its forms. Both big-hearted and unsparing.

Before Sunset (2004): My favorite film in a great trilogy.

Boyhood (2014): Another Linklater, a film whose form (filming the same characters over 12 years) gives it an enormous power.

Carol (2015): Todd Haynes’ story of midcentury same-sex love is meticulous from start to finish, the kind of movie that improves upon each viewing. Cate Blanchett and Roony Mara are perfect.

Children of Men (2006): Devastating with just a glimmer of necessary hope, Children of Men is a gripping dystopian film.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000): Innovative, enthralling, and enjoyable. Ang Lee’s return to his Eastern roots works perfectly as both an action film and (2!) romances.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004): What a perfect and creative film, perhaps my favorite on this whole list.  Speculative science-fiction draped in rich and real emotions.

Far From Heaven (2002): Another deeply empathetic movie from Todd Haynes, this one using the style of 1950s melodrama without being joky.  Exquisite.

Frances Ha (2013): Perhaps the lightest film on my list. It’s a short, quirky, endlessly watchable film about finding your way in your 20s.  Noah Baumbach’s best.

Gosford Park (2001): A movie I could watch over and over. Great director Robert Altman directs an absolutely incredible cast in a murder mystery which deepens into a study of social class.

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013): A perfect film, willing to find sympathy for an often-unlikable protagonist. And those songs! Tied with Fargo for my favorite Coen Brothers film.

Lost in Translation (2003): A dreamy, moody tale of two lost souls connecting in a foreign land. Both Bill Murray’s and Scarlett Johnannson's best performances.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015): A feminist tale with action so gripping it almost works like a silent film. One of the best times I’ve had in a theater this decade.

The Master (2012): P.T. Anderson’s movie starts as a tale of scientology, but deepens into a look into the sickness of American culture.  A complicated and difficult movie, but enormously fascinating.

Moonlight (2016): Last year’s Best Picture winner is a three-act masterpiece, artfully showing the coming of age of a lost soul.  

Moonrise Kingdom (2012): I love Wes Anderson, and this just might be my favorite. A movie that looks back on young love with humor, heart, and a wistful nostalgia.

Mulholland Drive (2001): A dream that turns into a nightmare, this movie haunts me every time I watch it. The perfect distillation of David Lynch’s filmmaking.

No Country for Old Men (2007): Another Coen Brothers movie. This one is a harrowing masterpiece about characters facing an evil that doesn’t make sense.

Rachel Getting Married (2008): Jonathan Demme’s humanist drama, about a broken family coming together to celebrate a wedding. Equal parts charming and painful.

Talk to Her (2002): The great Pedro Almodovar’s masterpiece about the line between love and obsession. Provocative and moving, it’s a great film.

There Will Be Blood (2007): This one topped the NY Times list, and for good reason. It’s a modern Citizen Kane, finding much to say about American greed in its story of a corrupt oilman. Daniel Day-Lewis give one of the greatest performances every put on film.

Toy Story 3 (2010): I could have picked Wall-E or Ratatouille, but in the end this is my favorite Pixar. The perfect end to a great trilogy, with so much to say about the memories and love that remain even as we grow up.

The Tree of Life (2011): A religious experience, a movie so daring it slips in dinosaurs and the creation of the universe in a story about a boy growing up.

12 Years a Slave (2013): Steve McQueen's movie eschews any narrative tropes and points its camera directly at one man’s experience of slavery as a visceral horror, a sickness with no easy cure.  A great act of empathy and witness.

Y Tu Mama Tambien (2002): This story of two teenagers going to the beach with a beautiful older woman moves past its veneer of sex comedy to become an aching portrait of youth, desire, and regret.

Monday, February 27, 2017

What a night....

Now that I've had a day to recover, I'd be remiss if I didn't do a debrief of the historic show.

First.... that moment

I'm assuming if you're reading this, you know what happened.  If not, I'd encourage you to watch the whole 6 minutes, as its absolutely fascinating.

In short, what happened was:

-PriceWaterhouseCoopers have two sets of envelopes, one on each side of the stage.
-When Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway went out, they gave them the duplicate Best Actress envelope.
-Warren opened it, confused, because it said "Emma Stone- La La Land" He paused, and showed it to Faye, who glanced at it and read La La Land.
-At some point during the speeches, the mistake was recognized and an accountant and stage manager came out to try to clear up everything.
-The La La Land team catches wind of what happened, and La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz jumps in, grabs the correct card from Warren Beatty, and calls Moonlight up.

Many have written about this more eloquently than I can, so I'll suffice it to say that the blame lies almost entirely with PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the only ones who know how to hand out the envelopes, know the results, and are supposed to intervene immediately if a mistake is made.

While in hindsight Warren Beatty probably should have made another choice or checked with someone other than his co-presenter when he was confused, it's hard to fault him in such a high-stakes moment. What was great to see was the grace of the La La Land team in their tough moment (I mean, they did still win 6 Oscars....)

More on what this all means a bit later on...

The Winners

It ended up being a spread the wealth kind of night, with several movies winning more than one award:

-La La Land (6: Actress, Director, Song, Score, Cinematography, Production Design)
-Moonlight (3: Picture, Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay)
-Manchester by the Sea (2: Actor, Original Screenplay)
-Hacksaw Ridge (2: Sound Mixing, Film Editing)

In my own predictions, I ended up with 16/24, probably my worst showing in quite a while. Here are the awards I called wrong, along with who I predicted in parentheses:

Picture: Moonlight (La La Land)
Actor: Casey Affleck (Denzel Washington)
Sound Editing: Arrival (Hacksaw Ridge)
Sound Mixing : Hacksaw Ridge (La La Land)
Makeup: Suicide Squad (Star Trek: Beyond)
Costumes: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Jackie)
Film Editing: Hacksaw Ridge (La La Land)
Live Action Short: Sing (Ennemis Interieurs)

What it All Means

-Regardless of the bizarre final moments, Moonlight winning is a HUGE deal.  It was made for $1.5 million dollars and grossed the least of any of the nominees, although it is still hugely successful compared to its cost. It's a movie acted entirely by Black actors. It's the first Black-themed movie to win that's not focused on slavery or civil rights, as well as the first movie to ever win centered on a GLBTQ protagonist. I could go on, but it's a stunning victory.

-Just a year after #oscarssowhite, there were far more black winners than any other year. Moonlight, Mahershala Ali, Viola Davis, screenwriters Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, and director Ezra Edelman (O.J.: Made in America) all won big awards. Who knows if this broad recognition will last, but let's savor a year when truly great diverse work came out and the Academy saw fit to recognize it.

-The preferential ballot in Best Picture matters. All other categories are decided by a plurality of votes, while Best Picture is decided using ranked-choice voting.  La La Land, which obviously had enough fervent fans to give director Damien Chazelle the win, probably fell behind when second and third place votes were counted, many of which probably went to Moonlight. It's better to be liked across the board than to be a divisive film. It's probably
how Spotlight beat The Revenant last year.

-The days of sweeps may be over. La La Land came away with an impressive 6 trophies, but far below the 9-11 most were predicting.

-Oscar voters aren't tied to the Best Picture frontrunners in all categories. They're happy to give awards to middling to poorly reviewed films like Fantastic Beasts and even Suicide Squad (!!) if they respect the craft enough.

-Just a decade ago, Best Picture/Director splitting was fairly rare. Now, it's happened 4 times in the past 5 years.  The more showy directorial project wins Best Director (Life of Pi, Gravity, The Revenant, La La Land), while the more modest and grounded film wins Best Picture (Argo, 12 Years a Slave, Spotlight, Moonlight).  This does mean that, unfortunately, two great black directors (Steve McQueen and Barry Jenkins) don't have Best Director wins.

All right, that's all everyone. One to remember!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

And the Oscar goes to... (according to us)

Welcome back to the 7th (!) annual family Best Picture rankings. This year, I’m pleased to be joined by my wife Emily, sister Sarah, brother-in-law Tyler, brother Jason, and mother-in-law Barb. My one-month-old daughter Elisa won’t join in, even though she did see just about all the movies in utero, plus Hell or High Water after she was born (like her mother, she skipped Hacksaw Ridge).

This year, our consensus Best Picture vote went to Moonlight, a movie everyone ranked either 1 or 2.  After that, it was a tight race between La La Land, Manchester by the Sea and Arrival.

  Ben Barb Sarah Tyler Jason Emily Average
1. Moonlight 1 2 1 1 2 1 1.33
2. La La Land 3 1 3 8 1 2 3.00
3. Manchester by the Sea 5 3 2 2 3 4 3.17
4. Arrival 2 4 4 3 6 3 3.67
5. Fences 4 7 6 4 5 5 5.17
6. Hell or High Water 6 8 5 6 4 8 6.17
7. Hidden Figures 8 5 8 5 8 6 6.67
8. Lion 7 6 7 7 9 7 7.17
9. Hacksaw Ridge 9 9 9 9 7 - 8.60

For the acting/directing/screenplay categories, the group’s collective votes would go to Denzel Washington, Natalie Portman, Mahershala Ali, Viola Davis, director Barry Jenkins, and the screenplays for The Lobster and Moonlight.

Best Actor
Denzel Washington, Fences- Ben, Sarah, Tyler, Emily
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea- Barb, Jason

Best Actress
Natalie Portman, Jackie: Barb, Sarah, Tyler, Emily
Emma Stone, La La Land: Jason
Ruth Negga, Loving: Ben

Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali, Moonlight: Ben, Emily, Sarah, Tyler, Barb
Dev Patel, Lion: Jason

Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis, Fences: Unanimous

Best Director
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight: Ben, Sarah, Tyler, Emily
Damian Chazelle, La La Land: Barb, Jason

Best Original Screenplay
The Lobster: Ben, Sarah, Emily
Manchester by the Sea: Barb, Tyler
La La Land: Jason

Best Adapted Screenplay
Moonlight: Ben, Emily, Barb, Sarah, Jason
Arrival: Tyler

Now to the individual rankings.


1. Moonlight
Walking out of Moonlight was one of those rare times I thought, “That was a perfect movie.”  Rarely do we see one character, especially one so withdrawn, studied so meticulously and with such compassion. Each third of this movie is like its own brilliant short film, and together they add to an astonishing whole.  A truly great film.

2. Arrival
Sometimes movies arrive (no pun intended) at the exact right time. Watching Arrival a couple weeks after the disastrous 2016 election, the themes of empathy, global cooperation and communication gained an extra degree of resonance. Arrival is a smart, perfectly constructed, and enormously moving story of communication, cooperation, and search for meaning during times of uncertainty. It’s the rare Sci-Fi movie that blends the personal and the supernatural into a cohesive whole. In a year of tearjerkers, this won my award for most tears shed in a movie theater.

3. La La Land
32-year-old director Damien Chazelle made a ballsy move- creating an original movie musical, set in modern-day L.A., that hearkens back to both films of the Hollywood Golden Age and the French musicals of Jacques Demy.  What bothers me most about the La La Land backlash (inevitable for any Oscar frontrunner), is how some are treating it like some kind of Oscar bait, when it’s really not. It’s a passion project for Damien Chazelle, a film that dares to play on its own terms and sweeps us along in its spell. While I do think it lags just a bit in some of its latter stretch, it opens with a bang and it absolutely nails the landing with probably the best ending of the year.  To top it all off, non-singers Ryan Gosling and (especially) Emma Stone bring tremendous charm, energy, and chemistry to their roles.

4. Fences
Take two of our greatest living actors (Denzel and Viola) giving perhaps their best performances ever in a great play by one of the greatest modern playwrights (August Wilson), and what else can you ask for?  As a director, Denzel doesn’t try too hard to make the movie cinematic, and that’s mostly to its benefit as he lets the words and the actors speak for themselves. It’s a great story that find enormous resonance in the specific story of Troy and Rose Maxson.  

5. Manchester by the Sea
While the plot description of this movie (I’ll avoid because of spoilers) sounds hopelessly grim, Manchester thrives on a unique mixture of truth, heartbreak, and gallows humor. Casey Affleck gives a performance worthy of Brando as a troubled soul, Michelle Williams nails her small part, and the young Lucas Hedges perfectly captures a teenage boy’s underdeveloped heart and brain. Why isn’t it higher on my list then? For whatever reason, it’s one of those movies I liked a whole lot without ever quite falling in love with.

6. Hell or High Water
The only movie on the list I’ve seen twice, and boy does it hold up. This modern-day Western pits a couple of justifiably pissed-off bank robbers against older lawmen tracking their progress across desolate West Texas, a place that’s well past its glory days. This movie is tight, funny, and boasts a strong moral conscience.  All the characters here have shades of grey, and they reveal the warring impulses of modern-day America.

7. Lion
The first half of Lion is a gripping journey of a young boy trying to find his missing family.  Director Garth Davis does a masterful job at putting us into a 5-year-old’s shoes as he makes his epic and painful journey. The second half of the movie, with the older Faroo searching for his parents, is engaging but more pedestrian.  We start to see where the movie is going, and it goes there.  Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman are both very good, but the terrific Rooney Mara is wasted in a thankless part as the supportive girlfriend.

8. Hidden Figures
This is a feel-good movie filled with good performances (my favorite was Janelle Monae), that doesn’t really rise to the heights of great filmmaking. The movie seems a bit simplified and sanitized (particularly the Kevin Costner character….), but I’m so glad this movie got made to tell the story of these three women’s role in the space program.

9. Hacksaw Ridge
On the plus side, this was much better than I anticipated. The thought of a Mel Gibson-directed war film made me think I would hate this movie. I didn’t!  Say what you will about Gibson, but he knows how to film an engaging and bloody war scene, and the last third of the movie is filled with them. Actor Andrew Garfield also does a good job in the central role of the film, and there are some genuine philosophical questions lurking under the surface here.  On the negative side, the beginning was a bit corny, I thought the basic training scenes were nothing I hadn’t seen before, and the themes are laid on a bit thick in the end.  Still, it’s better than American Sniper!

Should Win:
Picture: Moonlight
Director: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Actor: Denzel Washington, Fences
Actress: Ruth Negga, Loving
Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Supporting Actress: Viola Davis, Fences
Original Screenplay: The Lobster
Adapted Screenplay: Moonlight


1.La La Land
Such a fun, imaginative throwback film with amazing performances by both of the leads. The musical numbers were stellar and I actually really liked that Stone and Gosling aren't classically trained singers/dancers. I absolutely loved the ending!

A beautiful and touching film. I loved the three different period structure and following the main character's journey through each.

3. Manchester by the Sea
Generally my favorite genre, movies about real people in very real situations. Affleck, Hodges and Williams are absolutely incredible in their roles.

4. Hell or High Water
I love a well-written crime film, especially when the motivations of the criminals is not black and white. No Country is one of my favorite movies of all time and Hell feels very similar. I really liked Bridges performance and in another year I believe he would have won for best-supporting actor.

5. Fences
Washington and Davis carry a small film that would not be nearly as powerful without superb performances. Washington's character is so complex and feels like a completely real person. This film makes me want to learn more about August Wilson.

6. Arrival
Well done Sci-Fi is another of my favorite genres and Arrival did not disappoint. The direction was fantastic and I thought Amy Adams’ performance should have been nominated.

7. Hacksaw Ridge
My favorite war movie since Letters from Iwo Jima. I thought the story of Desmond Doss was really cool and I enjoyed learning more about him and the battle for Okinawa.

8.Hidden Figures
A very cool and long overdue telling of an important story. I really enjoyed the film but I struggle to put it up with there with some of the other amazing achievements this year, as it felt pretty standard as films go.

The first half of the film was really cool and the little boy was awesome. However, the second half felt a bit cliched. Dev Patel was awesome and Nicole Kidman was great as usual.

Should win:
Best Picture: La La Land
Director: Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Best Actor: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Best Actress: Emma Stone, La La Land
Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis, Fences
Best Supporting Actor: Dev Patel, Lion
Best Original Screenplay: La La Land
Best Adapted Screenplay: Moonlight


1. Moonlight
I went into Moonlight not knowing much about it, and was blown away.  I don’t think there are many films, at least popular ones, portraying the inner lives of black men, and Moonlight did it in a way I’ve never seen before.  Similar to Boyhood, I love how the film shows quiet, non-”flashy” life events showing Chiron’s journey into adolescence and adulthood.  Amazing script coupled with incredible performances, this one will haunt me for a long time.

2. Manchester by the Sea
I would be remiss not to mention that I went into the movie feeling conflicted due to the sexual assault allegations against Casey Affleck- that being said- I think his acting was incredible.  What I loved about this movie was that it took an extremely dark and depressing topic and showed how there is still light, humor, and growth as we go through trauma.

3. La La Land
I grew up loving musicals, and I had so much fun watching Lala Land.  The colors, Mia’s awesome dresses, nods to old Hollywood- awesome! The songs weren’t as catchy as some of the classics, and I thought Ryan Gosling’s singing was a little weak. That being said, I appreciated the modern feminist twist- the equal portrayal of both men and women’s ambition and the sacrifices we make.  I think the most telling part was when Mia is talking about her play and she says “It feels really nostalgic to me” to which Sebastian replies “That’s the point!” In La La land, It is and it isn’t- I appreciated La La Land’s nostalgia with a modern twist.

4. Arrival
I was glued to my seat throughout Arrival. Sometimes when science fiction movies try to pair the suspenseful/action piece with personal loss or trauma, I find it kind of forced (like in Gravity)- but in Arrival I thought it paired perfectly. Very thought provoking.

5. Hell or High Water
So in a Coen Brothers-less year, Hell or High Water filled that void for me- with the amazing performance and hilarious lines by Jeff Bridges and awesome scenes like with the amazing tough talking waitress at the T-bone restaurant. Loved the multi-faceted protagonists in this modern western.

6. Fences
I’ve heard critiques of Fences that it just feels like a play...but that’s ok with me, because this is a movie all about the dialogue and the performances.  It paints a very vivid picture of Troy and Rose and the sacrifices and losses they had as a result of their race, genders, and the time they lived in.  Incredible performances by Denzel Washington and Viola Davis

7. Lion
Lion tells an amazing true story and I’m glad there is a movie about Saroo’s experience.  I loved the parts of the movie depicting the journey of young Saroo and his relationship with his brother Gaduu.  And ,of course, teared up at the end when he is reunited with his mother (both the portrayal and the real footage- incredible!).  I thought Dev Patel did a great job showing the emotional journey of trying to find his birth family, but I found the scenes with his Australian parents less compelling, and for some reason most scenes with Rooney Mara I found really boring.  

8. Hidden Figures
Given recent attacks by a certain president on women, people of color, and science….Hidden Figures was a good fist-pumping positive message that I think we all needed.  I thought the performances were very good, especially by Janelle Monae and Octavia Spencer. As much as I enjoyed it,  I didn’t think the movie itself did anything particularly risky or non-formulaic.

9. Hacksaw Ridge
I’ll be honest, I almost used my free pass from Ben to skip this one as it didn’t appeal to me.  It was about what I was expecting- kind of hokey in the exposition to the battle scenes, although I thought Andrew Garfield’s performance was good, and it was a compelling story about war unlike others we usually hear.  The battle scenes- whew- I have a pretty strong stomach for violent movies but this was a rough one to get through.

Should Win:
Picture: Moonlight
Director: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Actor: Denzel Washington, Fences
Actress: Natalie Portman, Jackie
Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Supporting Actress; Viola Davis, Fences
Adapted Screenplay: Moonlight
Original screenplay: The Lobster


1. Moonlight
I’ve seen a lot of coming of age movies over the years, but none told like this. All three sections were wonderful, with the protagonist finding himself in different circumstances and the film creating a different outlook as his view on the world changes. The sections are all bound together by the commitment to truthful storytelling, that almost feels like we are watching a documentary in moments. The story is very simple and very complex at the same time, not unlike the experience most of us have growing up. Each child turning into an adult is following the journey billions before them took, but the particulars of each of these journeys is vastly different, and for the child on the journey there is nothing to do but focus on the particulars. This film’s attention to detail and bold truth-telling in focusing on the particulars of this coming of age tale lead us not just to a greater empathy with this character, but also retell the universal story of growing up in a new and profound way.

2. Manchester by the Sea
Like many films on this list, this one focuses on a damaged man and the loved ones he leaves in his wake. Manchester however is more focused on the path to healing and redemption. The plot/setup is well-trodden ground, but this film is so well constructed that this fades away quickly and you are immersed in the lives of these characters. It is filled with great performances, well paced and beautifully shot. The screenplay and direction are great at conveying so much without the need for any grand speeches or expository. I really enjoyed the moments between the main character and his nephew; they were genuinely funny and loving, and this made the depressing parts even more depressing.

3. Arrival
Warning, this whole commentary is a spoiler: Like a lot of recent big sci-fi movies that involve time travel (Edge of Tomorrow, Interstellar), this skips the tired convention of a human-created time machine, and relies on a deus ex machina of alien technology. This conceit allows the tech to be left unexplained but still plausible, and allows for much greater creativity in rules of time travel and storytelling. Of those films this one certainly takes the best advantage of this approach, weaving the time travel device through the high stakes alien drama and the personal relationships. I like how the aliens are as mysterious to the viewer as they are the main characters, giving us a persistent feeling that while progress is being made and things are being sorted out, everything could be derailed by a sudden unseen disaster.  Late in the film that interplay of unpredictability and certainty are transferred to the personal lives of the main characters. The main drama in most time travel is the cause and effect, the chance to rectify past wrongs or prevent tampering with how it is “supposed to be”. Here, there is nothing that can be changed, only life to be lived, which certainly reminds me of a famous theme of Nietzsche. This is from The Gay Science: What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: "This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence" … Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus?... Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?”

4. Fences
I had seen one August Wilson play before this seeing this film, so I had some expectations about the style and the way they illuminate the Black experience in a particular time and place. What I wasn’t expecting was how deep into the psyche of a hurt man and all those affected by him this movie would go. I liked the balanced treatment for a play adaptation; the film didn’t  run away from its stage origins, but it also had a naturalistic feel that draws you in. Denzel accomplished quite a feet embodying such a complex character, but I think he accomplishes even more by keeping the rest of the cast on the same page, bringing out great performances from parts big and small. Instead of being a showcase for one accomplished actor, the whole cast shines. This is certainly the story of one family, but you can’t deny that the personal demons aroused here are not at least partially political. There has been so much talk over the last year of the of the economic anxiety of the White working class, who feel they are losing their grasp on what they feel they’ve always possessed. Here is a story of one man who came from other side, resentful of never being allowed to obtain what others are now afraid to lose. Taking place in a time of general prosperity, he is continually told that while he personally missed out, the world is getting better for those like him. As an audience member in 2017, I found myself swinging back and forth between seeing his incredulity as dug-in stubbornness of a hurt man and seeing his seeing his cynicism as prophetic.

5. Hidden Figures
It’s strange for a historical drama based on a true story to have one set of characters that are real people (the three Black women in the leading roles) and all the other characters be fictionalized amalgamations of real White co-workers and metaphors for society at large. While showing the literal signs of segregation is easy, it is difficult to portray the constant and pernicious effects, all the macro and micro ways that the mundane forces of misogyny and racism constantly encumber these women and hold them back from succeeding, especially when, on paper, they hold the same or almost the same liberties. Even though some of the created plot points are so clearly contrived I could tell they were false before looking them up, I thought they still did a pretty good job at conveying these themes. I tend to prefer biopics that hew closer to the facts, as I think that profoundness that arises out of attempts at complete truthfulness in storytelling trumps artificial profound moments. That said, the artifice here worked well, as this movie was very well made, well acted, and accomplished its goals. I hope it will be included in the canon of introductory works to the civil rights era, as it tells an important but different story. These women just wanted to do their job- a difficult, novel, and world-changing job, but unlike their peers, they had no choice but to take on that extra burden of becoming activists and civil rights pioneers, just to be able to go to work.

6. Hell or High Water
The best western movies (especially bank robber movies) are about the end of “The West”; the slow but relentless forces of progress and society keeping the heroes on the run. This film fits the classic bank robber archetype, but is clearly informed by and explicitly references the modern day perils of the America feels left behind by the modern world. This film bleeds the working man blues, that bank robbing as Robin Hood sense of justice, that Woody Guthrie rage for the downtrodden, that informs the politics of the film. It also reminds me of the mood of so many 70s fight-the-system films, where the protagonist’s struggle can so suddenly devolve from righteous fury to indiscriminate violence against those representing the status quo. Watching this movie after the election of Trump tinges it with a certain cruelty that was only an outside possibility during its creation; the anxiety and desolation are real and now part of the mainstream conversation, but the country was hoodwinked by a charlatan without the desire or ability to actually address the problems that this movie lays bare.

7. Lion
I went into this movie expecting a heartwarming Chicken Soup for the Soul type of film, and to some degree that is what I got, although I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of care and attention in the India scenes when the main character was a child. Those scenes were certainly the highlight for me, as they were beautifully and sincerely done. I thought the struggles and joys of adoption were very poignant and Dev’s scene at the dinner party with other students raised in an Indian culture were very interesting. Unfortunately the scenes of him moping and clicking on Google Earth really dragged down the film more than they conveyed the sense of tediousness and hopelessness in the search. The ending provides the tears I knew it would have the moment I first heard of the movie, bringing out the joy and relief of him being reunited, but it also made me relieved that we were finally done following his journey.

8. La La Land
I was expecting more of this film. I think I give musicals fair consideration; I like the good ones and don’t drool over middling ones. I expected this to be full of full of flashy dance numbers and some memorable songs, but I got little of each. The novelty was appealing at first, but as it started to wear thin the movie just seemed to lack both showmanship and substance (I would have been happy with either). The unconventional ending was nice surprise, but even that could have been executed in a way that would have better crystallized the bittersweetness of it. I know that “now more than ever” the sense of romance and escapism are appealing, but there are plenty of other places I’d rather escape to if I get the urge, and plenty of better songs to get stuck in my head.

9. Hacksaw Ridge
The first half was something between Pearl Harbor (the Ben Affleck movie) and the made-for-TV movie Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story. The second half aimed for Saving Private Ryan but came out a bland mash of dirt, gunfire, and stunt guys in fire suits, speckled with notable moments of terrible filmmaking choices. The true story of a conscientious objector displaying incredible courage in midst of a terrible war could make for compelling drama, but the storytelling repeatedly trips over the worst cliches of the genre.

Should Win:
Best Picture: Moonlight
Best Director: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Best Actor:Denzel Washington, Fences
Best Actress: Natalie Portman, Jackie
Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis, Fences
Best Original Screenplay: Manchester by the Sea
Best Adapted Screenplay: Arrival


1. La La Land
What a refreshing change of pace! What could be better than Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling singing, dancing and falling in love? The beautiful views of the Los Angeles skyline just made this movie even more magical. I didn't mind in the least that neither actors are professional singers or dancers. In fact, I think I liked it even more because of this.The movie brought back the feel of old-time Hollywood and I loved everything about it!

2. Moonlight
A beautiful, albeit heartbreaking, story of a young black man just trying to find his place in the world. It is brilliantly told in three different chapters of his life. We first meet Chiron as a young boy, then a teen and finally an adult. Growing up in poverty, with a drug addicted mother, this is a coming of age story with Chiron struggling to understand his own sexuality in a world where he often feels confused and alone. It is a difficult journey that is met with perseverance and hope. A stunning performance by the entire cast, although I wish we would have seen a little more of Mahershala Ali.

3. Manchester the Sea
Casey Affleck delivers what I believe to be the best performance of the year.  Lee Chandler (Affleck) was once happy. He lived in Manchester with his wife, children, extended family and his beloved brother, Joe. After a tragic accident shatters his life he moves to Boston, living in a stark basement apartment and working as a janitor. Affleck does a tremendous job bringing Lee's character to life. His grief is palpable. He moves numbly from one day to the next until yet another tragedy strikes. Lee is forced to deal with his past and pain when he returns to Manchester after the death of his brother, Joe. Only then does he find out he has been made sole custodian of Joe's teenage son, Patrick (adeptly played by Lucas Hedges). Although there is a bond between Lee and Patrick, both struggle to adjust to their new world. The most powerful and heartbreaking scene in this movie is the chance meeting of Lee and his ex-wife (Michelle Williams). So much has been left unsaid as they both tried to deal with the grief and the accident that changed both of their lives forever. You are left with the feeling that there things in Lee's life that he will never be able to get beyond. This is an emotional film to watch, but so well done.

4. Arrival
I am generally not a big fan of science fiction, but I really liked this movie. Amy Adams delivered an outstanding performance as linguist Louise Banks. I was really surprised she did not get a best actress nod. An interesting story about aliens who have arrived, with no ill-intent, and the efforts of an elite team to decipher their language and find out what brings them to earth. I thought this also spoke to the knee-jerk reaction of so many nations that simply wanted to rush in to attack and destroy these intruders. Sound familiar? Spoiler alert: I loved the twist at the end. I did not see that coming.

5. Hidden Figures
How have I never heard of this? The story of three brilliant, courageous black women who became vital to the U.S. manned space program in the 1950's and 60's. Faced with discrimination due to their race and gender, these women faced  obstacles with courage, perseverance, the support of each other, some anger and even a little bit of humor. Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) became the first African American woman on the Space Task Group. Many of her new colleagues  were initially dismissive and even hostile. Overtime, however, her skills are recognized and she is accepted as a vital part of the team. All three women advanced their careers and forced some long overdue changes in what had been a very segregated work environment.  A tremendous ensemble cast including Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner and Jim Parsons.

6. Lion
Based on the memoir A Long Way Home. This begins with 5 year old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) trapped on a train and ending up 1000 from his small town in India. After ending up on the streets of Calcutta, he is eventually adopted by an Australian couple. As and adult, Saroo (Dev Patel) begins a tireless journey to connect with his past. It is a story of perseverance, hope, conflicting loyalties and the power of technology. I think the real show stealer  in this film is Sunny Pawar. His days on the streets in Calcutta are heartbreaking and, sadly, a realistic portrayal of the vulnerability of these lost and homeless children. I also thought this was one of Nicole Kidman's finer performances.

7. Fences
Powerful performances by both Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in this adaptation of August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize winning play. Bitter and frustrated by the color barrier that dashed his dreams, Troy Maxon (Washington) takes out his anger and disappointment on those who love him most. Especially vulnerable is his son, Cory (a fine performance by Jova Adepo). Troy is determined not to allow his son to succeed where he could not. An outstanding performance by Davis as Troy's long suffering wife. She is a complex character who is strong and proud, but in the end stands by her husband regardless of his cruelty, unpredictability and marital indiscretion.There are some light- hearted moments when Troy is spinning tales with his friend, Bono, but even these could turn suddenly dark and angry. A powerful drama that was really hard to watch.

8. Hell or High Water
I liked this movie, but am not sure it is Oscar worthy. In its favor it's a story where we can root for the bad guys, has a very good cast and some beautiful scenery. And who doesn't love Jeff Bridges?

9. Hacksaw Ridge
The true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), the first conscientious objector to ever win the Congressional Medal of Honor. Garfield wanted to serve his Country during WWII, but did not believe in killing and refused to carry a gun. Despite numerous efforts to keep him out of the military, and constant harassment by fellow soldiers, Garfield persisted and stayed true to his convictions. As an Army Medic he  evacuated 75 men during the Battle of Hacksaw Ridge without ever carrying a weapon. Although this is a story certainly worth telling, the prolonged bloody battle scenes at Hacksaw Ridge were more than I could tolerate. Regardless, a strong performance by Andrew Garfield.

Should Win:
Picture: La La Land
Director: Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Actor: Casey Affleck, Manchester By The Sea
Actress: Natalie Portman, Jackie
Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali
Supporting Actress: Viola Davis, Fences
Adapted Screenplay: Moonlight
Original Screenplay: Manchester By The Sea.


1.     Moonlight
A beautifully written, directed, and acted coming-of-age/search-for-identity story. I loved the three-act storytelling approach. Hard to imagine it will beat out the La La Land momentum for Best Picture, but looking forward to a supporting actor win for Mahershala Ali.
2.     La La Land
Lots of fun, and one that I would love to see again. Visually captivating and great to see on the big screen. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling were well cast in the leading roles. Will it win as big as everyone says on Oscar night?
3.     Arrival
Wasn’t sure going in if I was feeling up for an alien movie, but ended up loving Arrival’s creativity and unpredictability. Was sad to see Amy Adams (who has a special place in my heart ever since Junebug in 2006) get snubbed here.
4.     Manchester by the Sea
A melancholic reflection on grief and loss, and living life after the unthinkable. Casey Affleck gave an Oscar-worthy performance (though it’s a little hard to cheer him on given his off-screen controversies), as did the always impressive Michelle Williams.
5.     Fences
Beautiful translation from play to film, with powerful performances by Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, both of whom I am rooting for to win acting awards.
6.     Hidden Figures
Empowering story of unsung heroes, especially important to tell in the current national moment where women, people of color, and science are all under attack. Loved the performances by Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, and Taraji P Henson.
7.     Lion
An engaging and emotional journey, spanning two continents and 25 years. A fascinating search-for-home story with a moving ending, albeit a lot to pack into two hours. Beautiful performances by Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman.
8.     Hell or High Water
Enjoyed it more than I anticipated, since I wouldn’t normally gravitate to Westerns or heists. Thought it was well written, though, and not too bloody. A great role for Jeff Bridges.
Didn’t see:
Hacksaw Ridge

Should Win:
Picture: Moonlight
Director: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Actor: Denzel Washington, Fences
Actress: Natalie Portman, Jackie
Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Supporting Actress: Viola Davis, Fences
Adapted Screenplay: Moonlight
Original Screenplay: The Lobster