Grand Jury Awards
U.S. Grand Jury Prize: "Signature Move"
U.S. Narrative (Special Mention): "195 Lewis"
U.S. Narrative Jury Prize Best Actor: Luka Kain, "Saturday Church"
U.S. Narrative Jury Prize Best Actress: Ever Mainard, "The Feels"
Best Screenwriting in a U.S. Feature: Eliza Hittman, "Beach Rats"
International Grand Jury Prize: "The Wound"
International (Special Mention): "Body Electric"
Documentary Grand Jury Prize: "Chavela"
Documentary (Special Mention): "Girl Unbound: The War to Be Her"
Best Narrative Short: "Goddess (Devi)"
Best Documentary Short (tie): "Bayard & Me" and "Jeanne Cordova: Butches, Lies & Feminism"
Best Narrative Audience Award: "The Chances"
Audience Award for Best First U.S. Narrative Feature: "A Million Happy Nows"
Best Narrative Short Audience Award: "The Real Thing"
Best Experimental Short Audience Award: "Pussy"
Best Documentary Feature Audience Award: "Chavela"
Best Documentary Short Audience Award: "Little Potato"
Now, here's a few brief reviews of films I caught at the fest. Touko Laaksonen, or as he is better known as "Tom of Finland", is now a national hero in his native country and even received first-class stamps issued in 2014 that feature his hyper-masculine, homoerotic images. That was not always the case for Laaksonen as we learn in the bio-pic from Finnish filmmaker, Dome Karukoski. Pekka Strang stars as Laaksonen who we first see as a solider in WWII. This traumatic event not only haunts him throughout his life but also shapes his sexuality and art. With homosexuality a crime in Finland, he would draw in secret exaggerated, sexy pictures of construction workers, lumberjacks and bikers geared towards gay men and sell them underground under the pseudonym, "Tom". His work eventually found it's way around the globe and brought him a certain amount of fame and fortune. Laaksonen efforts to bring a sense of normalcy to his sexuality, at a time when the world told him it was wrong, was challenging and brave yet he wasn't trying to be a heroic. He simply wanted to creatively express himself through eroticism.
"The Pass" stars Russell Tovey and Arinze Kene as two rising star UK footballers who share an intimate encounter in hotel room before an important match that could make-or-break their careers. While Mr. Tovey delivers an impressive performance, this overly talkative drama, based on a play from John Donnelly, never shakes it's theatrical origin. Director Ben A. Williams, adding no cinematic flourishes, seems to have simply just filmed the play, even breaking the movie up literally in three acts.
Jeffrey Schwarz, the director who previously brought us documentaries on important figures in gay history, has delivered his latest with "The Fabulous Allan Carr", which examines the flamboyant producer/agent whose garish tastes brought him fame and infamy in all areas of show business. As an overweight kid growing up in Chicago who loved musicals, Alan Solomon had dreams of somehow making it big in Hollywood. He soon transformed himself in to "Allan Carr" (rhymes with "star") and got his first break as a talent coordinator for Hugh Hefner's local television show, "Playboy's Penthouse". After landing in Los Angeles, Carr began an extreme roller-coaster of a career. He first began a talent agency which he represented a diverse list of stars like Marlo Thomas, Dyan Cannon, composer, Marvin Hamlisch, "Mama" Cass Elliot and Ann-Margaret who was his first big client. This lead to a chance to produce and one of his biggest successes was a film version of the musical, "Grease". Carr's follow-up films, The Village People musical, "Can't Stop The Music" and a sequel to "Grease" had the opposite effect with them being labeled the worst movies of all time. He make a dramatic comeback on the New York stage producing an American musical remake of the French gay farce, "La Cage aux Folles" which won six Tony Awards in 1983 including Best Musical before falling from grace once more producing the infamous 1989 Academy Awards. This is a fascinating profile on a one-of-a-kind showman that doesn't really exist anymore.
Another compelling documentary, "Kevyn Aucoin: Beauty & The Beast in Me" features another person I had almost forgotten about. The late Aucoin, adapted as a baby to a loving family from Louisiana, found great fame as a celebrity make-up artist in the '80's and '90's . Director Lori Kaye, a friend of Aucoin, was able to get her hands on hours of video footage that he shot of behind-the scenes during photo-shoots with the models (Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Andie MacDowell, Paulina Porizkova) and performers (Tina Turner, Janet Jackson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Liza Minnelli) that he transformed and brought out their natural beauty with his skilled hands. But despite all of his success, he was still haunted by memories of being tormented for being gay by his school peers and the desperate search to find his birth mother.
Wednesday, July 19, 2017
Sunday, July 9, 2017
Directed by Brett Haley
Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. June 12, 2017
Sam Elliott has always been one of those underrated actors that have effortlessly uplifted many films with his reliably solid supporting performances. Following a string of television bit parts and dead-on-arrival shows at the start of his career, the actor got his first break as a lead in the 1976 sleeper hit feature, "The Lifeguard", a perfect fit for the West Coast-born actor. With his rich baritone voice, thick bushy mustache and handsome yet weather-worn mug, Elliott has played more than his fair share of cowboys, ranchers, bikers and detectives throughout his time in front of the camera.
The now seventy-one year old Elliott made a dazzling impression a couple of years ago with appearances in two notable films; one was the Paul Weitz comedy-drama, "Grandma" which also put a welcome spotlight back on star Lily Tomlin. The other was "I'll See You In My Dreams" from writer and director, Brett Haley. This hit baby boomer, romantic-drama not only reminded audiences that Blythe Danner is more than just Gwyneth Paltrow's mother, it gave Elliott a chance to play something rather unexpected; a romantic leading man.
This success inspired Haley to write something specifically for Elliott and the result is "The Hero", a Hollywood-set drama about a down-on-his-luck, aging actor seeking one more shot at glory. Haley doesn't let him down with an engaging yet simplistic script that gives him the rare opportunity to carry a film. And Elliott rises to the occasion with an impressive performance that has him displaying a wide range of emotions he doesn't get to do to often.
Elliott play Lee Hayden, a faded movie star cowboy whose career has become as obsolete as the westerns that used to be a popular Hollywood staple. The only jobs he can now find are lucrative yet creatively unfulfilling voice-over work for commercials. Lee spends much of his downtime drunk, high or both with his drug dealer, Jeremy (Nick Offerman) who was once his co-star in a failed television series, as they eat pizza and reminisce about the past.
After receiving some distressing news from his doctor that he has cancer, Lee's initial response is to tell his family which includes an ex-wife (played by the actor's wife, Katharine Ross who some old enough may remember from "The Graduate" and "Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid") and estranged daughter (Krysten Ritter) yet decides against it, preferring to repair his relationships without the distraction of sympathy.
Lee meets Charlotte (Laura Prepon), an aspiring stand-up comedian, when she drops by Jeremy's to pick-up some product. Sparks fly between them during a bit of flirting but after later running in to each other again (in very L.A. fashion) at a taco stand, the two begin to make a serious connection. That Charlotte is around the age of his daughter is a concern for Lee but she tells him to simply enjoy their time together.
The wide generational gap between Lee and Charlotte never comes across as creepy with the couple having an easy rapport and authentic intimacy. A Hollywood western appreciation organization wants to honor Lee with a lifetime achievement award and asks Charlotte to attend the event with him. She gives a nervous Lee something to help him relax before the ceremony and, in his very relaxed state of mind, delivers a highly irreverent speech that causes him to become a sensation on social media.
Mr. Haley is a modern filmmaker with a nostalgic spirit, making modest dramas with a great appreciation for admired talent that is no longer shiny and new. His approach, however, may be a little too low-key, offering no real weight to the story and fairly predictable plot developments. But despite this shortcoming, Haley certainly knows how to craft an expressive script and able to draw out some fine work from his actors. While his co-stars have brief opportunities to shine, this is clearly Mr. Elliot's showcase. Soft-spoken and understated, his character may not have much to say yet all of the hurt, frustrations and disappointments in his life are clearly expressed on his weary face.
On the surface, "The Hero" appears to be simply another take of a fallen star seeking attention and redemption before the final curtain closes. But at the heart is a fine, intimate, character-driven story filled with warmth and humor and a masterful turn from Sam Elliott who helps make this more than memorable.
Tuesday, July 4, 2017
After frustratingly sporadic appearances over the last few years, Michelle Pfeiffer seems poised for a major comeback to her acting career. This incredibly talented and beautiful actress was just recently seen as Ruth Madoff in HBO's version of the collapse of the Madoff Ponzi Scheme, "The Wizard of Lies" and will also be seen in two feature films later this year in a remake of "Murder on The Orient Express" and "Mother!", the latest from director, Darren Aronofsky.
Her first big break in the movies nearly detailed her rising career. The then twenty-three year old Pfeiffer was cast in a starring role in an ill-advised 1982 sequel to the musical, "Grease". This critical and box-office disaster made her appear less of a prized talent in the business with nobody wanting to hire Pfeiffer but fortunately one person recognized her potential. Producer Martin Bergman was preparing to make a remake of "Scarface" with Al Pacino and wanted her to try-out for a role although the director Brian DePalma was far from interested in the young actress. After a lengthy audition process, Pfeiffer won the role of Tony Montana's drug-addled wife, Elvira and the rest is history. She would go on to make memorable appearances in such films as "The Witches of Eastwick", "Dangerous Liaisons", "The Fabulous Baker Boys", "The Age of Innocence", "Dangerous Minds and "Batman Returns" to name just a few.
Now seems like a perfect time to look back on her illustrious career with Vulture selecting ten of Ms Pfeiffer's best film roles. I agree enthusiastically with this list as it even features her accomplished work in some films I had forgotten about.
Click below to read:
The 10 Essential Roles of Michelle Pfeiffer
Wednesday, June 28, 2017
The 2017 Outfest Los Angeles Film Festival is set to begin it's thirty-fifth year of showcasing cinema highlighting stories involving the LGBTQ communities. The eleven day event is set to begin on July 6th with screenings to be held at the Theatre at The Ace Hotel, Orpheum Theatre, Harmony Gold, Redcat and the Directors Guild of America.
The Opening Night Gala will be "God's Own Country", the first feature from filmmaker, Francis Lee. This highly-praised drama was proclaimed to be a British "Brokeback Mountain" when it premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Fest (and won the World Cinema Directing prize). A stressed out farm worker (Josh O'Connor) feels his life is passing him by. Spending his off-duty hours drunk and engaged in unfulfilling hook-ups, his life changes when a Romanian migrant (Alec Secareanu) arrives to help on the farm.
The 2017 Outfest Achievement Award goes to visionary television creator, Bryan Fuller. He is the innovative talent behind bringing offbeat programming to the small screen like "Hannibal", "Pushing Daisies", "Dead Like Me" and the recent, "American Gods" with a determination to make sure that they feature fascinating LGBTQ characters. Mr. Fuller will be presented the award before the Opening Night Gala screening at the Orpheum Theatre on July 6th.
Some of the Special Centerpiece screenings include the documentary, "Kevyn Aucoin: Beauty & The Beast In Me" about the life and career of the late celebrity make-up artist. Another doc, "Behind The Curtain: Todrick Hall" which focuses on Hall, a singer, dancer and YouTube sensation and a look at the creation of his latest project, a "Wizard of Oz" inspired musical based on his life. The U.S. Centerpiece is "Strangers", a digital comedy series from Mia Lidofsky and Celia Rowlson-Hall. Zoe Chao stars as a newly single woman who decides to rent out her spare room in order not to lose her home. Each episode deals with a revolving door of colorful renters and how they offer her a new way to view the world.
The Closing Night Gala will be activist, producer and long-time partner of musician, Sting, Trudie Styler's directorial feature debut, "Freak Show". Based on a novel by James St. James, Billy (Alex Lawther) is encouraged to be free-spirited and fabulous by his open-minded mother (Bette Midler). But after he's sent to live with his father in a conservative neighborhood, the teenager struggles to be himself. Billy bands together with a group of misfits at his new school to take on the bullies. Abigail Breslin, AnnaSophia Robb and Laverne Cox also star.
There will also be several short film programs, a panel with the female directors involved in the television series, "Queen Sugar", a sneak-peek of the fourth season of "Transparent", a live reading of the Screenwriting Lab entries which celebrates it's 20th anniversary, a panel on virtual reality storytelling, a comedy special from the winner of RuPaul's Drag Race Season 8, Bob the Drag Queen and screenings of the Outfest UCLA Legacy restoration projects, "Beautiful Thing" (1996) and "Chasing Amy" (1997).
For the complete list of films, tickets and additional information, please click below:
Outfest Los Angeles 2017
Friday, June 23, 2017
In honor of pride this month, Out magazine has complied a list of twenty-five of the most important, groundbreaking and influential films featuring stories about the LGBTQ communities. Some of the films selected range from "Un chant d'amour", a 1950 silent short from French novelist, Jean Genet; "Querelle", based on a story by Genet and the last feature from German bad boy, Rainer Werner Fassbinder; Marlon Riggs' meditative 1989 semi-documentary on black gay identity, "Tongues Untied"; "The Birdcage", the delightful American version of "La Cage aux Folles"; and the obvious selections of "Brokeback Mountain", "Paris is Burning", "Carol" and the 2016 Best Picture Oscar winner, "Moonlight". These are all amazing films and you should make it your mission to see each one.
Click below to read:
Pride on Screen: 25 Essential Queer Films
Friday, June 16, 2017
It's only been seventeen years in to the 21st century, so it seems like a perfect time to evaluate the best films so far. Manohla Dargis and A. O. Scott, chief film critics of the New York Times, have taken a look back and selected their picks for the best films so far this century. Their list is certainly interesting with an eclectic selection of cinema with films ranging from Paul Thomas Anderson's 2007 drama, "There Will Be Blood" which sits at the top of the list to "Boyhood", "Inside Out", "The 40 Year Old Virgin", and Best Picture Oscar winners, "Million Dollar Baby", "The Hurt Locker" and last year's "Moonlight". I've seen seventeen of the films chosen and while I agree with a large number, I 'm less enamored about a few of the others like "Mad Max: Fury Road" and the Coen Brothers' "Inside Llewyn Davis".
Click below to read:
The 25 Best Films of the 21st Century
The Times also enlisted six prominent filmmakers; Antoine Fuqua ("The Magnificent Seven"), Sofia Coppola ("The Beguiled"), Paul Feig ("Ghostbusters"), Denis Villeneuve ("Arrival"), Brett Ratner ("Rush Hour") and Alex Gibney ("Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief") to add their picks of their favorite films from this century.
Six Directors Pick Their Favorite Films of the 21st Century
And finally, I decided I might as well add my two cents. So here is my selection of the twenty-five best films from this century (and they are in alphabetical order since it would be much too difficult to rank them in order of preference):
"20 Feet From Stardom" (2013)
"The Artist" (2011)
"Beasts of the Southern Wild" (2012)
"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (2000)
“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004)
"Ex Machina" (2015)
"I Am Not Your Negro" (2017)
"The Incredibles" (2004)
"Mulholland Dr" (2001)
"Pan’s Labyrinth" (2006)
"The Pianist" (2002)
"Requiem For a Dream" (2000)
"A Single Man" (2009)
"Talk to Her" (2002)
"There Will Be Blood" (2007)
"United 93" (2006)
"The Wolf of Wall Street" (2013)
"Y Tu Mamá También" (2002)
Sunday, June 11, 2017
Diane Keaton became the 45th recipient of the American Film Institute's Lifetime Achievement Award on June 8th. This is a well-deserved and long-overdue honor for this delightfully eccentric, seventy-one year old actress. While she was first noticed for her dramatic work in "The Godfather", it was her distinctive gift for comedy that made Keaton a star. Woody Allen recognized her talent instantly and took full advantage by casting her in his early films as a director. Their successful collaboration eventually cumulated with her winning an Oscar for her exceptional comedic performance in his 1977 Best Picture winner, "Annie Hall".
The Hollywood Reporter has gone back to examine her work in cinema over the last five decades and have selected what they consider are the five best performances by Diane Keaton.
Click below to read:
A Closer Look at Diane Keaton's Career
The AFI Lifetime Achievement Award presented to Diane Keaton will be broadcast on June 15th on TNT and an encore presentation will be shown on Turner Classic Movies on July 31st with a night of programming dedicated to her work.