Monday, February 1, 2016

WINNERS FROM THE 2016 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL


"Birth of A Nation", actor Nate Parker's debut as a writer and director, was the undisputed winner of this year's Sundance Film Festival. Not only did the film, about the true-life story of a Virginia slave, Nate Turner (Parker) leading a bloody slavery revolt in 1831, become the highest paid acquisition ever at the fest with a record-breaking $17.5 million by Fox Searchlight but it won both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award for best dramatic feature. This is the fourth year in a row this has occured beginning with "Fruitvale Station" in 2013, followed by "Whiplash" and "Me & Earl & The Dying Girl". The directing prize went to the team of Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan for their controversial film, "Swiss Army Man" involving the friendship between a stranded man (Paul Dano) on a island and a washed-up corpse (Daniel Radcliffe). The screenwriting award went to Chad Hartigan for his culture shock comedy, "Morris From America" about an African-American father and son moving to Germany with star Craig Robinson winning a Jury Prize for Best Individual Performance.

Here is a partial list of winners from the 2016 Sundance Film Festival:

Grand Jury Prizes:

U.S. Dramatic Feature: "Birth Of A Nation"



Directing: Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan, "Swiss Army Man"



Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: Chad Hartigan, "Morris From America"



Special Jury Award: Individual Performance: Melanie Lynskey, "The Intervention"



Special Jury Award: Individual Performance: Craig Robinson, "Morris from America"
Special Jury Award: Breakthrough Performance: Joe Seo, "Spa Night"
U.S. Documentary Feature: "Weiner"
World Dramatic Feature: "Sand Storm" (Israel)
Special Jury Award: Acting: Vicky Hernandéz and Manolo Cruz, "Between Sea and Land"(Colombia)
World Cinema Documentary Feature: "Sonita"(Germany/Iran/Switzerland)

Audience Awards:

U.S. Dramatic Feature: "Birth of A Nation"
World Dramatic Feature: "Between Sea and Land" (Colombia)
U.S. Documentary Feature: "Jim: The James Foley Story"



Thursday, January 28, 2016

THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015)

Written & Directed by Quentin Tarantino


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA.  January 12, 2016 3:45 PM



"The Hateful Eight" is set over two hundred years ago, shortly after the Civil War. While there are horse-drawn coaches, six-shooters and grubby, cowboy drag, the latest film from writer/director Quentin Tarantino may take place in the wild west, an era of lawlessness and vigilantism but its really not really much of a western. This is the film maker's usual potent gab-fest which he uses different B-movie genres he admires to enhance his stories. Beginning with the crime thriller, "Reservoir Dogs" and followed by the black-comedy, "Pulp Fiction", martial arts actioner, "Kill Bill" and blaxploitation drama, "Django Unchained", Tarantino has entertained with his unique brand of profanity-laced, biting dialogue, off-kilter plotting and brutal, bloody violence.

"The Hateful Eight" follows this familiar formula yet after eight films (if you count the separately released, two-part "Kill Bill" as one film) it's starting to feel overly routine and with a one hundred and eighty-seven minute run time, unnecessarily excessive. The film does look incredible thanks to the work of cinematographer Robert Richardson (who has been involved with the director since "Kill Bill"), shooting "Eight" with the rarely used 70mm wide-film format which delivers a breath-taking screen image. Tarantino impressively managed to get the eighty-seven year old Italian composer, Ennio Morricone, well-known for his work on westerns throughout the 1960's, to perform his magic here with his first score of a western since 1981.

Presented in six chapters, our story begins in rural Wyoming with a stagecoach racing through a snow-covered road attempting to beat an oncoming blizzard when it's stopped by Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson). A bounty hunter stranded with three wanted dead bodies, Warren requests a ride to the next town, Red Rock. The passenger is another bounty hunter, John Ruth (Kurt Russell) handcuffed to his combative fugitive, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) also trying to get to that town but in no mood to share a ride. However, the men had previously been acquainted and after sharing some remembrances including Warren's personal letter from Abraham Lincoln, Ruth welcomes him aboard.

Further down the road, another stranded man, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a former Confederate solider, flags down the coach. Ruth doesn't trust this coincidence but Mannix claims to be the new sheriff of Red Rock. He persuades the reluctant bounty hunter that it would be in his best interest, since he's the law of that town, to let him on board.

Once they reach the stop-over called Minnie's Haberdashery, there's no sign of Minnie but there are several guests waiting to ride out the storm. There's Bob (Demián Bichir), known as "The Mexican", that was left in charge after the owner had to leave for an emergency. Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), a Brit who just happens to be Red Rock's executioner. A man of few words, Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) is on his way to visit his ailing mother. And the grizzled, racist Confederate General (Bruce Dern) that Warren, a former major for the Union Army, is quite familiar with.

Since this is Tarantino's universe, you should expect unexpected twists and illogical turns as our story continues down to it's bombastic, bloody conclusion. There's nothing close to any good guys here, just morally-ambiguous men and blood-thirsty killers trapped together in a claustrophobic setting. As usual, Tarantino gleefully wallows in the depravity and savagery of these characters while having them deliver his thoughtfully witty banter. But this time, the enigmatic plot feels far too predictable to keep us fully engaged, particularly at this butt numbing length.

"The Hateful Eight" is a testosterone-heavy tale with a regrettable whiff of misogyny. The only female in the group is subjected to ferocious verbal and physical abuse, which at times, is played for laughs. That Daisy Domergue is a dangerous, wanted criminal seems to imply justification for this behavior yet that doesn't make it feel less ugly. The use of the N-word is also problematic for while it's clear that it's use was very common during this period, the frequency here still feels superfluous.

It's the exceptional performances, with the tense interplay between this despicable group of people, that really help keep us fully intrigued. Some of the actors have worked with the director previously, like Russell, Madsen, Roth and especially Jackson (who has made some kind of appearance in every film except "Reservoir Dogs") that can skillfully handle his lengthy, rapid-fire language  There are a few new players on board (which includes Dern, Goggins and the lone female with a major role, Ms Leigh) that bring their unique flair to this gritty drama.

While many of the distinctive elements are in place that we love about the film maker, "The Hateful Eight" is minor Tarantino. This violent thriller will definitely please the hardcore fan elated with his clever use of words. As for the more causal viewer, they may be entertained for fleeting moments but find the disturbing nature of the story and endless chatter too much endure.


Thursday, January 21, 2016

THIRTY ANTICIPATED MOVIES AT THE 2016 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL

Lovers of independent cinema will be making the pilgrimage to Park City, Utah for the 2016 Sundance Film Festival today. Founded by actor Robert Redford in 1978, this event is the first major film festival of the year and for eleven days will present dramatic and documentary films including world premieres, shorts, panel discussions, video installations, television programs and live performances.

For the complete list of films, tickets and additional information, please click below:

2016 Sundance Film Festival


If you are attending Sundance, the question becomes "which movies do I go see?" Plenty of blogs and publications offer a few suggestions but /Film Blogging The Reel World  has given thirty movies that are hotly anticipated. Some of these mentioned include Kelly Reichardt's latest, "Certain Women", an ensemble that features Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart and Laura Dern. Whit Stillman's "Love &Friendship" is an adaption of Jane Austen's novel "Lady Susan" and re-teams his "The Last Days of Disco" stars Kate Beckinsale and Chloë Sevigny. "Swiss Army Man" has Paul Dano as a man stranded on a desert island and Daniel Radcliffe washes on shore and becomes his lifeless friend. And "Michael Jackson's Journey From Motown To Off The Wall", a documentary by Spike Lee which examines the early career of the pop superstar.

Click below to read the article:

"30 Movies We Can’t Wait to See at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival""

Saturday, January 16, 2016

MY LEAST FAVORITE FILMS OF 2015

Every year, there are always some wonderful films released. Also every year, there are films that missed the mark and did not live up to expectations. Here are my selections of the films from the previous year I did not get much enjoyment from watching:

"MAD MAX: FURY ROAD"

After thirty years, writer/director George Miller has brought his Mad Max character back and audiences have widely embraced that move. However, I'm in the minority here as I was no fan of "Mad Max: Fury Road". In this new installment set in a post-apocalyptic world, Tom Hardy now plays Max who is held captive by Immortan Joe and his army and used as a "blood bag" for the sick. Joe's associate, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) has taken five of Joe's brides to free them from their torturous life. Joe sends his army after them with Max strapped aboard to supply blood. Circumstances bring Max and Furiosa together and they reluctantly team up to escape Joe's men. While I must admit to admiring the impressive visuals by cinematographer, John Seale and Hardy and Theron's stellar performances but overall, "Fury Road" felt like one long, endless car chase.


"LOST RIVER"

I still love you, Ryan Gosling but I really, REALLY hated your directorial debut, "Lost River". If Detroit didn't have it bad enough, Gosling has set this incredibly tedious drama there. A financially-strapped mother (Christina Hendricks) is struggling to hang on to her house. She turns to working at a mysterious underground club for extra money while her teenage son (Iain De Caestecker) salvages copper from abandoned houses. With his neighbor named Rat (Saoirse Ronan), they discover that a town nearby was buried underwater when a reservoir was built years ago which caused their neighborhood to be cursed. It seems Mr. Gosling was inspired by the surreal cinema of David Lynch. However, he failed to realize that it requires a certain mind set (which very few people actually have) to make Lynch's style of offbeat film-making entertaining. While our novice director managed to create some interesting images, what was missing was any type of emotional connection to what we were watching.



"MISTRESS AMERICA"

Director Noah Baumbach and actress, Greta Gerwig are back with "Mistress America", their latest smug comedy. They first worked together on Baumbach's 2010 film, "Greenberg" and then became romantically linked. The duo teamed up again, in addition to co-writing the script, for the unbearable "Frances Ha" (which found it's way on this list back 2012). This story revolves around Tracy (Lola Kirke), a college freshman having trouble adjusting to life on campus. She meets her future step-sister, Brooke (Gerwig), a wacky, self-absorbed New Yorker living a fascinatingly charmed life, who takes her under her wing. Tracy is mesmerized however, Brooke is not nearly as together as she'd like everyone to believe. Once again, the director has delivered another film filled with humorless writing and unappealing characters. Perhaps I'm just a glutton for punishment, but I have gone in to Mr. Baumbach's recent films optimistically due to my love of his early work like "The Squid and The Whale". Yet, I keep walking out sadly disappointed.



"FANTASTIC FOUR"

This latest version of "Fantastic Four"" was supposed to properly reboot the Marvel comic-book series on the big screen after a couple of uninspired films. However the outcome is far worse than anything previously seen. Director Josh Trank ("Chronicle") co-wrote this ridiculous origins story of teenage scientists who invent a device that can transport people to another dimension. Bruised egos cause an accident which exposes the teens to an otherworldly energy leaving them with super-human powers. The lead actors (Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell and Michael B. Jordan), lacking any chemistry together, struggle to make the best out of a bad situation. Uneven, silly and dull, "Fantastic Four" is just a very sad super-hero flick.

"JOY"

Despite a very impressive lead performance by Jennifer Lawrence and strong supporting turns from Diane Ladd and Isabella Rossellini, "Joy", the latest comedy-drama by David O. Russell, is surprisingly lethargic. Loosely based on the life of Joy Mangano, the inventor of the Miracle Mop, Ms Lawrence plays Joy, a divorced mother of three who is also supporting her mother (Virginia Madsen), grandmother (Ladd), ex-husband (Édgar Ramírez) and recently single father (Robert DeNiro) as they all live under the same roof. While cleaning broken glass on the yacht of her father's new wealthy girlfriend (Rossellini), Joy comes up with concept for her mop and struggles to convince the world it's a great idea. Shockingly, the usually assured Russell has made an ineffective film, unable to find the right balance of over-the-top humor, potent drama and real emotions.

"STONEWALL"

Did you ever wonder what would happen if Roland Emmerich, the director of "Independence Day" applied the elements he uses for his action films to create a drama based on the 1969 Stonewall riots? Unfortunately, with "Stonewall" you can experience it and the film, not surprisingly, is an awful mess. Much has been made about the controversial focus of this fictionalized story on a young, mid-western white boy (Jeremy Irvine) coming to New York and getting swept up in the gay liberation movement while pretty much pushing the drag queens and people of color (the folks actually at the forefront of this fight) far in the background but that's the least of this film's problems. Poorly directed, badly written (I had to check twice to make sure I was actually seeing the name of acclaimed playwright, Jon Robin Baitz credited as the writer) and featuring some of the worst performances of the year, "Stonewall" is not only shameful but shamefully bad.



"BLACKHAT", "IN THE HEART OF THE SEA"

The tech-thriller, "Blackhat" and angry whale drama, "In The Heart of The Sea" has exactly two things in common. One is Aussie hunk, Chris Hemsworth. The other is that they are both really lousy movies. A highly-praised director, Michael Mann ("Heat", "Collateral") is behind "Blackhat" which features Hemsworth as an imprisoned computer hacker who get released to help the FBI (a wasted Viola Davis plays one of the agents) track down a cyberterrorist threatening to cause worldwide destruction. To be perfectly honest, I couldn't understand everything that was going on with this convoluted plot but one thing I do know; not a single moment felt believable. Particularly Hemsworth as an expert computer hack.

Our intrepid performer is back with another much admired film maker, Ron Howard ("Apollo 13", "A Beautiful Mind") for the lackluster, "In The Heart of The Sea". Based on true events that inspired Herman Melville to write the classic novel, "Moby Dick", Hemsworth stars as first mate on the Essex, a Nantucket whaling ship, with an inexperienced captain (Benjamin Walker) leading the crew. After months out at sea with little results, the ship finally spots a massive whale but it's not going down without a fight. When the CGI whale displays more life and passion than our flesh and blood characters, you know you're in trouble.


Thursday, January 14, 2016

2016 OSCAR NOMINATIONS ANNOUNCED

"The Revenant", the frontier thriller takes the lead of the 88th Annual Academy Awards with twelve nominations, including Best Picture and Leonardo DiCaprio for Best Actor. The film's director, Alejandro G. Iñárritu and cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, who both won last year for "Birdman", are back in the race for a second year in a row. "Mad Max: Fury Road" is not far behind with nine nominations including Best Picture and a nod for director George Miller. Ridley Scott’s sci-fi drama, “The Martian” earned seven nominations (but a surprising no Best Director nod for Scott) while Steven Spielberg's "Bridge of Spies", "Spotlight" and "Carol" all received six. The nominations were hardly predictable with a nice combination of Hollywood fare and independent cinema. Since there is still no real frontrunner in many of the categories, this year's Oscars will be the most difficult to predict in quite some time.

Two actors who had a very good year with multiple films received their first nominations with Tom Hardy earning a Best Supporting Actor nod for "The Revenant" but was also outstanding in "Legend" and "Mad Max: Fury Road". Alicia Vikander, who appeared in at least five films in 2015 including two-time nominee, "Ex Machina", received a nomination for "The Danish Girl". I'm also thrilled with some long overdue first-time acting nominations for some cinema veterans. Jennifer Jason Leigh received her first nod after years of amazing performances in indie films for "The Hateful Eight" and the great British actress, Charlotte Rampling has finally been recognized for her moving turn in "45 Years".

And once again, people of color were shut out of all of the acting categories this year. Despite the Academy's efforts to bring diversity by widening their memebership base, the nominations sadly remain quite narrow. While I certainly don't believe this is a conscious action by the Oscars, this is a subject that continues to be a problem and we need to have a serious disscusion on this issue. A new catchphrase seems to be emerging like last year’s Twitter trend, "#OscarsSoWhite" with "#We Dream In White" a play on this year's Oscars slogan "We Dream In Gold".

Here is the complete list of the nominations for the 88th Annual Academy Awards. The Oscars will be hosted by Chris Rock and presented on February 28th, 2016:

Best Picture:

"The Big Short"
"Bridge Of Spies"
"Brooklyn"
"Mad Max: Fury Road"
"The Martian"
"The Revenant"
"Room"
"Spotlight"

Best Director:

Adam McKay, "The Big Short"
George Miller, "Mad Max: Fury Road"
Alejandro G. Iñárritu, "The Revenant"
Lenny Abrahamson, "Room"
Tom McCarthy, "Spotlight"

Best Actor:

Bryan Cranston, "Trumbo"
Matt Damon, "The Martian"
Leonardo DiCaprio, "The Revenant"
Micheal Fassbender, "Steve Jobs"
Eddie Redmayne, "The Danish Girl"

Best Actress:

Cate Blanchett, "Carol"
Brie Larson, "Room"
Jennifer Lawrence, "Joy"
Charlotte Rampling, "45 Years"
Saoirse Ronan, "Brooklyn"

Best Supporting Actor:

Christian Bale, "The Big Short"
Tom Hardy, "The Revenant"
Mark Ruffalo, "Spotlight"
Mark Rylance, "Bridge Of Spies"
Sylvester Stallone, "Creed"

Best Supporting Actress

Jennifer Jason Leigh, "The Hateful Eight"
Rooney Mara, "Carol"
Rachel McAdams, "Spotlight"
Alicia Vikander, "The Danish Girl"
Kate Winslet, "Steve Jobs"

Best Original Screenplay:

Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer, "Spotlight"
Matt Charman and Joel & Ethan Coen, "Bridge of Spies"
Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley and Ronnie del Carmen, "Inside Out"
Alex Garland, "Ex Machina"
Andrea Berloff, Jonathan Herman, S. Leigh Savidge and Alan Wenkus, "Straight Outta Compton"

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Drew Goddard, "The Martian"
Nick Hornby, "Brooklyn"
Adam McKay and Charles Randolph, "The Big Short"
Phyllis Nagy, "Carol"
Emma Donoghue, "Room"

Best Cinematography:

Emmanuel Lubezki, "The Revenant"
Edward Lachman, "Carol"
Robert Richardson, "The Hateful Eight"
Roger Deakins, "Sicario"
John Seale, "Mad Max: Fury Road"

Best Film Editing:

Hank Corwin, "The Big Short"
Margaret Sixel, "Mad Max; Fury Road"
Stephen Mirrione, "The Revenant"
Tom McArdle, "Spotlight"
Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"

Best Foreign Language Film:

"Embrace of the Serpent" (Colombia)
"Mustang" (France)
"Son of Saul" (Hungary)
"Theeb" (Jordan)
"A War" (Denmark)

Best Animated Feature Film:

"Anomalisa"
"Boy And The World"
"Inside Out"
"Shaun The Sheep Movie"
"When Marnie Was There"

Best Animated Short Film:

"Bear Story"
"Prologue"
"Sanjay’s Super Team"
"We Can’t Live without Cosmos"
"World of Tomorrow"

Best Documentary Feature:

"Amy"
"Cartel Land"
"The Look of Silence"
"What Happened, Miss Simone"
"Winter On Fire: Ukraine"

Best Documentary Short Subject:

"Body Team 12"
"Chau, Bbeyond the Lines"
"Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah"
"A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness"
"Last Day of Freedom"

Live Action Short Film:

"Ave Maria"
"Day One"
"Everything Will Be OK"
"Shock"
"Sutter"

Best Production Design:

"Bridge Of Spies"
"The Danish Girl"
"Mad Max: Fury Road"
"The Martian"
"The Revenant"

Best Costume Design:

Sandy Powell, "Carol"
Sandy Powell, "Cinderella"
Paco Delgado, "The Danish Girl"
Jenny Beavan, "Mad Max: Fury Road"
Jacqueline West, "The Revenant"

Best Makeup and Hairstyling:

Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega and Damian Martin, "Mad Max: Fury Road"
Love Larson and Eva von Bahr, "The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared"
Siân Grigg, Duncan Jarman and Robert Pandini, "The Revenant"

Best Original Score:

Thomas Newman, "Bridge of Spies"
Carter Burwell, "Carol"
Ennio Morricone, "The Hateful Eight"
Jóhann Jóhannsson, "Sicario"
John Williams, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"

Best Original Song:

“Earned It” from "Fifty Shades of Grey" (Music and Lyric by Abel Tesfaye, Ahmad Balshe, Jason Daheala Quenneville and Stephan Moccio)
“Manta Ray” from "Racing Extinction" (Music by J. Ralph and Lyric by Antony Hegarty)
“Simple Song #3” from "Youth" (Music and Lyric by David Lang)
“Til It Happens to You” from "The Hunting Ground" (Music and Lyric by Diane Warren and Lady Gaga)
“Writing’s on the Wall” from "Spectre" (Music and Lyric by Jimmy Napes and Sam Smith)

Best Sound Editing:

"Mad Max:Fury Road"
"The Martian"
"The Revenant"
"Sicario"
"Star Wars: The Force Awakens"

Best Sound Mixing:

"Bridge Of Spies"
"Mad Max: Fury Road"
"The Martian"
"The Revenant"
"Star Wars: The Force Awakens"

Best Visual Effects:

"Ex Machina"
"Mad Max: Fury Road"
"The Revenant"
"Star Wars: The Force Awakens"
"The Martian"

Saturday, January 9, 2016

MY FAVORITE FILMS OF 2015

2015 will certainly be remembered as the year that the box-office tally reached an all-time high with thirty-eight billion dollars earned globally. That's a lot of cash but the fact is that milestone would never have happened if the films released were not up to snuff. There were many amazing and quite memorable films that came out over the past year. It was challenging but I have narrowed down my very favorites of the year. I see no need to limit my list to ten, in fact, I'm glad there was so many good films to choose from:

"STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS"

There is one simple reason why "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" has quickly become the all-time global box-office champ; because it's good. Really good.  After the disappointment of the three prequels, J.J. Abrams was brought on board to send the (apparently) final three films of the series off on the right course. We see the welcome return of our favorite characters (Harrison Ford as Han Solo, Carrie Fisher as Leia and Chewbacca) and introduced to some intriguing new faces (Finn (John Boyega), a former stormtrooper, a scavenger from Jakku named Rey (Daisy Ridley) and a robot called BB-8) while being sent on an exciting new adventure.

"CREED"

Ryan Coogler has done to the "Rocky" franchise exactly what J.J. Abrams did with "Star Wars"; he brought back the heart and soul of the original film with "Creed", the seventh film in the long-running franchise. Michael B. Jordan gives a masterful turn as Adonis Johnson, the illegitimate heir of the late boxing champ, Apollo Creed, who decides to leave his office job and follow in his father's profession as a boxer. He travels to Philadelphia with the goal to train with Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), his father's boxing rival and friend but he's not interested. Of course Adonis wins him over and soon they are working together to take on the current heavyweight champion. "Creed" took me by surprise as it managed to generate genuine emotions in-between the high-energy training and boxing sequences. And the biggest unexpected moment? That would be Mr. Stallone giving such a warm and moving performance that he actually brought me to tears.



"CAROL"

Lead by two heartfelt performances by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, "Carol" is a powerful and touching love story that is rarely shown on film. With a solid script by Phyllis Nagy and exquisite direction by Todd Haynes, Patricia Highsmith's provocative story of the romance between an upper class housewife (Blanchett) and a department store clerk (Mara) has been made in to a remarkably moving cinematic experience.

"EX MACHINA"

Novelist turned film maker, Alex Garland delivers the stylish sci-fi thriller, "Ex Machina" which poses the question "what does it mean to be human?". A billionaire CEO (Oscar Isaac) of a software company brings in one of top programmers (Domhnall Gleeson) to test his latest invention. The goal is to see how close to human his female-looking android (Alicia Vikander) behaves. And it's very close which leads to some complicated and dangerous situations. A thoroughly smart and suspenseful entertainment.



"BROOKLYN"

"Brooklyn" tells the timely story of a young Irish girl (an astonishing Saoirse Ronan) immigrating to America to start a new life in the '50's. Living in a boarding house in the New York borough homesick and lonely, she meets a nice Italian boy (Emory Cohen) and they fall in love. A tragedy forces her back to Ireland and torn between the two countries. Director John Crowley, best known for his work in the theater, has made a lovely drama filled with tender romance and tragic heartbreak.

"ROOM"

When I first heard what "Room" was about, the story of a young woman (Brie Lawson) being held captive for years by a sexual predator and raising their five year old son (the amazing Jacob Tremblay) locked in a small room, I thought it would be just too unsettling to watch. While the film (expertly directed by Irish film maker, Lenny Abrahamson) is certainly harrowing, it is also a powerfully rewarding experience.  Based on the novel by Emma Donoghue (who also wrote the screenplay), "Room" is a poignant story of love and survival with Lawson and Tremblay each delivering exceptional performances.



"TANGERINE"

"Tangerine"" plays like a classic Hollywood screwball comedy except this involves the unusual tale of transsexual hookers searching for love and respect. Shot on an iPhone by writer/director Sean S. Baker, the film introduces Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor (both excellent) as best friends and fellow sex workers spending the day in search of a pimp/boyfriend that has done one of them wrong. "Tangerine" manages to be outrageously funny, delightfully deranged and completely original.

"THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL"

Writer/director Marielle Heller has made an impressive debut with "The Diary of a Teenage Girl", based on the graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner. Bel Powley plays Minnie, a fifteen year old aspiring artist living in 1970's San Francisco with her free-spirited mother (Kristen Wiig). After Minnie gets inappropriately close to her mother's sexy boyfriend (Alexander Skarsgård), she sets off on a journey of wild behavior and exploration, all documented on her audio diary. This edgy dramatic comedy is the rare coming-of-age tale told from a female point of view with brutal honesty and uncomfortable humor.



"DOPE"

"Dope"" is another excellent coming-of-age comedy-drama told from another rare point of view; an African-American teen. Writer/director Rick Famuyiwa ("The Wood", "Brown Sugar") tells the story of a 90's hip-hop obsessed Inglewood nerd (Shameik Moore) and his fellow outsider high school buddies (Tony Revolori and Kiersey Clemons) who get in the middle of a rival drug-dealing gang war. What is most appealing about this clever film is that it takes what we expect from a story set in the urban city and moves us in wild and hilariously unexpected directions.

"YOUTH"

I wasn't impressed with Paolo Sorrentino's Oscar-winning Best Foreign-Language Film, "The Great Beauty" but I really loved his follow-up, the English-language film, "Youth". Set in a tranquil Swiss spa, Michael Caine (in a breath-taking performance) stars as Fred Ballinger, a retired English conductor trying to be convinced by the Queen's emissary to conduct the Prince's favorite song (which Ballinger also wrote) for his birthday. He refuses for personal reasons and that is our basic plot. But what happens in between is absurd, thought-provoking, odd, emotional and completely enchanting. We are also treated to some outstanding work by Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano, Harvey Keitel (welcome back) and, in a brief but highly explosive appearance, Jane Fonda.

"AMY", "WHAT HAPPENED MISS SIMONE", "KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK", "JANIS: LITTLE GIRL BLUE"

2015 was quite a year for documentaries and in particular, some great non-fiction films on influential musical artists were released. One of the biggest (and highest grossing) docs of the year was "Amy"" which looked at the meteoric rise and tragic fall of pop singer, Amy Winehouse. Netflix was behind director Liz Garbus' fascinating "What Happened, Miss Simone?" which examines the incredibly gifted but highly volatile Nina Simone. "Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck" was made with the cooperation of Cobain's family (including his widow, Courtney Love) and uses unreleased recordings, artwork, photography and journals to creatively shed more light on the life of the '90's rock icon . Finally, "Janis: Little Girl Blue" is a long overdue documentary on Janis Joplin who, in her very short life, went from an awkward Texan teenager to become one of the most electrifying rock & blues singers in the world.





Honorable Mention: "5 Flights Up", "Ant Man", "The Big Short", "Bridge of Spies", "The End of The Tour", "Infinitely Polar Bear", "Me & Earl & The Dying Girl", "Spotlight", "Steve Jobs"", "Straight Outta Compton", "Trainwreck"", "Truth", "While We're Young"







Sunday, January 3, 2016

AND AWARD SEASON CONTINUES. . .



With the 2016 Oscar nominations just twelve days away, the National Society of Film Critics (who are celebrating their fiftieth year) have announced their selections today for the best in cinema of 2015 and "Spotlight" has taken Best Picture. This investigative journalism drama looks to be shaping up to be an Oscar front-runner as it was also selected by the American Film Institute and the Las Vegas Film Critics as one of the best of the year. However, don't count out "Mad Max: Fury Road" yet. It is still has plenty of fans with it also being recognized by AFI and won Best Film recently by the Chicago critics. As far as the rest of the categories, it's still pretty much in the air as no one actor or film is sweeping the award circuit like last year. Here's a run-down of some of the groups and their picks of the year:

Winners of the 2015 National Society of Film Critics Awards:

Best Picture: “Spotlight”
Best Director: Todd Haynes, “Carol”
Best Screenplay: Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy, “Spotlight”
Best Actor: Michael B. Jordan, “Creed"
Best Actress: Charlotte Rampling, “45 Years”
Best Supporting Actress: Kristen Stewart, “Clouds of Sils Maria”
Best Cinematography: Ed Lachman, “Carol”
Best Foreign-Language Film: “Timbuktu”
Best Non-Fiction Film: “Amy”

AFI 2015 Films of The Year:

"The Big Short"
"Bridge of Spies"
"Carol"
"Inside Out"
"Mad Max: Fury Road"
"The Martian"
"Room"
"Spotlight"
"Star Wars: The Force Awakens"
"Straight Outta Compton"


Winners from the 2015 Chicago Film Critics Association Film Awards:

Best Picture: "Mad Max: Fury Road"
Best Director: George Miller, "Mad Max: Fury Road"
Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio, "The Revenant"
Best Actress: Brie Larson, "Room"
Best Supporting ActorBenicio Del Toro, "Sicario"
Best Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander, "Ex Machina"
Best Original Screenplay: Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer, "Spotlight"
Best Adapted Screenplay: Adam McKay & Charles Randolph, "The Big Short"
Best Cinematography: John Seale, "Mad Max: Fury Road"
Best Original Score: Ennio Morricone, "The Hateful Eight"
Best Art Direction/Production Design: "Mad Max: Fury Road"
Best Editing: Jason Ballantine & Margaret Sixel, "Mad Max: Fury Road"
Best Foreign-Language Film: "Son of Saul"
Best Documentary: "Amy"
Best Animated Feature: "Inside Out"

Winners from the 2015 Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards:

Best Picture: "Spotlight"
Best Director: Tom McCarthy, "Spotlight"
Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio, "The Revenant"
Best Actress: Brie Larson, "Room"
Best Supporting ActorSylvester Stallone, "Creed"
Best Supporting Actress: Elizabeth Banks, "Love & Mercy"
Best Original Screenplay: Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer, "Spotlight"
Best Adapted Screenplay: Drew Goddard, "The Martian"
Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, "The Revenant"
Best Film Editing:  Jason Ballantine & Margaret Sixel, "Mad Max: Fury Road"
Best Costume Design: Jenny Beavan, "Mad Max: Fury Road"
Best Art Direction: Irene O’Brien & Robert Parle, "Brooklyn"
Best Foreign Film: "Good Night Mommy"
Best Documentary: "Going Clear: Scientology and The Prison of Belief"
Best Animated Film: "Inside Out"