Monday, February 29, 2016


While the controversy around the lack of color in the acting categories seemed like it would diminish the excitement over this year's Oscar ceremony however the show must go on. Host Chris Rock had remained silent during the whole eruption with calls for a boycott and for him to drop-out. He announced that he was going to stay but still said nothing on the subject. This made it clear he planned to say everything on stage. And he did not disappoint with an opening monologue that was edgy, enlightened and very funny. He took some hilarious jabs at Hollywood racism, Jada Pickett Smith, "Rocky" and not losing another job to Kevin Hart. Not all of the material worked (the Girl Scout cookies bit and Fox News shrill, Stacey Dash's clueless appearance just made me feel more sorry for her) and the lack of diversity jokes went on a bit too long and were far too narrow in racial scope but Rock managed to keep the show energized throughout the evening.

The acting nominees may not have been very diverse but the presenters most certainly were. We had distinguished African-American Oscar winners from the past  (Whoopi Goldberg and Louis Gossett, Jr.), an international cast of stars from India (Bollywood actress, Priyanka Chopra who currently stars on ABC's "Quantico"), Ghana (Abraham Attah, star of "Beasts of No Nation") , South Korea (Lee Byung-hun, known to U.S. audiences for the "G.I. Joe" films) and Columbia (Sofia Vergara, Why?) . We also had Buzz Lightyear, R2D2, Minions and uh,  Ali G.

"Spotlight" won the night as it became the Best Picture of 2015 and also received the prize for Best Original Screenplay. "Mad Max: Fury Road" took home the most awards with six in the technical fields while "The Revenant" had three-peat winner, Emmanuel Lubezki for Best Cinematography, two-peat Best Director, Alejandro González Iñárritu and first-time Best Actor, Leonardo DiCaprio. Sadly, "Carol" walked away empty-handed (and was truly robbed of the costume design prize) and if Leo thought he had a long wait, Roger Deakins lost Best Cinematography for the thirteenth time.

Diane Warren didn't win Best Original Song for the seventh time but her co-writer, Lady Gaga gave a powerfully moving performance of their nominated song, "Til It Happens To You" which concluded with a highly emotional moment as real-life survivors of sexual abuse joined her on stage. However, the show did not allow two of the five Best Song nominees to perform due to an apparent lack of time. I found this completely disrespectful to them for they deserved the spotlight just as much as the others. Transgender nominee, Anohni, who co-wrote "Manta Ray" for the documentary "Racing Extinction", boycotted the show because of this unnecessary slight.

There were a few unexpected moments with the most shocking was Mark Rylance taking the Best Supporting Actor prize over sentimental favorite, Sylvester Stallone. What made this even more of a surprise was that Mark Ruffalo or Christian Bale seemed more likely to win if Stallone hadn't. The excellent sc-fi thriller, "Ex Machina" didn't receive nearly enough award recognition as it should have but it was the surprise victor in the Best Visual Effects category.

With important issues like diversity, climate change, sexual abuse and corporate greed brought up on the show, this was probably the most politically charged the Oscars has been in quite a while. The conversations have begun with promises of change. Now, let's see what happens.

Here is the complete list of winners from the 2016 Academy Awards:

Best Picture: "Spotlight"
Best Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu, "The Revenant"
Best Adapted Screenplay: Charles Randolph and Adam McKay, "The Big Short"
Best Original Screenplay: Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy, "Spotlight"
Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio, "The Revenant"
Best Actress: Brie Larson, "Room"
Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Mark Rylance, "Bridge of Spies"
Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Alicia Vikander, "The Danish Girl"
Best Film Editing: Margaret Sixel, "Mad Max: Fury Road"
Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, "The Revenant"
Best Foreign Language Film: "Son of Saul" (Hungary)
Best Live Action Short Film: "Stutterer"
Best Documentary Feature: "Amy"
Best Documentary Short Subject: "A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness"
Best Animated Feature Film: "Inside Out"
Best Animated Short Film: "Bear Story"
Best Production Design: Colin Gibson (Production Design) & Lisa Thompson (Set Decoration), "Mad Max: Fury Road"
Best Costume Design: Jenny Beavan, "Mad Max: Fury Road"
Best Original Score: Ennio Morricone, "The Hateful Eight"
Best Original Song: Jimmy Napes and Sam Smith, "Writings on the Wall," from "Spectre"
Best Sound Mixing: Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff and Ben Osmo, "Mad Max: Fury Road"
Best Sound Editing: Mark Mangini and David White, "Mad Max: Fury Road"
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega and Damian Martin, "Mad Max: Fury Road"
Best Visual Effects: Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris, Mark Ardington and Sara Bennett, "Ex Machina"
Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award: Debbie Reynolds
Honorary Oscar: Spike Lee
Honorary Oscar: Gena Rowlands

Sunday, February 28, 2016


"Spotlight" was the big winner at the 31st Annual Independent Spirit Awards with this investigative journalism drama taking five awards including Best Feature. The stars of "Beasts of No Nation", Abraham Attah and Idris Elba took the Best Male Lead and Best Supporting Male prizes for their amazing work in the film. One of my favorite films from last year Marielle Heller's "The Diary of a Teenage Girl" took the prize for Best First Feature and Mya Taylor became the first transgender actress to take a prize as Best Supporting Female for her fabulous turn in another of my favorites, "Tangerine".

Here is the complete list of winners from the 2016 Independent Spirit Awards:

Best Feature: "Spotlight"
Best Director: Tom McCarthy, "Spotlight"
Best Screenplay: Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer, "Spotlight"
Best Female Lead: Brie Larson, "Room"
Best Male Lead: Abraham Attah, "Beasts of No Nation"
Best Supporting Female: Mya Taylor, "Tangerine"
Best Supporting Male: Idris Elba, "Beasts of No Nation"
Best First Feature: "The Diary of a Teenage Girl"
Best First Screenplay: Emma Donoghue, "Room"
Best Cinematography: Ed Lachman, "Carol"
Best Editing: Tom McArdle, "Spotlight"
Best International Film: "Son of Saul" (Hungary)
Best Documentary: "The Look of Silence"
Robert Altman Award: "Spotlight"
John Cassavetes Award (For best feature made under $500,000): "Krisha"

Friday, February 26, 2016


"Fatima", Philippe Faucon’s drama on the life of North African writer and poet, Fatima Elayoubi, took the top prize at the 41st Annual César Awards which honors the best in French cinema. This year's Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar nominee, "Mustang" won four awards including Best First Film and Best Original Screenplay for director Deniz Gamze Ergüven. "Marguerite", the story of a socialite who dreams of being an opera singer but lacking the talent, also won four Césars including the Best Actress prize for Catherine Frot. This story is getting an English-language treatment with a film by Stephen Frears that stars Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant due in theaters later this year. And Michael Douglas was given a César d’honneur for lifetime achievement while the 2014 Best Picture Oscar winner, "Birdman" took the Best Foreign-Film award.

Here is the complete list of winners from the 2016 César Awards:

BEST FILM: "Fatima"
BEST DIRECTOR: Arnaud Desplechin, "My Golden Days"

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Deniz Gamze Ergüven and Alice Winocour, "Mustang"
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Philippe Faucon, "Fatima"
BEST ACTOR: Vincent Lindon, "La Loi Du Marché"
BEST ACTRESS: Catherine Frot, "Marguerite"

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Benoit Magimel, "La Tête Haute"
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Sidse Babett Knudsen, "L’Hermine"
BEST EDITING: Mathilde Van De Moortel, "Mustang"
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Christophe Offenstein, "Valley Of Love"

BEST ORIGINAL MUSIC: Warren Ellis, "Mustang"
BEST SET DECORATION: Martin Kurel, "Marguerite"
BEST COSTUMES: Pierre-Jean Larroque, "Marguerite"

BEST SHORT FILM: "La Contre Allée"

BEST ANIMATED SHORT: "Le Repas Dominical"
BEST SOUND: François Musy and Gabriel Hafner, "Marguerite"
BEST NEWCOMER (Male): Rod Paradot, "La Tête Haute"
BEST NEWCOMER (Female): Zita Hanrot, "Fatima"

Wednesday, February 24, 2016


The first Coen Brothers movie I ever saw was "Raising Arizona" way back in 1987. It featured rising star Nicolas Cage as an ex-con and introduced Holly Hunter in her first major role as a cop. They're in love but unable to have children so they decide to steal one of the quintuplets of a wealthy mogul. This fast-paced comedy was delightfully quirky and unexpectedly fresh. After "Arizona", I eagerly anticipated the brothers' films as I knew I would be in for a different kind of cinematic experience.

What I love about the Coen brothers is that they never seemed overly concerned about commercial appeal or big box office. They make distinctive dramas and comedies with stories that interested them. While a core group of art-house fans could be counted on to turn out to the theaters to catch their movies, every once and while, a wider audience would respond to them as well. Now some of the films have worked better than others. With the release of their latest, "Hail, Caesar!", New York magazine has taken a look at all of the Coen brothers seventeen films and have ranked them from least successful to their very best.

Click below to read the article:

Every Coen Brothers Movie Ranked From Worst To Best

Monday, February 22, 2016


The Meryl Streep led jury at this year's Berlin Film Festival have reached a verdict and the documentary "Fuocoammare (Fire At Sea)" by Italian director Gianfrano Rosi took the top prize of the Golden Bear for Best Film. This topical film examines the island of Lampedusa, which has become a metaphor for the flight of refugees recently coming in to Europe. The runner-up Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize went to "Death In Sarajevo" by Danis Tanovic, who won a Best Foreign Language Oscar for his 2001 drama "No Man’s Land". This multiple character drama is set in a financially-strapped Bosnian hotel preparing to hold an important EU meeting with the manager trying to make sure everything runs smoothly.

Here is a partial list of the winners from the 2016 Berlinale:

Golden Bear for Best Film: "Fire At Sea"

Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize: "Death In Sarajevo"
Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize (for a feature film that opens new perspectives): "A Lullaby To The Sorrowful Mystery"

Silver Bear for Best Director: Mia Hansen-Love, "Things To Come"

Silver Bear for Best Actress: Trine Dyrholm, "The Commune"

Silver Bear for Best Actor: Majd Mastoura, "Inhebbek Hedi"
Silver Bear for Best Script: Tomasz Wasilewski, "United States Of Love"

Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution: Mark Lee Ping-Bing, Cinematographer, "Crosscurrent"
Best First Feature: "Inhebbek Hedi"
Golden Bear for Best Short Film: "Balada De Um Batráquio"
Silver Bear Jury Prize (Short Film): "A Man Returned"

Friday, February 19, 2016


Written & Directed by Joel & Ethan Cohen

Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. February 8, 2016 5:30PM

Like the idiosyncratic Quentin Tarantino, Joel and Ethan Cohen make films that distinctly reflect their own unique vision of the world. And also like the "Pulp Fiction" director, the brothers use classic film genres to weave their delightfully offbeat voice and style in to their cinema. They are probably best known for making sharp-edged comedies with dark undertones. Even their provocative dramas manage to find wicked humor in tragic or dangerous situations.

Their latest, "Hail Caesar!" is most certainly a comedy and pays loving homage to the golden age of Hollywood during the 1950's when the studios began to stage extravagant productions and seriously use glorious color to enhance their films. This was actually a desperate attempt to encourage audiences to leave their homes for entertainment due to the growing popularity of television. While the brothers perfectly recreate some magical moments inspired by the films of this era, the rest of the story involving salacious activities and commie screenwriters, while certainly reflective, is less engaging.

While his official title at Capitol Pictures may be "Head of Production", Eddie Mannix's (Josh Brolin) real job at the studio was as a "fixer". Loosely based on the real-life man who worked at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the deeply devout Mannix was responsible for keeping the scandalous behaviour of the studio's movie stars out of the press and making these problems go away.

Mannix has to deal with DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), the studio's bathing beauty, and her dilemma of finding herself unmarried and in the family way. Not confidently sure who the father might be, this tough-talking dame is nothing like her sweet screen image. He also has to calm director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) over being forced to use singing cowboy star, Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) in his latest drama. Not required to say much in his westerns, Doyle has plenty of good 'ole boy, Southern charm yet not much sophistication or acting abilities to be convincing in the role of an urban gentleman.

But Mannix's biggest problem is happening on the set of "Hail Caesar". The star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is preparing to shoot a scene dressed as a Roman solider when an extra slips a drug in a prop goblet that the actor drinks from. Whitlock is knocked-out cold and taken to a beach house in Malibu. When he awakens, his kidnappers are a collective of screenwriters that are supporters of the Communist Party who call themselves "The Future". They explain to Whitlock their philosophy, agenda and purpose of his abduction which all begins to sound reasonable to the actor.

Mannix receives a ransom note from The Future demanding $100,000 dollars for Whitlock's safe return. He comes up with the cash and places it in the sound stage of song & dance man Burt Gurney's (Channing Tatum) musical comedy. It doesn't end there and the seemingly slow-witted Doyle inadvertently gets involved in solving this abduction caper.

"Hail Caesar!" further explores some ideas from their 1991 film, "Barton Fink". Set about ten years earlier at the same movie studio, Barton Fink (played by John Turturro) was a successful Broadway playwright summoned to write for Hollywood. Once there, Fink suffers from writer's block due to the lack of inspiration in his new environment. While these two films couldn't be more different in structure and tone, each examines the arduous challenges of entertainment production and lack of respect for the writing process. While I'm sure the Coens find these themes endlessly fascinating, the appeal of "Caesar" will be limiting to someone not directly involved or very interested in the movie business.

What everyone will enjoy are the performances from this starry ensemble. Special mention should be made to Mr. Ehrenreich, the lesser known of the cast. The actor charms with a hilariously deadpan twang which makes people underestimate Doyle's steely resolve. There are brief appearances by Jonah Hill, Frances McDormand and the incomparable Tilda Swinton, putting a funny spin on rival Hollywood gossip columnists wearing outrageously silly hats, that adds to the fun. We are also treated to some thrilling classic dance sequences. Ms Johansson dazzles in a Esther Williams-styled spectacle that features swimmers performing a synchronized water ballet. With a nod to the legendary Gene Kelly, Mr. Tatum impresses as a song & dance man, performing a sailors-on-leave musical tap number. These men sing about a lack of women, though they seem quite content in each other's company.

"Hail Caesar!" connects with bursts of zany, comedic energy, high-spirited performances and a vigorous re-creation of old Hollywood but this intensity is unable to be maintained throughout, burning out long before we reach the conclusion. Not nearly as coherent and far more chaotic than some of the Coen brothers' better efforts yet offers enough of their oddball charm and earnest high jinks to keep you fairly entertained.

Thursday, February 11, 2016


The first major celebration of cinema in Europe begins today with the 66th Berlin Film Festival. Not only will there be the first viewing of important new works of the year but the European Film Market takes place to help sell some of these independent-minded films. The Berlinale runs through until February 21st.

"Hail Caesar", the latest comedy from the Coen Brothers which was just released in the U.S. on February 5th, has been selected as the Opening Night gala. George Clooney, Josh Brolin and Scarlett Johansson headline an impressive cast in a story set in 1950's Hollywood involving scandal and Communists.

Meryl Streep heads this year's International jury which includes English actor, Clive Owen, French photographer, Brigitte Lacombe, Italian actress, Alba Rohrwacher and Polish filmmaker, Małgorzata Szumowska. They will select the film winners in competition including the top prize of the Golden Bear.

A tribute will be paid to two performers we lost earlier this year. Alan Rickman will be honored with a screening of "Sense and Sensibility", the 1996 Ang Lee film, which he co-starred. The musician, David Bowie, who recorded three of his most iconic albums in the city, will have his 1976 film debut, "The Man Who Fell To Earth" presented at the festival.

Monday, February 1, 2016


"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, Nat 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"