Tag Archives: Oscar contender

Oscars spotlight: Jacqueline Durran

Costume designer Jacqueline Durran received her fifth and sixth Oscar nominations this year for her work on both Beauty and the Beast, and Darkest Hour.

Her first film credit is as “wardrobe mistress” on the 1999 set of Eyes Wide Shut. costume-design-darkest-hour-03From there she was assistant costume designer on 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and 2002’s Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. As head costumer she received her first BAFTA nomination and win for Vera Drake in 2005. In 2006 she got her first Oscar nomination for Pride & Prejudice, and followed that up with another in 2008 for Atonement. She won both a BAFTA and an Oscar in 2013 for Anna Karenina. She was a nominee once again in 2015 for Mr. Turner and this year she’s a double nominee – but does that secure her a second win?

Her competition this year is stiff: Mark Bridges, for Phantom Thread (he won the BAFTA), Luis Sequeira for The Shape of Water (he won the Costume Designers Guild award), and Consolata Boyle for Victoria and Abdul (a three-time Oscar nominee).

The Oscar winner for costume design is almost always a period piece. The Costume Designers Guild deals with this advantage by awarding separate prizes for contemporary-set films (I, Tonya won this year) and fantasy (Wonder Woman took home that prize). This year all the nominees are period films and in Durran’s case, both her movies had the added challenge of already being familiar to audiences.

Darkest Hour is the true story of Winston Churchill’s earliest and most difficult days as Prime Minister. Many of the shops on Savile Row who did Churchill’s actual suits still exist today and Durran delved into their ledgers to come up with exact looks costume-design-darkest-hour-01that were then tailored to fit Gary Oldman in a fat suit. She was able to consult old photographs of him to get the details just right. He was pretty fastidious in his wardrobe and a bit of a “dandy” according to Durran. She had a replica of his watch and watch chain made by the original watchmaker, Breguet. She also sourced hats from Churchill’s preferred company, Lock & Co. All of these wardrobe foundations allowed Oldman to look the authentic part while still making the character his own. For Durran, the most fun was probably in dressing Churchill’s wife, Clementine, played by Kristin Scott Thomas. Clemmy was a bit of a fashion risk-taker and was once a milliner, so her wardrobe choices were a bit eccentric and she nearly always had a fabulous hat. You can imagine the kind of fun a costumer can have with that kind of starting point.

Beauty and the Beast is fictional but no less well-known to audiences because of the animated Disney film that came before it. That creates an expectation, though costume-design-batb-01Durran chose not to recreate costumes in exact detail (which of course are lacking in simple line drawings). “My favorite bit of the whole movie is when Belle wakes up in the village, the window opens, and she says, ‘Bonjour!,’ and then you go into the song. You see the whole world of color and pattern—that’s how I wanted the village to be. That was created from an 18th-century reference: a collection of prints of French regional costumes,” says Durran. Emma Watson, who played Belle, informed a lot of the costume choices. Watson wanted Belle to seem like a more modern kind of princess, and her famous blue dress was made to be functional, allowing for movement and activity. The yellow dress, of course, is where the big time and money were spent.  “In the end, it came down to the fact that, really, whatever you want to do with the dress, there is an expectation based on the animation. If you stray too far, it feels like you’re not giving the costume-design-batb-02audience the dress they’re expecting. . . . But if I had actually produced the animated costume, it would have been quite simple and flat and lacking in detail. It’s not a very detailed drawing, when you get down to it. So, I looked to 18th-century France as an inspiration—the historical date and location of the movie. Also, Disney and everybody involved wanted Belle’s dress to be different from the Cinderella dress [in the 2015 live-action movie]. Emma didn’t want to be corseted. She was a more modern princess.” Not to leave out the Beast. Durran had painstakingly recreated the Beast’s costume down to the very last detail but in the end, the studio went with a CGI beast instead, and Dan Stevens ended up wearing one of those monstrous CGI motion capture suits instead. Durran sent her costumes to the animation lab where they studied the fabrics to capture the form and motion. But when he’s not the Beast, the costume work is incredible: “An amazing amount of work went into the prince’s costume in the opening ball sequence, which you don’t really see. It’s got a whole custom embroidery of different kinds of grotesque animals stitched into the pattern. It’s embellished with 20,000 Swarovski crystals that took five days to stitch on.”

Personally, I think Beauty and the Beast is a strong contender for this year’s Oscar. But you can’t discount Phantom Thread – that movie IS fashion, with Daniel Day Lewis playing the designer! You’d be a fool not to consider it. But The Shape of Water needs consideration also. Although the creature’s expressions were enhanced by CGI, the creature itself is not visual effects but a man (Doug Jones) in a very clever costume.

Who do you think will win this year’s Oscar for costume design?

 

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Darkest Hour

Darkest Hour should maybe be called Darkest Month. In 1940, Winston Churchill was asked by the King to take over as Prime Minister. It was a shitty time to get the job: Hitler was marching his Nazi army across Europe, and the threat of invasion was uncomfortably close. During this particular month, Churchill’s first on the job, he’s got an impossible task. He must decide whether to negotiate a treaty with Hitler, or whether to stand firm against the Nazis but in so doing risk his country. And he had to do this without his party’s support or the public’s understanding or any help from the King.

Winston Churchill is an iconic and influential figure in British history and he’s been portrayed with varying success by some truly venerable actors:  Albert Finney, lead_960Brendan Gleeson, Timothy Spall, Robert Hardy, and most recently by John Lithgow in The Crown. He is not a saintly figure. He was a great orator but had some problematic positions that hindsight can’t afford to be kind about. Portrayals of him often emphasize his omnipresent cigar, and his particular style of speech (his custom dentures helped cover up a lisp). Gary Oldman is the gentleman tasked with bring old Winnie to life in Darkest Hour, and though he’s seen chomping on the necessary cigars, he turns the performance into something truly remarkable.

Oldman is transformed by makeup and prosthetics; his jowls are considerable. His tics and posture help render him unrecognizable. He dissolves into character. As Churchill he delivers some of history’s most famous and familiar speeches and he is electrifying. Kristin Scott Thomas as his tell-it-like-it-is wife, Lily James as his newbie secretary, and Ben Mendelsohn as the King help round out the cast but Darkest Hour feels like a one man show and Oldman is equal to the cast. Truthfully I don’t know many others who could carry 125 minutes of infamy, but Gary Oldman deserves his frontman status in all the Oscar pools. His portrayal is vigorous and complex and maybe even a little bit compassionate.

As for the movie itself, it’s not quite as formidable. The events are told simply, without a lot of cinematic flair, and it sometimes feels sluggish. There’s not a lot of imagination on display, and perhaps that’s an unfair criticism with the burden of historical accuracy weighing heavily, but director Joe Wright is more precise than entertaining. It’s Oldman who kept me in my seat, and I’m sure it’ll be Oldman bounding out of his on Oscar night to collect his well-deserved award.

Ferdinand

Ferdinand is a big, beefy bull who accidentally destroys a village and gets branded a beast. The biggest, most monstrous bulls get chosen by the matador for bullfights, MV5BZWQ5ODZiMWMtYjM1Yy00ZDlhLTkwYzctNTQxNzE5MDRhNmIxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjA0MTc4OQ@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,738_AL_but Ferdinand has never aspired to such fame. He’s a gentle soul, really, a pacifist. The other bulls are quite judgmental about his lack of fight but Ferdinand stays true to himself.

And that’s all I really have to say about it. This is not Pixar; it’s not intended for adults, or particularly bright children. Ferdinand is forgettable. It doesn’t even try to surprise you. But John Cena as Ferdinand is pretty okay and Kate McKinnon as a “calming goat” is sometimes nearly funny, so I guess there’s that. It just feels lackluster, and lazy.

 

Oscar Nominations 2018

Since we got 18 hours’ worth of snow and freezing rain between Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, Jay and I both got to stay home and watch Andy Serkis and Tiffany Hadish announce the 2018 Oscar Nominees.

Our instant reaction after the presentation finished?  Quite positive, I’d say.  The Academy seems to have included everyone who ought to be a contender for these awards, save for James Franco but there’s an understandable reason for that (#metoo).  The only real disappointment was that Wonder Woman didn’t get any nominations at all, which seems like a significant omission for a movie that is fifth on Rotten Tomatoes’ best of 2017 list, particularly when the terrible Suicide Squad got nominated for (and won!) an Oscar in 2017.

Even though Wonder Woman didn’t get any nominations, it was both satisfying and encouraging to see Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird get the recognition they both deserve.  Hopefully, their success will lead to other quality passion projects like those getting a green light and finding their audiences too.

Here’s the full list of nominations along with links to the ones we’ve reviewed (we got most of them and will be working on the rest between now and March 4th).

Did you spot any glaring omissions by the Academy?  If so, let us know in the comments!

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

 

DIRECTING:

Christopher Nolan — Dunkirk

Jordan Peele — Get Out

Greta Gerwig — Lady Bird

Paul Thomas Anderson — Phantom Thread

Guillermo del Toro — The Shape of Water

 

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

 

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:

Call Me By Your Name — James Ivory

The Disaster Artist — Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber

Logan — Scott Frank, James Mangold, Michael Green

Molly’s Game — Aaron Sorkin

Mudbound — Virgil Williams, Dee Rees

 

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE:

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.

 

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE:

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

 

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:

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

 

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:

Mary J. Blige — Mudbound

Allison Janney — I, Tonya

Lesley Manville — Phantom Thread

Laurie Metcalf — Lady Bird

Octavia Spencer — The Shape of Water

 

DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE):

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail — Steve James, Mark Mitten, Julie Goldman

Faces Places — Agnès Varda, JR and Rosalie Varda

Icarus — Bryan Fogel, Dan Cogan

Last Men in Aleppo — Feras Fayyad, Kareem Abeed, Søren Steen Jespersen

Strong Island — Yance Ford, Joslyn Barnes

 

DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT):

Edith + Eddie — Laura Checkoway, Thomas Lee Wright

Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405 — Frank Stiefel

Heroin(e) — Elaine McMilion Sheldon, Kerrin Sheldon

Knife Skills — Thomas Lennon

Traffic Stop — Kate Davis, David Heilbroner

 

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

 

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM:

The Boss Baby — Tom McGrath, Ramsey Naito

The Breadwinner — Nora Twomey, Anthony Leo

Coco — Lee Unkrich, Darla K. Anderson

Ferdinand — Carlos Saldanha

Loving Vincent — Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman, Ivan Mactaggart

 

ANIMATED SHORT FILM:

Dear Basketball — Glen Keane, Kobe Bryant

Garden Party — Victor Claire, Gabriel Grapperon

Lou — Dave Mullins, Dana Murray

Negative Space — Max Porter, Ru Kuwahata

Revolting Rhymes — Jakob Schuh, Jan Lachauer

 

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:

A Fantastic Woman — Sebastián Lelio, Chile

The Insult — Ziad Doueiri, Lebanon

Loveless — Andrey Zvyagintsev, Russia

On Body and Soul — Ildikó Enyedi, Hungary

The Square — Ruben Östlund, Sweden

 

CINEMATOGRAPHY:

Blade Runner 2049 — Roger A. Deakins

Darkest Hour — Bruno Delbonnel

Dunkirk — Hoyte van Hoytema

Mudbound — Rachel Morrison

The Shape of Water — Dan Laustsen

 

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 Denham Austerberry, Shane Vieau, Jeff Melvin

 

VISUAL EFFECTS:

Blade Runner 2049

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Kong: Skull Island

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

War for the Planet of the Apes

 

FILM EDITING:

Baby Driver — Paul Machliss, Jonathan Amos

Dunkirk — Lee Smith

I, Tonya — Tatiana S. Riegel

The Shape of Water — Sidney Wolinsky

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri — Jon Gregory

 

COSTUME DESIGN:

Beauty and the Beast — Jacqueline Durran

Darkest Hour — Jacqueline Durran

Phantom Thread — Mark Bridges

The Shape of Water — Luis Sequeira

Victoria & Abdul — Consolata Boyle

 

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING:

Darkest Hour — Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski, Lucy Sibbick

Victoria & Abdul — Daniel Phillips, Lou Sheppard

Wonder — Arden Tuiten

 

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” — Mudbound, Mary J. Blige, Raphael Saadiq, Taura Stinson

“Mystery of Love” — Call Me By Your Name, Sufjan Stevens

“Remember Me” — Coco, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez

“Stand Up for Something” — Marshall, Diane Warren, Lonnie R. Lynn

“This is Me” — The Greatest Showman, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul

 

SOUND EDITING:

Baby Driver — Julian Slater

Blade Runner 2049 — Mark Mangini, Theo Green

Dunkirk — Richard King, Alex Gibson

The Shape of Water — Nathan Robitaille, Nelson Ferreira

Star Wars: The Last Jedi — Matthew Wood, Ren Klyce

 

SOUND MIXING:

Baby Driver — Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin, Mary H. Ellis

Blade Runner 2049— Ron Bartlett, Doug Hemphill, Mac Ruth

Dunkirk — Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker, Gary A. Rizzo

The Shape of Water — Christian Cooke, Bran Zoern, Glen Gauthier

Star Wars: The Last Jedi — David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce, Stuart Wilson

The Post

In 1971, Kay Graham was the first of her kind, a female newspaper publisher, but she was never supposed to have the job. The Washington Post was part of the family business but her father passed it down not to her, but to her husband. But when her husband committed suicide, she stepped into shoes that had always been loafers, not heels.

Then, something amazing happens: someone leaks top secret documents that detail the Vietnam cover-up that spanned 4 U.S. presidents including the current one, Richard Nixon, who’s kind of a dick. The NY Times gets ahold of them but gets shut down by Tricky Dick and his cronies. The papers then filter down to The Washington Post, and Kay Graham has to decide whether she’s going to risk her little empire AND a serious prison sentence.

Interesting facts about Mrs. Graham: she was not a powerful business person, or used to MV5BMTg5Nzg3NjUzNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTY5NzA1NDM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_being in charge. She’d never had another job. She was naturally meek, and kind of nervous. She was surrounded by assertive men, some of whom weren’t crazy to have her among their midst and certainly didn’t see her as an equal never mind a boss, and none of whom were shy about voicing their opinions. She was, however, an accomplished socialite, which in the city of Washington, means she counted many prominent politicians among her friends – and the particular politician at the epicenter of this scandal was among her closest. These facts are not to diminish her but to illustrate just how courageous she truly was to take the stance she did.

Newsflash: Steven Spielberg is a good director. Yeah, we already knew this, but this film had me noticing all kinds of little details that I admired greatly. This movie has the feel of a smart and sharp little indie; it’s taut and thrilling and lots of fun. It gets a little heavy-handed at times but its best moments are when it’s showing, not telling.

Maybe Spielberg’s greatest asset is his incredible ensemble cast. Tom Hanks is the fevered editor, and he’s flawless. Bob Odenkirk is stupendous as a hard-working investigative journalist. But of course it’s Meryl Streep who steals the show as Kay Graham. It’s not a showy role. Mrs. Graham is never the biggest personality in the room. She’s not commanding, but we are nevertheless riveted by Ms. Streep. Her shaking hands, her tremulous lip – we see how hard this for her, and so we admire her all the more for doing it.

You are not contractually allowed to write a review of this film without using the word “timely”. About a year ago, Nixon was down-graded to only the second most douche-baggiest president in history. Truth matters. The press belongs to the governed, not the governors. Support journalism. Subscribe to a newspaper, even if you read it online. One day they’ll be making movies about this time. But this is not just a news story, it’s also, of course, a nod to feminism. Mrs. Graham walks through a sea of secretaries before she’s admitted to the all-male floor of the New York Stock Exchange. She faces a Supreme Court that has never had a female Justice and wouldn’t for another decade. When someone says that Mrs. Graham’s father willing the family business to Kay’s husband says a lot about the man, Tom Hanks replies that actually, it says more about the time. So yeah, this is the movie we all need right now. It’s essential viewing. But even if wasn’t so “timely”, it’s so thoroughly peppered by exceptionally talented people that The Post is an easy recommendation and a damn fine film.

The Florida Project

Thank you New Hampshire Film Festival for bringing this beautiful film to us. We missed seeing it at TIFF and it got huge buzz. HUGE. Director Sean Baker is following up his crazy-good Tangerine and we’ve been collectively, societally waiting with baited breath for his next effort. It feels like Sean Baker is doing important work without all the trumpets and majorettes and fanfare. But I sort of hope that maybe I can blow the horn a bit here, wave a flag or two: The Florida Project is fucking awesome.

6 year old Moonee has the run of the crummy Orlando motel where she and her mother live in “extended stays.” Halley, her mom, can’t get work at Disney and has no other MV5BYjZhMDZmZjItNjcyZC00ZWY2LTkzMzUtZWM0ZDgyYzM2Nzg2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDg2MjUxNjM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1333,1000_AL_options, so you can imagine some of the crazy things they do for money. It’s a destitute, desperate kind of life but you’d never know it to see Mooney adventuring around free-range with her comrades.

Sean Baker is a master of society’s fringes, and the near-homelessness of the people constantly scrounging for rent between scrapes with the law or family services is about as marginal as you get. Situate that beside the self-proclaimed “happiest place on earth” where the wealthy tourists stay in much nicer digs and it’s an uncomfortable reminder that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

Moonee, meanwhile, is seemingly untouched by her circumstances. Intellectually, you know it’s not true: that of course she’s affected by what she sees and hears and eats and meets and experiences, and that she’ll find it hard to climb above her mother’s station. But for now she’s a happy-go-lucky kid who rarely faces consequences, although that’s largely thanks to the motel’s manager and de-facto babysitter, Bobby, who is the eyes, ears, caregiver and mediator when parents just aren’t up to snuff. And believe me, this is a building where neglect rules the day. I felt real tension watching these kids be unwatched.

Halley, barely more than a kid herself, and scarcely more responsible, is tattooed with bad decisions but not without sympathy. Bria Vinaite, who plays her, really understands Halley’s sharp corners and soft underbelly. Willem Dafoe gives Bobby a complexity and edge that make his character fascinating. He’s like the beating heart of the building he supervises. But it’s little Brooklynn Prince as Moonee who just about steals the whole gosh darn movie. She is so real and raw it often feels like you’re watching a documentary, and that the stakes are indeed life-altering. Child actors can make or break a movie but Sean Baker has found not one but a trio of incredibly spirited, natural, and talented kids that make this movie what it is.

The Florida Project is audacious, authentic, absorbing. And it’s begging to be watched.

The Breadwinner

Not all men are bad, not even all Afghan men. That’s important to remember. Not all of them want to treat women like garbage, but the taliban sure does. It’s not enough to cover women head to toe in burqas, but new rules in Afghanistan prohibit them from leaving the house at all, except in rare cases when accompanied by a father, husband, or brother.

Parvana’s older sister hasn’t left the house in so long she’s forgetting what it was like. Parvana is “lucky” because her father lost his leg in the war and his livelihood more recently, so she assists him down to the market where they try to sell their possessions in order to eat. Her father respects his daughters, educated them, and wants better things for them, things he can no longer give them with the oppressive taliban regime patrolling with guns and indignation. When the taliban inevitably hauls him off to prison for no reason, suddenly the family is left without an escape clause. Parvana’s mother andMV5BMDg0ODM5NTYtMjNkMS00NDQ3LWI5MGYtMDg3ZTQ5MDE0OTRlL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjQ1NjA0ODM@._V1_ sister and baby brother could literally starve to death waiting for a man to come release them from their own home so Parvana does the only thing she can think of to save them: she cuts off her hair, wears the clothes of her dead brother, and to taliban eyes, becomes a boy.

You may recognize The Breadwinner as a recent high-profile screening at TIFF; Angelina Jolie is a producer and her red carpet appearance really shined the spotlight on this important film. People were equally excited to celebrate it at the Ottawa International Animation Festival. It played to a packed house and I imagine it will again on Saturday so if you haven’t got your tickets, get on it!

The Breadwinner’s animation is stunning.  Stunning. Like, I want to get tattoos of it on my body. That’s really the highest praise you can give, or that I can give, an animated movie, a compliment I haven’t given before or even thought to. The story is kind of perfection. It’s by no means an exact replica of the book. It diverges significantly from it but still feels like an authentic and spiritual distillation of it.

If The Breadwinner isn’t talked about come Oscar time, I’ll be shocked and outraged. Not taliban guy seeing a woman “calling attention to herself” by merely being outdoors outraged, but outraged. It’s a great story coupled with the most amazing animation but it also could not be more essential viewing at this moment in time.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Holy hell.

Writer-director Martin McDonagh has almost certainly reached the peak of his film making career with this film. It doesn’t get much better than this.

The three billboards in question have been rented by grieving mother Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) to accuse the town sheriff, Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) of not having made any progress on the case since her daughter was brutally raped and murdered. Willoughby isn’t terribly pleased, but he’s got more important things to worry about – namely, terminal cancer. So it’s his racist, hotheaded, cruel officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell) who takes up his cause, torturing anyone he suspects of having helped.

MV5BZmMyMTg1NzEtNWZiZi00OTczLTg0NzUtNzFlNjI5YjJkMzkxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDg2MjUxNjM@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_McDonagh uses lyrical language peppered with inspired cursewords; his heavy-weight cast punches it up with a surprising mixture of gravitas and black comedy.

Frances McDormand, national treasure, is of course fantastico. Wearing her ubiquitous coverall, she’s a no-nonsense woman who’s been through hell even before her daughter’s gruesome death. She is not without a softer side, though rarely seen. McDonagh gave her a couple of speeches that practically earned standing ovations at our screening. She walks a thin line between vengeance and justice but discovers she is not exempt herself. She’s got a terrific scene pitted against Willoughby that suggests these two have more history than we’re privy to. It’s a small town; there’s almost no vitriol without at least a measure of respect. As Willoughby, Harrelson once again reminds us he’s capable of almost anything. But, arguably, the man to watch is Sam Rockwell. He’s hateful, detestable, and yet we don’t quite hate him or detest him as we should. That’s sort of the miracle of McDonagh’s script – all of his characters are deeply flawed. Mildred is our protagonist but she’s no one’s hero. She makes too many mistakes. Dixon is all mistakes but for a small sliver of charm, and Rockwell exploits the hell out of it. He’s almost maniacal at times, and loads of fun to watch. Any time any of these power houses square off verbally, they’re shooting spitfire, and it’s even more entertaining to watch than a good old fashioned shoot out. And that’s not even mentioning a very capable stable of secondary characters that add dimensionality to the population of this small, insular town.

McDonagh’s world is not one of easy outs. It feels like he has asked himself – what would be most surprising here – and yet, despite a plot that constantly feels like it’s developing from the left field, it feels right.

I fully expect to see McDormand’s name on the Oscar ballot this year, in a race for Best Actress that’s already crowded (she’s the third name I’ve tossed out this festival alone). But Rockwell’s belongs there too – this is what Best Supporting aspires to be. Although conventionally shot, this is an extraordinary film, one I hope you’ll see and love when it comes out this November.

A Man Called Ove

There is indeed a man called Ove. He is a crotchety old man who rules his condo tenement with fierce rigidity. He’s aged out of his job and his wife has left him (well, died, but he’s such a grump I can only assume it was purposely, to escape him). I shouldn’t joke; his wife’s grave is the only time and place where he’s a little tender. Does he list her a litany of complaints? Of course he does. But only because the world’s gone to MV5BNTgzNDcxYzEtZDljOC00NDZmLTk2ZTAtOTVhM2Y1MWI1YzUyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMDc2NTEzMw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1581,1000_AL_shit without her. The only reason he hasn’t committed suicide yet is the damn neighbours, who need constant monitoring and discipline, and who else would take it upon themselves to mete it out?

It turns out that Ove has had a pretty interesting life. It’s just that no one knows it because he isolates himself, sequestered in a condo that’s still a shrine to his dead wife. It’s only because some boisterous, needy new neighbors draw him out against his will that we learn the ups and downs that have contributed to his current thorny state. If you’re feeling like this sounds a little sentimental, well, it is. But it stays just shy of saccharine thanks to a nuanced performance by Rolf Lassgård in the title role. He never lets Ove go full-martyr, he keeps the role alive and flawed and beautiful. Ove’s may not exactly be a unique character arc, but it’s charmingly irresistible in Lassgård’s hands.

The film is a little predictable but so sweetly executed that I’m finding it hard to fault it. It’s surprisingly funny at times, mixing genres fairly deftly, making for a lovely, bittersweet, and humane character study that’s a pleasure to watch.

 

Oscar Spotlight: Live-Action Shorts

My favourite thing about sitting down to watch a short film is having no idea what to expect. I rarely watch a feature film without having seen a trailer or at least having read something about it. When I watch a collection of shorts, I am pretty much ready for anything.

 

mindenki_behindthecurtainMindenki (Sing). Everyone who wants to is welcome to sing in choir, promises the principal at Zsófi’s new school. The truth, she will soon discover, is more complicated. Zsófi is an enthusiastic student until her spirit is crushed when Miss Erika, who thinks they may have a real shot at the championship this year, takes her aside and asks her to stop singing out loud.

Mindenki has a lot going on in just 25 minutes. Watching a 10 or 11 year-old being told by her favourite teacher that she simply isn’t good enough and that she should just “mouth the words” while the others sing is pretty much as heartbreaking as it sounds. It says a lot about the ways some students can get left behind and the ways that a careless teacher can demoralize a child and stifle creativity.

silent-nightsLikeable actors, terrific editing, and a timely story go a long way in elevating the imperfect but nonetheless effective Silent Nights. Mostly a love story set against the backdrop of the immigration and refugee controversy in Western Europe, Silent Nights follows a brief affair between a Danish girl volunteering in a shelter and a homeless man from Ghana.

Silent Nights packs a lot of story into 30 minutes and it features a much clearer beginning, middle, and end than I’m used to seeing in short films. It’s actually structured like a min feature film complete with subplots that lead nowhere. The script is ocassionally a little too sentimental but it earns big points for introducing us to two complex characters that we can care about.

 

With just 15 minutes, Timecode is the shortest of the five nominated shorts. It’s also potentially the most confusing. Luna is a parking lot attendant who discovers that her colleague Diego has left a surpritimecodese for her. He has danced his heart out in front of the security cameras for her amusement. I have to admit though that it took me awhile to recognize it as dancing. I thought at first that he was fighting off an invisible assailant. So begins their unusual shift exchange ritual.

Timecode has already picked up several awards including the Palmes d’Or at Cannes and more importantly Best International Shortfilm at the Whistler Film Festival so its got a serious shot at the Oscar. It’s cute, well-made (even if not always well-danced but hey we forgave La La Land), and is probably the least pretentious of the five nominees. I just simply didn’t enjoy it as much as I enjoyed the others.

 


Ennemis Interieurs (Enemies Within)
is the more disciplined of the two Europeans Can Be Racist shorts (see Silent Nights above). Enemies Within is mostly just two people in a room talking but holy shit is itennemis-interieurs3 tense. A citizenship interview slowly morphs into a full-on national security interrogation.

Ennemis Interieurs can sort of feel like just a really good scene from the glory days of Homeland but the acting and directing are superb and it says a lot in a short time about institutional racism and self-fulfilling prophecies.

 


La Femme et le TGV
is my favourite of the five. And not just because it has trains. An aging woman discovers that her daily ritual of waving at passing trains hasn’t gotten unnoticed or unappreciated. The train’s conductor decides to write her a thank you note and their pen palling reignites her passion for litgvfe.

I’ve read one reviewer accuse La Femme et le TGV of stealing its tone from Amelie. While I agree that Amelie would give you a pretty good idea of what you can expect, I would argue that my favourite live-action short of 2016 takes some of what worked best from Amelie to deliver something funny, touching, and lovely.