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Oscars 2019 Recap

What to lead with?

a) The Oscars were boring as hell without a host.

b) Green Book is NOT my best picture.

Although the Oscars did see a modest bump in audience this year, it is not likely to 91st Annual Academy Awards - Showhave converted any of the first-time watchers as the show felt listless and low energy without a host or opening number. Many of the presenters were good – I like the John Mulaney-Awkwafina pairing, and of course Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph and Tina Fey, though I think the win goes to Melissa McCarthy and Brian Tyree Henry who really went balls-out in paying tribute to costumers (and kudos to the costume designer in charge of her cape who actually got every single one of those bunnies to stand up).

It was a great night for women, and for women of colour in particular. Rachel Carter and Hannah Beachler became the first ever African American women to win in their categories – costume design for Carter and production design for Beachler. They’re the first African American women to win in a non-acting category since 1984, when91st Annual Academy Awards - Press Room Irene Cara won for cowriting Flashdance. Both wins come courtesy of juggernaut Black Panther, which may be the actual best picture of 2018, trophy or not. “Marvel may have created the first black superhero, but through costume design, we turned him into an African king,” Carter said in her speech. “It’s been my life’s honor to create costumes. Thank you to the academy. Thank you for honoring African royalty and the empowered way women can look and lead onscreen.” Beachler, meanwhile, paid it forward “I give the strength to all of those who come next, to keep going, to never give up. And when you think it’s impossible, just remember to say this piece of advice I got from a very wise woman: I did my best, and my best is good enough.”

Regina King, Mahershala Ali, and Rami Malek all earned the Oscars they were expected to in the top acting categories. I have trouble calling Ali’s performance a 91st Annual Academy Awards, Press Room, Los Angeles, USA - 24 Feb 2019supporting one since he has pretty equal screen time to Viggo, but his award is deserved – not only was it the best and only good thing in an otherwise shitty movie, he ran a very gracious and thoughtful campaign. So did Malek, which is probably what pulled him out ahead of Christian Bale, who probably turned in the more effortful performance as Dick Cheney in Vice but didn’t campaign at all. Olivia Colman pulled out the night’s biggest upset (well, one of them) with her best actress win over the favoured Glenn Close (clearly not The Favourite though, haha, movie puns). Close is great in The Wife, which is not a good movie. Colman is great in The Favourite, which is an exceptional movie. Again, you can’t and shouldn’t really call hers the leading performance above Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz when all 3 ladies get equal screen time, but thanks to wonderful editing, her story line acts as 91st Annual Academy Awards - Backstagethe emotional anchor. And oh boy is she emotional! It’s such a forceful, impassioned performance. Truly deserving, even if poor Close has now lost 7 times and won 0 – a dismal track record, and she’s the got the dubious title of most nominated but never winning actor – male or female.

Spike Lee finally won his Oscar, for BlackKklansman‘s best adapted screenplay. A tough category, which makes it exciting. You could have had heaps more in there spike-lee-1-1for sure. I think If Beale Street Could Talk and Can You Ever Forgive Me? were just as good (and so different!) but I’m glad Lee won, and super glad that pal Sam Jackson was there to tell him the good news. Their on-stage celebration was one of the highlights of the night. So, by the way, was Barbra Streisand telling the audience the many things she and Spike have in common – including (but not limited to) their love of hats. God bless her!

Alfonso Cuaron won best director, as he should, from great friend and last year’s winner, Guillermo del Toro, who got out of his sick bed to do so. And Cuaron accepted Roma‘s award for best foreign language film on behalf of Mexico. And he won best cinematography, the first DP to win who also directed the movie. 91st Annual Academy Awards - Governors BallInterestingly, the American Society of Cinematography gave its highest award to Cold War’s Łukasz Żal, but that’s because Cuaron, a director, is not a part of this guild. Cuaron is the first person to be personally nominated for 4 Oscars for a single film (best foreign language is not personal, but awarded to a country), the fourth being for his original screenplay, which he lost in a tragic incident I don’t even want to get into. Anyhow, in presenting the award for cinematography, Tyler Perry noted it was a pleasure to do so “live on 91st Annual Academy Awards, Governors Ball, Los Angeles, USA - 24 Feb 2019camera, not during the commercial break. Thank you, Academy.” You may recall that just a few weeks ago, the Academy said it would hand out several awards, including this one, during commercial breaks, but had to rescind its decision due to the wrath of nearly everyone.

It used to be that best director and best picture often went hand in hand, which makes sense. But in the past 10 years, since the Oscars opened up the best picture category to a potential 10 nominees, things changed. Now it uses a “preferential ballot” system, which means the most liked movie wins – but not necessary the most popular, which could explain the now 50% 91st Annual Academy Awards - Showdiscrepancy between best picture and best director wins. Members are asked to rank the best picture nominees from best to worst. This year there were 8 nominees, so the accountants made 8 piles and sorted all the ballots according to their #1 choices. If no movie has more than 50% of the votes, and with more than 5 nominees that’s practically impossible, then the smallest pile is removed. Let’s assume that Vice had the smallest pile. Now all the ballots that listed Vice #1 are re-sorted into piles according to who their #2 pick was. You can see why canny members are now voting strategically, and how the movie with the most #1 picks won’t necessarily be the winner. The win could easily go to the movie with the most #2 picks, which is weird, but that’s also how Americans pick their presidents, and we all know how well that turns out. So Green Book is the Donald Trump of best pictures.

Green Book shouldn’t have been nominated. At best, it’s a pretty pedestrian movie. At best. But it’s also a movie about race relations that’s written and directed by white ABC's Coverage Of The 91st Annual Academy Awards - Press Roommen. Solely by white men. Which is why so many of the Academy’s old white men felt comfortable voting for it. They could pat themselves on the back for being ‘diverse’ while still rewarding the status quo – for reframing the story of a black man’s experience into the perspective of his white driver. Never mind that director Peter Farrelly has a history of consulting his penis during meetings. And that writer Nick Vallelonga has said some weird Islamophobic shit, agreeing with Trump of all people, tweeting “100% correct. Muslims in Jersey City cheering when towers went down” – and that was still on his time line when he won the Golden Globe this year. Gross.

Meanwhile, Roma is a work of art from start to finish. I’m so proud that a black and white movie, with subtitles, with no stars or recognizable names, about society’s less visible women, is such a huge deal, so gorgeous and relatable. What a win for 91st Annual Academy Awards - Governors BallNetflix, and for taking chances. And If Beale Street Could Talk is also completely worthy. It’s visual poetry. I was electrified, from the colours to the dialogue’s flow, and the story’s timeliness and timelessness. Perfection. And there are many other terrific movies besides: The Favourite is funny and incisive and beautifully acted; BlackKlansman is galvanizing wizardry; Sorry To Bother You is risky and bold; Blindspotting is culturally significant; Spiderman: Into the Spider Verse is ground breaking; Eighth Grade distills a moment in time, taking us back while pinning us in place with its precise observation; Black Panther elevates the super hero game and asks more of us as an audience and a culture; Can You Ever Forgive Me? is funnier than almost any comedy released this year but the humour comes from a dark and interesting place, a true voice for society’s losers; Leave No Trace is heart breaking in its truth and simplicity; First Man is cold and wonderful and ambitious and intimate; Crazy Rich Asians is visually stunning and a cultural milestone. I’m going to stop there, but you get my point. 2018 was a great year for movies. I was moved, I cried in utter delight, I was horrified and invigorated. I think Green Book is a step back. I wish it didn’t win. But instead of complaining about Green Book, I’m going to keep pushing forward the movies I love, because that’s what’s so great about cinema. You don’t have to like them all, but if you keep watching, you will find something to love.

 

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Trump’s Muslim Ban & the Oscars

This past weekend, Donald Trump signed a deliberately hateful and ignorant document into law, making racism and Islamophobia national policy. Critics derided it as giphy (1).gifUnAmerican, and yet it was America who voted this buffoon into presidency just a few short months ago. In the face of one man’s cowardly discrimination, however, were many more acts of love and fraternity. American citizens stormed airports with signs of welcome and solidarity. Lawyers littered the floors working pro-bono around the clock. And a group of actors at the SAG-ACTRA awards used their acceptance speeches to give voice to millions of people who say: Not my America.

Over the next 90 days, visas will not be issued to nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. Existing visas will not be honoured. People who boarded planes intending to legally enter the country, even those with green cards, were detained for hours, questioned, and deported.

In the face of this injustice, it seems almost petty to talk about the Oscars, but since this is a movie review site, this is what we will do.

Asghar Farhadi is the Oscar-winning director of A Separation; it made awards history in giphy (3).gif2012 when it was the first Iranian film to win an Oscar. This year he has toured the festivals with The Salesman, and won Best Screenplay at Cannes. Iran submitted it to be considered in the foreign film category at the Academy Awards and it won a nomination. Asghar Farhadi will not be allowed to attend the ceremony because of Trump’s “Muslim ban.” This is who his ban keeps out – not terrorists, but people who come here to work, to study, to visit friends and family.

The star of The Salesman, Taraneh Alidoosti, one of the most acclaimed actresses in her country, will boycott the Oscars in order to protest Trump’s racist ban. “I decided not to go even if I could, because it hurts me deeply to see ordinary people of my country being rejected for what might be their legal right to have access to their children abroad or to their school classes as students,” Ms. Alidoosti told The New York Times in an interview.

In a statement, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said it was “extremely troubling” that Mr. Farhadi and the cast and crew of “The Salesman,” could be “barred from entering the country because of their religion or country of origin.” I’d say that’s a bit of an understatement.

Meanwhile, Asghar Farhadi had this to say on the subject: “I hereby express my condemnation of the unjust conditions forced upon some of my compatriots and the giphy (5).gifcitizens of the other six countries trying to legally enter the United States of America and hope that the current situation will not give rise to further divide between nations,” Farhadi said. He’s not the only one with this fear on his mind: “Our most important allies in the fight against ISIL are the vast majority of Muslims who reject its apocalyptic ideology of hatred. This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country. That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security” [italics are mine]. It wasn’t Bernie Sanders or Obama who said that, it was a joint statement from two Republican senators, John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

It isn’t just Farhadi who will be affected by this ban come February 26th  (Oscar broadcast).

The filmmakers behind The White Helmets, a film about Syrian volunteer first responders in that country’s bloody civil war, had planned on bringing two representatives of that group to the ceremony, but Trump’s travel ban – which impacts Syria – will prevent that from happening. The White Helmets, mind you, have been nominated for a goddamned Nobel Peace Prize, and yet Trump sees fit to keep these heroes out. Producer Johanna Natasegara said in a statement “These people are the bravest humanitarians on the planet, and the idea that they could not be able to come with us and enjoy that success is just abhorrent.”

giphy-4The Syrian family at the heart of Watani: My Homeland, another short documentary up for an Academy Award, is also unable to attend the Oscars due to the travel ban, even though they are now German citizens. But movies and stories like this, and Fire At Sea, which tell the human story of refugees are even more vital at a time like this. Watani director Marcel Mettelsiefen said “We must reconnect with the common humanity of the refugee experience and we must all remember that the founding story of America is dependent upon people who have fled war, hunger and poverty in search of a better life.”

I think this whole notion that somehow we can just say no more Muslims, just ban a whole religion, goes against everything we stand for and believe in. I mean, religious freedom has been a very important part of our history and where we came from.” These words were not spoken by “overrated” actress Meryl Streep but by Dick Cheney, who was vice president at the time of the 9-11 attacks.

Muslims are our friends, neighbours, and colleagues. They may serve you street food from a food truck or treat you in your local emergency room. They’re also in movies, sometimesgiphy (2).gif entertaining us, sometimes helping to tell urgently important stories. Oscar-nominated (and best supporting actor heir presumptive) Mahershala Ali is Muslim (Moonlight, Hidden Figures). Rogue One’s Riz Ahmed is Muslim. So are Dave Chapelle, Ice Cube,  Mos Def, Amal Clooney, Omar Epps, Janet Jackson, Aziz Ansari, Ellen Burstyn, Muhammad Ali, Shaq, Kareem, and some of my favourite members of the Wu-Tang Clan. Muslims are not terrorists. Muslims are terrorized by terrorists, who use any reason, including religion (including Christianity) to do evil.

giphyTaraneh Alidoosti, an actress known to very few over here in the west, is boycotting the Oscars. Wouldn’t it really mean something if others did as well? If the Oscars had to broadcast hundreds of empty seats, each tagged with the name of a celebrity who didn’t come because the thought of Trump’s America was so unpalatable that it’s better to stay home than to schmooze and be lauded by one’s colleagues? If they stood in solidarity with fellow film makers who are just as deserving but are prohibited from celebrating just because of their religion? Now that’s a story worth telling; let’s continue to take part in it.

 

 

 

 

Yes, #OscarsSoWhite, but can we really blame the Academy?

The truth is, the Academy’s demographics are a problem. They’re too damned white. But this year’s white-washed ballots are only a symptom of a much larger problem: the fact that talented black actors just aren’t getting cast.

A lot was made earlier this year when a role that was originally meant to be male (and in fact was based on a real-life man) was rewritten for Sandra Bullock (in Our Brand is Crisis). That movie aside, it turned out to be a banner year for women in film. So why can’t we do the same for people of colour? White has been the de facto race for far too long, the product of unimaginative directors and casting agents who refuse to acknowledge that most parts could and should be colour-blind.

The race for best actor and best actress Oscars this year lacks diversity. It’s a fucking vacuum where only white people may enter. But what choice did the voters really have? Last year we could easily feel that Selma had been grossly ignored, but can you think of a black actor, or any non-white actor, who was unfairly overlooked this year?

Don’t say Will Smith. Sure the Globes love him, he’s the freaking Fresh Prince, but he didn’t deserve an Oscar nomination for his work in Concussion. You could maybe argue Idris Elba, for Beasts of No Nation, but you’d have to argue. It’s a tight race this year, and only 5 roles can be acknowledged. Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, and Sylvester Stallone are likely locking up most votes for best supporting actor. Christian Bale and Mark Ruffalo are more interchangeable, but it’s not clear cut. I do wonder, though, if perhaps the roles those two played could have been fulfilled by a non-white actor? I realize they’re both based on real-life people, but don’t we have a moral obligation to represent all people a little more fairly in the mainstream media? Movies are supposed to represent and reflect the audiences watching them, but they’re failing to do that over and over and over. And relying on “black movies” like Selma or 12 Years A Slave to provide the only colour at an awards ceremony is egregious and embarrassing. It’s also a little embarrassing that the only nominations for Creed and Straight Outta Compton, movies that actually did feature black talent, still somehow went to white people.

We can do better.

 

Oscar Nominations 2015 – Surprises & Snubs

The-Oscars-2014-logoHuge Snub: Where is The Lego Movie for Best Animated Feature? That’s crazy. What the hell did the Academy even watch this year? It’s hard to wrap our minds around this one, but here’s what I’ve understood so far: in this category, only animators can vote for the nominations. They must watch all 20 Oscar contenders and then rate them. These people are voting not for the best movie that just happens to be animated (which The Lego Movie is) but the best-animated movie. They are traditionalists and artists who prefer artistry. They laud films like The Boxtrolls because it is done in the labour-intensive stop-animation style. The Lego Movie, on the other hand, mocks stop-animation. So, while that doesn’t make it fair, or right, that’s probably lost it for the Lego guys who can’t compete against small animation studios who are actually producing hand-drawn stuff.

Surprise: Whiplash for Best Picture. Well-deserved, I believe, I just wasn’t expecting to see it there.

Snub: Ava DuVernay should have gotten a best director nod for Selma.

Surprise: American Sniper for Best Picture. Does NOT deserve to be there.

Snub: Neither Ralph Fiennes nor David Oyelowo nominated for lead actor. List feels incomplete without them.

Surprise: Robert Duvall for supporting actor. Really?

 

The Grand Budapest Hotel and Birdman lead the pack with 9 nominations each and I’m super excited that both these offbeat, interesting movies have garnered so much attention. Disturbingly, the Academy seems more intent on honouring American Sniper, a movie about blind hero-worship than Selma, a movie that offers a hero worth worshipping.

Good news for Matt: you won’t have to sit through the Transformers movie!

Good news for Sean: two nominations for Guardians of the Galaxy!

The Lego Movie

The only thing anyone needs to be special is to believe that you can be. I know that sounds like a cat poster, but it’s true. -Vitruvius

Sometimes movies try too hard. Sometimes the effort to be meaningful or say something important is so obvious that it overwhelms the entertaining parts of the movie. That did not happen here.

This movie is gleefully insane but in the smartest possible way. It strikes a very difficult balance – it makes me laugh at the same silly things as my nieces and nephews. It feels made for all of us at once. And it makes me feel good about watching it with them, not only because it makes them laugh, but also because it has something really good to say. It has a great heart, and I think I want them to grow up to be like Emmet. Except not plastic.

Everything this movie tries, works. I just love this movie. And if you read my Big Hero 6 review, you know how much I loved that movie. But Matt was right. This is the best animated movie of 2014. Hands down. Everything truly is awesome here. You can see the love put into this in every single glorious frame. Everything is little bricks, everything looks like Lego and feels like Lego. It is unique and wonderful. See this movie and you are sure to find something to love too.

The LEGO Movie vs Big Hero 6: Everything is Awesome

It was announced last week that The LEGO Movie was (no surprise here) nominated for the Best Animated Feature Film Golden Globe. This, of course, prompted me to rewatch it, leaving me wondering who should win the Baymax/Will-Arnett’s-Batman battle. This is the problem with awards season, I guess, in that it makes us have to decide between stuff we love.

Sorry, Hiro. There’s just something special about Warner Bros.’ feature-length tribute to (or commercial for) the world of LEGO. Whether it’s the stays-in-your-head-for-days signature song, the exceptionlessly great voice cast (my favourites probably Liam Neeson in his one-man good copy/bad copy routine), or the genuinely touching ending, The LEGO Movie has so much that makes it stick out. The think for yourself message manages to be effective even as it hints that we should buy more LEGOs. And spend less on coffee. It’s more consistently funny than Big Hero 6 and even more creative. Batman, Superman, the Wild West, Han Solo, pirates, and Abraham Lincoln could only co-exist in the world of a kid and his Lego set. Until now. Only an Up or a Wall-E, which we’ve had to do without this year, could beat that. Thanks to LEGO and Big Hero 6 though, it’s still going to be an interesting category at the Golden Globes.

Force Majeure

Force Majeure is a fascinating movie and a great conversation starter.  Basic spoilers will follow but I’ll try to rein myself in as much as possible.

I saw Force Majeure with Jay and Matt yesterday.  We talked about it for at least an hour afterward, discussing what we would have done and how we would have reacted (as one of the leads and as their dinner guests), what Tomas could have done differently (once he abandons his family in a moment of panic), and what might have happened after the movie cuts to the credits.  Any movie that is this thought-provoking is a worthy watch.  Force Majeure definitely excels at drawing the conversation out.

This film also takes great pleasure in making us extremely, extremely uncomfortable.  After their disastrous outdoor lunch where disaster (almost) strikes, our interactions with Tomas and his family consist almost entirely of awkward silences, anguished wailing, and/or passive aggressive attacks on each other at group dinners.  All these interactions are extremely hard to watch because their relationship has gone so bad so quick (though I liked the inclusion of some hints that it might not have been that good in the first place).

I am told this is Sweden’s candidate for the Academy Awards’ best foreign language film.  It’s very worthy of consideration for that award.  It makes you think, it makes you feel, and it makes you want to talk about everything you’ve gone through.  The inclusion of some scenes was a puzzle to figure out as I was watching, though in discussing many of them with Jay and Matt afterward I was able to understand their relevance more, as each scene tries to show us something about our characters’ feelings or mindsets.  That puzzle element, in hindsight, is a neat aspect of the movie, providing insight into these characters’ fragile states and letting us experience for ourselves the devastating consequences of Tomas’ split-second decision.  This is not an easy movie to watch but it is one to seek out and experience for yourself.  And once you do, come back and let us know what you thought!

 

 

 

Interested in hearing what another asshole thought? Read Jay’s review here and Matt’s over here. Which asshole got it right?