(*homocinematically inclined)

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Short Cuts 2020, Part 1: Oscar's Animated Short Film Nominees

For the 15th year, ShortsTV presents this year's Academy Award nominated animated, live action and documentary short films at a theater (starting January 29th) or streaming platform (starting February 4th) near you. These special programs are usually the only way for most movie fans to see all of these otherwise illusive short film nominees that can make or break your office Oscar pool. In the first of three parts, Movie Dearest takes a look at this year's five nominees for Best Animated Short Film.

Family relationships dominate the bulk of this year's 'tiny toon' contenders, with three stop-motion independent shorts vs. two higher profile 2D productions, all from first time nominees. Notably, no computer animated works were nominated this year, a first in the category in some time.

And the nominees are...

Dcera (Daughter), Daria Kashcheeva (Czech Republic, 15 minutes), trailer.

With her father hospitalized, a daughter looks back on their complicated relationship. Using papier-mâché puppets and mimicking live action techniques such as handheld camera movements and rack focus, this Student Academy Award winner captures a raw, almost documentary-like style that nonetheless fails to mask it's uncompelling story.

MD Rating: 6/10

Hair Love, Matthew A. Cherry & Karen Rupert Toliver (USA, 7 minutes), clip.

On a very special day, an African American father tries to do his daughter’s hair for the first time. A Kickstarter record-setter released theatrically by Sony Animation with The Angry Birds Movie 2, this sweet story effectively mixes a little drama in with the comedy, creating a charming, crowd-pleasing tear-jerker fit for any family.

MD Rating: 7/10

Kitbull, Rosana Sullivan & Kathryn Hendrickson (USA, 9 minutes), trailer.

An unlikely friendship develops between a scrappy stray kitten and a gentle-souled pit bull. A rare 2D project from  Pixar (via their "SparkShorts" program), this dog-and-cat tale has an atypically darker edge to it as well which, unfortunately, is undercut by an oddly abrupt happy ending.

MD Rating
: 6/10

Mémorable, Bruno Collet & Jean-François Le Corre (France, 12 minutes), clip.

An aging painter, lost in dementia, finds himself untethered from reality, drifting through an increasingly surrealistic world. An award winner at the prestigious Annecy International Animated Film Festival, this stop-motion tour de force is a post-impressionistic feast for the eyes, only slightly hampered by its familiar scenario.

MD Rating: 7/10

Sister, Siqi Song (China/USA, 8 minutes), trailer.

A man relates his childhood memories of growing up with his annoying younger sister in 1990s China. Also a BAFTA and Annie Award nominee, this black and white stop-motion award winner is filled with flights of fancy laced with absurd humor that suddenly gives way to a harsh, emotionally wrenching reality. The best of the bunch, by far.

MD Rating: 9/10

Coming soon: Reviews of the Oscar nominees for Best Live Action Short Film and Best Documentary Short Subject.

Reviews by Kirby Holt, Movie Dearest creator, editor and head writer.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Oscars, 2019: America, America

Franky and Jimmy

Movie Dearest wraps up 2019 in Film with a new review round-up of this year's Oscar nominees, all set in the good ol' U.S. of A.:

The Irishman (now streaming on Netflix):
A Martin Scorsese epic gangster biopic starring Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci? No, this is no Goodfellas, but an epically overlong slog through the violent life of labor racketeer/"house painter" (mob-speak for hit-man) Frank Sheeran. The use of digital technology to "de-age" its stars through the years mostly works, and likely looks better on the home screen where most will probably watch it as an unofficial "mini-series". Despite crackerjack performances from Pesci and Al Pacino (in his least "Al Pacino-y" performance in a while) as ill-fated Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa, The Irishman is never as Good as the fellas. (6/10)

American Factory (now streaming on Netflix):
A sequel of sorts to directors Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert's other Oscar nominated doc, the 2009 short The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant, this first film from the Obama's Higher Ground Productions focuses on that same Ohio plant after it is bought by a Chinese billionaire and converted into a glass factory, staffed by both American and Chinese workers. The "fly-on-the-wall" style candidly captures the varied culture clashes and setbacks between the local working class and their Asian co-workers, bringing into sharp relief the fact that the metaphorical chasm that separates the East from the West is still as vast as ever. (7/10)

Breakthrough (now streaming on HBO):
This amazingly true story — about a St. Louis teenager who, through his mother's unwavering faith, miraculously survives a plunge into an icy lake — was pretty much ignored until its Oscar nod for yet another Diane Warren end credit ballad. Don't let its "Christian drama" designation cloud your judgement though, as its refreshingly even-handed with its religious overtones, plus it features a surprising host of (mostly TV) talent in its cast, including This Is Us' Chrissy Metz and, as a skinny jeans-wearing "hip" pastor, Topher Grace. Although its "inspirational" plot is awfully familiar, this marks a solid feature debut for director Roxann Dawson (of Star Trek: Voyager fame). (6/10)

Ford v Ferrari (available on Blu-ray and DVD February 11):
Matt Damon and Christian Bale (actually using his own accent) headline this crowd-pleasing dramatization of the public feud between the two automotive super-powers of its title that came to a head at the '24 Hours of Le Mans' endurance race in 1966. On the surface this may seem like the butchest movie ever, a period Fast and the Furious, but director James Mangold and his stars (along with some standout supporting turns from Tracy Letts as a blustering Henry Ford II and Jon Bernthal as a shockingly sexy young Lee Iacocca) ground it; it's more "average Joe against the system" than "us (as in U.S.) against them". Naturally, kinetic racing footage abounds. (7/10)

Richard Jewell (coming soon to Blu-ray and DVD):
Clint Eastwood continues his unofficial series of "American hero" biopics (see also American Sniper, Sully, etc.) with the story of the security guard who discovered a bomb during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. The hailing of the hero is short-lived though when the press reports that the FBI fingered him as the prime suspect; cue the media circus. It's almost laughable how broadly Eastwood paints his antagonists; fed Jon Hamm might as well be twirling an oily mustache, and Olivia Wilde's femme fatale journalist is just plain embarrassing. The film is saved by a truly outstanding performance from Paul Walter Hauser as the wrongly accused Jewell. (6/10)

Bombshell (in theaters now):
Retelling the events that led up to the ouster of Fox News CEO Roger Ailes after his sexual harassment of newscasters Megyn Kelly, Gretchen Carlson and others came to light, this docudrama hits the screen just three years after the events it depicts, yet it feels oddly dated in this post-"#MeToo" age. Much has been made about the cast's transformations into the real people they portray but I found Charlize Theron's distinctly deeper voice as Kelly, Nicole Kidman's prosthetic chin as Carlson and pretty much everything they stuck on John Lithgow as Ailes distracting and counterproductive to telling a story that boils down to "appearance shouldn't define you". (6/10)

Reviews by Kirby Holt, Movie Dearest creator, editor and head writer.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Oscars, 2019: Random Thoughts & Trivial Pursuits

Best Picture Nominees, Class of 2019

It seems that the drill the last few years following the announcement of the Oscar nominations is to spill a lot of ink (virtual or actual) on who or what wasn't nominated as opposed to who or what was nominated. Much righteous indignation is expressed, "hashtags" are created, boycotts are threatened... it all gets a little repetitive and more than a little tedious. So there will be no talks of "snubs" here (we'll save that for our "Egregiously Overlooked" section in our annual "If We Picked the Oscars" piece next month), just some general observations, trivia and the like on the artists and films that did receive nominations for the 92nd Academy Awards.

Best Picture Spotlight:
  • At 209 minutes, The Irishman is the longest Best Picture nominee this year and the sixth longest Best Picture nominee of all time.
  • Joker is the second movie based on a comic book to be nominated for Best Picture, following Black Panther last year.
  • 1917 is the only Best Picture nominee with a number for its full title. If it wins, it will join Gigi (1958) and Argo (2012) as the Best Picture winners with the shortest titles.
  • Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood is the only Best Picture nominee to have... an ellipsis in its title.
  • Parasite is the first South Korean film to be nominated for Best Picture as well as the first to be nominated for the International Feature category, a.k.a. the category formerly known as Foreign Language Film. It is also only the 6th movie to be nominated in both of those categories and the 11th non-English-language film to be nominated for Best Picture.
  • Every Best Picture nominee this year has at least four nominations, while every other nominated movie this year has less than four nominations, a feat that has never happened before in Oscar history.

Five guys, a girl and a pizza

Acting Spotlight:
  • This year's first time acting nominees are Antonio Banderas, Cynthia Erivo, Scarlett Johansson, Jonathan Pryce and Florence Pugh.
  • Adam Driver is the only nominee this year (for Marriage Story) who was also nominated last year (for BlacKkKlansman).
  • With her two nominations (Best Actress for Marriage Story and Best Supporting Actress for Jojo Rabbit), Scarlett Johansson becomes the 12th actor to be nominated in two acting categories in the same year. The odds are in her favor to win; seven of the the 11 previous actors in this scenario won.
  • The Irishman's Al Pacino and Joe Pesci are the 19th co-stars from the same movie to both be nominated for Best Supporting Actor. The odds of one of them winning aren't very high though; only six times in the past has one of the actors in this scenario won.
  • All five of this year's nominees for Supporting Actor are previous Oscar winners. Tom Hanks, Anthony Hopkins and Al Pacino all won for Best Actor (Hanks twice), while Joe Pesci won for Supporting Actor. The only nominee who has not won an acting award is Brad Pitt; his Oscar win was as one of the producers of 2013 Best Picture winner 12 Years a Slave.
  • In addition to the five Supporting Actor nominees, previous winners in the acting categories are Kathy Bates, Leonardo DiCaprio, Charlize Theron and Renée Zellweger.
  • Nine of the twenty acting nominees played real people: one Best Actor nominee (Jonathan Pryce as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio in The Two Popes), three Best Actress nominees (Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman in Harriet, Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly in Bombshell and Renée Zellweger as Judy Garland in Judy), four Supporting Actor nominees (Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict XVI in The Two Popes, Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa and Joe Pesci as Russell Bufalino in The Irishman) and one Supporting Actress nominee (Kathy Bates as Bobi Jewell in Richard Jewell).

Scarlett fever

Double Features:
In addition to double acting nominee Scarlett Johansson, who starred in Avengers: Endgame as well as Marriage Story and Jojo Rabbit, several other of this year's Oscar nominated artists acted in more than one nominated movie this year, including:
  • Laura Dern in Marriage Story and Little Women (both Best Picture nominees)
  • Adam Driver in Marriage Story and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
  • Tom Hanks in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and Toy Story 4
  • Al Pacino in The Irishman and Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood (both Best Picture nominees)
  • Brad Pitt in Ad Astra and Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood
  • Margot Robbie in Bombshell and Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood
  • Taika Waititi in Avengers: Endgame and Jojo Rabbit

  • Martin Scorsese is now the most nominated living director with his nomination for The Irishman, his ninth nomination for Best Director.
  • With his 52nd nomination this year (his 47th in a score category) for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, John Williams extends his own record as the living person with the most Oscar nominations. The all-time nominations record is held by Walt Disney, with 59 nominations.
  • With the nomination for How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the How To Train Your Dragon series is the only animated trilogy to receive a nomination for Animated Feature for each of its three parts.
  • Honeyland is the first movie to be nominated for both Documentary Feature and International Feature, a.k.a. the category formerly known as Foreign Language Film. 
  • 63 women are nominees this year, a new record.

Big Sister

Shorts and Soundtracks:
  • Two of the short film nominees have practically identical titles: Sister in Best Animated Short and A Sister in Best Live Action Short.
  • Two of the Best Picture nominees feature Stephen Sondheim songs: "Send in the Clowns" from A Little Night Music in Joker and "Being Alive" and "You Can Drive a Person Crazy" from Company in Marriage Story.
  • Meanwhile, two nominated movies — The Irishman and Pain and Glory — feature Édith Piaf singing "La Vie en Rose" on the soundtrack.

A Little Woman Is Born:
Believe it or not, Little Women is this year's A Star Is Born, as it is the third remake of a Best Picture nominee from the 1930s that is also nominated for Best Picture in the 2010s. In fact, there are several similarities between the four Oscar nominated versions each of both stories:
  • Both of the original versions, 1933's Little Women and 1937's A Star Is Born, were nominated for Best Picture and Best Director, and both won a Writing Oscar.
  • The generally regarded "worst" versions, 1949's Little Women and 1976's A Star Is Born, each won one Oscar, while the widely regarded "best" versions (at least prior to this century, arguably), 1994's Little Women and 1954's A Star Is Born, both received multiple nominations but didn't win any Oscars.
  • The newest versions, this year's Little Women and last year's A Star Is Born, are/were both nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress and Adapted Screenplay. This A Star Is Born won one Oscar; we'll have to wait and see if this Little Women matches or bests that on February 9th.

Jo, Jo, rabbit

And speaking of Little Women:
  • Of the four actresses who have played Jo March — 1933's Katharine Hepburn, 1949's June Allyson, 1994's Winona Ryder and 2019's Saoirse Ronan — only the latter two were nominated for Best Actress. However, Hepburn did win her first Best Actress Oscar in 1933, for her performance in Morning Glory.
  • The 1994 Little Women received three nominations — Best Actress, Costume Design and Original Score — which are three of the six categories that the 2019 version is nominated in.
  • Thomas Newman was nominated for his score to the 1994 Little Women and is also nominated for Original Score this year for 1917, competing with the 2019 Little Women score by Alexandre Desplat. In 1994 the Original Score Oscar didn't go to Newman, it went to The Lion King, which was also remade in 2019.

And speaking of A Star Is Born:
Wait, Bradley Cooper is a producer of Joker? It actually isn't that unusual once you remember that Joker director Todd Phillips directed all three Hangover movies, starring Cooper, and Warner Bros. is the studio behind both A Star Is Born and Joker (not to mention all three Hangover movies).

And speaking of Little Women and Joker:
In addition to Saoirse Ronan being nominated for playing Jo March, a character that was previously played by Winona Ryder in an Oscar nominated performance, this year also sees Joaquin Phoenix  nominated for playing the Joker, a character that was previously played by Heath Ledger in an Oscar winning performance.

A pair of jokers

And furthermore... because Phoenix is nominated in the Best Actor category and Ledger won in the Supporting Actor category, if Phoenix wins the Oscar it will be the opposite of the only other time two actors won Oscars for playing the same character. In 1972, Marlon Brando won Best Actor for playing Vito Corleone in The Godfather, followed two years later by Robert De Niro winning  Supporting Actor for playing a young Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II. Interestingly, both Joker and Corleone are "criminal masterminds" and, bringing it full circle, De Niro co-starred alongside Phoenix in Joker.

All in the family:
Cousins Randy Newman and Thomas Newman are competing with each other in the Best Original Score category, for their work in Marriage Story and 1917, respectively. And power couple Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig directed two of the Best Picture nominees, Marriage Story and Little Women. And while neither were nominated for Best Director, they are both nominated for Writing Awards, Baumbach for Original Screenplay and Gerwig for Adapted Screenplay.

"Over the Rainbow", 80 years apart

Original Songs Redux:
Eleven previous nominees for Original Song (including four winners) were reprised in nominated films this year:
  • "Over the Rainbow" (winner) from The Wizard of Oz (1939) and "The Trolley Song" from Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) in Judy
  • "I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo" from Orchestra Wives (1942) in Ad Astra
  • "A Time for Love" from An American Dream (1966) in Marriage Story
  • "Take My Breath Away" (winner) from Top Gun (1986) in Corpus Christi
  • "Be Our Guest" from Beauty and the Beast (1991) and "Circle of Life", "Hakuna Matata" and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" (winner) from The Lion King (1994) in The Lion King
  • "You've Got a Friend in Me" from Toy Story (1995) in Toy Story 4
  • "Let It Go" (winner) from Frozen (2013) in Frozen II

And speaking of Original Song:
Listen to this year's nominees here...

My favorite nominations this year:
The three that made me go "yes!" when they were announced were: Scarlett Johansson in Jojo Rabbit for Best Supporting Actress, Antonio Banderas in Pain and Glory for Best Actor and Little Women for Best Picture.

Thanks for playing:
Several high profile contenders were left empty handed post-Oscar nominations announcement, including Apollo 11, Dolemite Is My Name, Downton Abbey, The Farewell, Hustlers, Just Mercy, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Uncut Gems, Us and Waves. Parting gifts will include a bag of sour grapes, a Starbucks gift card and/or an Independent Spirit Award.

And finally, I'd like to thank the Academy:
For not nominating Dark Waters, Gemini Man, Her Smell, Motherless Brooklyn and The Painted Bird, films I really had no desire to see and if they had been nominated I would have been forced to watch them. Having to sit through Breakthrough will be bad enough.

Stay tuned to Movie Dearest for more Oscars, 2019.