Friday, February 26, 2016

Men on Film: If We Picked the Oscars 2015

Olly Gibbs


Borrowing a page from Siskel and Ebert back in the good ol' days, Movie Dearest's very own Men on Film — Chris Carpenter and Kirby Holt — are presenting our own version of "If We Picked the Oscars". These aren't predictions, but what movies, actors, directors, et al that we would vote for if we were members of the Academy. We're also chiming in with our picks for the "egregiously overlooked" non-nominees as well as the "Worst Nominations of the Year" So without further ado, the envelope please...

The nominees for Best Picture are: The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Room and Spotlight
And our winners would be:
CC: The year's finest film is also its most painful, and I'm not referring to a scene of Leonardo DiCaprio being mauled by a bear.  Spotlight distills the decades-long cover up of Catholic priests abusing children into a succinct, intense, educational and ultimately inspirational two hours.  I'm hopeful the Academy will agree that the Best Picture of 2015 deals with the most important, still potent subject of any of its fellow nominees.
KH: No other film stuck with ma as much as the visceral, heartbreaking Room.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Carol is one of the best, most positive LGBT studio films to date, so of course the Academy proved it isn't far enough along to have nominated it.  #Oscarssostraight 
KH: Where do I start? Steve Jobs, Carol, Ex Machina...

For their final voting, Academy members are asked to rank the Best Picture nominees from #1 to #8, so here are our rankings:
CC: 1) Spotlight, 2) The Big Short, 3) Brooklyn, 4) Room, 5) The Revenant, 6) Mad Max: Fury Road, 7) The Martian. (I haven't yet seen Bridge of Spies).
KH: 1) Room, 2) Spotlight, 3) Mad Max: Fury Road, 4) The Martian, 5) The Big Short, 6) Brooklyn, 7) Bridge of Spies, 8) The Revenant.

The nominees for Best Actor are: Bryan Cranston in Trumbo, Matt Damon in The Martian, Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant, Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs and Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl
And our winners would be:
CC: This is a deservedly strong bunch of nominees, and I agree pre-determined winner DiCaprio is long overdue.  That being said and as much as I enjoyed Cranston's performance, I would vote for Eddie Redmayne.  His subtle, exquisite turn as real-life transgender pioneer Lili Elbe impressed me even more than his Oscar-winning triumph last year as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything.  It would be cool to anoint the similarly versatile Redmayne as the first back- to-back Best Actor winner since Tom Hanks in the early 1990's too.
KHMichael Fassbender, for making an unlikable protagonist into a nevertheless fascinating subject in Steve Jobs.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Veteran actress Charlotte Rampling is deservedly nominated for 45 Years, but Tom Courtenay was equally effective and deserving as her conflicted husband in the otherwise so-so domestic melodrama. 
KH: From both ends of the age spectrum: Ian McKellen in Mr. Holmes and Jacob Tremblay in Room.

The nominees for Best Actress are: Cate Blanchett in Carol, Brie Larson in Room, Jennifer Lawrence in Joy, Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years and Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn
And our winners would be:
CC: Likely winner Larson is excellent in the harrowing Room, but her role is also so well written that I can't help but think any number of younger actresses would have been equally good in it. Saoirse Ronan was more of a revelation for me, and there aren't many young actresses I can think of who could have so convincingly, delicately played her homesick yet America(n)-loving Irish immigrant.
KH: A tough call, I could go with four out of five of these women and be happy... and right. But when push comes to shove: Brie Larson, a true revelation as Room's "Ma".
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: LGBT fave Lily Tomlin had a great year, and her dramedic performance as the title character in Paul Weitz's Grandma was the cherry on top of her cake, yet sadly overlooked by the Academy in favor of now-perennial nominee Lawrence.
KH: This category this year needed less "it girl" (I'm looking at you "J Law") and more "golden girls": Blythe Danner in I'll See You in My Dreams or Lily Tomlin in Grandma.

The nominees for Best Supporting Actor are: Christian Bale in The Big Short, Tom Hardy in The Revenant, Mark Ruffalo in Spotlight, Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies and Sylvester Stallone in Creed
And our winners would be:
CC: Out of an excellent ensemble, Mark Ruffalo proved to be the warm heart beating at the center of Spotlight as abuse victims' most devoted (and hunkiest) advocate.
KH: Forget Leo and that bear, The Revenant was all about Tom Hardy's immoral rascal for me.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Idris Elba is frighteningly impressive in Netflix's Beasts of No Nation, and his nomination would have brought some desperately needed diversity to this year's competition.
KH: Megalomania never looked so good: Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation and Oscar Isaac in Ex Machina.

The nominees for Best Supporting Actress are: Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight, Rooney Mara in Carol, Rachel McAdams in Spotlight, Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl and Kate Winslet in Steve Jobs
And our winners would be:
CC: Hmmm, this may be the toughest category for me this year (and I haven't even seen The Hateful Eight).  The four nominees I have seen are all exquisite but I think I would give Kate Winslet the vote for playing a character both so unlike herself and so unlike any character she has previously played.
KH: Alicia Vikander, not just for her earthy passion in Danish Girl, but also for her cold automaton in Ex Machina.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: It would have been sadly too bold a move this year for the Academy to nominate an actress who is both black and transgender, but either Kitana Kiki Rodriguez or Mya Taylor are deserving for the spicy, gritty Tangerine.
KH: I was very impressed with usual-funny ladies Elizabeth Banks' and Kristen Wiig's dramatic turns in, respectively, Love & Mercy and The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

The nominees for Best Director are: Lenny Abrahamson for Room, Alejandro G. Iñárritu for The Revenant, Adam McKay for The Big Short, Tom McCarthy for Spotlight and George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road
And our winners would be:
CC: I think this is one of the few batch of nominees ever where I would vote for a sentimental but deserved favorite (and I think Academy voters will do the same): George Miller. His first nomination in this category caps an incredible career that has included Lorenzo's Oil and Babe in addition to his post-apocalyptic oeuvre.
KH: The subtle, intimate work of Lenny Abrahamson in Room gets my vote over the big casts/epic spectacle of the other nominees.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Previous Oscar winner Tom Hooper handled the tricky subject of transgender identity sensitively and skillfully in The Danish Girl. The film is visually ravishing to boot. Hooper definitely should have been nominated over Abrahamson.
KH: Ridley Scott really should be in this mix for The Martian, his most crowd-pleasing work, as well as Danny Boyle for the brilliant Steve Jobs.

The nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay are: The Big Short, Brooklyn, Carol, Room and The Martian
And our winners would be:
CC: The Big Short is a shrewd, unexpectedly entertaining and intelligible saga about the tragic housing market collapse.
KH: With Emma Donoghue's transfer of her novel to the screen, it's four for four for Room from me.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Mr. Holmes, Bill Condon's crafty rumination on the fictional detective adapted from Mitch Cullin's novel, and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. How did this fine, Sundance-acclaimed indie get completely shut out of the Oscar nominations?
KH: I'm not usually an Aaron Sorkin fan, but his three-act structure for Steve Jobs was genius. I also loved the teen indies Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

The nominees for Best Original Screenplay are: Bridge of Spies, Ex Machina, Inside Out, Spotlight and Straight Outta Compton
And our winners would be:
CC: As strong as Spotlight's true story and screenplay are, Inside Out was more genuinely touching.
KH: Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer's Spotlight was simply the best written film of the year.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Amy Schumer's sour yet sweet screenplay for Trainwreck.
KH: Goodnight Mommy and It Follows used classic horror movie tropes in fresh ways, creating the two scariest movies of 2015.

The nominees for Best Cinematography are: Carol, The Hateful Eight, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant and Sicario
And our winners would be:
CC: I would join the likely majority and give Emmanuel Lubezki his third Oscar in a row for his visually stunning, naturalist work on The Revenant.
KH: Edward Lachman's lush lensing on Carol, the least showy (and, in some cases, show off-y) of the nominees.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: The Danish Girl
KH: Alwin H. Küchler craftily used three different film formats to create the distinct looks of the three time periods depicted in Steve Jobs.

The nominees for Best Production Design are: Bridge of Spies, The Danish Girl, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian and The Revenant
And our winners would be:
CC: The Danish Girl more often than not looked like a beautiful impressionistic painting come to life.
KH: The future never looked so (not) good as in Mad Max: Fury Road.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: The sexually-repressed period piece Carol.
KH: Room is a master class in the use of set design to complement story and character.

The nominees for Best Costume Design are: Carol, Cinderella, The Danish Girl, Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant
And our winners would be:
CC: Cate Blanchett's wicked gowns alone deserve an Oscar in Disney's smart, live action Cinderella.
KH: The intricate, quirky costumes of Mad Max: Fury Road immediately, excellently clued audiences in on each character.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Jurassic World, if only for Bryce Dallas Howard's retro yet stylish but decidedly jungle-unfriendly outfits (and heels).
KH: The colorful period stylings of Brooklyn should been in this mix, especially over the rags and furs of The Revenant.

The nominees for Best Original Score are: Bridge of Spies, Carol, The Hateful Eight, Sicario and Star Wars: The Force Awakens
And our winners would be:
CC: Well, I haven't yet seen/heard The Hateful Eight and its acclaimed score by maestro Ennio Morricone and I found Carol's score a little too reminiscent of Carter Burwell's previous score for Gods and Monsters. Therefore, I would vote for octogenarian's John Williams' typically rousing Force Awakens score.
KH: The legendary Ennio Morricone returned to the genre he does best with The Hateful Eight.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Ryuichi Sakamoto's spare yet memorable score for The Revenant was the most interesting of the year, in my opinion.
KH: Howard Shore's subtle score added greatly to Spotlight.

The nominees for Best Original Song are: "Earned It" from Fifty Shades of Grey, "Manta Ray" from Racing Extinction, "Simple Song #3" from Youth, "Til It Happens to You" from The Hunting Ground and "Writings on the Wall" from Spectre
And our winners would be:
CC: In a toss up between pop stars turned theme song chanteuses Lady Gaga and Sam Smith, I would vote for Smith's unexpectedly gorgeous James Bond confessional "Writings on the Wall". However, Gaga and her never-won collaborator Diane Warren likely have the Academy's vote.
KH: Out of this quintet consisting of documentary dirges, falsetto-ed pop noise and an endless aria, I'd have to say finally give it to Diane Warren for "Til It Happens to You". (Plus, when Lady Gaga wins it will really piss off Madonna.)
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Wiz Khalifa's ubiquitous yet genuinely heartfelt "See You Again" from Furious 7.
KH: Hey music branch, how about some happy songs? Like "Feels Like Summer" from Shaun the Sheep Movie or the title song from I'll See You in My Dreams.

The nominees for Best Film Editing are: The Big Short, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant, Spotlight and Star Wars: The Force Awakens
And our winners would be:
CC: The complex yet sassy and snappy Big Short.
KH: The editing of The Big Short helped create the comedic rhythm that made it so unique and enjoyable.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Furious 7, believe it or not.
KH: They should have made room for Room.

The nominees for Best Sound Mixing are: Bridge of Spies, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant and Star Wars: The Force Awakens
And our winners would be:
CC: The Revenant and Star Wars are pretty interchangeable for me in this category and the following.
KH: Mostly solid work here, so I'll give this one to The Martian.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: It was good to see and hear the resurrected dinosaurs of Jurassic World again.
KH: Love & Mercy let the viewer listen in on the sounds of insanity.

The nominees for Best Sound Editing are: Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Sicario and Star Wars: The Force Awakens
And our winners would be:
CC: See above.
KH: The Star Wars: The Force Awakens crew gave voice to BB-8, and that's enough for me to give them my vote.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: See above.
KH: James Bond always gives good sound effects, so Spectre.

The nominees for Best Visual Effects are: Ex Machina, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant and Star Wars: The Force Awakens
And our winners would be:
CC: The Force Awakens proved that old Star Wars visual magic lives on.
KH: The subtle yet eye-popping creation of Ava in Ex Machina outshines for me all the spaceships and bears and more spaceships, oh my.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: As ridiculous as Jupiter Ascending often is, its visual effects were nothing to laugh at.
KH: Ant-Man had some crazy fun effects sequences and made you mourn the fall of a (digitally-created) ant named Antony.

The nominees for Best Makeup & Hairstyling are: Mad Max: Fury Road, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared and The Revenant
And our winners would be:
CC: This is the strangest set of nominees this year.  The Revenant?
KH: Like its costumes, the wild makeup and hair designs of Mad Max: Fury Road were wildly over-the-top yet spot on for this apocalyptic adventure.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: The lovely period 'dos of both Carol and Cinderella.
KH: The team behind Mr. Holmes did beautiful age work on Ian McKellen.

The nominees for Best Animated Feature are: Anomalisa, Boy and the World, Inside Out, Shaun the Sheep Movie and When Marnie Was There
And our winners would be:
CC: I loved Shaun the Sheep but the emotional power and design mastery of Inside Out make it my winner.
KH: I'm in the minority, but I found Inside Out underwhelming, while Shaun the Sheep Movie was an absolute delight, the most effortlessly entertaining movie of the year.

The nominees for Best Foreign Language Film are: Embrace of the Serpent (Colombia), Mustang (France), Son of Saul (Hungary), Theeb (Jordan) and A War (Denmark)
And our winners would be:
CC: I'm disappointed in myself to admit I haven't yet seen the near-universally acclaimed Holocaust drama Son of Saul, so the black & white existential adventure Embrace of the Serpent gets my vote.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: François Ozon's startling The New Girlfriend.
KH: The unflinching horror of Germany's Goodnight Mommy is hauntingly unforgettable.

The nominees for Best Documentary Feature are: Amy, Cartel Land, The Look of Silence, What Happened, Miss Simone? and Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom
And our winners would be:
CC: This is another tough category of equally-worthy contenders.  I would give The Look of Silence my vote based on its important subject matter.
KH: The Look of Silence, Joshua Oppenheimer's powerful, disturbing companion piece to his previously nominated, equally disturbing The Act of Killing.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Best of Enemies and Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine, two powerful gay-themed docs about critical 20th century figures.
KH: The shocking, blistering exposé that is Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief was likely too close to home for some in the Academy.

The nominees for Best Documentary Short Subject are: Body Team 12, Chau, Beyond the Lines, Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah, A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness and Last Day of Freedom
And our winners would be:
CC: Short though they may be, I'm sorry to say I haven't had time to watch any of this year's short film nominees.
KH: In a field filled with grim subjects, A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness (about barbaric "honor" killings in Pakistan) is the most immediate and emotionally-charged.

The nominees for Best Animated Short Film are: Bear Story, Prologue, Sanjay’s Super Team, We Can’t Live Without Cosmos and World of Tomorrow
And our winners would be:
CC: See above.
KH: The delightful, slightly deranged world of Emily² in the World of Tomorrow is easily my favorite here.

The nominees for Best Live Action Short Film are: Ave Maria, Day One, Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut), Shok and Stutterer
And our winners would be:
CC: See above.
KH: The strongest line up of contenders of all of this year's nominees, any of these would be a worthy winner. But if I could only vote for one, it would be the devastating Shok.
Egregiously Overlooked:
KH: Who knows if it was even eligible, but how about the insane and insanely entertaining 80's action homage Kung Fury?

And now for our own special category of dishonorable mention, the Worst Nomination of the Year:
CC: This year's nominees are by and large a consistently deserving bunch. I have to say though that — despite their occasional artistic and dramatic merits — The Martian, Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant are all highly overrated; this is especially true of their inclusion in the Best Picture category.
KH: There's a lot of head scratchers among this year's finalist, from the bafflingly bad Original Song contenders to the excessive haul of The Revenant (at least its script was passed over), but I have to single out the knee-jerk nomination of Jennifer Lawrence for Best Actress in Joy. Lawrence has increasingly worn out her welcome for me, and David O. Russell's insistence on casting her in roles she's too young for only exacerbates the problem. It's doubly frustrating that her default nod this year shut out fine performances from acting legends Blythe Danner, Lily Tomlin and Maggie Smith (The Lady in the Van), not to mention younger, newer talent like Bel Powley (The Diary of a Teenage Girl) and Karidja Toure (Girlhood). Let's hope that this year will mark the end of the Academy's blind adoration of her.

And so the final march to Oscar glory begins. Tune in to the Big Show, hosted by Chris Rock, on ABC this Sunday to see who wins, as well as which nominees are rocking the best (and worst) gowns, most attractive escorts and most heartfelt acceptance speeches.

By Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine, and Kirby Holt, creator and editor of Movie Dearest, The QuOD: A Who's Who of Who's Out and the Out Movie Guide.

Monday, February 22, 2016

MD Reviews: Short Cuts 2015, Part 3


Once again, ShortsHD The Short Movie Channel (a.k.a. ShortsTV) has theatrically released this year's Academy Award nominated animated, live action and documentary short films. These special programs are usually the only way for most movie fans to see these otherwise illusive short film nominees that can make or break your office Oscar pool. In the last of three parts, Movie Dearest takes a look at this year's five nominees for Best Documentary Short.

Agent Orange, PTSD, "honor" killings, Ebola and (you guessed it) the Holocaust. This year's five Documentary Short nominees hardly lack for serious issues, perhaps even more so than their feature film counterparts.

As with their fellow nominees in the animated and live action short film categories, the doc short finalists come from all around the world. All but one of the filmmakers are first-time Oscar contenders, and three were produced by HBO Documentaries.  

Body Team 12, David Darg and Bryn Mooser (Liberia, 13 minutes).
Meet Garmai Sumo, the only female member of Body Team 12, a team of Red Cross agents who collect the remains of Ebola victims in Liberia during the 2014 outbreak. Unusually short (especially for an HBO documentary), Body Team 12 barely scratches the surface of this compelling story. Further exploration of the conflicts between the team and the families of the dead, who sometimes violently resist the removal and eventual cremation of the bodies, would have strengthened it.
Watch trailer.
MD Rating: B-

Chau, Beyond the Lines, Courtney Marsh and Jerry Franck (USA/Vietnam, 34 minutes).
In a Vietnamese care facility for children with birth defects caused by Agent Orange, we are introduced to Chau, an aspiring artist and clothing designer. Well-meaning, but it suffers from over familiarity due to the growing trend in this category of inspirational stories of disenfranchised youth in general (see previous winners Smile Pinki, Strangers No More) and those finding their voice through art in particular (see Music by Prudence, Inocente, also both winners).
Watch trailer, or watch the full short on Netflix.
MD Rating: B

Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah, Adam Benzine (USA/UK/Canada, 40 minutes).
Thirty years after the release of his epic nine hour-plus Holocaust documentary Shoah, director Claude Lanzmann recounts the grueling twelve(!) years it took to make what many call "a masterpiece". Lanzmann is described as a "megalomaniac" at the start of this HBO entry, yet one hardly gets confirmation on that by what follows, which frankly feels more like a DVD bonus feature than what should be singled out by Oscar. Perhaps the longer French television version plays better, but then, at 58 minutes, it would not be nominated in this category.
Watch trailer.
MD Rating: C+

A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (Pakistan, 40 minutes).
In Palestine today, over 1,000 girls and women are murdered by their families in so-called "honor" killings. 18 year-old Saba, who eloped with a man deemed unworthy by her family, survived being shot in the face and dumped in a river by her own father and uncle. HBO's A Girl in the River is her story, and it is a shocking, maddening polemic against this barbaric practice. Obaid-Chinoy (a previous winner in this category for 2011's similar Saving Face) presents an expertly level-headed and, yes, balanced view, calmly ending with a glimmer of hope. This is the one to beat.
Watch trailer.
MD Rating: A

Last Day of Freedom, Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman (USA, 32 minutes).
When Bill Babbitt discovers that his brother Manny, suffering severely from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder following two tours in Vietnam, committed a terrible crime, he agonizes over turning him in to the police. Graphically told in stark black and white animation, Last Day of Freedom effectively conveys the conflicting emotions that surface when one realizes that they have the life of someone they love in their hands and what happens when they find that their trust in a just system is ultimately betrayed.
Watch trailer, or watch the full short on Netflix.
MD Rating: B+

Click here for part 1, the Animated Short Film nominees and click here for part 2, the Live Action Short Film nominees.

Reviews by Kirby Holt, creator and editor of Movie Dearest, The QuOD: A Who's Who of Who's Out and the Out Movie Guide.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

MD Reviews: Short Cuts 2015, Part 2


Once again, ShortsHD The Short Movie Channel (a.k.a. ShortsTV) has theatrically released this year's Academy Award nominated animated, live action and documentary short films. These special programs are usually the only way for most movie fans to see these otherwise illusive short film nominees that can make our break your office Oscar pool. In the second of three parts, Movie Dearest takes a look at this year's five nominees for Best Live Action Short.

Let me start by saying that this year's five nominees for Live Action Short are arguably the best lineup out of all the categories this year and quite possibly the best slate of nominees this category has every seen. All five are extremely accomplished in telling a diverse set of stories and none suffer any of the symptoms of the dread "short film syndrome" that have often plagued their predecessors:

  • None are too quirky for their own good.
  • None abruptly end just as the story becomes interesting.
  • None have a twist ending just for the sake of having a twist ending.
  • None leave you scratching your head wondering what the heck was that all about.
  • None leave you thinking "How was that nominated?".

Hailing from all over the globe from all first-time nominated filmmakers, this year's Live Action Shorts range from a modern day romance to harrowing tales of war. As with the Animated Shorts, I've matched each Live Action Short with a complimentary feature film nominee for your double feature pleasure.

Ava Maria, Basil Khalil and Eric Dupont (France/Germany/Palestine, 15 minutes).
"Jews have violated the Virgin!" When the car of an Israeli family has an accident outside a West Bank convent on the Sabbath they find themselves at the mercy of the nuns — who have taken a vow of silence — for help. A highly amusing yet respectful take on clashing religions, Ava Maria cleverly uses stereotypes (the frugal Jew, the stern Mother Superior) to relate its moral that we all, despite our ideological differences, can get along... if we have to.
Watch trailer.
MD Rating: B+
Pair it with: Embrace the absurdity and head to Sweden for a visit with The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.

Day One, Henry Hughes (USA, 25 minutes).
An Afghan-American woman, a military interpreter on her first mission in Afghanistan, must bridge cultural and gender divides when the pregnant wife of the bomb-maker her unit has apprehended goes into labor. The urgent, "you are there" feel of Day One is authentic; Hughes based it on his own experiences in Afghanistan. As the interpreter, Layla Alizada gives an affecting performance, serving as the audience surrogate in this literally life and death story. Both she and Hughes are ones to watch.
Watch trailer.
MD Rating: A-
Pair it with: Sicario, for a "women in war" two-for-one.

Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gert), Patrick Vollrath (Germany/Austria, 30 minutes).
A divorced father takes drastic measures to be with his young daughter. Reminiscent of Just Before Losing Everything (a previous nominee in this category), Everything Will Be Okay slowly builds tension to its inevitable, devastating denouement. Simon Schwarz's powerful performance as the dad makes you empathize with him even though what he is doing is wrong, while Julia Pointner (in her first screen role) naturally conveys the confusion and fear of a daughter watching her father crumbling before her eyes.
Watch trailer.
MD Rating: A
Pair it with: Room, 2015's other story of a desperate parent fighting for their child.

Shok, Jamie Donoughue (UK/Kosovo, 21 minutes).
Two young boys' lives are forever changed by a bicycle during the Kosovo War. A shattering tale of friendship amidst inhumanity, Shok (Albanian for "friend") is the very first Academy Award nomination for a Kosovan film, feature length or otherwise. And very well-deserved; from the acting of the two leads (Andi Bajgora and Lum Veseli) to its stark cinematography, this is an expert production. In this embarrassment of riches of a category, this would be my pick for the winner.
Watch trailer.
MD Rating: A
Pair it with: Another look at a war-torn European country, Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom.

Stutterer, Benjamin Cleary and Serena Armitage (UK, 12 minutes).
A lonely man finds comfort in an online relationship that masks his speech impediment... but then she wants to meets him. In this age of dating apps and websites, love has found a new way to make connections, and the sweet yet not sappy Stutterer shows that technology can help those isolated by their own self-perceived drawbacks find their own "happily ever afters". It also shows that the man who doesn't want to speak may indeed have lots to say.
Watch trailer.
MD Rating: B+
Pair it with: The other old fashioned (not that there's anything wrong with that) British love story Brooklyn.

Click here for part 1, the Animated Short Film nominees.

Coming soon: Part 3 takes a look at the five Oscar nominees for Best Documentary Short Film.

Reviews by Kirby Holt, creator and editor of Movie Dearest, The QuOD: A Who's Who of Who's Out and the Out Movie Guide.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Reverend's Reviews: Oh. My. God.


Lent is underway and it has brought no less than God Almighty to the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles for an understandably limited engagement. To be more precise, God has adopted the body of Will & Grace star Sean Hayes temporarily to present ten new commandments via humorist David Javerbaum's An Act of God. The play is having its west coast premiere now through March 13th following a hugely successful run last year in New York, where God assumed the personage of The Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons.

Presidential candidate Ted Cruz, who receives a rebuke here from the big guy, and other conservative (especially anti-gay) Christians are likely to be the only potential audience members who would be offended by this generally good natured romp. The only brief but genuinely uncomfortable moment opening night — which was, appropriately enough, Ash Wednesday — occurred when God professed his admiration of the classic musical Cabaret and took issue with Jews and others who question why God allowed the Holocaust to happen. "No Holocaust, no Cabaret," Hayes deadpanned to both gasps and stunned silence.

Javerbaum (who won an impressive 13 Emmys as head writer on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart) lobs grenades at expected targets such as right-wing politicians, biblical fundamentalists and Hollywood celebs, the latter of whom God/Hayes referred to as "my true chosen people" and were dutifully in abundance among the opening night audience. What surprised and impressed me though is how genuinely respectful An Act of God is toward legitimate (i.e. open minded) theological study as well as the towering scriptural duo of Abraham and Jesus. Hayes brings an unexpected sincerity and gravitas to God's genuine admiration of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac, in obedience to God's test of faith. Likewise, Javerbaum and Hayes treat Jesus seriously in his desire to sacrifice himself on behalf of humankind, a notion that Jesus' father as depicted here didn't take kindly to initially.

Most of God's new ten commandments are humorous upon their revelation Jeopardy-style on a giant overhead tablet, but they end up making more than a little serious sense. Who can contest "Though shalt not kill others in my name" in our jihad-riddled world, or "Thou shalt not tell others whom to fornicate"? (Yes, God as played by the openly gay Hayes is decidedly pro-LGBT.) The most controversial of God's new commandments may be "Thou shalt not have a personal relationship with me," especially as he confesses he doesn't really like human beings with the exception of the aforementioned Abraham. Before he returns to Heaven, however, God can't help but lovingly profess humankind to be his greatest creation and affirm our ability to guide our own destiny.

Hayes is naturally delightful in the role, even if some of his initial schtick referencing Jack from Will & Grace is predictable and kind of dated. He hit his stride about 15 minutes in once he settled into the character of God, omnipotence, omniscience and all. David Josefsberg as the archangel Michael, humanity's defender, and James Gleason as the archangel Gabriel are the only other characters in what is essentially a 90-minute monologue. The best thing about Tony Award winner Joe Mantello's direction is that it lets Hayes do his thing. Most impressive is Scott Pask's scenic design, an apparent mashup of gleaming heavenly architecture and Hayes' own living room, frequently augmented by spectacular lighting and video effects. If you're in LA or San Francisco, where An Act of God will be moving next, don't miss this divine theatrical opportunity.

For Catholics and many other Christians, Lent is our annual, deadly-serious time to strive to atone for our sins. Most do so by "giving up" some kind of vice, at least temporarily, or sacrificing an everyday indulgence such as candy, coffee or alcohol. The woefully misguided priests featured in the new movie The Club (opening today at Landmark's Nuart Theatre in LA), on the other hand, have committed severe crimes for which they are offering seemingly endless penance.

Fathers Vidal, Ortega, Silva and Ramirez live together in a house of prayer on a secluded hill overlooking the Chilean coast. They are not allowed to be apart from one another for long periods or to venture into town unaccompanied except in the early morning or evening when the streets are largely deserted. The quartet is supervised by kindly but no-nonsense Sister Monica.

Their seemingly peaceful idyll is interrupted one day by a new arrival, Fr. Matias, who ends up killing himself once a former victim discovers him there. The Vatican subsequently sends a psychologist/spiritual director by the name of Fr. Garcia to assess the priests' mental condition as well as their moral development since being removed from ministry for a variety of offenses. Suffice to say things don't go quite the way Fr. Garcia or the Vatican intended.

The Club, directed and co-written by Pablo Larrain (who previously helmed 2012's acclaimed No), was one of this year's Golden Globe nominees for Best Foreign Language Film and won the 2015 Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize at the Berlin Film Festival. It is a potent, topical movie, well acted and beautifully shot by Sergio Armstrong, that also makes a great companion piece to current Academy Award nominee Spotlight, about Boston's history of clerical sexual abuse. But The Club is even more uncomfortable to watch as its religious characters increasingly prove themselves unable to be liberated from a vicious circle of deception and, therefore, beyond redemption. God help them and the real-life ministers like them.

Reverend's Ratings:
An Act of God: B+
The Club: B-

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film and stage critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

MD Reviews: Short Cuts 2015, Part 1


Once again, ShortsHD The Short Movie Channel (a.k.a. ShortsTV) has theatrically released this year's Academy Award nominated animated, live action and documentary short films. These special programs are usually the only way for most movie fans to see these otherwise illusive short film nominees that can make our 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.

2015's batch of Oscar nominated toons hail from four countries and range in theme from science fiction to comedy. Three are computer animated, with the other two go the traditional, hand-drawn route. As is increasingly more common in the category, all but one have little to no dialogue, relying heavily on the visuals to tell their stories.

In addition to my reviews and trailer links, I've suggested a similarly-themed Oscar nominated feature film to pair with each animated short nominee to create your own Academy-sanctioned double feature!

Bear Story, Gabriel Osorio and Pato Escala (Chile, 11 minutes).
Through the use of a handmade clockwork diorama, a papa bear tells the story of his abduction by a sinister circus and his daring escape to return to his family.With its intricate mechanical figures, Bear Story (original title: Historia de un oso) looks like stop motion animation but was actually created digitally. A melancholy fable that draws parallels to slavery and the even the Holocaust; so, yeah, a bit of a downer.
Watch trailer.
MD Rating: B
Pair it with: No, not The Revenant (with its infamous bear scene), but rather Mad Max: Fury Road. Both have a steam punk vibe and feature a wounded hero separated from his wife and child.

Prologue, Richard Williams and Imogen Sutton (UK, 6 minutes).
It's Spartans versus Athenians in a vicious battle to the death. The shortest and, with its brutal violence and full frontal male nudity, by far the last one you'd call a "cartoon". From three-time Oscar winner Williams (Who Framed Roger Rabbit), Prologue (also a BAFTA Award nominee) plays more like an exercise in form and movement than an actual story, but its imagery is nevertheless enthralling.
Watch trailer.
MD Rating: B-
Pair it with: Ultra-violence in a stark natural setting? Yeah, this is the one to go with The Revenant.

Sanjay's Super Team, Sanjay Patel and Nicole Grindle (USA, 7 minutes).
While his devout father performs his daily prayers, a bored young Indian boy makes things interesting for himself by imagining the Hindu gods as superheroes. A cute, original (and autobiographical) premise ends up being surprisingly unsurprising. Yes, it's better than Pixar's other 2015 short Lava, but that isn't saying much.
Watch trailer.
MD Rating: C
Pair it with: Originally screened with the non-nominated The Good Dinosaur, Sanjay's super team is actually more appropriately matched with Riley's super team (better known as her emotions) in Pixar's other 2015 nominee, Inside Out.

We Can't Live Without Cosmos, Konstantin Bronzit (Russia, 16 minutes).
A pair of cosmonauts, best friends since childhood, vigorously train for an important but dangerous space mission. This bittersweet tale of friendship and loyalty is made even more uplifting (no pun intended) if read as a gay love story (they're shown sharing a bed, for example). Bronzit was previously nominated in this category for Lavatory - Lovestory in 2008.
Watch trailer.
MD Rating: B+
Pair it with: These good-humored astronauts would certainly get along with Mark Watney, the quippy hero of The Martian.

World of Tomorrow, Don Hertzfeldt (USA, 17 minutes).
Adorable moppet Emily meets a mysterious visitor who takes her on a fantastic tour of the future. The least aesthetic and most talkative of the 2015 nominees is also, quite easily, the best. Hertzfeldt (a nominee fifteen years ago in this category for Rejected) uses black comedy to great effect in his tale of doomed humanity that somehow ends up on a hopeful note. Already an Annie Award winner and, hopefully, soon the Oscar winner.
Watch trailer, or watch the entire short at Netflix.
MD Rating: A
Pair it with: A feminine scientific creation are prominently featured in both this short and Ex Machina.

Coming soon: Part 2 takes a look at the five Oscar nominees for Best Live Action Short Film.

Reviews by Kirby Holt, creator and editor of Movie Dearest, The QuOD: A Who's Who of Who's Out and the Out Movie Guide.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Reverend's Reviews: 26 Years of Jewish (and Occasionally Gay) Films


There aren’t many US cities that can successfully host a ten-day film festival spotlighting the Jewish community, let alone keep it going for over two decades. San Diego is a happy exception, as the San Diego Jewish Film Festival, now running through February 14th for its 26th year, proves.

Presented by the San Diego Center for Jewish Culture at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center, Jacobs Family Campus, the festival will showcase a total of 60 films of the best contemporary Jewish-themed films from around the world. These narrative features, short films and documentaries celebrate life, human rights, and freedom of expression. The festival’s ongoing mission is to offer outstanding world cinema that promotes awareness, appreciation and pride in the diversity of the Jewish people to attendees of the community at large.

Each year’s event features an international roster of visiting guest artists, including actors, filmmakers, and scholars, who introduce their work, participate in panel discussions, and meet with festival patrons. Highlights this year include Dealing with the Devil, which examines the bizarre case of a Dresden art dealer of Jewish descent who was tasked by Joseph Goebbels with the job of seizing and selling off modern “degenerate” art and acquiring in its place the classical paintings favored by Hitler and his inner circle; The Price of Sugar, a story about two half-sisters and their life in eighteenth century Suriname; Sabena Hijacking: My Version, a suspenseful docudrama based on previously undiscovered audio recordings of former pilot Captain Reginald Levy; and the warmhearted comedy Dough, starring British actor Jonathan Pryce as a curmudgeonly widower who obstinately clings to his livelihood as a kosher bakery shop owner in London’s East End until it is challenged by a Muslim teenager.

Ironically, the film festival’s Executive Director since 2013, Craig Prater, is not Jewish but he is openly gay. Prater previously directed the Palm Springs International Film Festival, the Bangkok International Film Festival, the LA Museum of Tolerance International Film Festival and the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival. His obviously diverse cultural experiences combined with the staff’s hospitality helped him feel right at home when he started working for the San Diego Jewish Film Festival.

“I hadn’t been here two weeks when I was invited one day to a wedding in the Jewish Community Center building,” Prater shared recently. “What I didn’t know was that it was a same-sex wedding! A number of our staff, including our CFO, are members of the (LGBT) community.”

I asked Prater how he was called or led to his current position. “Well, San Diego is not a bad place to live for starters,” he replied, laughing. “I’d been involved for a gazillion years with Jewish film festival programming and this was a well-established, respected organization for 23 years when I started. I was also tired of traveling internationally, which I had been doing for many years.”

Indeed, following his 8-year tenure in Palm Springs, Prater was contracted to serve as the Executive Director of the Bangkok International Film Festival for the Royal Thai government. Over the next five years, he supervised the programming and special events for the largest international film festival in Southeast Asia. It hosted over 250 films each year and boasted a lavish awards gala honoring celebrities from around the world. The awards gala budget alone was over $1 million.

“Bangkok was the best international film festival I’ve ever been involved with due to its funding by the government and the Thai royal family,” Prater said. However, it was not without its challenges for him as a gay man. “Homosexuality there is accepted but not really acknowledged, although living there as a white American also had its challenges (laugh). I have nothing but good things to say though about the Thai people.”

This year’s edition of the San Diego Jewish Film Festival won’t feature many LGBT-themed movies but one offering of interest is Valley, a hard-hitting anti-bullying story involving a group of Israeli high school students. “I believe our (LGBT) community will feel very comfortable at this festival,” Prater concluded.

Single ticket prices for most films are $15.75. Jewish Community Center members receive a $2.00 discount on each ticket. Festival passes plus student, senior and group discounts are also available. For more information, call 858-362-1348 or visit the festival website.

By Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film and stage critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

Friday, February 5, 2016

The 9th Annual Movie Dearest Dearie Awards


For the ninth year in a row, Movie Dearest takes a look back and celebrates the year that was with a salute to the best in film, television and the stage with the 2015 Movie Dearest Awards, a.k.a. the "Dearies"! And the winners are...

Movie of the Year: Carol
Out director Todd Haynes has dazzled with gay-themed period pieces before including Velvet Goldmine and his masterpiece Far from Heaven. It is maybe for this reason that Carol, his latest, was tragically but somewhat predictably ignored by the diversity-averse Academy in the Best Picture and Best Director categories (criminally, Haynes has never been nominated in the directing category). Yes, Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are both nominated for their pivotal performances as two very different women living in the closeted 1950's who fall in love with each other. And Phyllis Nagy was nominated for her screenplay adapted from Patricia Highsmith's pseudo-autobiographical novella The Price of Salt. However, Haynes' coup de grace here was to create a period-perfect lesbian romance that utterly and permanently negates — thankfully — such previous Sapphic melodramas as The Children's Hour, The Killing of Sister George and Rachel, Rachel. Carol deservedly swept our recent GALECA Dorian Awards and has similarly earned our Movie Dearest kudos. - CC

Man of the Year: Tom Hardy
As hero or villain or somewhere in between, 2015 was a big year for Tom Hardy. First he deftly stepped into the title role (Mel who?) in Mad Max: Fury Road, last year's most thrillingly satisfying blockbuster. He followed that with not one but two mesmerizing performances as the real life twin gangsters Reggie and Ronnie Kray in Legend. And he ended the year playing a nefarious fur trapper who puts Leonardo DiCaprio through hell in The Revenant. The result: his first Oscar nomination for the latter, four enigmatic characters you can't take your eyes off of and the title of Movie Dearest's Man of the Year. - KH

Women of the Year: Jane Fonda & Lily Tomlin
We loved them together in 1980's comedy classic 9 to 5 but it took 35 years to reunite the legendary ladies Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin... and in a gay-themed sitcom no less. The erstwhile Judy and Violet play Grace and Frankie in the Netflix fave, an odd couple of golden girls who's lives are upended when their husbands leave them... for each other. But TV wasn't enough for Jane and Lily in '15; Tomlin earned rave reviews and a Golden Globe nomination for playing a lesbian Grandma, while Fonda stole the show in her brief but Oscar buzz-worthy star cameo in Youth. Now if only they can get Dolly Parton to guest star on Grace and Frankie, all our gay dreams will come true. - KH

New Stars of the Year: Kitana Kiki Rodriguez & Mya Taylor
Between The Danish Girl, 52 Tuesdays and Tangerine, not to mention Amazon's popular series Transparent, 2015 was acclaimed as the year trans-interest storylines finally became mainstream. Filmmaker Sean Baker, armed primarily with his iPhone and a minuscule budget, was the one to dramatize the real, everyday struggles of trans women living on the mean streets of Los Angeles. Baker had two secret weapons: trans actresses Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor, both fierce and funny in equal measure as Sin-Dee and Alexandra, the no-bullshit characters they portray in the witty, vital Tangerine. - CC

TV Show of the Year: Orange is the New Black
Three seasons in, and Orange is the New Black is gayer than ever. With its multiple plot lines and back story-heavy flashbacks, Netflix's hit comedic drama (or is it a dramatic comedy?) is the definition of "binge-worthy". The desperate, disparate residents of Litchfield Penitentiary run the gamut from a lovable loon called Crazy Eyes (multi-award winner Uzo Aduba) to Sophia, the transgender hair dresser (Laverne Cox) to Kate Mulgrew as a flame-haired Russian named Red. At the center of all this madness is WASP-turned-bisexual inmate Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), who found herself this season juggling two femme fatales (Laura Prepon and Ruby Rose) and a thriving illegal used-panties ring. Drama or comedy, Orange is gold. - KH

Stage Show of the Year: Fun Home
The Tony-winning musical smash Fun Home dramatizes one of the odder stories to ever grace the Broadway boards: a lesbian cartoonist's coming of age in a household dominated by her closeted gay mortician father. And it's all true. Composer Jeanine Tesori and lyricist/book author Lisa Kron brilliantly adapted Alison Bechdel's graphic novel memoir, while Michael Cerveris gave a stunning tragi-comic performance as Bechdel's conflicted father, who ultimately committed suicide. Its a serious show to be sure but at least one song, "Come to the Fun Home" (the title is a shortened form of "funeral home"), is a 1970's Brady Bunch-esque/Jackson Five-ish delight. Brave, insightful and deeply moving, Fun Home should not be missed either on Broadway or when it begins a national tour this year. - CC

Documentary of the Year: Best of Enemies
As enthralling and eye-opening as its subject matter, Best of Enemies looks back at the infamous live television debates that pitted leading conservative William F. Buckley, Jr. against Gore Vidal, the liberal, bisexual author of Myra Breckinridge, during the 1968 presidential race. If it sounds rather dry, then you don't know how wittily venomous these two were to each other; their mutual loathing practically oozed off the screen, culminating in the notorious "crypto Nazi"/"queer" exchange that signaled the beginning of the end for intellectualism in America. Years before trashy talk shows, the Buckley/Vidal debates were "must see TV", and Best of Enemies is Movie Dearest's "must see" Documentary of the Year. - KH

Foreign Film of the Year: The New Girlfriend
Gay filmmaker François Ozon has shown a knack for women's stories with his previous, acclaimed films Swimming Pool, 8 Women and Potiche. His latest, The New Girlfriend, continues this successful run but with a twist: one of its leading ladies is a man. Initially sad but ultimately life-affirming, it explores the unique friendship forged between a deceased woman's best friend and her cross-dressing widower-husband. These characters are beautifully played by, respectively, Anais Demoustier and French heartthrob Romain Duris. The plot gets a little melodramatic toward the end (name me a French film that doesn't) but Pascaine Chavanne's costumes and Pascal Marti's cinematography are gorgeous, especially in the film's recently released Blu-ray transfer. Who doesn't need a new girlfriend from time to time? - CC

Art by Andrew Rae for Delve

DVD of the Year: Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films
Since both of us at Movie Dearest came of age during the rollicking 1980's, the cheesy cinematic spectacles wrought by Israeli-born producers Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan hold a special place in our hearts as well as our (homo)sexual development. In addition to the exploitative Death Wish series and numerous Chuck Norris karate epics, the pair produced such homoerotic epics as Masters of the Universe, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and several films starring Jean-Claude Van Damme as a sexy cyborg. Mark Hartley's entertaining documentary on them and the short-lived studio they founded revels gleefully in the good, the bad and the ugly. Heck, we'd give the DVD a Dearie Award for the extensive trailer gallery alone featuring Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren and other 80's hotties in their shirtless, greased up, pec-tacular glory. - CC

The Neil V. Cohen Award for Campy Film of the Year: First Period
With all due respect to the vampire mockumentary What We Do In the Shadows and the insane "lost" 80's action flick Kung Fury, we here at Movie Dearest must crown First Period the campiest movie of 2015! Our dearly departed friend and fellow critic Neil Cohen surely would have memorized each catty line and adored every low budget frame of this John Hughes-meets-John Waters high school hilarity. First Period stars two adult men (Dudley Beene and Brandon Alexander III, who also penned the script) playing Maggie and Cassie, a pair of misfit teenage girls who just want to be popular, make out with boys and win the school talent show, not necessarily in that order; think of it as a "very special" episode of Beverly Hills 90210 as written by Charles Busch. Co-starring gay faves Cassandra Peterson, Jack Plotnick and Judy Tenuta (as "Madame Mulva"), how can you lose? Watch it now on Netflix! - KH

We hope you enjoyed this year's Dearies and thank you for visiting Movie Dearest in 2015!

By Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine, and Kirby Holt, creator and editor of Movie Dearest.