(*homocinematically inclined)

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Dearest Reviews: Three Toons and a Baby

No wonder Coco won.

Quick takes on some popular animated movies now streaming and/or on home video.

It's odd to see a family flick centered around the "sport" of bullfighting in this day and age, but here it is. Nevertheless, this modern adaptation of the kid lit classic (previously made by Disney as an Oscar-winning cartoon in 1938) is silly fun and sometimes clever (our hero visits the proverbial china shop), although one has to question the casting of wrestling stud John Cena in the title role... who casts John Cena for his voice? One can only imagine the queer lunacy a Nathan Lane could have brought to the part of a flower-loving pacifist. (6/10) Now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Um... is he pointing at his nipples?

The Breadwinner:
This Afghani version of Mulan from Irish animation house Cartoon Saloon begins with the young protagonist witnessing her mother being brutally beaten in the street. Yikes... I don't normally have issues with mature themes in animation, but I do when the characters resemble the cute little sprites from The Secret of Kells. Parents beware. (5/10) Now streaming on Netflix.

Don't trust this face.

Cars 3:
Hey Pixar, are you finally done with this worn-out, over-exposed franchise? Now that I've got that out of my system, this third Cars feature isn't too bad, especially since the focus has shifted back to Lightning McQueen (after the wall-to-wall Mater of Cars 2), even if he is saddled with a downer storyline about facing that final pit stop... uh, retirement? Yep, I think they're done. (6/10) Now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Glengarry Glen Gerber

The Boss Baby:
In a field that has included the sad likes of Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron and Shark Tale, The Boss Baby can now easily claim the title of the worst movie to be nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar. Crammed to the breaking point with everything that makes today's average animated fare so bad — such sloppy, lazy tropes as stunt voice casting (Alec Baldwin! As a baby!), a soundtrack-ful of tired pop songs, plenty of poop/fart/burp/booger jokes — this Boss Baby deserves a permanent time out. (2/10) Now streaming on Netflix.

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

Friday, April 6, 2018

Reverend's Reviews: Totally Awesome Visions, New & Old


I have emerged from my longer-than-anticipated, post-awards season recovery coma.  Somewhat similarly, Steven Spielberg has just premiered his first post-The Post movie, Ready Player One. It proves to be an awesome, just plain fun return to the über-director's 1980's heyday before he got all serious and stuffy with 1993's Oscar-winning Schindler's List.  Despite a couple of exceptions, Spielberg has been making serious films ever since including Saving Private Ryan, Lincoln, Munich, Bridge of Spies and last year's The Post.

Ready Player One barely has a serious bone in its body, and the movie is totally successful as a result.  It is also dripping with nostalgia for all things 1980's-early 90's.  The time travel-augmented Delorean from Back to the Future is prominently featured, as are Spock's burial capsule from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, incantations from John Boorman's Arthurian epic Excalibur, and a rampaging T-Rex from Spielberg's own Jurassic Park.  Twisted Sister's rowdy "We're Not Gonna Take It" plays over the film's climactic battle scene.  Had Ready Player One actually been made in the 80's, Corey Haim no doubt would have played hero Wade Watts (a.k.a. Parzival) instead of current headliner Tye Sheridan, while Peter Coyote would be cast as big baddie Nolan Sorrento instead of new villain du jour Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Animal Kingdom).

Set in the year 2045 and a predictably dystopian, post-Trump Ohio, Spielberg's terrific sci-fi adventure showcases Wade's efforts to solve three virtual reality riddles created by the late James Halliday (a great performance by the director's current muse, Mark Rylance, in a fright wig and age-defying CGI).  Whoever solves these puzzles by the Willy Wonka-ish video game designer will win a priceless "Easter egg" including ownership of Halliday's entire online universe, known as the OASIS.

Naturally, anything priceless is going to attract not only well-intentioned folks like Wade but money-grubbing, megalomaniacal people such as Sorrento, who turns out to have been Halliday's former personal assistant. Sorrento lords over a staff of hundreds whose only job is to play the OASIS's games and get the all-powerful Easter egg. A big part of the fun in watching the visually dazzling Ready Player One for anyone over 40 is looking for the many mini "Easter eggs" that play brief background roles.  Appropriately enough, my friends and I saw the movie on Easter Sunday.  It was definitely less messy than dying actual eggs.

The movie's best sequence is set in the Overlook Hotel, haunted setting of Stephen King's horror novel The Shining and Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film adaptation.  I haven't read the book Ready Player One but I've read that this Shining sequence replaced a lengthy literary homage to Blade Runner. It includes appearances by the scary twin girls and an expanded part for the bathtub-dwelling ghost in infamous room 237.

In the end, Ready Player One incorporates the best elements of Spielberg's 80's oeuvre: heroic young people, awe-inspiring special effects, abundant humor, and an emotionally uplifting finale. Older viewers may have difficulty with all the fast-moving video game CGI on display but will still likely enjoy this thrill ride of a film.

Classic cinema meets modern media in two stunning new Blu-ray releases from the lovingly curated Criterion Collection.  Turning back the clock 90 years, we find Carl Theodore Dreyer's famed religious pageant The Passion of Joan of Arc.  Inspirational in the best sense, it draws from actual court documents of the time to recount the trial, sentencing and execution of the female French soldier who would eventually become one of the Catholic Church's most renowned saints.

Renee Falconetti gives an unforgettable, screen-searing performance in the title role.  Dreyer required Falconetti and the rest of his cast to forego makeup in order to heighten the film's Middle Ages authenticity.  Rudolph Mate's innovative black and white photography, heavy on extreme closeups and odd angles, has inspired generations of cinematographers.

The Blu-ray of The Passion of Joan of Arc boasts numerous extras of historical interest as well as three different music scores by which to watch it.  One is Richard Einhorn's acclaimed oratorio "Voices of Light," which accompanied the film's 1995 release on VHS.  While this is the best regarded option, I enjoyed/appreciated the more recent, percussion-heavy score co-composed by rockers Will Gregory of Goldfrapp and Adrian Utley of Portishead.  The third musical option by Japanese pianist Mie Yanashita is lovely and reflective.  This universally-recognized classic is worth watching with all three scores as well as in its original silent mode.

Fast-forwarding to 1968 is Criterion's spotless, newly restored release of George A. Romero's revolutionary Night of the Living Dead.  The late director's famously low-budget horror hit set the template for all subsequent depictions of zombie uprisings, including today's Walking Dead franchise.  But the film may strike many as more significant or timely than ever due to its not-so-subtle commentary on race relations in the US.  Watching it now as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination makes this movie that much more relevant.

Largely set in a Pennsylvania farmhouse and its surrounding countryside, the movie depicts uneasy relations among a group of white strangers who have taken refuge from a siege by flesh-hungry undead.  The appearance of a black man (Ben, memorably played by Duane Jones) who is easily the smartest and strongest of them all only serves to heighten tensions.  In the end, the black hero survives only to be killed by a sheriff's posse that shoots without even determining if he is a zombie.

The original theatrical release of Night of the Living Dead at the height of the Civil Rights Movement was an unintended but providential occurrence that has helped to make the movie a cross-generational, multi-ethnic phenomenon for five decades now.  Sure, the actors' performances are amateurish at times and I noticed upon re-viewing it that some of the sound editing is off, especially during a fistfight scene.  These are minor criticisms though when held up against this movie's enduring cultural impact.  A new documentary about this, Light in the Darkness, is included as a bonus and features new Oscar winner Guillermo Del Toro among its commentators. Awesome indeed.

Reverend's Ratings:
Ready Player One: A-
The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928): A
Night of the Living Dead (1968): A-

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

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

MD Top 10: Will & Grace Guest Stars Who Need to Return

In its heyday, Will & Grace had so many guest stars it was practically The Love Boat (with Jack, Your Cruise Director). These guest spots ranged from hilarious (Matt Damon as a straight guy who just wants to sing) and iconic (Cher, naturally) to misfires (Ellen DeGeneres as a nun?) and outright bombs (Madonna or Britney, take your pick).

Since its return last fall, the classic sitcom has continued its guest star tradition with both new and returning celebs, including Grace and Will's ex-loves (Harry Connick, Jr. as Leo Markus, Bobby Cannavale as Vince D'Angelo), a couple of Karen's many nemeses (Minnie Driver as Lorraine Finster, Leslie Jordan as Beverly Leslie), recurring faves Nurse Sheila (Laura Kightlinger) and Val Bassett (Molly Shannon) and, coming soon, Blythe Danner as Will's mom Marilyn and Alec Baldwin as the mysterious Malcolm Widmark.

Of course, we'd love to see even more blasts from the past, and now that Will & Grace has been renewed for yet another season already they'll have plenty of opportunities to bring back some of our old favorites, such as...

(In alphabetical order, click on character name for a video clip.)

1. Candice Bergen as Candice Bergen

The multiple Emmy winner (or is it People's Choice Awards?) can warm up for the pending return of Murphy Brown by sparring with Karen yet again; imagine their debate about the pros and cons of a certain commander-in-chief.

2. Sandra Bernhard as Sandra Bernhard

Picture it: Will and Grace once again cross paths with the comedienne (who will also be in the upcoming Roseanne revival) and, since Sandra doesn't remember them, they become pals again... until Grace breaks out in song.

3. Veronica Cartwright as Judith McFarland

Jack has already mentioned his loving but clueless mother ("What is she, headless?") in the current season, a perfect set up to bring her back for a long-awaited second appearance. How about a dinner party with Marilyn?

4. Cher as Cher

Dear NBC: Just. Make it. Happen. Signed: The Grateful Gays of the World.

5. Michael Douglas as Gavin Hatch

Connect the dots... Gavin was a closeted cop who took a shine to Will. Jack's current boyfriend is a cop just out of the closet. How about a blind double date? Woof!

6. Christine Ebersole as Candy Pruitt

Candy was one of Karen's many high society rivals, the one with a penchant for plastic surgery. Imagine her now in the age of Botox.

7. Woody Harrelson as Nathan

Leo who? We always thought Nathan was the true love of Grace's life, and his bohemian vibe played well off of the straight(ahem)-laced Will. So how about a round two?

8. Dan Futterman as Barry

Don't you want to see where Barry is at now? Karen's cousin, who was Eliza Dolittle-d into a handsome head-turner by Will and Jack, has been out for awhile now... time enough surely to give Will a second chance.

9. Parker Posey as Dorleen

What a hoot it would be to see Posey (who'll play a gender-swapped Dr. Smith in Netflix's Lost in Space reboot) yet again as Dorleen, Jack's high-strung supervisor during his all-to-brief stint at Barney's.

10. Jamie-Lynn Sigler as Ro D'Angelo

Let's face it: Will & Grace was never too kind to lesbians during its original run (remember the cringe-inducing couple played by Edie Falco and Chloë Sevigny? Yikes). They can make up for it now with an encore appearance of Vince's sister Ro, who Jack convinced to come out to her family that one memorable Thanksgiving.

There are just two episodes left of Will & Grace this season, so you'll know where to find me the next two Thursday nights...!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Dearest Review: The Kids Are All Right

Casting a glance

Kids these days... Quick takes on Lady Bird, Wonder, Wonderstruck and The Florida Project.

Lady Bird:
Writer/director/critical darling Greta Gerwig has winningly recreated her quirky/angsty teen years of the early oughts in Sacremento, California, finding her ideal "mini-me" stand-in in Saoirse Ronan. Laurie Metcalf also shines as the put-upon mom in this often funny, often bittersweet (though quite overrated) coming of age tale. (7/10) Now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Boy Wonder

This inspirational crowd-pleaser starring that charming Room-mate Jacob Tremblay as a boy born with a facial deformity is a lot better than it needed to be as far as inspirational crowd-pleasers go. Over earnest and sentimental, yes, but if you have a big heart you'll likely be tearing up within the first five minutes. (7/10) Now available on DVD and Blu-ray. one era and out the other...

Todd Haynes' gem of a family-friendly film will leave you, well, wonderstruck with its simple beauty and top drawer craftsmanship. Telling a decade-spanning story of two lost kids in search of familial connections, Wonderstruck takes place in the real world but has the magical feel of such beloved fantasies as The Wizard of Oz. A true future classic. (9/10) Now streaming on Amazon Prime.

Dafoe and da ho

The Florida Project:
Just because it's set on the outskirts of the Happiest Place on Earth does not make this dreary, gross mess of a wildly-overpraised indie at all Disney-ish, let alone watchable. Filled with non-actors as foul-mouthed, obnoxious children and their mothers, poor Willem Dafoe is the one (slightly) saving grace in Sean Baker's perversely pretentious morass. (2/10) Now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

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

Friday, March 2, 2018

If We Picked the Oscars 2017


Borrowing a page from Siskel and Ebert from back in the day, we here at Movie Dearest 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 also chime 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: Call Me by Your Name, Darkest Hour, Dunkirk, Get Out, Lady Bird, Phantom Thread, The Post, The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
And our winners would be:
CC: It was a very strong year at the movies, and this is one of the rare lists of nominees where they are almost all equally worthy of the gold.  True, I consider Call Me By Your Name a tad overrated but its heart is certainly in the right place.  Most of the other nominees made my top 10 of 2017.  All that being said, I would vote for my #1 pick, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.  Martin McDonagh's exceptional drama with darkly comic touches surprised, impressed and moved me the most when compared with its fellow competitors.
KH: Since it topped both the Dearie Awards and my own personal top 10, it should be no surprise that my choice for Best Picture would be The Shape of Water (or that it will be mentioned by me many more times by the end of this piece).
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Wonder Woman was one of the best comic book-inspired movies of the last 40 years.  Including it here, especially in light of the 2017 birth of the #MeToo movement, would have been most appropriate.
KH: And since it came at number 2 on my top 10, it should also be no surprise that my choice here would be for Wonderstruck, Todd Haynes' marvelous mini-masterpiece that unfortunately got lost in all the shuffle this awards season.

For their final voting, Academy members are asked to rank the Best Picture nominees from #1 to #9, so here are our rankings:
CC: 1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, 2. Dunkirk, 3. The Shape of Water, 4. Darkest Hour, 5. Get Out, 6. Lady Bird, 7. Phantom Thread, 8. The Post and 9. Call Me By Your Name.
KH: 1. The Shape of Water, 2. Darkest Hour, 3. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, 4. Phantom Thread, 5. Get Out, 6. Lady Bird, 7. Dunkirk, 8. The Post and 9. Call Me by Your Name.

The nominees for Best Actor are: Timothée Chalamet in Call Me by Your Name, Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread, Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out, Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour and Denzel Washington in Roman J. Israel, Esq.
And our winners would be:
CC: Gary Oldman, hands down.  One of our generation's best actors, he has received surprisingly few nominations over the years and has never won.  This is his time but, most critically, I forgot I was watching Oldman midway through Darkest Hour and was convinced it was Winston Churchill himself.  Now that's acting!
KH: Yes, he's been the presumed front-runner for months now and long overdue for his years of brilliant work, but Gary Oldman deserves the gold for his wholly-immersed, deeply fascinating performance of Winston Churchill.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Tom Hanks gave one of his best, least hammy performances in years as The Post's Ben Bradlee.  Hanks and Streep also had great chemistry.  She was nominated (again) but he wasn't.  What gives?
KH: First Nightcrawler, now Stronger... what does Jake Gyllenhaal have to do to get his second Oscar nomination?

The nominees for Best Actress are: Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water, Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Margot Robbie in I, Tonya, Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird and Meryl Streep in The Post
And our winners would be:
CC: This is a very strong group of contenders.  As much as I loved all their performances, I would vote for the delightful Sally Hawkins.  She was the virtually silent heart and soul of Guillermo del Toro's lovably odd romantic-fantasy.
KH: Sally Hawkins made her Elisa inspired, passionate, intelligent, empathetic, determined, loyal and even a little feisty... all without saying a word.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Gal Gadot's star-making turn as Wonder Woman/Diana Prince in three movies now should have received more respect from the Academy's acting branch.
KH: Once again, Meryl Streep's mannered flouncing has caused the unjust omission of a superior performance. This year's casualty: Jessica Chastain's firecracker "Poker Princess" in Molly's Game.

The nominees for Best Supporting Actor are: Willem Dafoe in The Florida Project, Woody Harrelson in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Richard Jenkins in The Shape of Water, Christopher Plummer in All the Money in the World and Sam Rockwell in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
And our winners would be:
CC: I haven't seen All the Money in the World but loved all the other nominees' performances.  Harrelson and Rockwell kind of split my vote, leaving Dafoe and Jenkins.  Both are terrific in their respective movies but I can't help but feel Dafoe is more overdue.  Willem Dafoe gets my vote.
KH: As the gay artist Giles, Richard Jenkins deftly created a world-weary man ready to give up until his life brushes up against the fantastic.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Michael Stuhlbarg's deeply moving turn as the unconditionally loving father of a gay teen in Call Me By Your Name.
KH: In Logan, Patrick Stewart was stunning, heartbreaking as fallen hero Charles Xavier.

The nominees for Best Supporting Actress are: Mary J. Blige in Mudbound, Allison Janney in I, Tonya, Lesley Manville in Phantom Thread, Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird and Octavia Spencer in The Shape of Water
And our winners would be:
CC: Lesley Manville's delicious performance was a late season surprise and it is tempting to vote for her out of all these strong women.  However, Laurie Metcalf would get my vote not only on the strength of her performance but because it would get her that much closer to EGOT status.
KH: I love me some Allison Janney, but her mommie dearest turn in I, Tonya felt too much like her Mom character cranked up to an R rating. I'll go for the other mother, Lady Bird's quietly imploding one, 'cause I also love me some Laurie Metcalf.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Catherine Keener's memorably creepy, tea-stirring psycho mom in Get Out.
KH: Too bad that there wasn't enough room for another mother or two, such as The Big Sick's Holly Hunter and/or mother!'s Michelle Pfeiffer.

The nominees for Best Director are: Paul Thomas Anderson for Phantom Thread, Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water, Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird, Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk and Jordan Peele for Get Out
And our winners would be:
CC: The never-nominated Nolan did a spectacular, masterful job with Dunkirk.  No other movie last year made me feel I was in the midst of the action as it did.  Despite my deep admiration of del Toro and The Shape of Water, Christopher Nolan would get my vote.
KH: Only Guillermo del Toro could have made a love story about a deaf and mute woman and the Creature of the Black Lagoon not only work, but soar.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: I'm glad they nominated at least one woman in this category, but Patty Jenkins would have been another welcome nominee for her great work finally getting Wonder Woman's solo movie to the big screen.
KH: You can't go wrong with a Wright: either Joe (Darkest Hour) or Edgar (Baby Driver).

The nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay are: Call Me By Your Name, The Disaster Artist, Logan, Molly's Game and Mudbound
And our winners would be:
CC: Although it isn't his fault, even likely Oscar winner James Ivory has complained about how his more sexually graphic adaptation of Call Me By Your Name was compromised during production. That tips me in the direction of Aaron Sorkin's crackling good script for Molly's Game.
KH: OK, I don't know how to play poker and I don't get gambling, but that didn't make Molly's Game (written for the screen by Aaron Sorkin from the Molly Bloom memoir) any less thrillingly entertaining.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Wonderstruck, Brian Selznick's elegant adaptation of his time-tripping novel.
KH: Two young adult novels — R.J. Palacio's Wonder and Brian Selznick's Wonderstruck — were nicely transformed into fine films for all ages by (respectively) Jack Thorne, Steve Conrad & Stephen Chbosky and Selznick himself.

The nominees for Best Original Screenplay are: The Big Sick, Get Out, Lady Bird, The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
And our winners would be:
CC: This is another strong group of almost equally-good contenders but Martin McDonagh's thoughtful, timely script for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri gets my vote.
KH: The spectacular uniqueness of The Shape of Water is in its mixture of fairy tale, horror story, Cold War thriller and cinematic homage, and that all originates in Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor's script.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: A lot of critics including myself appreciated writer-director Kogonada's reflective indie Columbus.  Perhaps with a little more visibility it would have made this category.
KH: It's a shame that the late-in-the-game surge for Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread didn't also include a nomination for his clever, darkly comic screenplay.

The nominees for Best Cinematography are: Blade Runner 2049, Darkest Hour, Dunkirk, Mudbound and The Shape of Water
And our winners would be:
CC: 14-time nominee bridesmaid Roger Deakins deserves to win for the frequently gorgeous Blade Runner sequel, but I found The Shape of Water a more organically beautiful movie.
KH: It's a crime that Roger Deakins doesn't have an Oscar (or three) already but his stellar work on Blade Runner 2049 will hopefully, finally solve that problem.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom's sexy, sun-dappled work on Call Me By Your Name.  'Nuff said.
KH: Edward Lachman made the two distinct stories of Wonderstruck look like they were filmed in their respective eras: a black and white silent movie and a gritty 70s film.

The nominees for Best Production Design are: Beauty and the Beast, Blade Runner 2049, Darkest Hour, Dunkirk and The Shape of Water
And our winners would be:
CC: The other nominees are great to look at but The Shape of Water's art direction is uniquely, gorgeously evocative.
KH: From the bright green slices of Key lime pie to the shadowy secret lab to that dreamy musical fantasy in glorious black and white, the look of The Shape of Water is one of a kind.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: It's costumes understandably command the most attention but Phantom Thread's sets are almost equally entrancing.
KH: The 19th century settings of The Greatest Showman deserved to be celebrated.

The nominees for Best Costume Design are: Beauty and the Beast, Darkest Hour, Phantom Thread, The Shape of Water and Victoria & Abdul
And our winners would be:
CC: Phantom Thread made me want to dress in drag for the first time ever, so it naturally gets my vote.
KH: Considering its fashion house locale and all those fabulous frocks continuously paraded before our eyes, how could it be anything but Phantom Thread? It deserves to win for that pink lace number (pictured) alone.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: While I was underwhelmed by The Greatest Showman on the whole, Ellen Mirojnick's costumes are dazzling.
KH: Wonder Woman was really three movies in one — superhero fantasy, period piece and war epic — each with their own unique costuming demands.

The nominees for Best Original Score are: Dunkirk, Phantom Thread, The Shape of Water, Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
And our winners would be:
CC: Jonny Greenwood of the rock band Radiohead composed a surprisingly symphonic score for Phantom Thread.  As much as I enjoyed The Shape of Water's more whimsical soundtrack, Greenwood gets my vote.
KH: Alexandre Desplat's lushly romantic, Old Hollywood-style score for The Shape of Water made a great movie even better.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: I loooove Mark Mothersbaugh's 80's-inflected yet suitably heroic work on Thor: Ragnarok, complete with a Grandmaster Jam Session!
KH: You have to wonder how Carter Burwell was nominated this year for Three Billboards and not Wonderstruck.

The nominees for Best Original Song are: "Mighty River" from Mudbound, "Mystery of Love" from Call Me By Your Name, "Remember Me" from Coco, "Stand Up for Something" from Marshall and "This Is Me" from The Greatest Showman
And our winners would be:
CC: I didn't think the wonder duo Pasek & Paul deserved to win last year for their too simplistic "City of Stars."  This year, though, I would vote for their rousing "This Is Me" anthem over the similarly simplistic "Remember Me."
KH: As much as I admire how well "Remember Me" is integrated into the story of Coco, my vote goes to the more lyrically rich "This Is Me"... and I can't wait to see Keala Settle kill it on Sunday night.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: I'm partial to Sara Bareilles' "If I Dare" end title tune from the otherwise neglected Battle of the Sexes.
KH: The original Beauty and the Beast scored three nominations here (a first), so perhaps a fourth for the big Beast ballad "Evermore" from this year's live action remake was too much to ask for.

The nominees for Best Film Editing are: Baby Driver, Dunkirk, I, Tonya, The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
And our winners would be:
CC: Dunkirk's innovative time-hopping narrative was aided and abetted by the superb editing.
KH: The opening bank heist/car chase synced to The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's "Bellbottoms" alone makes Baby Driver more than deserving of the prize for Best Film Editing.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Wonder Woman comes to mind first and foremost.
KH: Overall Molly's Game should have got more love, especially in this category.

The nominees for Best Sound Mixing are: Baby Driver, Blade Runner 2049, Dunkirk, The Shape of Water and Star Wars: The Last Jedi
And our winners would be:
CC: Its kinda a toss up for me between Dunkirk and The Last Jedi but I would probably vote for the historical former.
KH: The opening bank heist/car chase synced to The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's "Bellbottoms" alone makes Baby Driver more than deserving of the prize for Best Sound Mixing as well.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: I'm thinking Wonder Woman is going to be my nominee in most of these technical categories.
KH: Pick a musical: Beauty and the Beast, Coco or The Greatest Showman.

The nominees for Best Sound Editing are: Baby Driver, Blade Runner 2049, Dunkirk, The Shape of Water and Star Wars: The Last Jedi
And our winners would be:
CC: Dunkirk, natch.
KH: The Shape of Water sound editors gave our aquatic hero his voice.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Wonder Woman, natch.
KH: Wonder Woman, for all those bullets bouncing off her bracelets.

The nominees for Best Visual Effects are: Blade Runner 2049, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Kong: Skull Island, Star Wars: The Last Jedi and War for the Planet of the Apes
And our winners would be:
CC: War for the Planet of the Apes Shockingly, none of the previous films' brilliantly conceived CGI effects have won.  This one should to honor the entire trilogy (to date).
KH: Five nominees, five franchise films. Which one showed us the most of what we hadn't seen before? Blade Runner 2049, easily.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Thor: Ragnarok, if primarily for Cate Blanchett's fabulous CGI headdresses.
KH: The Visual Effects branch should be embarrassed and ashamed for the lack of a nomination in this category for The Shape of Water.

The nominees for Best Makeup and Hairstyling are: Darkest Hour, Victoria & Abdul and Wonder
And our winners would be:
CC: Darkest Hour for so completely and convincingly transforming Gary Oldman.
KH: With their transformation of Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill, the Darkest Hour team created not just the best character makeup of the year but perhaps the best character makeup ever.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: The Shape of Water, duh.
KH: Perhaps the creature makeup was deemed too much of a special effect, but the lack of The Shape of Water here sure looks odd.

The nominees for Best Animated Feature are: The Boss Baby, The Breadwinner, Coco, Ferdinand and Loving Vincent
And our winners would be:
CC: The Boss Baby?  Uh, no.  The heart-tugging Coco gets my vote.
KH: The old school artistry of Loving Vincent is tempting, but the joyful Coco is irresistible.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: How did Boss Baby get nominated over the smart and hilarious Lego Batman Movie???
KH: Holy snub, Batman! Where's The Lego Batman Movie?

The nominees for Best Foreign Language Film are: A Fantastic Woman (Chili), The Insult (Lebanon), Loveless (Russia), On Body and Soul (Hungary) and The Square (Sweden)
And our winners would be:
CC: I regret I haven't seen them all but, out of the three I have seen, The Square rules.
KH:  I haven't seen Loveless, was underwhelmed with A Fantastic Woman, repulsed by On Body and Soul and, well, see below for my thoughts on The Square. So I guess that leaves The Insult...
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: The omission of France's inspiring and moving AIDS drama BPM (Beats Per Minute) borders on the criminal.
KH: Where is Golden Globe and Critics' Choice winner In the Fade? Sorry, but this category really sucks this year.

The nominees for Best Documentary Feature are: Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, Faces Places, Icarus, Last Men in Aleppo and Strong Island
And our winners would be:
CC: Strong Island tells a heart-rending story from a unique, trans perspective.
KH: I loved Agnès Varda's quirky Faces Places, but it felt more like a travelogue than a documentary. My choice would be the intensely personal Strong Island, which found new ways to tell an unfortunately familiar tale.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: There are a lot of contenders here but Jane is probably the most egregious.
KH: Jane, the Most Egregiously Overlooked of the Year.

The nominees for Best Documentary Short Subject are: Edith+Eddie, Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405, Heroin(e), Knife Skills and Traffic Stop
And our winners would be:
CC: Sorry to say I haven't had time to see any of them, even though they're short.
KH: The heartbreaking Edith+Eddie is unforgettable.

The nominees for Best Animated Short Film are: Dear Basketball, Garden Party, Lou, Negative Space and Revolting Rhymes
And our winners would be:
CC: The only one I've seen is Dear Basketball but its a winner.
KH: Despite a somewhat gruesome ending, I got a kick out of the antics of the photo-realistic amphibians in Garden Party.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: I'm apparently one of the few who enjoyed Olaf's Frozen Adventure, probably enough to nominate it if I had the chance.
KH: Although it's a bit simplistic, I would have picked In a Heartbeat over the Pixar dud Lou in a, well, heartbeat.

The nominees for Best Live Action Short Film are: DeKalb Elementary, The Eleven O'Clock, My Nephew Emmett, The Silent Child and Watu Wote/All of Us
And our winners would be:
CC: Haven't seen any of them, regretfully.
KH: Even in this, the strongest batch of shorts this year, the bittersweet The Silent Child stands out.

And now for our own special category of dishonorable mention, the Worst Nomination of the Year:
CC: As I think I indicated loud and clear above, The Boss Baby for Best Animated Feature.
KH: Maybe it's a European thing? How else to explain the wealth of accolades, from the Cannes Palme d'Or to six European Film Awards, that have been showered on The Square, the Best Foreign Language Film nominee from Sweden. Billed as a "satire of the art world", it isn't funny. At all. For all of its 151 minutes. In a year with so many good foreign films (In the Fade, BPM (Beats Per Minute), Thelma, The Wound, Tom of Finland), it is incredibly frustrating that such a coy, pretentious and insulting piece of Eurotrash as this made it to the Oscars.

And so the final march to Oscar glory begins. Tune in to the Big Show, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, 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, editor and head writer of Movie Dearest.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Six Degrees of Oscar 2017

For 90 years now the Academy Awards has been honoring the best in film, and every year adds another batch of movies to the growing list of over 4,800 titles that have been nominated for and/or won an Oscar. Naturally, there's bound to be some overlap among all those movies in regards to subject matter, stories, themes, characters and even songs, and not just in sequels and remakes and reboots (oh my).

It's always fascinating when you notice how one movie can connect to another in one way or another, which brings to mind that whole "six degrees of separation" thing, which in turn reminds you of that play, also titled Six Degrees of Separation, about the con artist who insinuates himself into the life of a well-to-do New York City couple by claiming to be the son of Academy Award winning actor Sidney Poitier. Stockard Channing, who played the socialite wife in the original Broadway production, was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar when she reprised the role for the 1993 film version, which co-starred Oscar nominees Will Smith, Ian McKellen and Bruce Davison and recent Honorary Oscar recipient Donald Sutherland.

And by now you've probably guessed where I'm going with all this: call me crazy, but I have not only found connections between all of this year's Oscar nominees (all 60 of them) and a slew of Oscar nominated films of the past, but I have also connected them all, in one way or another, to Six Degrees of Separation. And, not only are all of the movies Oscar nominees, so are all of the actors, directors, etc. that I've named. Yes, I am that obsessive. Granted, most of the connections are more than "six degrees" apart, but yeah, even I'm not that obsessive.

All of the Oscar nominated/winning movies, people and even a few songs have been emboldened, with the 2017 nominees also in yellow. Shall we begin?

Let's start with Stockard Channing (and thank you, Actors Branch, for nominating her 24 years ago or this whole thing never would have made sense): she was in Grease with Eve Arden, who was in Night and Day with Jane Wyman, who was Oscar nominated for her performance in The Yearling, which featured a deer, as did On Body and Soul. Wyman was also in Mr. Dodd Takes the Air, which featured an Oscar nominated song titled "Remember Me", just like Coco, which Lou director Dave Mullins was an animator on and Edward James Olmos voiced a character in. Olmos returned for Blade Runner 2049, directed by Denis Villeneuve, who also directed Prisoners (the story of parents searching for a missing child, just like Loveless) and Arrival, starring Amy Adams, who was also in American Hustle with Robert De Niro, who starred in GoodFellas, in which an insult is blown out of proportion, just like in The Insult; the plots of both The Insult and Watu Wote/All of Us revolve around interfaith conflicts. Both Arrival and American Hustle also starred Jeremy Renner, who was in The Avengers with Samuel L. Jackson, who was in Kong: Skull Island and Pulp Fiction (which featured a heroin overdose, as did Heroin(e)), which also starred Tim Roth (who appeared in the documentary Finding Vivian Maier, about a street photographer like JR in Faces Places) and John Travolta who, in addition to being in Grease with Stockard, was in The Thin Red Line with George Clooney, who was in Up in the Air (where he is seen obsessively packing a suitcase, as in Negative Space) and is producing a feature version of The White Helmets, the Oscar winning documentary short about the volunteer rescue workers also seen in Last Men in Aleppo.

Longtime Companion supporting actor nominee Bruce Davison was in The Crucible with Daniel Day Lewis, star of Phantom Thread and Nine, which also starred Judi Dench, of Victoria & Abdul, and Kate Hudson, who co-starred in Marshall with James Cromwell, who was also in The People vs. Larry Flynt with Woody Harrelson, who appeared in two Oscar nominated movies this year, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and War for the Planet of the Apes. War is a sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which starred James Franco (who starred in Spider-Man with Willem Dafoe of The Florida Project), star of The Disaster Artist, which featured a famous scene from Rebel without a Cause, which was the film debut of Dennis Hopper, whose directorial debut was Easy Rider, which earned Jack Nicholson his first of 12 Oscar nominations. Nicholson appeared in Broadcast News, which starred Holly Hunter of The Big Sick, and won his first of three Oscars for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, where he played a crafty mental patient, just like one of the men in The Eleven O'Clock. Nicholson's third Oscar win was for As Good As It Gets, co-starring Cuba Gooding, Jr., who was in Boyz n the Hood, where his character's brother is murdered; Strong Island is documentary about the filmmaker's brother being murdered. Going back to War for the Planet of the Apes, it was the latest movie in the franchise that started 50 years ago with Planet of the Apes, starring Charlton Heston, who appeared in Bowling for Columbine, the documentary about school shootings, such as the one dramatized in DeKalb Elementary. Heston was also the narrator in Disney's Hercules, which also featured the voice talents of Barbara Barrie of Breaking Away, a movie about bicycle racing, a sport also seen in Icarus.

Ian McKellen received his second Oscar nomination for playing Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, and his famous "You shall not pass!" line from that movie is spoofed in The Boss Baby. McKellen's Lord of the Rings co-stars included Viggo Mortensen (who was in Daylight with Sylvester Stallone of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) and Cate Blanchett, who won an Oscar for Blue Jasmine, co-starring Sally Hawkins of The Shape of Water, wherein she plays a deaf and mute woman; The Silent Child also features a deaf and mute female main character. McKellen co-starred in Beauty and the Beast (2017's live action remake of the 1991 animated classic Beauty and the Beast, which featured animation by Glen Keane, director of Dear Basketball), which was directed by Bill Condon, who also directed Dreamgirls, which starred Jamie Foxx of Baby Driver and Eddie Murphy, who was in Mulan, a tale of a daughter who dresses as a male to help her family, just like in The Breadwinner. McKellen also starred in X-Men: Days of Future Past with Hugh Jackman and Michael Fassbender. Jackman starred in two Oscar nominated movies this year, Logan and The Greatest Showman, co-starring Michelle Williams, who also starred in All the Money in the World. Fassbender was in Inglourious Basterds (co-starring Brad Pitt, who was in The Big Short, a movie about the subprime mortgage crisis, as is Abacus: Small Enough to Jail), which featured the character Winston Churchill, the subject of the biopic Darkest Hour, which featured the evacuation of Dunkirk, which was also featured in fellow Best Picture nominees Dunkirk, Atonement and Mrs. Miniver. Saoirse Ronan received her first Oscar nomination for Atonement, and is nominated this year for Lady Bird (which co-stars Timothée Chalamet, also a nominee this year for Call Me By Your Name) and also co-starred in Loving Vincent (a movie about a mentally ill artist, as is Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405). Mrs. Miniver starred Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon, who re-teamed for Mrs. Parkington, which co-starred Agnes Moorehead, who made her film debut in Citizen Kane, subject of the documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane, co-directed by Thomas Lennon, the director of Knife Skills.

Sidney Poitier starred in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, a major inspiration for Get Out, which featured the Oscar winning song "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" from Dirty Dancing, which Julia Roberts watches in Wonder, the story of a boy with a facial disfigurement, like Mask, which starred Cher, an executive producer of Edith+Eddie. Wonder also featured several characters from Star Wars (including Chewbacca, also featured in Star Wars: The Last Jedi), which starred Alec Guinness, who was also in Doctor Zhivago with Ralph Richardson, who was in Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, which featured a man acting like an ape, like that creepy guy in The Square. Getting back to Julia Roberts, she was in Mirror, Mirror, an alternate take on Snow White, who was also featured in Revolting Rhymes along with Little Red Riding Hood. The most famous film version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was produced by Walt Disney, who also produced the Oscar winning cartoon Ferdinand the Bull, which was based on the book The Story of Ferdinand, as was this year's Ferdinand. Meanwhile, Little Red Riding Hood was a character in Into the Woods, which starred Meryl Streep, who co-starred in The Post with Tom Hanks as Washington Post editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee, the same person played by Jason Robards (in an Oscar winning performance) in All the President's Men. Robards was also in Magnolia (featuring a memorable scene with frogs, like those in Garden Party) with Felicity Huffman, who was nominated for an Oscar for Transamerica, a film with a transgender lead character like A Fantastic Woman.

And finally: Donald Sutherland was in Pride & Prejudice with Carey Mulligan, who starred in Mudbound, which featured a racially motivated crime, as did My Nephew Emmett. Sutherland was also in JFK* with Tommy Lee Jones, who was also in In the Valley of Elah, which was directed by Paul Haggis, as was Crash, which featured a racially-charged confrontation during a traffic stop, as did Traffic Stop. JFK also starred Kevin Costner, who co-starred in Molly's Game with Jessica Chastain, who was also in The Help with Emma Stone, who was in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), which was directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, who won a Special Achievement Oscar for his virtual reality film Carne y arena. The Help also starred Allison Janney of I, Tonya, which also starred Margot Robbie, who starred in Suicide Squad with Viola Davis (who also starred in The Help and Fences, directed by and starring Denzel Washington of Roman J. Israel, Esq.) and Will Smith, which brings us full circle back to, you guessed it, Six Degrees of Separation.

*For those who want to tie all this in to "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon", the never nominated Mr. Bacon was also in JFK.

Coming soon: A Movie Dearest annual tradition: "If We Picked the Oscars".

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