Wednesday, January 31, 2018

And the 2017 Dorian Awards Go To...

Call Me by Your Name

Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird

Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water

Timothée Chalamet in Call Me by Your Name

Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird

Michael Stuhlbarg in Call Me by Your Name

Call Me by Your Name

BPM (Beats Per Minute)

Get Out by Jordan Peele

Faces Places

The Shape of Water

God's Own Country


Big Little Lies

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Nicole Kidman in Big Little Lies

Kyle MacLachlan in Twin Peaks: The Return

Full Frontal with Samantha Bee

Kate McKinnon, “(Kellyanne) Conway!” from Saturday Night Live

RuPaul's Drag Race

American Gods

Feud: Bette and Joan

Timothée Chalamet

Kate McKinnon and...

Jordan Peele
Jordan Peele

Meryl Streep

Presented by GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics, the 9th Annual Dorian Awards honor the year's best in film and television. GALECA is comprised of over 200 gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and ally entertainment journalists in the US, Canada and the UK, including myself and Movie Dearest contributor Chris Carpenter. Click here for the full list of this year's nominees.

Winners will be honored at GALECA’s annual Winners Toast on Saturday February 24th in glamorous Beverly Hills.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Random Thoughts: 2017 Oscar Nominations, Part 2

More reactions to the 2017 Oscar nominations....

Click here for Part 1

Oscar's favorite character actors: With her third nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Best Picture nominee The Shape of Water, sassy sidekick Octavia Spencer cements her status as this century's Thelma Ritter. Of course Thelma, who was nominated six times in the same category (including her first for 1950 Best Picture winner All About Eve) never won, while Octavia was victorious her first time out, for 2011's The Help.

And while he wasn't singled out for his role as the supportive father in Call Me By Your Name, Michael Stuhlbarg can claim bragging rights for appearing in a third of this year's nine Best Picture nominees; in addition to Call Me, he also co-starred in The Post and The Shape of Water. The last actor to pull off a triple like this was John C. Reilly in 2002's The Hours, Gangs of New York and that year's Best Picture winner Chicago.

Octavia, supporting Sally

Best of Times, Worst of Times for the Streamers: Previously only recognized in the documentary categories, Netflix broke into the mainstream races this year with their acclaimed drama Mudbound, which also set a few records with its four nominations: Rachel Morrison became the first female cinematographer to be nominated, the film's director Dee Rees is the first African-American woman to be nominated for Adapted Screenplay, and Mary J. Blige is the only person to be nominated for acting and songwriting for the same film. The streaming giant also added three more documentary nominations (the short Heroin(e) and the features Icarus and Strong Island) to its haul, as well as its first Foreign Language Film nominee, On Body and Soul from Hungary (which starts streaming on February 2nd).

That's an impressive eight nominations total for Netflix. Meanwhile, the news wasn't so good for its rival, Amazon. After becoming the first streaming service to garner a Best Picture nomination and to win Oscars in the major categories last year for Manchester by the Sea, Amazon landed only a single nod this year, for The Big Sick's Original Screenplay. All its other potential contenders — The Lost City of Z, Last Flag Flying, Wonder Wheel and (sadly) Wonderstruck — never quite broke through.

Proud Mary

Great Song Selections: There's not much to gripe about for a change when it comes to the Original Song category. First off: No documentary songs! Although I'm not crazy about "Stand Up for Something" from Marshall (it tries way too hard to be both inspirational and hip and winds up being neither), the remaining four are exceptional, with two thematically strong soundtrack tunes — "Mighty River" from Mudbound and "Mystery of Love" from Call Me By Your Name — and two narratively rich show tunes — "Remember Me" from Coco and "This Is Me" from The Greatest Showman. Plus, all of them have the potential of adding memorable musical moments to the telecast, especially a show-stopper like the Gay Pride anthem in-the-making "This Is Me" (see lyrics below), which Keala Settle has already confirmed she will be performing on the Big Night. Let's hope they can book as many of the other original singers as they can, although I'm pretty sure that Supporting Actress nominee Mary J. Blige will be on hand to belt out her mighty "Mighty River".

Fun fact: Three of this year's Best Picture nominees feature previous Oscar winning and nominated songs on their soundtracks, most notably the dreamy "You'll Never Know" from 1943's Hello Frisco, Hello in The Shape of Water, where it is heard several times. Dirty Dancing's iconic "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" is used ironically in a memorable scene in Get Out. And you'd have to be a true connoisseur of classic movie music (like, oh, yours truly) to recognize "My Foolish Heart" (a nominee from the 1949 film of the same name) as a lovely instrumental in an early scene in Phantom Thread.

One can assume Keala will shave before the big night...

And the rest...:
  • It's pretty much a given at this point that Coco will (rightfully) win for Best Animated Feature, but did we really need the phrase "Academy Award nominee The Boss Baby" to be a reality? And what does the Academy have against Lego?
  • Speaking of animation, where's the super-cute gay boys in love story In a Heartbeat in Best Animated Short?
  • Great to see well-deserved multiple nominations for genre faves Blade Runner 2049, Baby Driver and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, including one each in the two redundant sound award categories (the five films nominated in both categories are exactly the same). 
  • As for the Foreign Language Film category, Germany's Golden Globe and Critics' Choice winner In the Fade was criminally overlooked. Instead, they picked Sweden's ridiculously pretentious so-called "satire" The Square, the epitome of the type of foreign language film that make people hate foreign language films.
  • How can the beautifully made Jane not be a finalist for Best Documentary Feature, for which it was not only expected to be nominated but also the winner? This one is arguably the biggest snub (there, I said it) of this year's nominations.
  • On the other hand: yeah for Agnès Varda, nominated for her very first Oscar for her delightful doc Faces Places. But if she wins it won't be her first Oscar: she received an Honorary Oscar at this year's Governor's Awards. Oh, and she's also the oldest Oscar nominee like ever, with fellow 2017 nominees James Ivory (Adapted Screenplay, Call Me By Your Name) and Christopher Plummer (Supporting Actor, All the Money in the World) right behind her. In other words, no #OscarSoYoung.

Strong man

And last but certainly not least: In yet another Oscar milestone in a year of Oscar milestones, congratulations to Yance Ford, director of the riveting Best Documentary Feature nominee Strong Island, the first transgender filmmaker to be nominated for an Academy Award.

Coming soon: my reviews of this year's short film nominees and a Movie Dearest annual tradition, "If We Picked the Oscars".

By Kirby Holt, Movie Dearest creator, editor and head writer.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Random Thoughts: 2017 Oscar Nominations, Part 1

9 for the 90th

The nominations for the 90th Academy Awards were announced yesterday, and all things considered they are a pretty good batch, with a few surprise "ins" and "outs" (I loathe the term "snub") that proves that the Academy does have a (collective) mind of their own despite what all the Oscar pundits out there have to say about it. But that doesn't mean that we can't keep talking about it...

 To wit, some random thoughts on the 2017* Oscar nominations:

Nine Best Picture nominees: It's supposedly statistically nearly impossible for ten nominees, and we've only had eight nominees twice since this whole "sliding scale" thing started seven years ago (after just two years of a solid top ten). So it looks like nine will be the norm, even if that means that includes a fading Best Picture contender like The Post that has just one other nomination (yep, Meryl Streep got another one). This expanded slate of Best Picture nominations was originally intended to include all the films that Academy members are "passionate" about, but how strong is that passion for a film that only generates one other nomination?

See you on the OBT, beotches

Over- and under-performers: Speaking of The Post, it was not the only presumed front runner that came up short when all was said and done. Both The Big Sick and The Florida Project could only squeeze in with one nomination each (thankfully in the case of the latter), while Call Me By Your Name managed only four, totally missing out in the Supporting Actor category even with two contenders (Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg) in that race. And then of course is the long list of those favorites that were totally left out in the cold, chief among them being the beloved blockbuster Wonder Woman, which I sadly expected would happen.

On the other hand, both Darkest Hour and Phantom Thread surged ahead, netting six nominations each, including Best Picture. For Darkest Hour, one should remember to never count out those who love so-called "old fashioned" filmmaking (myself included), while Phantom Thread shows that being the last to the party (its release date was exactly a month ago today) can still reap big rewards.

"I did not **** her, it's not true! It's bullshit! I did not **** her! I did naaahttt! Oh, bye Oscar."

Scandals can help as much as hurt: With James Franco dropped from the Best Actor lineup, it looks like poor Tommy Wiseau, the cult movie icon played by Franco in the biopic The Disaster Artist, won't be coming to the Oscars after all (unless he crashes or, even better, is asked to present). Since news of the sexual misconduct allegations against Franco broke right at the end of the Oscar nomination voting period, we'll never really know if that was the reason he didn't make the cut or if, let's be honest, the Acting Branch just didn't like his performance enough to be nominated; remember, comedic roles rarely get nominated, especially in the lead acting categories when not attached to a Best Picture contender. (Personally, I was perplexed that he was even in the conversation in the first place.) In the end, Denzel Washington benefited, nabbing Franco's perceived slot and his ninth career nomination for his lawyer role in Roman J. Israel, Esq., a development that shouldn't have been so surprising considering his Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations.

But then there's Christopher Plummer, now the oldest acting nominee ever at age 88 for his supporting turn as millionaire oil tycoon J. Paul Getty in All the Money in the World. By now I'm sure you all know that, due to the Kevin Spacey sex scandal, Plummer was brought in to replace Spacey... in November. Plummer was cast on November 8th and then filmed his role from November 20th to the 29th. Cut to just over two months later and he gets nominated for an Oscar. That has got to be some kind of a record.

No, Kevin Spacey (right) did not go on to play Jacob Tremblay's grandfather in Wonder.

Lots of new faces in the acting and director categories: Call Me By Your Name's 22-year-old Timothée Chalamet became the third youngest Best Actor nominee, while Lady Bird's Saoirse Ronan landed her third nomination at age 23. Other newbies in the acting races are Mudbound's Mary J. Blige, Get Out's Daniel Kaluuya, Phantom Thread's Lesley Manville, Lady Bird's Laurie Metcalf, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri's Sam Rockwell and I, Tonya's Allison Janney and Margot Robbie.

Meanwhile in the director race, only Phantom Thread's Paul Thomas Anderson is a previous nominee in the category. Yep, both The Shape of Water's Guillermo Del Toro and Dunkirk's Christopher Nolan, who have been nominated in other categories before, are first timers for Best Director this year. And speaking of first timers, both Lady Bird's Greta Gerwig and Get Out's Jordan Peele are nominated for their debut features (solo debut, in Gerwig's case). Ironically, both are just the fifth nominated, respectively, female and black directors ever.

Three Golden Globes Outside the Beverly Hilton, California

And about those acting races...: In the three televised award shows to date (the Golden Globe, Critics' Choice and Screen Actors Guild Awards), all four acting winners have been the same: Best Actor Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour, Best Actress Frances McDormand for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Best Supporting Actor Sam Rockwell also for Three Billboards, and Best Supporting Actress Allison Janney for I, Tonya. Not to say that any of these four fine actors aren't deserving of such accolades, but I personally prefer some variety in the winners across the board, especially in a year such as this that, until these four three-peats, was considered "wide open", for the most part at least. Yeah, not gonna lie: I kinda hope that at least two and maybe even three of the Oscar wins go to somebody other than this quartet. (Who? You'll have to wait for this year's "If We Picked the Oscars" to find out.)

More random thoughts on this year's nominations to come...

* I am of the school that the year that the films honored by Oscars were released, and not the year of the actual Oscar ceremony, is the proper way to denote the year of each annual Academy Awards. Why? Because I was raised that way, that's why.

By Kirby Holt, Movie Dearest creator, editor and head writer.

Monday, January 22, 2018

MD Top 10: My 2017 Oscar Nominations Wish List

The nominations for the 2017 Oscars will be announced early tomorrow morning, and with it all the months of predictions and pontificating will finally come to an end... and all the outraged op-eds about the perceived "shocking snubs!" will commence (likely in greater number than commentaries on what/who was actually nominated).

Instead of adding to the noise of trying to second guess the Academy on what films and filmmakers will make it one step closer to going home with their own little gold man, I instead offer up my own highly opinionated (and maybe slightly selfish) "wish list" on what I hope will... and will not... be nominated for the latest Academy Awards.

Dear Oscar, this is what I want on Oscar Nomination Morning:

1. The Shape of Water lands the most nominations of the year: Even though this is the most likely to happen, I will still be elated that my favorite movie of the year will be leading the field come Oscar Night. The question remains though on just how many nominations it will get. It could conceivably join All About Eve, Titanic and last year's La La Land as one of the most nominated movies in Oscar history with 14 nods (blame the finicky Makeup branch for ruining the chance of a first-time 15 nominations): Best Picture, Director, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Production Design, Costume Design, Original Score, Film Editing, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing and Visual Effects. Of those, I'd say Costume Design is the most vulnerable (hey, 13 nominations ain't too shabby either), but some pundits are actually predicting it will be passed over in Original Screenplay (wtf?!?) and/or Visual Effects (wt-double-f?!?!?), which is just crazy talk.

2. "Smaller" films get some love: Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, Wind River and Wonderstruck entered this award season with high hopes and strong potential. Yet as time passed they fell through the cracks more often than not, even though all three are more than deserving of recognition (certainly more so than the overrated likes of, say, Call Me By Your Name or The Post). In a perfect world, Film Stars' stars Annette Bening and Jamie Bell, Wind River's Jeremy Renner, and Wonderstruck's cinematography, production design and score, plus the screenplays for all three, would be bigger perceived contenders in their respective races, not to mention the films themselves as Best Picture candidates.

3. Little to no recognition of The Florida Project: I have yet to write my official review of this movie so spoiler alert: I hated it. I am utterly baffled that anyone would think this was one of the best of the year (let alone the best) or that anything from it is remotely award-worthy aside from maybe Willem Dafoe's good but still overpraised supporting turn. I'll be OK if Dafoe, as expected, makes the cut, but utterly repulsed/depressed/livid if it squeezes into the Best Picture line up (oh, for the saner days of just five BP nominees). Thankfully, the Producers, Directors and Writers Guilds took a pass on it, and I really really hope the Academy does as well.

4. No "default" nominees in the acting categories: There is nothing more frustrating than when a great performance (like say, Annette Bening in 20th Century Women last year) is passed over for a nomination while an entirely average one (like say, Meryl Streep in Florence Foster Jenkins last year) makes the cut. That's right, nomination record holder (or is that "nomination hog"?) la Streep is back already, poised to nab a coveted Best Actress spot for her "That's So Meryl" performance in The Post. Like I said last year, please Academy, just say no to Meryl and yes to Jessica or Diane or (lord knows you owe her one) Annette.

5. Great scripts nominated in both the highly competitive Original Screenplay and the wide open Adapted Screenplay categories: I don't think we've seen such a disparity in the writing award categories as this year, what with the embarrassment of riches in Original and the dearth of worthy prospects in Adapted. With just five slots, there will be, no question, something big left out of Original Screenplay (The Big Sick? Get Out? The Shape of Water???), while on the other hand something not so big could slip into Adapted Screenplay (how is The Disaster Artist a front runner?). When all is said and done, let's hope that the final ten will all be worthy of the recognition.

6. Five good songs nominated for Best Original Song: Ah, the much maligned (often rightly so) Original Song category. Please let this be the year that they finally get back on track and, you know, actually nominate the best movie songs of the year. And there's a good chance of it happening, with the Oscar winning songwriters of Aladdin, Frozen and La La Land all back in the running with tunes from, respectively, Beauty and the Beast, Coco and The Greatest Showman, plus strong tracks from Call Me By Your Name, Mudbound, Murder on the Orient Express and even Patti Cake$. And please music branch, no more dreary documentary dirges.

7. No "filler" in the Best Animated Feature category: Some years the field of contenders for this award is vast, some years... not so much. Sadly, 2017 is the latter, and to complicate matters more are some new voting rules that could favor big studio toons over smaller independent/foreign fare. Honestly, I doubt broadening the voting pool to more Academy members is going to result in a vastly different set of nominees than from years past, but some are predicting nods for the likes of The Boss Baby and Despicable Me 3, which irritates me because then I would have to watch The Boss Baby and Despicable Me 3. However, let me point out something interesting from the official Academy rule book for this category: "In any year in which 16 or more animated feature films are released and submitted, a maximum of 5 motion pictures may be nominated". The key phrase here is may be nominated, so there doesn't have to be five nominees. Which means that this year (which saw 26 films submitted) could actually be when we see quality win out over quantity.

8. More "upbeat" documentaries nominated for Best Documentary Feature: The typical batch of Documentary Feature nominees usually feature such downer subject matter as racism, global warming and, you know, the Holocaust, so it would be nice if we got some lighter fare every once in a while. Possibilities this year include Agnès Varda's delightfully quirky Faces Places, Frederick Wiseman's literary adventure Ex Libris – The New York Public Library, the Long Strange Trip of The Grateful Dead and Jane, a portrait of famed primatologist Jane Goodall. Sadly, the feline fest Kedi didn't make it past the first round.

9. Wonder Woman isn't overlooked: As is often the case with a watershed film like 2017's hugely popular Wonder Woman, the pundits stated buzzing early about such (admittedly long shot) nominations as Best Picture and Best Actress for Gal Gadot. Alas, such wishful thinking soon faded quickly with the subsequent release of each more-obvious Oscar baiting film, to the point that it looks like the Amazing Amazon could end up — "Merciful Minerva!" — empty handed once the dust settles on Oscar Nomination Morning. It would be a shame if one of the year's most talked about films is overlooked, so hopefully it will get nominated for... Costume Design? Sound Editing? Maybe even Adapted Screenplay? We'll just have to wait and see.

10. Diversity: What with all the hashtaggy social movements permeating the zeitgeist these days, I personally am strongly praying that there is plenty of diverse representation across the board, in every category, of this year's Oscar nominations. And no, the reason I am wishing that this will happen is not for some noble, morally correct sense of right (which is, don't get me wrong, all fine and dandy). No, the reason I am wishing that this will happen is because if it doesn't than that's all we are going to hear about from tomorrow until at least Oscar Night on March 4th. And there you have it: the best way to fight for diversity is to just do it so everybody shuts the hell up about it.

See you back here after the nominations are announced; I'm sure we'll have lots to talk about.

By Kirby Holt, Movie Dearest creator, editor and head writer.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Dearest Review: A Foreign Affair

With just a few days to go til the Oscar nominations are announced, Movie Dearest takes a look at some of the finalists for Best Foreign Language Film... and some worthy contenders that didn't make the first cut.

Among the record 92 films submitted for consideration were several with strong LGBTQ themes, most notably France's BPM (Beats Per Minute). A look back at the AIDS activist group ACT UP Paris, the drama is a little dry and overly familiar when it focuses on the inside machinations and infighting of the group (Le coeur normal?), but stick with it for the surprisingly rich love story that unfolds between a jaded HIV+ vet (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart) and an eager HIV- newcomer (Arnaud Valois). With four wins at Cannes and the FLF prizes from both the Los Angeles and New York Critics, BPM was an expected front runner for not only a nomination but also for the Oscar itself, so it was quite a surprise when it didn't make the Academy's shortlist. (7/10) Available on Amazon Video January 23rd.

There has been a lot of praises showered on the finalist from Chile, A Fantastic Woman, and its leading lady, trans actress Daniela Vega, who plays a trans woman who faces overwhelming grief and despicable prejudice upon the sudden death of her older boyfriend. Frankly, I found the film disappointingly retrograde and not at all revelatory (again, we've seen this all before) and Vega's performance frustratingly bland and one-note; her character constantly makes the wrong decisions and remains emotionally closed off throughout, so it's hard to elicit much empathy for her. One yearns for her to explode at all the injustices that are heaped upon her that, aside from an anticlimactic freak out on top of a car containing the deceased's deplorable family, never really happens. (5/10) In theaters February 2nd.

A finalist that has proved far more polarizing is South Africa's The Wound, which admittedly has a lot of off-putting factors for modern Western audiences, mostly in its setting in a Xhosa initiation ritual (that is, a "rites of manhood" wilderness retreat where the young men undergo ritual circumcision without any real medical care... ouch). The twist is that three of the characters are various shades of gay, and the power dynamics between them that play out offer an intriguing exploration of what truly makes one "a man". As the central character Xolani, Nakhane Touré, in his first film role, turns in a stunning portrayal of a closeted man who's devotion to his unattainable love leads to the film's shocking conclusion. (7/10) Available on Amazon Video.

I found two of the LGBTQ "also rans" considerably more interesting and entertaining: Thelma, from Norway, and Tom of Finland, from... yeah, Finland. In the former, Thelma (Eili Harboe) is a new college student from a staunchly religious background who's budding lesbian tendencies unlock within her some frighteningly powerful abilities. Director Joachim Trier displays a unique knack in delivering deliciously disturbing imagery (ophidiophobes may want to steer clear) in this fascinating fantasy thriller that mines elements from such disparate sources as Carrie, X-Men and even Frozen. (8/10) Available on Amazon Video.

Touko Laaksonen is better known by his pseudonym Tom of Finland, the groundbreaking artist of homoerotica that celebrated gay sex and leather culture in an iconic, hyper-masculine style that is still influential — and titillating — today. As Touko/Tom, Pekka Strang is impressively up to the challenge of embodying him through roughly fifty years of his life, from World War II to the AIDS era. Despite its "straight" (ahem) retelling of Laaksonen's life, director Dome Karukoski adds the unique touch of a hunky apparition, an ideal "Tom's Man" in flesh and leather, who pops in and out of the narrative as a sort of "guardian angel"/muse for the evolving artist. While Tom of Finland the film never quite eludes the typical tropes of the biopic genre, it serves well as a moving, oftentimes sexy, tribute to Tom of Finland the man. (8/10) Available on Amazon Video.

The three remaining films here are all on the Oscar shortlist and are considered (for better or worse) strong contenders for the final nominations (to be announced this Tuesday, January 23rd). My favorite of the whole lot is In the Fade from Germany, which has already won both the Golden Globe and Critics' Choice awards for Best Foreign Language Film (not to mention placing in my own top 10). Diane Kruger gives a powerhouse performance as Katja, a German woman who's Turkish husband and young son are killed in a bombing, one that turns out to be a racially motivated hate crime. The film follows the increasingly despondent Katja as she seeks justice for her fallen family, at any cost, culminating in a stunningly cathartic "eye for an eye" denouement not soon to be forgotten. (8/10) In select theaters.

Likely the most "of the zeitgeist" is the contender from Lebanon. The Insult, as its title suggests, is about the power of words and how the wrong ones can lead to tragedy. In modern day Beirut, a harsh exchange between a Lebanese Christian and a Palestinian refugee ends in violence that leads to a scandalous court case that ignites, on a national scale, long-simmering tensions between the two groups the men represent. The film starts out strong but gradually loses focus the larger the story gets; late-in-the-game subplots and backstories put a damper on the thrust of "righteous indignation" powering the main plot. But strong performances and a wisely unbiased viewpoint of the protagonists (neither are depicted as "all bad" or "all good") carry it through, albiet to a curiously anticlimactic resolution. (7/10) In select theaters.

Finally, we come to The Square. Billed as a "satire of the art world", this Swedish film (which somehow won the Palme d'Or at Cannes last year) is far from funny, clever or even remotely interesting. It's shoestring of a plot (the curator of a Stockholm museum prepares for the unveiling of a controversial new exhibit, the "Square" of the title) is stretched out over 142 painfully protracted minutes. Writer/director Ruben Östlund sprinkles such oddities as a random chimpanzee, an absurdly violent viral video and Elisabeth Moss as a condom-clutching American journalist into the mix, but it's all just a rambling, pretentious mess. That this film that so sloppily pokes fun at art is itself being acclaimed as "art" is the one hilarious thing about it. (2/10) Available on Amazon Video January 30th.

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