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".

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Oscar Party 2018


The invitations have been sent and the Oscar ballots have been printed, so you're almost ready for all your friends and fellow movie-lovers to gather together one week from tonight for your annual Awesome Oscar Party! All that's left for you to do is... figure out what to feed them!


But fret not, for Movie Dearest is here for you with some great ideas for your memorable, movie-themed menu, each inspired by one of this year's nominated movies.


The Florida Project:
Florida Orange Smoothies
Moonee loves them!

Baby Driver:
Tequila Shots
Baby says: "Don't drink and drive"

Get Out:
Missy's Special Hypnotic Tea
Secret Armitage Family Brew


Phantom Thread:
Stuffed Mushroom Caps à la Alma*
(*Non-poisonous recipe)

The Shape of Water:
Elisa's Hard-Boiled Eggs
Better than that Key lime pie

The Boss Baby:
Baby Food Veggie Dip
Use real baby food... nutritious and fun!


Roman J. Israel, Esq.:
Maple Glazed Turkey Bacon Doughnuts
Recommended by Roman J. Israel, Esq.

The Greatest Showman:
Barnum's Animal Crackers
The Greatest Show on Earth... in your mouth

Lady Bird:
Lady Bird Lady Fingers
Serve in a pink arm cast


Pan de Muertos (Day of the Dead Bread)
A Rivera Family Favorite

Loving Vincent:
Vincent van Gogh's Ears
... of Corn

All the Money in the World:
Getty's Money $alad
Substitute Plum(mer) Tomato Juice for the hot sauce... too Spacey... I mean spicy...


On Body and Soul:
Venison Sliders
Don't worry, we won't force you to watch the deers get slaughtered.

Victoria & Abdul:
Chicken Curry
As prepared by The Munshi for his beloved Queen

Star Wars: The Last Jedi:
Chewbacca's Spit-Roasted Porg
Some ingredients may be difficult to find... try your local Korean market.


Beauty and the Beast:
The Grey Stuff
It's delicious!

War for the Planet of the Apes:
Frozen Banana Pops
A perfect post-apocalyptic snack!

Call Me By Your Name:
Elio's Creamy Peaches
You know exactly where this would end up all along...

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

Monday, February 19, 2018

Dearest Review: Short Cuts 2018, Part 3: Oscar's Live Action Short Film Nominees

ShortsTV once again presents this year's Academy Award nominated animated, live action and documentary short films at a theater or streaming service (starting February 27th) near you. These special programs are usually the only way for most movie fans to see all of these otherwise illusive short film nominees that can make or break your office Oscar pool. In the last of three parts, Movie Dearest takes a look at this year's five nominees for Best Live Action Short Film.

The most international of this year's short film categories, the live action slate is a mostly serious one, although one laugher from down under managed to squeak in. Three are based on true stories, two are Student Academy Award winners and all five come from first time Oscar nominees. They're also each a quick watch, ranging in length from just 13 to 22 minutes.

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

And the nominees are...

DeKalb Elementary, Reed Van Dyk (USA, 21 minutes).

It's a typical, quiet day at DeKalb Elementary School until a young man enters the administration office and calmly pulls a semi-automatic rifle out of his backpack, takes the receptionist hostage and threatens to shoot any police that interfere. Based on a real 911 call and playing out in real time, this is a taut, unsettling 21 minutes that captures the claustrophobic intensity of the situation, one that has become, horrifically, all too common in this country: tragically, coincidentally, this Kentucky high school shooting occurred on the same day that this short was Oscar nominated.

Most Valuable Player:  Tarra Riggs as Cassandra, just the type of person you would want on your side during a crisis.
Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 7/10
Pair it with: Dunkirk, another marathon of tension.

The Eleven O'Clock, Derin Seale and Josh Lawson (Australia, 13 minutes).

A psychiatrist meets with a patient who thinks he's a psychiatrist... so which one is the psychiatrist? As the only comedy in the mix, you would think this one would stand out, but no. A clever idea (although not all that original... didn't we see this on Frasier?) gets old fast; with the two dueling shrinks trying to out-analyze each other, it quickly turns into a psychoanalytic "Who's On First?". Not even the handsome Aussie playing the... psychiatrist?... the patient?... can make this one any more than a mildly amusing diversion amidst its more dramatic competition.

Most Valuable Player: Jessica Wren plays the temp secretary who is just as confused as the audience is as to who is who.
Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 6/10
Pair it with: It's dry humor would be a nice set up for The Big Sick.

My Nephew Emmett, Kevin Wilson, Jr. (USA, 20 minutes).

Mose Wright is a black preacher in Mississippi circa 1955, so when his teenage nephew from Chicago whistles at a white woman he knows it's just a matter of time before retribution will come knocking on his door in the middle of the cold, dark night. As distrubing as all the other times we have had to watch young black men dragged off by bile-spewing Southern bigots, this Student Academy Award winner tells an oft-told story (see also: fellow Oscar nominee Mudbound). A reality-grounding coda sets it apart.

Most Valuable Player: Yes, that is Jasmine Guy as Mose's wife Elizabeth.
Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 6/10
Pair it with: The obvious choice would be Mudbound, but I'm going with Get Out, which would provide vicarious catharsis for all the emotions this short elicits. Plus, the end credits of My Nephew Emmett bare a strikingly similar image to an iconic moment in Get Out.

The Silent Child, Chris Overton and Rachel Shenton (UK, 20 minutes).

Lily is a four-year-old profoundly deaf girl about to start school for the first time. But she is unable to communicate, even with her apathetic family, until a kind social worker (played by nominee Shenton, who wrote the screenplay) teaches her sign language. Yes, this one bears all the hallmarks of a winner in this category: child protagonist; inspirational "overcoming adversity" story; stirs just enough righteous anger; it's a tearjerker. But it will have earned that win just as much as it earns every bittersweet tear.

Most Valuable Player: The filmmakers wanted to cast a deaf child in the role of Lily, and they struck gold with Maisie Sly, seen here in her film debut.
Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 9/10
Pair it with: The wonderful Wonder, to show the right way to raise a child with a disability.

Watu Wote/All of Us, Katja Benrath and Tobias Rosen (Germany/Kenya, 22 minutes).

Jua is a Christian widow living in Kenya who finds herself in the minority when she must take a dangerous bus trip surrounded by Muslim passengers. Based on an actual incident that took place in 2015, this Student Academy Award winner (in the foreign language category) shows the power of empathy and the strength of standing up to intolerance, even when extraordinary choices must be made. The fact that what is dramatized in Watu Wote happened in real life shows that there is indeed hope for All of Us.

Most Valuable Player: Adelyne Wairimu is simply stunning as Jua.
Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 8/10
Pair it with: Both Watu Wote and The Insult (the Lebanese Foreign Language Film nominee) deal with interfaith conflicts.

Coming soon: Oscar Party ideas! And a Movie Dearest annual tradition: "If We Picked the Oscars".

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

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Dearest Review: Short Cuts 2018, Part 2: Oscar's Documentary Short Subject Nominees

ShortsTV once again presents this year's Academy Award nominated animated, live action and documentary short films at a theater or streaming service (starting February 27th) near you. These special programs are usually the only way for most movie fans to see all of these otherwise illusive short film nominees that can make or break your office Oscar pool. In the second of three parts, Movie Dearest takes a look at this year's five nominees for Best Documentary Short Subject.

In a year when gender issues have rocked Hollywood, women's stories dominate this category's nominees, which range in subject matter from mental health to elderly care to police brutality. All five films hail from America, and all but one of the nominated filmmakers are first-timers.

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

And the nominees are...

Edith+Eddie, Laura Checkoway and Thomas Lee Wright (USA, 30 minutes).

96-year-old Edith Hill and 95-year-old Eddie Harrison, "America's oldest interracial newlyweds", just want to live out their time with each other but find their happiness in danger when a family member threatens to separate them. Championed by none other than Cher herself, this nominee is the heart-breaker of this year's doc shorts, giving it a strong chance of winning. But more importantly, Edith+Eddie shines an unflinching light on the despicable subject of elder abuse, a horrifyingly growing trend in this country that needs to be exposed as much as possible.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 8/10
Pair it with: Chili's Best Foreign Language Film nominee A Fantastic Woman, which also features an unconventional couple and a disapproving family.

Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405, Frank Stiefel (USA, 40 minutes).

Mindy Alper is an accomplished artist who has had noted gallery showings of her thought-provoking ink drawings and expressive papier-mâché sculptures. She has also battled chronic mental illness most of her life, suffering through electroshock therapy, multiple institutionalizations and a decade-long period where she didn't speak. Dealing with her depression, anxiety and lingering issues with her late father and once-estranged mother through her art, Alper makes a compelling, idiosyncratic subject in this year's requisite "artist overcomes adversity" nominee.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 7/10
Pair it with: Another unique profile of a unique artist, Loving Vincent.

Heroin(e), Elaine McMillion Sheldon and Kerrin Sheldon (USA, 39 minutes).

If your town was known as the "overdose capital of America", you may want to do something to change that. Three female residents (the "heroines" of the title, get it?) of Huntington, West Virginia — the fire chief, a drug court judge and the head of an outreach ministry — are the subjects of this Netflix documentary, and they are seen doing the best that can be done in a community that sees from five to seven OD deaths a day. While statistics such as that are shocking, there's nothing all that revelatory here, and there's a distinct lack of focus.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 6/10
Pair it with: Hmm, a film with a strong female lead and her quest for justice? That would be Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Knife Skills, Thomas Lennon (USA, 40 minutes).

Edwins, a French eatery in Cleveland, Ohio, is not your typical restaurant: it serves as a training ground for a majority of its staff — men and women who have spent time in prison — to learn a marketable trade, such as cooking or serving. Although director Lennon has been Oscar nominated three times previously in the documentary categories, this one can't escape the feeling of a reality show (granted, a watchable one), from its array of character types (the hot-headed manager, the likable ex-drug dealer who wants to impress his mom) to that groaningly awful double-meaning title.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 6/10
Pair it with: Albeit on the opposite end of the spectrum in many respects, Molly Bloom is also trying to "get on the straight and narrow" following past illegal deeds in Molly's Game.

Traffic Stop, Kate Davis and David Heilbroner (USA, 31 minutes).

In June 2015 in Austin, Texas, an African-American teacher was pulled over by a white police officer for a routine traffic stop that quickly escalated into a violent arrest, and all of it was caught on his patrol car's dashcam. That raw footage is distressing to say the least, but as the woman's civil case against the officer is still going on, there is a lot of unanswered questions that this HBO documentary is unable to answer. As it is, it plays like the first half-hour of a more in-depth feature-length documentary still waiting for real life to catch up to it.

Watch trailer. Premieres on HBO February 19th, with an early preview on HBO NOW, HBO GO and HBO On Demand on February 16th.
Dearest Rating: 5/10
Pair it with: For more racially-motivated injustice, watch Yance Ford's powerful Best Documentary Feature nominee Strong Island.

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

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

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Dearest Review: Short Cuts 2018, Part 1: Oscar's Animated Short Film Nominees

ShortsTV once again presents this year's Academy Award nominated animated, live action and documentary short films at a theater (starting tomorrow) or streaming service (starting February 27th) near you. These special programs are usually the only way for most movie fans to see all of these otherwise illusive short film nominees that can make or break your office Oscar pool. In the first of three parts, Movie Dearest takes a look at this year's five nominees for Best Animated Short Film.

This year's mini-toon finalists range from a French student film to the latest from animation powerhouse Pixar, plus a most unlikely nominee (especially in this category): a superstar athlete. All but one boast first time nominees, including an "it's about time" nod for a legendary Disney animator. Three utilize computer animation, while the other two go old school with hand-drawn and stop motion techniques.

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

And the nominees are...

Dear Basketball, Glen Keane and Kobe Bryant (USA, 5 minutes).

Using the words of the poem Bryant wrote to announce his retirement from his 20-year career as a Los Angeles Laker two years ago, Keane (the Disney veteran who created such beloved characters as Ariel, Aladdin and the Beast) has crafted a universal vision of achieving one's dreams and knowing when to let them go. With Keane's mastery of the medium of traditional animation, and greatly aided by an as-usual rousing score by John Williams, this paen "for the love of the game" (already a winner of the Annie Award for Best Animated Short Film) manages to give goosebumps even to those of us who have absolutely zero interest in professional sports. The highest profile nominee here (for better or worse), this one could be a slam dunk, especially with so many Lakers fans in the Academy. 

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 7/10
Pair it with: I have a feeling it would play well with another movie Williams scored this past year, another little crowd-pleaser called Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Garden Party, Victor Caire and Gabriel Grapperon (France, 7 minutes).

Some curious (and hungry) amphibians make the most out of a richly appointed yet seemingly abandoned mansion right out of Scarface. Easily the most photo-realistic (not to mention original) of the nominees, this multi-award winning festival favorite was created as the graduation project of the so-called "Illogic Collective", a group of six animation students (only two of which are officially nominated) at Ecole MoPA, a computer graphics school in France. What starts out as playful and whimsical took an unexpectedly gruesome turn for me towards the end, although I really should have seen it coming with all the bullet holes about. Jarring conclusion aside, this one would get my vote for its gorgeous visuals alone.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 8/10
Pair it with: Phantom Thread, also morbidly funny in a setting redolent with excess.

Lou, Dave Mullins and Dana Murray (USA, 7 minutes).

Set in a school playground where the anthropomorphic contents of the lost and found box teach a bully a lesson about... not bullying. Oy, this Pixar entry is just... off. First, there is no dialogue so all the kids are strangely mute, even when they get their toys snatched away by the Jack Black Mini-Me. Which leads to my second point of how bland the character design is, which leads to my third point: holy crap is "Lou" creepy. That thing makes the mutant toys of Toy Story look like the frikkin' Care Bears by comparison. Although the anti-bullying message is important, this one just tries way too hard. Likely the most widely seen of the nominees given its theatrical pairing with Cars 3, it will be tragic if this one wins solely on its name brand recognition.

Watch clip.
Dearest Rating: 4/10
Pair it with: Perhaps this one should have played with Coco instead of the overly-maligned Olaf's Frozen Adventure.

Negative Space, Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata (France, 6 minutes).

A narrator recounts how he bonded with his father through their shared passion for a properly packed suitcase. The second nominee in this category this year to be based on a poem (this one by Ron Koertge), the makers of this Annie Award nominee made several suitcases worth of tiny shirts, tube socks, tighty whities, etcetera, and their passion for this stop-motion project shows. There's some nice visual transitions here, but Negative Space suffers from the dreaded "short film curse"... it ends just when its getting really good. At least this one concludes with a great joke.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 6/10
Pair it with: A similarly quirky look at parent/child relationships, Lady Bird.

Revolting Rhymes, Jakob Schuh and Jan Lachauer (UK, 29 minutes).

A big bad wolf tells the true, unadulterated "once upon a times" of Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs as he hatches a plot for his own revenge-fueled "unhappily ever after" for one of them. Produced as a British television special in honor of the 100th birthday of author Roald Dahl (it's based on his poems parodying classic fairy tales, which makes it three nominees this year based on poetry), the nomination is actually for only the first half of the program (both parts won the Annie Award for Best Animated Special Production). With their previous nominations here Schuh (The Gruffalo) and Lachauer (Room on the Broom) have proven they know how to adapt kid lit to the screen (even if some of their character designs are sloppy), yet most of the success here is due to Dahl's original fractured fairy tale-telling.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 7/10
Pair it with: A more traditionally-told tale as old as time, Beauty and the Beast.

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

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

Monday, February 5, 2018

The 11th Annual Movie Dearest Dearie Awards


For the eleventh 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 2017 Movie Dearest Awards, a.k.a. the "Dearies".

And the winners are...

Movie of the Year: The Shape of Water
We realize Call Me By Your Name has gotten all the hype as the LGBTQ movie of the year, but we found it a fairly routine, ho-hum coming of age story (peach masturbation scene aside). The Shape of Water, however, is a no-brainer for us here at Movie Dearest for our Movie of the Year, what with its abundant queer themes and elaborate, Old Hollywood style. Guillermo Del Toro's valentine to both classic creature features and outsiders of all colors, disabilities and sexual orientations is his best film to date out of a very impressive list of prior achievements. It is gorgeous to look at, beautifully acted (by the likes of MD faves Sally Hawkins, Ocatavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins), funny, romantic, exciting, scary and pretty much everything anyone should want a movie to be. Not for nothing is it Oscar's nomination leader this year, with 13 (we would have thrown in a couple more as well). Did we mention it also features Alexandre Desplat's lovely score and a full-blown musical number? Well, it does. 2017 was a stronger year than usual for American films in general but The Shape of Water is for us the icing on the cake... a cake made with lots of eggs, a human finger or two, and some Key lime green frosting.

Women of the Year: Laura Dern, Nicole Kidman & Reese Witherspoon
The biggest event on the little screen last year was Big Little Lies, and our trio of Women of the Year were a big part of that success (no lie). Reese and Nicole helped bring the HBO adaptation of Liane Moriarty's novel to life, not only as its stars but also as executive producers. As the highly controlling but fiercely loyal Madeline, Reese gave us a Tracy Flick all grown up, while Nicole turned in a breathtaking, passionate performance as Celeste, a woman trapped in an abusive marriage. And then there's Laura. Her role as the highly competitive, neurotically bitchy Renata is the definition of scene stealer, but our Ms. Dern took it to a whole new level. All three actresses reaped recognition from multiple awards groups for the show, and outside of Monterey Nicole also starred in the offbeat thrillers The Beguiled and The Killing of a Sacred Deer and Reese headlined the romcom Home Again. But it was Laura who was seemingly everywhere in 2017, from Downsizing to Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt to even Star Wars: The Last Jedi. And then there's Diane; her other scene stealing role was as the platinum haired, chain smoking, profanity spewing ball buster in David Lynch's Twin Peaks: The Return, and our Ms. Dern once again took it to a whole new level... and beyond.

Man of the Year: Michael Stuhlbarg
Lots of actors with more well-known names gave great performances last year, including Oscar front-runner Gary Oldman, Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Christian Bale and the late Harry Dean Stanton, to name a few. Although we long ago noticed character actor Michael Stuhlbarg in such diverse films as A Serious Man, Men in Black 3, Trumbo (as Edgar G. Robinson), Arrival and Doctor Strange, 2017 proved to be his breakout year. He not only gave exquisite supporting performances in three acclaimed movies (all Best Picture Oscar nominees) — Call Me By Your Name, The Post and the aforementioned The Shape of Water — but also on the last season of FX's Fargo. Julliard educated, Stuhlbarg's character preparation and immersion are consistently impressive. It is hard to believe Elio's intellectual but scatter-brained father in Call Me By Your Name and the Russian spy posing as an American researcher in The Shape of Water are played by the same actor, so distinct they are in appearance, temperament and mannerisms. While Michael Stuhlbarg still might not be a household name (give it time), he has proved most deserving of our Man of the Year designation.

New Star of the Year: Gal Gadot
A big-screen version of Wonder Woman was stuck in development hell for decades. Such actresses as Sandra Bullock, Catherine Zeta-Jones and even Beyoncé were all rumored to be in the running for the super-heroic role at one time or another. But it was ultimately the little-known Gal Gadot who brought the Amazing Amazon to life in not only her first solo movie last year but also the underrated Justice League. Yes, the Israeli-born talent was in stuff before (notably her debut as Diana in 2016's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) but 2017 was the year that made her a star (note that this award is for "New Star", not "New Actor"). She endowed Wonder Woman (both the movie and character) with the requisite beauty and strength as well as a more subversive sense of humor and an uncompromising moral purpose. Gadot didn't confine these attributes to her films but also spoke out publicly last year in support of women who had been abused or harassed in the entertainment industry (especially those who had the misfortune of working for director-producer Brett Ratner). A true star shines not only on the silver screen but as a real-life inspiration to others. May Gadot continue to shine brightly; we have no doubt she will for many years to come.

TV Show of the Year: Will & Grace
One of the most unexpected pleasures of this past year in entertainment wasn't just the welcome return of this classic, groundbreaking sitcom to television, but that Will & Grace Redux turned out to be so deliriously, hilariously good. Matching (if not surpassing) the best of its original, multiple Emmy-winning eight season run, the revival quickly retconned out all that depressing nonsense of the series' 2006 finale, simultaneously starting fresh while virtually picking up where we all left off. Eric McCormack's Will Truman and Debra Messing's Grace Adler are as codependent as ever, best friends (and roommates) forever, with Sean Hayes' sassy Jack McFarland back across the hall and Megan Mullally's zany Karen Walker somehow still Grace's assistant. This fab four's chemistry has only gotten zestier with time, and they don't miss a beat in delivering up-to-the-minute laughs in this age of Grindr/Roku/Uber/Trump. Plus, lots of guest stars — Jane Lynch! Ben Platt! — and returning characters — Beverly Leslie! Nurse Sheila!! How about Chris Colfer as an all-grown up Jordy Truman!?! With our TV Show of the Year, Will & Grace & Jack & Karen are once again making Thursday nights "must see TV" for gays and straights and everyone else alike.

Stage Show of the Year: Hello, Dolly!
Put on your Sunday clothes and celebrate, 'cause Hello, Dolly! made a triumphant return to Broadway this past season, and it was largely due to its already-legendary star turn by the divine Bette Midler in the iconic title role (is it too much to ask that she reprise it in the please-make-it-happen live TV version?). Out composer Jerry Herman's score remains as hummable as ever, while openly gay actors David Hyde Pierce and Gavin Creel delighted in their leading male roles. Midler and Creel both finally won Tony Awards in the process (as did, naturally, the revival itself), and now the also out Victor Garber (holy cabooses there's a lot of gay talent here!) has just succeeded Pierce opposite Bernadette Peters, who has replaced Midler (it was nice to have her back where she belonged). As with many of our readers, Carol Channing will always be Dolly Levi first and foremost in our eyes, and we're not ashamed to say we have always been smitten with Barbra Streisand's underrated take in the 1969 movie version (we say no, she wasn't the one miscast; Walter Matthau was). That being said, choosing Midler's revival of Hello, Dolly! as Stage Show of the Year was another no-brainer for us at Movie Dearest... one could say it only took a moment.

Documentary of the Year: Five Came Back
Based on the book Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War by Mark Harris, this Emmy Award-winning Netflix documentary should be required viewing for any student of history... of Hollywood, or World War II, or just plain history in general. The five of the title refers to the five American film directors – Frank Capra, John Ford, John Huston, George Stevens and William Wyler – who served their country by doing what they did best: make movies, from training films to uncensored vérité to pure propaganda. A quintet of modern day filmmakers – Francis Ford Coppola, Guillermo del Toro, Paul Greengrass, Lawrence Kasdan and Steven Spielberg – are on hand to guide us through the lives of each of their cinematic forefathers, from their time before Pearl Harbor to, most fascinatingly, their postwar careers. Five Came Back dives deep into how these Hollywood legends were hugely influenced by their haunting wartime experiences, channeling their new, harsher viewpoints of the human condition into their work, most notably such future cinematic essentials as It's a Wonderful Life, The Searchers, The Man Who Would Be King, A Place in the Sun and The Best Years of Our Lives.

Foreign Film of the Year: BPM (Beats Per Minute)
Better-than-usual movies weren't unique to the United States in 2017. A strong, diverse assortment of foreign language films included Thelma, Golden Globe winner In the Fade and the Oscar nominated On Body and Soul (now available on Netflix). BPM (Beats Per Minute) (a.k.a. 120 Battements par minute in its native France) easily won out for us though in light of its fact-based HIV/AIDS storyline. Writer/director Robin Campillo drew from his personal experiences serving in the French branch of ACT UP during the 1990's, at the height of the AIDS crisis. A strong companion piece to such previous, unforgettable depictions of the era as And the Band Played On, Longtime Companion, Parting Glances and especially The Normal Heart, BPM illustrates the filmmaker's own unique vantage point while also tugging at our heart strings, as the best of such films do. At the heart of the film is a frank, sexy romance for its two protagonists, one HIV+ (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), the other HIV- (Arnaud Valois). AIDS certainly hasn't gone away, so we are deeply grateful to Campillo and others who continue to tell the stories of those who lived and died at the front lines.

Unsung Film of the Year: God's Own Country
So much more than the "British Brokeback Mountain" or "that new gay movie that's not Call Me By Your Name", God's Own Country may not have received all the hype and awards attention as the latter, but we predict our Unsung Film of the Year will become just as beloved as the former. Written and directed by Francis Lee, this raw romantic drama unfolds in the most unromantic of settings, a family's sheep farm in Yorkshire (the "God's Own Country" of the title), where son Johnny (Josh O'Connor) is tasked with most of the work, that is when he's not binge drinking or banging blokes in the loo of the local pub. But Johnny's bleak future is unexpectedly brightened when his ailing father brings on a hired hand, Romanian migrant worker Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu). The two begin a clandestine affair that, unlike CMBYN, shows the two men actually having lots of messy, passionate sex as only two lonely and horny sheep farmers can do (and yes, with plenty of full frontal nudity as well). Yet this film offers up more than just prurient satisfaction; far greater than with Elio and Oliver, we feel the love between Johnny and Gheorghe, even if it's on a wet and dirty English countryside as opposed to the picturesque, sun-dappled fields of Italy.

DVD of the Year: The Lonely Lady
Long hailed as the “Holy Grail” of Bad Movies, this campy, culty classic finally came out on DVD (actually Blu-ray, courtesy of Shout! Factory) this past year and, glory be, was it well worth that long wait. Based on the trashy novel by Harold Robbins (which was actually inspired by the life of Valley of the Dolls author Jacqueline Susann!), The Lonely Lady was released in 1983 to a chorus of raspberries (both actual and Golden) and has been little seen since, at least uncensored. But not anymore, and boy does it not disappoint. Everything you’ve heard about it is true, from Lloyd Bochner’s terrifyingly hairy torso to a young Ray Liotta doing very bad things with a garden hose to the you-just-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it nightmare typewriter freak out. But most — and best — of all is Pia. Ah, Pia. As aspiring screenwriter Jerilee Randall, Ms. Zadora unironically utters the immortal line “I don’t suppose I’m the only one who’s had to fuck her way to the top” and you believe. Every. Word. Forget about The Room or Troll 2; The Lonely Lady is the one, the only, the true “disasterpiece” of all time.

Movie Music of the Year: The Greatest Showman
I had a feeling that this unashamedly old-fashioned movie musical would become a cult favorite, I just wasn’t expecting it to happen so soon. Not only has The Greatest Showman defied all box office “rules” by bouncing back from a dismal opening weekend to now be on track to becoming one of the most successful musicals of all time, it has also spawned a worldwide hit soundtrack album, not to mention early buzz about a Broadway adaptation. Of course, the most important thing about a musical is to get the music right, and Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the Oscar-, Grammy- and Tony-winning songwriting team behind La La Land and Dear Evan Hansen, have done it again (quite literally, as they won this very Dearie Award last year). From the Golden Globe winning and Oscar nominated inspirational anthem “This Is Me” (surely being lip synced for their lives by drag queens everywhere as we speak) to the so-called “coming out” duet “The Other Side” to “The Greatest Show”-stopper that serves as both opening number and grand finale, every number is staged wonderfully onscreen and sung magnificently by the multi-talented cast, from headliner Hugh Jackman to MVP Keala Settle. For movie music aficionados, this truly was 2017's greatest show on Earth.

The Neil V. Cohen Award for Campy TV Show of the Year: Feud: Bette and Joan
An actual television series wherein the main characters are silver screen legends Bette Davis and Joan Crawford? And the plot centers around the making of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, the ultimate “Grande Dame Guignol”? There was nothing quite as camptastic on 2017’s screens, big or small, as Feud: Bette and Joan, so you’ll understand why we chose to tweak this category to honor it (named after our dear friend, camp connoisseur Neil Cohen, it has traditionally been awarded to feature films). Starring Oscar winners Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange as Oscar winners Davis and Crawford, this Ryan Murphy creation tells a true American horror story, that of how Hollywood, nay society in general, treats women of a certain age once they are deemed less desirable. Filled with painstakingly recreated scenes from not just Baby Jane but also other "hagsploitation" favorites like Strait-Jacket and Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (not to mention the whole frikkin' 1963 Academy Awards ceremony), Feud is the most lavishly produced soap opera since Dynasty, yet more quotable and with better cat fights. And let's not forget the deliciously catty supporting turns of Judy Davis as Hedda Hopper and Stanley Tucci as Jack Warner. Yep, this one too was (you guessed it) a no-brainer.

We hope you enjoyed this year's Dearies and thank you for visiting Movie Dearest in 2017! Here's to 2018...

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