(*homocinematically inclined)

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.

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