Film/Arts/Satire*
(*homocinematically inclined)

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Reverend's Reviews: Sexual Politics


 

"Is sex political?," a reporter asks the openly gay, real-life filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini in a newly-released biopic. "Of course," Pasolini replies, "There's nothing that isn't political." This query opens Pasolini, Abel Ferrara's 2014 movie that is only now being released in the US thanks to Kino Lorber. It opens this weekend in New York.


The controversial artist, who considered himself a writer first and foremost, was also an avowed Communist and atheist. This didn't exactly ingratiate him with the public in his native Italy or elsewhere during the 1960's and 70's. Few people were surprised when Pasolini was found beaten to death, presumably by someone he met for sex, in 1975. He would have a final word, however, when his shockingly graphic anti-fascism film Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, had its premiere just a couple of weeks later. Nonetheless, Pasolini is generally revered among cinephiles today. Even the Vatican has acclaimed his 1964 version of The Gospel According to St. Matthew as the best film about Jesus Christ yet made despite the filmmaker's unbelief, not to mention his homosexuality.

Four-time Oscar nominee Willem Dafoe stars as Pasolini in Ferrara's film. Clad in bell bottoms and constantly sporting dark sunglasses, it is a good personification despite Dafoe's lack of an Italian accent. The main action in the movie takes place on the day Pasolini would die. Flashbacks reveal significant moments and interests from his past. This device proves confusing at times, especially since other actors play the younger Pasolini.

This biopic, though long delayed, marks an appropriate subject and fine big-screen return for Ferrara. After all, the "bad boy" American director made his mark with 1992's Pasolini-esque Bad Lieutenant. The movie was also beautifully photographed on location by Stefano Falivene. Don't miss this opportunity to get re-acquainted with Ferrara and more intimately acquainted with Pasolini himself.


Non-Fiction, award-winning director Olivier Assayas' latest, is also now playing in US theaters courtesy of IFC Films. It also dabbles in political and romantic/sexual topics via challenges confronting the contemporary publishing industry. Leonard (played by the endearing Vincent Macaigne) is a successful author of what he terms "auto-fiction," or fictional stories inspired by his own life. This doesn't please the thinly-veiled ex-girlfriends and other actual people who populate his works.

Having grown tired of Leonard's style, his longtime publisher Alain (handsome Guillaume Canet) decides not to print the writer's latest. This sets off existential and relational angst not only for Leonard but for Alain's actress wife Selena (Oscar winner Juliette Binoche), who has been having an affair with Leonard, and Leonard's current political-advisor girlfriend. Alain, meanwhile, is having an affair with Laure, his company's bisexual head of "digital transition" as they try to adapt to an increasingly online readership.

Set primarily in Paris, Assayas' screenplay is a brainy, bracing dissertation on our modern cultural zeitgeist. It includes such perceptive zingers as "addiction is now our default setting" and defines our "post-truth," "fake news" era as "people living in a fictional world ruled by their prejudices." Critics are obsolete (exempting myself, naturally) as public opinion and internet algorithms reign supreme. The film also features a very funny meta moment involving Binoche. But its most accurate observation may actually be one quoted from Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's 1958 novel The Leopard: "Everything must change for things to stay as they are."

I haven't actually seen any of Assayas' previous films such as Personal Shopper and The Clouds of Sil Maria, which I intend to seek out. Non-Fiction serves as a great, enjoyable primer on the auteur's style and technique.


A writer-director with whom I am very familiar is Stewart Wade, who previously helmed the LGBT-themed indies Coffee Date, Tru Loved and Such Good People. His new release, Say Yes, is now available on Amazon Prime and is well worth renting. It is a touching dramedy in which a married straight couple deal with the wife's unexpected terminal illness. Her twin brother moves in to help care for her. This is initially challenging for her husband but he and her brother develop a friendship. Prior to her death, his wife makes an unusual last request: she wants her husband and brother to be a couple after she's gone. While neither of them is gay, the men begin to explore their "hetero-flexibility" with surprising results. Say Yes is low budget and the acting amateurish at times but it is a moving look at modern love.


I wish I could be as positive about TLA's new gay DVD release, The Skin of the Teeth (not to be confused with Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth). Billed as "Get Out meets Grindr," Matthew Wollin's bizarre movie lacks the best elements of either, although lead actors Pascal Arquimedes and Donal Brophy are attractive. They play Josef and John, respectively, who get together at John's place after connecting online. Josef unwisely ingests an "experimental" pill he discovers while snooping around, which leads to unusual complications and hallucinations... or are they? Unfortunately, the stranger things become, the less interesting the film is and it grows prolonged and boring. There is some good cinematography and use of shadow during a police interrogation scene. Wollin seems to be going for something David Lynchian but sadly doesn't succeed.

Reverend's Ratings:
Pasolini: B
Non-Fiction: B+
Say Yes: B
The Skin of the Teeth: D

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

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Reverend's Reviews: How to Stream Like a Queen


 

Let’s take a time machine trip back to the groovy 1970’s. On second thought, let’s not. In terms of home entertainment, it was a primitive time when there were only three national television networks plus a handful of public TV and cable access stations. The 1980’s introduced several dozen pay cable options, which was an improvement, but painfully few if any of these regular TV or cable networks featured shows with positive depictions of LGBTQ characters. What’s more, everything could only be watched on a boxy, heavy TV set.


My, how things have changed in the modern era! There are hundreds of satellite and cable channels today and as many or more websites offering a plethora of LGBTQ-interest shows. Some channels and sites broadcast nothing but LGBTQ shows! Our long-deceased, more conservative elders would probably roll over in their graves…although, in fairness, my grandfather was a big fan of Billy Crystal’s pioneering portrayal of an out gay character on the late-70’s sitcom Soap.

Freed from traditional constraints, LGBTQ writers, producers, actors and directors have found welcome freedom in today’s TV and internet landscape. Network and original shows streamed online provide a storytelling environment that viewers around the world can tune in to any time. Streaming shows also provide greater storytelling flexibility. Individual episodes can range from just a few minutes to the more traditional 30 or 60 minutes. Blessedly, many of them are shown without ads or commercials. And we can watch today’s shows through a variety of media: on our televisions, our phones, our laptops, iPads and more. Viewers are now able to keep up with their favorite shows anytime, anywhere: during lunch and bathroom breaks at work or school, or while riding the bus, plane or train. One can watch an episode at a time or “binge” an entire series in one sitting.


The “DC Universe” of series adapted from classic comic book superheroes has been one of the most popular and inclusive when it comes to LGBTQ characters. Arrow, Supergirl, The Flash, DC's Legends of Tomorrow and Black Lightning, all available on cwtv.com as well as Netflix, feature an assortment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer heroes, villains and/or associates. Joining them this fall with her own CW show will be the lady-loving Batwoman.

Lest the CW be solely populated by DC’s characters, the comics giant recently inaugurated its own streaming network. DCuniverse.com provides a number of original series and classic movies for the low monthly price of $7.99. Chief among these in terms of queer content is Doom Patrol, about a diverse band of antiheroes. Out actor Matt Bomer plays Negative Man, a gay man with a troubled past including an ex-boyfriend with whom he longs to re-connect.

Here’s a rundown of several other LGBTQ-interest shows currently streaming that I recommend most highly:


Special (Netflix):
Ryan O’Connell created and headlines this autobiographical series about a gay man with cerebral palsy. While he is accepting of and open about his homosexuality, he has a hard time embracing his physical disability. Heartfelt and hilarious by turns, Special is special indeed.


American Gods (Starz):
An adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s acclaimed novel about a brewing war between traditional deities brought to the shores of North America by immigrants and newer, human-created “false idols.” Now in its second season, it is a sexually explicit series that features a hot gay jinn (or genie) and his lover among its heavenly hosts.


Now Apocalypse (Starz):
Envelope-pushing queer filmmaker Gregg Araki recently debuted his first-ever streaming series. It explores identity, sexuality and artistry in ways both comedic and serious, as a struggling artist grows increasingly troubled by foreboding dreams. The cute young cast is frequently undressed and definitely worthy of ogling.


The Man in the High Castle (Amazon Prime):
A superb, frightening show inspired by sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick’s novel. It envisions an alternate past in which Nazi Germany and Japan won World War II and have taken over the US. A revolution is brewing, however, led in part by an out and proud gay man. The series also features a closeted, conflicted lesbian who heads the Nazis’ propaganda office.


The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu):
Another scary, dystopian series, this time based on Margaret Atwood’s classic book. Here, the religious right has risen to power in the US and is forcing fertile women to bear children for the impotent upper class. Alexis Bledel, all grown up after her prior teenager role on the popular Gilmore Girls, plays a persecuted lesbian plotting to take the anti-LGBTQ leadership down.


Gaycation with Ellen Page and Ian Daniel (Hulu):
Openly lesbian actress Ellen Page set out with her gay best friend Ian to explore LGBTQ communities around the world in this documentary series. Eye-opening and frequently funny, it’s a streaming trip worth taking.


The Umbrella Academy (Netflix):
Speaking of Ellen Page, she is also part of the ensemble of this new, offbeat superhero series adapted from a graphic novel. She plays Vanya, one of eight children from different mothers gifted with special powers. Adopted by a manipulative billionaire, they end up a dysfunctional family but must unite to stop the end of the world. One of the other siblings is Klaus (Robert Sheehan), a time-tripping drug addict grieving the death of his male lover during the Vietnam War.


Grace and Frankie (Netflix):
This sitcom starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin is now in its 5th season but is must-see TV. The pair play former frenemies who bond after their secretly-gay husbands, played by Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston, fall in love with one another. While it’s always fun to see Fonda and Tomlin together (they previously co-starred in the movie 9 to 5 way back in 1980), Sheen and Waterston are equally great as the women’s newly liberated exes.


Black Mirror (Netflix):
This creepy-cool series about the unexpected costs of technology has featured a fair share of LGBTQ storylines and characters. The best may be the touching episode “San Junipero,” a time travel tale about two women in love that won a pair of Emmy Awards.

So what are you waiting for? Grab your favorite device and start streaming!

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

Monday, April 22, 2019

Reverend's Preview: Newport Beach Film Fest Celebrates the Big 2-0


 

Smile, Newport Beach Film Festival, it’s your birthday! A small-scale event initially, NBFF will be celebrating 20 years of growing, international recognition from April 25th through May 2nd, 2019.


The festival strives each year to bring to Orange County, California the best of classic and contemporary filmmaking from around the world. Its organizers are committed to enlightening the public with a first-class international film program, providing a forum for cultural understanding and enriching educational opportunities, and showcasing a diverse collection of studio and independent films from around the world.

NBFF’s global focus isn’t only reflected in the movies shown but in nightly parties and receptions. An Irish Showcase Celebration will be April 28th’s main event, with other nights devoted to Latin, European and Pacific Rim places and people.

In addition to standard film fest categories like narrative features, documentaries and family films, NBFF has developed several unique showcases over the years. These include movies centered on culinary subjects, action sports, architecture, music and the environment.

Notably, NBFF’s growth over the last 20 years has paralleled a broader interest in and mainstream acceptance of LGBTQ films. A number of productions with LGBTQ appeal are screened during the fest each year. Although the 2019 feature film lineup has not been announced yet, organizers shared that a whopping 80+ LGBTQ short films in a variety of genres and styles will be shown.


Here is a mere sampling of these many fantastic-sounding shorts:

Older Than What? – A documentary that brings LGBTQ elders sharply into focus with humor, frankness, wit and charm. Twelve seniors answer questions about aging and share stories about how they made history.

Black Lips – A lonely abalone trader is awakened by a longing he’s never explored before.

Like Glass – A club kid grappling with their identity finds liberation in NYC nightlife, while haunted by the pressures of societal norms.


Black Hat – Shmuel is a pious Hasidic man leading a fairly simple life. By day, he dutifully prays at the local synagogue and manages a busy dry cleaning business. But when his wife and daughters leave town, Shmuel steps out at night into a more complex world. When he misplaces his black hat along the way, his two lives will interconnect in a way he never expected.

Swimming – A coming-of-age story of an American-born Chinese teen trying to handle her possible homosexuality when her 3-month old half-sister seems to have stolen the attention of the entire family. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Ming-Na Wen co-stars.

Aphrodite – A crossdresser driven by her dream of becoming a singer puts her own sexual identity at stake for an uncertain opportunity to shine in Hollywood.


The Buttcheek Boys – An animated spoof in which brothers Billy and Bobby Buttcheek do their darndest to solve a really big case.

As One – A short documentary created by Orange County filmmakers explaining why Pride festivals are still important today.

Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin –A feature documentary exploring the remarkable life and legacy of groundbreaking science-fiction and fantasy writer Ursula K. Le Guin, who passed away in 2018 at the age of 88.


Blush – A guy and his girlfriend are forced to navigate new territory when he's caught wearing her dress.

You Say Hello – A suicidal young gay man retreats to his family's beach house to end his life, but a chance encounter with a hustler changes his plans.

My Dad Works the Night Shift – Felix, a 14-year old boarding school student, spends the weekend at his conservative father's house. Felix starts a relationship with a much older boy, secretly hoping he will get caught so he can reveal his homosexuality to his father.


Hank – Recent LA transplants Hank (out comic Jason Stuart) and his husband Tommy attempt to save their 15- year marriage by entertaining the idea of an open relationship. While this might be working well for Tommy, Hank struggles to cope with the change as well as the challenges of being old.

Out of the Shadows – A theatre class at California State University Long Beach creates a play to tell the stories of undocumented immigrants, some of whom are LGBTQ.

I’ve Been Thinking – When Julian gets a boyfriend, his best friend Josh realizes it's time to reveal how he really feels. A romantic dramedy about a friendship that becomes something more, and the seeming impossibility of a perfect union.


Mack Wrestles – Mack Beggs broke records and changed history when he won the Texas state title as a transgender wrestler. Now, with high school ending and college on the horizon, the sports champion, national activist and high school hero must grapple with what comes next in this documentary.

Three Corner House – The lives of a suspicious wife, closeted husband and sex-obsessed son collide. Starring Michael J. Burg (BlacKkKlansman), Russell Koplin (Iron Fist) and Kathryn Kates (Orange is the New Black).

Silverlake Afternoon – Michael is 33 and he's never been with a guy. His first encounter is going to be awkward... and also kinda great.


All Cock & No Bull! – Relaxing in your backyard is one thing. Relaxing naked in your backyard with an old friend is something else entirely, and may have consequences.

Headlock – John, a closeted high school athlete, grapples with his attraction to a teammate in the days leading up to prom.

Homecoming – When a college sophomore returns home to share some important news with his parents, things don’t go exactly as he had expected…until they do.


Stay Tonight – This romantic dramedy follows the lives of two men who grew up together in Brooklyn, New York. Michael is bisexual and Tony is heterosexual. As life moves on, however, both men find themselves in a difficult situation that requires difficult decisions.

Broken Sunflower Hearts – When his ex-boyfriend Sam shows up on his doorstep a year after separating, Anthony weighs the impact it will have on his life and young daughter Luna.

Hiding in Daylight – After a gay purge in the not too distant future, four best friends are surviving by living in fake marriages to each other. They secretly meet once a week to see their true spouse and play a "game" where they reminisce about their former openly gay lives. But one night, emotions run high, friendships begin to unravel, and everything changes in an instant.


One Leg In, One Leg Out – Documentary in which a lively, strong-willed sex worker struggles to move from the streets and into a career as a social worker, hoping to help fellow trans sex workers find acceptance.

Mr. Sam – Today is a big day for Mr. Sam. Not only is he going to reveal to his mother that he’s finally found the love of his life, he’s also telling her that he’s gay. But Sam is in for a huge surprise: the secret he has managed to keep hidden from everyone for so long will be revealed in the most dramatic of ways by his best friend, Sandra.


Sequins - 17-year-old Paul's journey of self-discovery takes a unique turn when he embarks on his ambition to become a drag queen, despite fear of ridicule from his peers and being ostracized by his family.

Land’s End – Set in a bleak and poetic world on England’s southeast coast, this explores the magnetic relationship between Adam, a naïve but hopeful young man, and Michael, a charismatic ex-con and drag artist.

Individual tickets and festival passes are now on sale. They may be purchased by visiting the NBFF website or calling 949-253-2880.

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

Friday, April 12, 2019

Reverend's Reviews: High Flying, Adored


 

Three retro characters are currently enjoying new life on the big screen. Disney's Dumbo is making his first appearance since 1941 as a CGI creation in a live-action setting. DC Comics' Shazam (a.k.a. the original, male Captain Marvel) is similarly being seen in cinemas for the first time since 1941, when he headlined in his own serial. And then there is the biblical Mary Magdalene, who is getting her own star vehicle for the first time after basically playing a supporting role for 2,000 years (although there have been a handful of TV movies about her). What connects these seemingly disparate protagonists is their ability to fly, if not physically then spiritually.


Let's start with Mary Magdalene, opening in US theaters this weekend just in time for Palm Sunday. The film is significant for finally setting Christ's female apostle free from more than a millennium of false representation. During his 10th-century reign, Pope Gregory falsely identified Mary of Magdala as a prostitute forgiven by Jesus in Luke's gospel. More recent scholarship has indicated she was likely a wealthy benefactor who supported Jesus' ministry. At any rate, she is mentioned in all the gospels as being devoted to him (though not romantically, despite more modern assertions made in Jesus Christ Superstar and The Da Vinci Code) and as the first witness to Christ's resurrection from the dead.


A luminous Rooney Mara (Carol, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) stars as Mary in this new movie, with big-name support provided by her fellow Academy Award nominees Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus and Chiwetel Ejiofor as the apostle Peter. It begins in the year 33 in Mary's fishing village home, where the young woman is shown as adept at delivering babies, catching fish and cleaning her family's home. In keeping with Jewish tradition, her father is preparing to marry her off. Mary rebels, sensing an inner call to "know God" intimately. She is subjected to an exorcism for her refusal but soon after feels her prayers have been answered when she meets an increasingly renowned, itinerant preacher from Nazareth named Jesus.

Jesus accepts Mary as a member of his band of all-male apostles, which naturally causes controversy among them. As directed by Garth Davis (who previously helmed the Oscar-nominated Lion) and co-written by Helen Edmundson and Philippa Goslett, Mary Magdalene applies a political-feminist approach to its scriptural tale that will be welcomed by many but likely abhorred by the religious right. I found scenes showing Mary baptizing new believers and joining her brethren at the last supper dramatically refreshing as well as more historically accurate than previous depictions of this saint's role in Christ's earthly life. Jesus is also shown as a champion of gender equality, telling a group of skeptical Canaanite women "Your spirit is precious to God, as precious as your husbands'." His apostles are also a more racially-diverse group than usual.


It is beautifully photographed by Greig Fraser (Rogue One, Vice), with lots of wide angle views of its Italian and Australian landscapes, which are subbing for the Holy Land. The entire movie looks, sounds and feels authentic in a way that most prior biblical epics with bigger budgets have not. Although Phoenix is technically too old at 44 to play the 30-ish Jesus, the actor is nevertheless effective, intense and earthy. I liked that he often looks at Mary and his apostles with a quizzical look, like Jesus is trying to figure out what human beings are all about. Ejiofor is similarly strong as a politically-motivated, conniving pre-saint Peter. Mary Magdalene serves as an impressive source of inspiration this Easter season.

Disney's "re-imagining" of its animated classic Dumbo, now in theaters, is directed by none other than Tim Burton. On one hand, this isn't surprising given the filmmaker's longtime affection for outcasts, freaks, and circus trappings. Many of his previous movies have indulged these to greater or lesser extent. On the other hand, Burton hasn't really directed a kids' film before; even his live-action remake of Disney's Alice in Wonderland was more adult-leaning. Dumbo ends up being a somewhat uneasy film, too charmingly simple at times for older viewers while occasionally too dark and scary for young children.


The title pachyderm with unexpectedly oversized ears is born to his mother in a circus and soon learns he can fly thanks to his "deformity," but that's about all that the plots of the 1941 original and this remake have in common. Burton reunites his Batman Returns alumnus Danny DeVito and Michael Keaton as, respectively, the owner of Dumbo's small circus struggling to make ends meet and the greedy owner of a (surprisingly Disneyland-like) amusement park out to exploit Dumbo for all the elephant's "disability" is worth. Meanwhile, two children and their disabled war-vet father (played by Colin Ferrell) commit themselves to protecting Dumbo and reuniting him with his mother.

There are no significant human characters in the original Dumbo, and for good reason. Uncle Walt himself knew that the simple story was best told from the animal's perspective. In the remake, Dumbo is more often than not a bit player in a movie that should be focused squarely on him and his plight. He is adorably rendered by CGI; I especially enjoyed the "Pink Elephants on Parade" scene wherein he bops his head along to the music. That song, the Academy Award nominated "Baby Mine" and snippets of "Casey Jr." and "When I See an Elephant Fly" are the only musical bits carried over from the 1941 movie (which won the Oscar for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture for Disney legends Frank Churchill and Oliver Wallace).

Moments where Dumbo almost falls to his death as well as scenes set in the amusement park's "Nightmare Island" are sure to frighten sensitive kids. That being said, a 4- or 5-year old girl who I didn't know was seated next to me at the screening I attended. As soon as the movie ended, she turned to me and asked "I loved that, did you?" Apparently, not even Burton's approach can prevent Dumbo's story from resonating with children and the young at heart.


Shazam!, meanwhile, is DC's latest effort at expanding their cinematic universe and making gobs of money in the process. This lesser-known character is perhaps best-known to those of us who grew up during the 1970's, when he was the subject of a Saturday morning TV series. The comic book plot of a young boy who can become an all-powerful superhero simply by uttering his name obviously has great, wish-fulfilling appeal for kids, then and now.

The single best asset of this new, big-screen adaptation is the immensely enjoyable performance by Zachary Levi in the title role. He is not only physically perfect, partly thanks to an enhanced form-fitting suit, but sports the wide-eyed exuberance of a 14-year old suddenly granted super-human strength, the ability to fly, and more. It isn't long before his new powers are tested by the evil Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong, who is frequently cast as comic-book villains), a formerly unappreciated youth who has become imbued with the Seven Deadly Sins and is out to destroy the world.

Shazam! is uneven in tone, with lighter comedic scenes duking it out for dominance over darker, excessively violent scenes. Its also overlong at 130 minutes, especially during a seemingly endless final battle scene. But, as its box-office performance is showing, there is no denying the power this character and movie have when it comes to helping underdogs feel empowered.

Reverend's Ratings:
Mary Magdalene: A-
Dumbo (2019): B-
Shazam!: B

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

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Reverend's Reviews: Disney Dreams & Dreamy Dudes


 

We may be just a few weeks from Easter, but I was only recently able to watch two of Disney's three big Christmas 2018 movies: The Nutcracker and the Four Realms and Ralph Breaks the Internet. The wonderful Mary Poppins Returns was the studio's third holiday release. Now, thanks to the (Disney?) magic of home video, everyone can watch all three!


The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is a visually-sumptuous if rather simple-minded fantasy that references virtually every prior incarnation of E.T.A. Hoffman's classic Yuletide tale. There is a ballet sequence featuring acclaimed dancer Misty Copeland, portions of Tchaikovsky's famous music amidst a film score otherwise composed by James Newton Howard, and even visual echoes of Disney's own Fantasia, with conductor Gustavo Dudamel featured in silhouette at times à la Fantasia's conductor Leopold Stokowski.

This latest film adaptation is an adventure involving young heroine Clara's search for a magical key that will presumably open a mysterious Fabergé-esque egg left to her by her late mother. Her search naturally commences on Christmas Eve and leads her into the distinctive four realms of the title. War is brewing within this colorful world, which is reportedly being provoked by the villainous Mother Ginger.


Helen Mirren does the best she can with the underwritten role of Mother Ginger, while Morgan Freeman has little more than a cameo as the one-eyed inventor Drosselmeyer. Meanwhile, Keira Knightley is a campy hoot as the Sugarplum Fairy and recent Oscar nominee Richard E. Grant is fittingly entertaining as the icicle-festooned regent of the Snow Realm. Relatively unknown leads Mackenzie Foy and Jayden Fowora-Knight fare best as, respectively, Clare and her nutcracker prince. Kudos to the casting director, by the way, for incorporating both Fowora-Knight and Freeman into what has historically been a European (i.e. totally Caucasian) story.

Nutcracker is visually over-the-top at times but features some memorable images and moments. It was chiefly directed by Oscar nominee Lasse Hallström (Chocolat, The Cider House Rules) but veteran Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer, Captain America: The First Avenger) provided a month of reshoots to beef up the action sequences and special effects. The result feels schizophrenic at times, as Hallström's more restrained sensibility clashes with Johnston's super-heroic approach. Disney's expensive production didn't do well at the box office as it was competing against the studio's own Ralph Breaks the Internet as well as The Grinch. However, future holiday viewers and generations may yet embrace this diverse, imaginative take on a Christmas classic.


Ralph Breaks the Internet, meanwhile, is a long-awaited sequel to 2012's Wreck-It Ralph. John C. Reilly once again voices the titular video game character, with Sarah Silverman also back as Ralph's misfit friend, Vanellope von Schweetz. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that Wreck-It Ralph is one of only three animated films by Disney or Pixar that I've never seen. Thankfully, seeing the original isn't essential to appreciating this clever, funny sequel, which was an Academy Award nominee this year for Best Animated Feature.

It's frequently satirical screenplay involves the search for an essential part to Vanellope's favorite retro video game. Locating it initially on eBay, Ralph and Vanellope venture into the internet only to find things much more complicated than they anticipated. Co-directors Phil Johnston and Rich Moore, along with their design team, make visual sport of practically every popular website as well as Disney's stable of princesses, Star Wars figures, and other beloved characters. As amusing as these elements are, Ralph Breaks the Internet becomes self-indulgent in this regard and ultimately overlong at 112 minutes. Most viewers won't care. It is a successful sequel that inspires me to finally watch its predecessor!


From Disney's latest we journey to a bevy of new gay-themed releases, including one bonâ fide classic just released on Blu-ray for the first time. Death in Venice is Italian filmmaker Luchino Visconti's acclaimed yet provocative adaptation of Thomas Mann's novella. The Criterion Collection just issued a beautifully restored, 4K edition of this 1971 film. The Blu-ray also boasts a number of documentaries including a pair of short, behind-the-scenes exposés directed by Visconti.

Dirk Bogarde gives a gutsy-for-the-time, nuanced performance as Gustav von Aschenbach, a once celebrated composer in the waning years of his career. During a recovery holiday in the title city, Gustav unexpectedly becomes smitten with a pubescent boy named Tadzio (played by the appropriately fetching Bjorn Andresen). Sadly, Gustav also finds himself afflicted by a cholera epidemic that is quietly sweeping Venice. Art, beauty, innocence, love and death ultimately collide in Visconti's elegant reflection on these themes.

The film's depiction of Gustav's obsession with Tadzio – and vice versa to some degree – is disturbing, both by 1970's standards and today's. However, the ultimate sin presented in Death in Venice isn't homosexuality but growing older. As one character wryly remarks, "There is no impurity so impure as old age." Selections from symphonies by Gustav Mahler provide perfect musical accompaniment, while Piero Tosi's Oscar-nominated costumes are similarly sublime. Whether you have never seen it or will be experiencing it again, it's time to take a trip to Venice.


Love, desire and sexy guys in frequent stages of undress occupy TLA Releasing's new releases Woke and He Loves Me. The Woke DVD is actually season one of a French series entitled Les Engagés (The Engaged). The original title is actually more appropriate, especially given how US-specific the current popular use of the term "woke" seems to me to be. At any rate, its plot is chiefly set in and around an LGBTQ outreach center in Lyon, France. A local politician has cut off the center's funding, sparking a political revolt on the part of its staff members led by resident activist Thibaut (dreamy, mustachioed Eric Pucheu). Thibaut's personal life is thrown into turmoil when a Muslim runaway, Hicham (Mehdi Meskar), shows up on his doorstep. The two met years earlier at a campground and Hicham has carried a torch for Thibaut ever since. Woke features a few dated, clichéd scenes regarding gay self-acceptance but is generally an engrossing production.


He Loves Me is a sensual first feature by Greek filmmaker Konstantinos Menelaou. It opens with two attractive, naked guys lying on a beach together. We learn that they are a couple at a crossroads in their relationship. Their current seaside vacation is actually a "make it or break it" attempt to reconcile their differences. The characters, played by Hermes Pittakos and Sanuye Shoteka, are largely silent while thoughtfully-written narration reflects on the couple's experience. Viewers are ultimately informed/reminded that love takes a lifetime of work. The movie feels a bit meandering and long toward its end, and it's only 72 minutes long. But the abundant nudity on display, Kostis Fokas' beautiful sun-dappled cinematography, and Micke Lindebergh's Enya-esque music score weave a seductive, romantic spell.

Reverend's Ratings:
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms: B-
Ralph Breaks the Internet: B+
Death in Venice: A-
Woke (Les Engagés): B-
He Loves Me: B

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

Monday, March 11, 2019

Reverend's Preview: Somos = All for LGBTQ Movies


 

The Spanish word somos means “all” in English, so it seems a fitting new title for the San Diego Latino Film Festival’s LGBTQ showcase. Formerly known as Cine Gay, this year’s event will run March 14th-24th at AMC Fashion Valley and Digital Gym CINEMA North Park.


Now in its 26th year, the festival annually screens more than 160 films from Latin America, Spain, the United States, Mexico and other parts of the world in celebration of Latino film, art and culture. Also featured are after parties, filmmaker workshops and guest celebrities from the hottest TV shows and feature films. The Somos showcase is made possible by the San Diego Pride Festival, the Media Arts Center, and Filmout San Diego.

“LGBTQ cinema is transcendent by nature, oftentimes forcing spectators to look beyond their own experiences and inviting them to engage, reconcile and ultimately relate to issues initially outside of their understanding,” according to Moises Esparza, the festival’s curator. “It is our pleasure to continue our annual tradition of bringing the very best of LGBTQ Latino cinema” to San Diego.

Though primarily reflective of Latino/Latina experiences and locations, the themes of the various movies to be shown are universal. Screenings will be hosted by local drag superstar Franceska. Individual tickets and full festival passes can be purchased in advance here. One can also become a member of this non-profit organization and enjoy special perks here.

A fabulous LGBTQ Short Film Showcase will be presented on Sunday, March 17th at 3:30pm. These mini-movies will include: Broken Sunflower Hearts, Estigma, Infinite While It Lasts, Neither From Here, Nor There, Oasis, The Serenade and The night, unsheltered.

Feature films to be screened are:



Eva + Candela (from Colombia)
The professional ambition of two strong, independent women brings them together but it is also what ultimately pulls them apart. We witness their intense love transform amidst stages of infatuation, sensuality, love, comfort and, finally, routine.


Claudia tocada por la luna (Claudia touched by the moon) (Chile)
Having suffered discrimination throughout her life, Claudia, a trans-Chilean midwife, remembers the hardest and most difficult moments she had to face in order to live her identity. This documentary tells the history, struggle, and constant abuses that are part of a society that still excludes those it considers different.


Tinta Bruta (Hard Paint) (Brazil)
Set in Brazil’s southern city of Porto Alegre, the film focuses on a socially-repressed young man who only comes out of his shell during chatroom performances, when he strips and smears neon paints on his lithe body.


José (Guatemala)
The title character is 19 and lives with his mother in Guatemala, one of the world's most dangerous, religious, impoverished, and socially conservative countries. He spends his days on cramped buses and fighting traffic as he runs food to drivers. When he meets Luis, a migrant from the rural Caribbean coast, they pursue an unexpected and forbidden relationship that thrusts José into an unexpectedly passionate and self-reflective period in his life.


Retablo (Peru/Norway/Germany)
Segundo Paucar, a 14 year old boy, wants to become a master story-box maker just like his father to carry on the family legacy. On his way to a community celebration in the Andes, Segundo accidentally observes his father in a situation that shatters his whole world. Trapped in a chauvinistic environment, Segundo will try to deal in silence with all that is happening to him.


Bixa Travesty (Brazil)
The female trans body becomes a political means of expression in both public and private space. The black, transgender singer Linn da Quebrada deconstructs how alpha males conceive of themselves. Kiko Goifman and Claudia Priscilla's documentary portrays a charismatic artist who reflects on gender and has an extraordinary stage presence.


Las herederas (The Heiresses) (Paraguay/Germany/Brazil/Uruguay/Norway/France)
Chela and Chiquita, both descendants of wealthy families, have been together for over 30 years. Recently, their financial situation has worsened, and Chiquita is imprisoned on fraud charges. Chela, forced to face a new reality, begins to provide a local taxi service to a group of elderly, wealthy ladies for money. As she settles into her new life, Chela encounters the much younger Angy, forging a fresh and invigorating new connection. This drama was Paraguay’s submission to this year's Oscars.


Las Chuntá (The Chunta) (Mexico)
Once a year in a small town in Mexico, men transform into women and become the Chuntá. This documentary follows two gender-bending gangs of dancers as they face off in a struggle between queer identity and powerful traditions.

The San Diego Latino Film Festival will be presented from March 14th to the 24th. Click here for more information.

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

Friday, February 22, 2019

If We Picked the Oscars 2018



Borrowing a page from Siskel and Ebert from back in the day, we here at Movie Dearest are once again 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 in each category as well as what we deem are the "Worst Nominations of the Year".


So without further ado, the envelope please...



The nominees for Best Picture are: Black Panther, BlacKkKlansman, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite, Green Book, Roma, A Star Is Born and Vice
CC: This is the strongest lineup in several years with the exception of Bohemian Rhapsody, although that has legit crowd-pleaser cred. After much hand-wringing, I would vote for The Favourite. It memorably and entertainingly combines BBC production values with the bitchiest dialogue since All About Eve, or at least Heathers. The writing, cast, art direction, direction direction, cinematography and costumes add up to one stunning movie.
KH: Considering it is the sole BP nominee in my top 20 of 2018, The Favourite is literally my only choice, but certainly the best one here regardless.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Can You Ever Forgive Me? I'll be saying more about this one further down...
KH: This award season has been an increasingly exasperating exercise in frustration for me, no more clearly symbolized than in this Best Picture line-up filled with overrated Oscar bait and/or hollow crowd pleasers instead of such small masterpieces as Can You Ever Forgive Me? and Leave No Trace.

For their final voting, Academy members are asked to rank the Best Picture nominees from #1 to #8, so here are our rankings:
CC: 1. The Favourite, 2. Roma, 3. Vice, 4. Green Book, 5. A Star is Born, 6. BlacKkKlansman, 7. Black Panther and Bohemian Rhapsody
KH: 1. The Favourite, 2. A Star Is Born, 3. Vice, 4. Green Book, 5. Roma, 6. BlacKkKlansman, 7. Black Panther and 8. Bohemian Rhapsody


The nominees for Best Actor are: Christian Bale in Vice, Bradley Cooper in A Star Is Born, Willem Dafoe in At Eternity's Gate, Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody and Viggo Mortensen in Green Book
CC: I regret I haven't seen At Eternity's Gate so can't consider Willem Dafoe's performance but his fellow nominees are pretty fantastic.  Rami Malek makes Bohemian Rhapsody more watchable and moving than it might have been in lesser acting hands.  However, Christian Bale's transformation into former VP Dick Cheney in Vice is nothing short of amazing. Bale, unlike the man he portrayed, gets my vote.
KH: Bradley Cooper's career best performance as the grizzled, fading superstar Jackson Maine stands out among his all-biopic competition.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: While I was not a fan of First Reformed (see below), Ethan Hawke gave an impressive, tightly coiled performance as its troubled pastor protagonist and should have been included here.
KH: Ben Foster was brilliant, once again, in the shamefully not-nominated-at-all Leave No Trace.


The nominees for Best Actress are: Yalitza Aparicio in Roma, Glenn Close in The Wife, Olivia Colman in The Favourite, Lady Gaga in A Star Is Born and Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me?
CC: Glenn Close is the front runner but I loved Melissa McCarthy's tart but compassionate turn as celebrity forger Lee Israel.  She made a hugely unsympathetic person funny, lovable, and even admirable to a degree.
KH: This is a tough choice between Olivia Coleman and Melissa McCarthy (both, coincidentally, playing real lesbians), with the latter ultimately victorious for making me completely forget her usual screen persona.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Emily Blunt was perfect, not just practically so, in both A Quiet Place and Mary Poppins Returns.  She should have been recognized in this category for at least one of them.
KH: It would be hard to choose between the veritable rawness of Toni Colette in Hereditary and the inimitable charm of Emily Blunt in Mary Poppins Returns.


The nominees for Best Supporting Actor are: Mahershala Ali in Green Book, Adam Driver in BlacKkKlansman, Sam Elliott in A Star Is Born, Richard E. Grant in Can You Ever Forgive Me? and Sam Rockwell in Vice
CC: The wonderful Richard E. Grant has consistently delighted me since he played a wackily megalomaniacal villain in 1991's Hudson Hawk.  I would vote for him not only for Can You Ever Forgive Me? but his entire body of work to date.
KH: As gay grifter Jack Hock, Richard E. Grant was brilliant and hilarious, and brilliantly hilarious, as always.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: While I wasn't as enamored by Black Panther as most, Michael B. Jordan was dramatically and physically imposing as its morally complex antagonist.
KH: Oh, if only it were the days when performances like this were nominated than Hugh Grant's high camp turn as the villainous thespian Phoenix Buchanan in Paddington 2 surely would have made the cut.


The nominees for Best Supporting Actress are: Amy Adams in Vice, Marina de Tavira in Roma, Regina King in If Beale Street Could Talk, Emma Stone in The Favourite and Rachel Weisz in The Favourite
CC: As good as all these performances are, I would go with Amy Adams as Dick Cheney's suitably Lady Macbeth-like wife, Lynn.  It is time for Adams to be honored with the gold after five nominations.
KH: As a fiercely protective mother who would go to great lengths (such as: Cuba) for her family, Regina King reigns.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Linda Cardellini, perhaps best known as Velma in the live-action Scooby-Doo movies, was terrific as the yearning but patient New Yawk housewife in Green BookClaire Foy was also terrific in a similar role in First Man.
KH: As a devout Christian mother who finally sees the light regarding her gay son, Nicole Kidman was the best thing about Boy Erased.


The nominees for Best Directing are: Alfonso Cuarón for Roma, Yorgos Lanthimos for The Favourite, Spike Lee for BlacKkKlansman, Adam McKay for Vice and Paweł Pawlikowski for Cold War
CC: I wasn't as impressed as others by Yorgos Lanthimos' earlier films (The Lobster, Killing of a Sacred Deer) but he won me over with his handling of the saucy, sassy and sexy royal goings on in The Favourite.
KH: I've been a big fan of Yorgos Lanthimos' darkly skewed work to date (starting with the Oscar nominated Dogtooth), so his crossover success with The Favourite is well deserved... and deserving of the Oscar.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Damien Chazelle became the youngest-ever winner of the Oscar for Best Direction two years ago for La La Land, but he exceeded himself with the Neil Armstrong biopic First Man.  It was my choice as Best Film of 2018 but only scored a few Academy Award nominations in technical categories.  It is one of the most visceral and haunting movies I've ever seen thanks to Chazelle's craft.
KH: There were no finer examples of excellent direction last year than the work of Marielle Heller in Can You Ever Forgive Me? and Debra Granik in Leave No Trace.


The nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay are: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, BlacKkKlansman, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, If Beale Street Could Talk and A Star Is Born
CC: The compassionate, frequently hilarious yet deeply moving Can You Ever Forgive Me?.
KH: The Writers Guild Awards got it right: Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty's finely crafted adaptation of the Lee Israel memoir Can You Ever Forgive Me?.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: 1964's Mary Poppins was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay but not its past due 2018 sequel. Times were more innocent back then but Mary Poppins Returns (screenplay by David Magee, story by Magee, Rob Marshall and John DeLuca) went somewhat deeper and is virtually as accomplished as the original.
KH: And the USC Scripter Award got it right as well: Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini's adaptation of the novel My Abandonment by Peter Rock into the film Leave No Trace.


The nominees for Best Original Screenplay are: The Favourite, First Reformed, Green Book, Roma and Vice
CC: The Favourite, perhaps the finest historical dramedy since 1963's Tom Jones (which incidentally starred the great Albert Finney, who passed away earlier this month).
KH: Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara's wryly sardonic script for The Favourite naturally gets my vote.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Bo Burnhams's debut feature Eighth Grade hit the transition from pre-pubescence to adolescence on the nose as no film before it has.
KH: Once again, the Writers Guild Awards got it right with Bo Burnam's Eighth Grade, which somehow was totally ignored by the Academy.


The nominees for Best Cinematography are: Cold War, The Favourite, Never Look Away, Roma and A Star Is Born
CC: The two black & white entries here, Cold War and Roma, are grabbing all the attention. I go for Robbie Ryan's more colorful, classical work on The Favourite.
KH: With Robbie Ryan's use of natural lighting and unorthodox lenses, no other movie looked quite like The Favourite last year... or most other years.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: The visually stunning First Man, shot by the great Linus Sandgren.
KH: Some of the scariest moments in Hereditary are thanks to its DP Pawel Pogorzelski and his expertise with shadows and framing.


The nominees for Best Production Design are: Black Panther, The Favourite, First Man, Mary Poppins Returns and Roma
CC: First Man and Mary Poppins Returns finally get some love here.  However, I would vote for the equally period-perfect The Favourite.
KH: From the inside of a Royal Doulton bowl to the top of Big Ben, not to mention the lovingly recreated Cherry Tree Lane, Mary Poppins Returns delivers the most eye candy.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Sure, its mostly set in dirty apartments and used book stores but Can You Ever Forgive Me? nails its early-1990's NYC setting.
KH: Crazy Rich Asians' over-the-top wedding alone should have attracted Oscar's attention here.


The nominees for Best Costume Design are: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Black Panther, The Favourite, Mary Poppins Returns and Mary Queen of Scots
CC: Designer Sandy Powell was a busy lady last year, and is nominated for both The Favourite and Mary Poppins Returns.  I would vote for Powell's impressive attention to detail in the latter.  Note that she hand-painted the costumes for the show-stopping, traditionally animated "A Cover is Not the Book" production number.
KH: Can't double nominee Sandy Powell just win for both? No? OK, then her inventive, whimsical frocks for Mary Poppins Returns win by a nose.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: It's hard to believe Bohemian Rhapsody was overlooked here, what with all its 70's and 80's tribute fashions.
KH: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again clothed the likes of Lily James and Cher in fashions from the 70's and today... pretty groovy.


The nominees for Best Original Score are: Black Panther, BlacKkKlansman, If Beale Street Could Talk, Isle of Dogs and Mary Poppins Returns
CC: Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman had a tall order when they took on the sequel to one of Disney's most beloved live-action musicals. Their score for Mary Poppins Returns more than rose to the occasion, adding some clever and memorable new songs while wistfully evoking the original's at times. Although only Shaiman is nominated in this category, I expect him to drag Wittman – his longtime partner in music and life – on stage with him if he wins. The pair brought the house down when they won the Tony Award for their Hairspray score and kissed on national TV, which was still pretty scandalous back in 2002.
KH: Marc Shaiman is just missing the "O" from the "EGOT", and his appropriately Sherman-esque melodies for Mary Poppins Returns deserve to earn him the final piece of that showbiz quadruple-crown.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: I love Justin Hurwitz's haunting, minimalist music in First Man. It's a 180 degree turn from La La Land.
KH: Brian Tyler's Crazy Rich Asians score was a wonderful mash-up of Asian influences and big band sounds.



The nominees for Best Original Song are: "All the Stars" from Black Panther, "I'll Fight" from RBG, "The Place Where Lost Things Go" from Mary Poppins Returns, "Shallow" from A Star Is Born and "When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings" from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
CC: Gotta go with Gaga and "Shallow".
KH: I have soft spots for the songs from Mary and Buster, but there's no denying the instantly iconic "Shallow".
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: "A Place Called Slaughter Race" is a simultaneously heartfelt and hilarious mock Disney Princess "I want" song in Ralph Breaks the Internet.
KH: Pick a show-stopper from A Star Is Born ("Always Remember Us This Way", "I'll Never Love Again") or Mary Poppins Returns ("Can You Imagine That?", "Trip a Little Light Fantastic").


The nominees for Best Film Editing are: BlacKkKlansman, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite, Green Book and Vice
CC: I was impressed by the whiplash editing in Vice as it veered from serious political drama to comedy to all-out satire.
KH: I concur, Vice it is.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: How did First Man...
KH: ...and A Star Is Born not make this final cut?


The nominees for Best Sound Mixing are: Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody, First Man, Roma and A Star Is Born
CC: As much as I loved all the Queen tunes and concert footage in Bohemian Rhapsody, I would go with First Man.
KH: A Star Is Born, not just for the obvious work with the music and songs, but also the effective depictions of Jackson Maine's substance abuse.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: How did the hyper-heroic and suitably-loud Avengers: Infinity War get overlooked here?
KH: Musicals usually fare well in this category, so where's Mary Poppins Returns?


The nominees for Best Sound Editing are: Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody, First Man, A Quiet Place and Roma
CC: Since this is the only nomination garnered by the very effective thriller A Quiet Place, I would vote for it with its sound-sensitive monsters.
KH: With or without it, A Quiet Place was all about the sound.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Avengers: Infinity War redux.
KH: Another popular superhero fest, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.


The nominees for Best Visual Effects are: Avengers: Infinity War, Christopher Robin, First Man, Ready Player One and Solo: A Star Wars Story
CC: The other nominees in this category are bigger and flashier (not to mention more expensive), but I adored and totally believed the CGI versions of A.A. Milne's beloved Winnie the Pooh and friends in Christopher Robin. I'm so happy it was nominated here.
KH: If it was just the impressive Thanos, than I'd go with Avengers: Infinity War, but then there's scenes like this. And don't get me started on the muddy, ugly Ready Player One. So I too will go with the entirely believable childhood toys of Christopher Robin's childhood days.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Disney's artists also scored big with Mary Poppins Returns, turning Meryl Streep upside down and setting the entire cast afloat for the finale. I especially liked the dolphin that pops up in the bathtub ("No, not yet") during the delightfully nautical "Can You Imagine That?" number.
KH: A far cry from Disney's high-flying nanny and cuddly stuffed animals: Hereditary's host of decapitated bodies.


The nominees for Best Makeup and Hairstyling are: Border, Mary Queen of Scots and Vice
CC: Christian Bale's transformation into Dick Cheney was frighteningly effective in Vice.
KH: The impressive transformations in Vice were only surpassed by the seamless creations of the trolls in the Swedish film Border.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Mary Poppins Returns, if primarily for Meryl Streep's appearance as cousin Topsy.
KH: Nicholas Hoult's wigs: three words that prove that The Favourite should have been recognized.


The nominees for Best Animated Feature are: Incredibles 2, Isle of Dogs, Mirai, Ralph Breaks the Internet and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
CC: I love Isle of Dogs. Is that redundant?
KH: The new adventures of Ralph and Spidey are faves, but Wes Anderson's wacky Isle of Dogs was wildly original and thoroughly entertaining.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Actually, the Academy seemed to nail this category for once.
KH: Does Paddington 2 count?


The nominees for Best Foreign Language Film are: Capernaum (Lebanon), Cold War (Poland), Never Look Away (Germany), Roma (Mexico) and Shoplifters (Japan)
CC: Alfonso Cuarón's lovingly autobiographical Roma gets my vote.
KH: I have yet to see the Lebanese and German contenders, and was mostly underwhelmed by the Polish and Mexican front runners, which leaves Hirokazu Kore-eda's brilliant Shoplifters, which would have been my pick no matter what.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: It wasn't officially submitted for consideration but Finland's A Moment in the Reeds is both a great foreign language film and one of the best gay-themed films in several years.
KH: I was mesmerized by the tense Danish thriller The Guilty; Jake Gyllenhaal, you have a lot to live up to.


The nominees for Best Documentary Feature are: Free Solo, Hale County This Morning, This Evening, Minding the Gap, Of Fathers and Sons and RBG
CC: All hail the RBG!
KH: There's no stopping the Notorious RBG.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Won't You Be My Neighbor?  WTF?
KH: The twisty strange-but-true Three Identical Strangers was robbed.



The nominees for Best Documentary Short Subject are: Black Sheep, End Game, Lifeboat, A Night at The Garden and Period. End of Sentence.
CC: I've worked with the dying on hospice for many years so am partial to the courageous End Game.
KH: I was greatly impressed by the tenacious women of Period. End of Sentence., the only "feel good" contender here that nevertheless earns every good feeling it elicits.
Egregiously Overlooked:
KH: The title of My Dead Dad's Porno Tapes alone would have brought some levity to this predominantly somber bunch.


The nominees for Best Animated Short Film are: Animal Behaviour, Bao, Late Afternoon, One Small Step and Weekends
CC: The adorable, dumpling-themed Bao both touched me and made me hungry.
KH: The bittersweet Late Afternoon is easily one of my favorite nominated films this year, short or otherwise.
Egregiously Overlooked:
KH: DreamWorks' Bilby (which will screen theatrically with the newest How to Train Your Dragon later this month) is a cute and funny adventure through the wilds of the Australian Outback.


The nominees for Best Live Action Short Film are: Detainment, Fauve, Marguerite, Mother and Skin
CC: Marguerite is the only one I've seen but it is lovely and worthy of my vote.
KH: From a batch of nominees that has become infamous for its bleakness, the grim and gritty Fauve is the one that haunts me still.
Egregiously Overlooked:
KH: The Hungarian comedy Chuchotage would have injected some needed levity into this category this year.


And now for our own special category of dishonorable mention, the Worst Nomination of the Year:
CC: Best Original Screenplay for First Reformed. I'm a longtime fan of writer-director Paul Schrader and this is his first, overdue Oscar nomination. Normally I would applaud him but I was frustrated by this baffling, religio-environmental drama that plays like a mashup of Schrader's scripts for Taxi Driver and The Last Temptation of Christ.  His underrated, 1982 remake of Cat People was better than this.
KH: This year I'm going straight to the top and call out the Best Picture nomination of Bohemian Rhapsody. There are so many things wrong with this long-in-the-works Freddie Mercury biopic, both onscreen (those teeth!?!) and behind the scenes (yeah, I'm not going to touch any of that), and yet it somehow kept on getting attention this award season, one perplexing nomination after another, until this. An Oscar nomination for Best Picture. To paraphrase the Queen title tune: "Is this the real life, or is it just fantasy? Oh, mamma mia. Just let me go..."

And so the final march to Oscar glory begins. Tune in to the Big Show this Sunday to see who wins, as well as which nominees are rocking the best (and worst) gowns, hottest 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.