(*homocinematically inclined)

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Reverend's Reviews: We Need a Little Christmas Now

2020 is half over and I'm not sure whether to say "oh my God" or "thank you God"! It was already a dreadful year for me personally even before the COVID-19 pandemic due to my mother's death in early January and the fallout from that. So, as Auntie Mame famously declared at the height of the Great Depression: "We need a little Christmas now!" Yes, five months early.

Filmmakers and streamers have been happy to oblige. First and foremost, Disney+ moved up its anticipated premiere of Hamilton, the filmed version of Broadway's smash musical, by more than a year and just in time for Independence Day. It doesn't contain any Yuletide elements but its premature availability is itself a great holiday gift. I was unsuccessful at seeing it on stage so I'm thrilled to have finally watched this truly fantastic edition (being referred to by fans as "Hamilfilm") culled from three performances in 2016 and starring the original New York cast including Lin-Manuel Miranda, the show's deservedly acclaimed creator.

Alexander the Great

Unless one has spent the last five years living under a rock, you should be aware that Hamilton tells the story of founding father Alexander Hamilton through a multi-ethnic cast and decidedly modern musical approach. It won multiple 2016 Tony Awards including Best Musical as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Brilliantly adapted by Miranda from Ron Chernow's straightforward biographical book, it is compelling theatre imaginatively directed by Tony winner Thomas Kail. While I'm not as enthusiastic about Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography, which is hip hop-inspired but often strikes me as herky-jerky in all his projects, it is undeniably energetic.

Kail also direct the current film effectively, but one must bear in mind that this is a high-def, edited recording of a live stage performance rather than an opened-up movie. (A true "Hamilfilm" could yet happen down the road.) As such, I wish Kail and crew would have eliminated the audience's reactions. I don't like being "cued" when to applaud, laugh, sing along, etc. while watching a movie. When one is actually sitting in a Broadway theater, a viewer is an active part of the audience and participates with them as well as the performers on stage. The same dynamic simply doesn't exist while watching a recording alone from one's sofa, and it is silly to try to re-create it at home.

The Badness of King George

That being said, Hamilton on Disney+ is chock full of incredible music, dramatic moments and great performances. The entire original Broadway cast can be enjoyed here including Tony winners Leslie Odom Jr. (Aaron Burr), Renee Elise Goldsberry (Angelica Schuyler), and Daveed Diggs (Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson). Also on display is out actor Jonathan Groff's deliciously funny appearance as King George III, who had left the production before it was filmed but was invited back for this special occasion. Since my experience of Hamilton before now was limited to the cast recording, I was unprepared for Groff's dishy, non-singing involvement in "The Reynolds Pamphlet" sequence. Simply hilarious!

The production is beautifully photographed by Declan Quinn (Leaving Las Vegas, In America) and sharply edited by Jonah Moran (Fosse/Verdon, Mars). Nowhere is their artistry more apparent than during the showstopper "The Room Where It Happens." With Broadway and many theaters around the world currently closed, the opportunity to view this Hamilton is a true gift... even if one's living room is the room where it happens.

The Family Tree is a new queer movie actually set during several successive Christmas seasons. Written, directed, and even edited by indie Panamanian filmmaker Jorge Ameer (Sabor tropical, D'Agostino, Oasis), it is an unexpectedly affecting melodrama now starting to make film festival rounds. Theatrical and home video releases are also being planned.

One night before Christmas, animal rescuer Victor (played with abundant compassion by Keith Roenke) stumbles across the robbed and beaten body of a man in his neighborhood. We come to learn he is Roy, an undocumented and homeless but not unattractive American played by Michael Joseph Nelson. Victor takes him in and nurses him back to health, learning Roy's story in the meantime. Although both men are straight, Victor eventually offers to marry Roy so he can stay in Panama. Roy is initially reluctant but realizes he has no other options. They get civilly married on Christmas Eve, then ironically start falling in love with each other.

The men's relationship becomes more complicated when Roy goes to work for and eventually falls in love with Victor's female bff, Alina (Anaïs Lucia). They get engaged so Roy and Victor get divorced. Soon after their marriage, however, Roy learns that he is infertile. Alina wants to have a baby, so Roy and Alina ask Victor to father their child "naturally" with Roy present to provide romantic inspiration to Victor. Tragedy strikes in time (have Kleenex handy) but the trio's love for one another lives on.

While the performances in The Family Tree are at times amateurish and Ameer's dialogue can be simplistic, this is a heartfelt story heightened by its holiday setting. The film features warm, colorful cinematography by James Brown as well as handsome lead actors and some tasteful male nudity. Editing is Ameer's weakest skill, as this movie's slow pace and running time of 130 minutes prove. Still, The Family Tree is unique, sensitive and memorable.

If Martin Scorsese were to direct a gay-themed prison flick, it might look something like Sebastián Muñoz's The Prince (El Principe). The movie won the prestigious Queer Lion award at last year's Venice Film Festival and is newly available on DVD, Blu-ray and streaming services courtesy of Artsploitation Films.

Set in a Chilean prison during the 1970's Allende era, The Prince echoes Jean Genet's sexually explicit short film Un Chant D'amour and Fassbinder's provocative Querelle in its exploration of male desire under oppressive conditions. Attractive, 20-year old Jaime ends up incarcerated after stabbing his friend to death while in a drunken, jealous rage. He is assigned to a cell with four other men including the domineering Ricardo, aka "The Stud" (although he is referred to as "The Stallion" in promo materials), plus a cat named Plato.

Ricardo takes Jaime under his wing and provides him protection in return for sexual services. While Jaime becomes attracted to another young, similarly kept inmate, he also falls truly in love with Ricardo. Some gentle romantic and comedic moments brighten the generally hellish environment and proceedings. The movie also provides a potent evocation of community, with its requisite tensions and intimacies, losses and celebrations.

The Prince serves as Muñoz's narrative feature directing debut after two decades working as an art director and production designer. His visual skills are impressive but so is his ability with actors. Juan Carlos Maldonado is sexy and sympathetic in the title role, while Alfredo Castro gives a nicely nuanced performance as the cat- and boy-loving "Stud." This is a great movie for gay men to watch while potentially feeling incarcerated at home.

I referenced Genet's infamous Un Chant D'amour above but was only recently able to watch the complete 1950 short thanks to another "Christmas in July" gift: Pink Label TV, a new, adult-oriented streaming service. It provides access to many hard-to-find independent and erotic films in numerous categories including "Boygasms", "The Feminine Porn Gaze", "POC (People of Color) Porn" and "Edu-porn."

Like Un Chant D'amour, many of the movies available on Pink Label TV have historic, sociological and/or artistic significance. This is especially true of "The Bressan Project", which spotlights new 2K digital restorations of two pre-AIDS gay features by Arthur J. Bressan, Jr. The pioneering filmmaker died of AIDS complications in 1987 but not before making Buddies, the first feature film about AIDS, in 1985.

Passing Strangers (1974), available now, tells the unexpectedly romantic tale of an 18-year old man, Robert, who is struggling to come out in San Francisco. He replies to a newspaper romance ad (remember those?) from Tom, a 26-year old looking to settle down from his cruising lifestyle. They begin exchanging letters in between graphic sex scenes with other men, and eventually meet at a local gay beach.

The film is initially shot in black and white but it changes to color à la The Wizard of Oz once Tom and Robert meet in person. It is badly dubbed and features some laughably dated camera shots and techniques as well as a weird music score. However, Passing Strangers was ahead of its time in its open and honest depiction of the cruising lifestyle and the desire by some gay men for a true romance. As the older, experienced Tom writes, "I want to love someone." It's simple but somewhat groundbreaking for the time. From today's perspective, the movie gives a glimpse at a time that was at once more hedonistic yet more innocent for gay men. It is also historically significant for Bressan's inclusion of footage from the very first San Francisco Gay Freedom Parade, which he shot in 1972.

Bressan's Forbidden Letters (1979) will be available in August. It becomes apparent soon after the start of this legal drama with porn interludes that the director's technique improved in the five years since Passing Strangers. Definitely worth checking out next month on Pink Label TV.

Reverend's Ratings:
Hamilton: A-
The Family Tree: B
The Prince (El Principe): B+
Passing Strangers and Forbidden Letters: B

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

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The First Dorian TV Awards Salute the Last of Schitt's Creek

Soar of the Roses

The final season of the international sleeper hit Schitt's Creek proved to be irresistible to GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics with their inaugural Dorian TV Awards. The beloved Canadian comedy (brought to us stateside by Pop TV) landed a leading seven nominations, including Best TV Comedy and individual nods for the entire Rose family: Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Dan Levy and Annie Murphy.

Netflix triumphed overall with a whopping 21 total nominations, most notably six for Hollywood, Ryan Murphy's glitzy re-imagining of Tinseltown's tawdry history, including four for its cast too (Jeremy Pope, Patti LuPone, Joe Mantello and Jim Parsons) but curiously not for Best TV Movie or Limited Series. Two HBO critical darlings, Bad Education and Watchmen, did land in that category, bringing their total haul to four nominations each, including a pair of acting nominations each (Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney for the former, Regina King and Jean Smart for the latter).

"Nun for me, thank you"

Other series reaping multiple mentions are Netflix's The Crown, Dead to Me and Ozark and FX's Mrs. America and What We Do in the Shadows, as well as previous Dorian Award winners Killing Eve, RuPaul's Drag Race and the Academy Awards. See the comments section below for the complete list of nominations.

Since 2009, GALECA (of which I and fellow Movie Dearest critic Chris Carpenter are longstanding members) has bestowed the annual Dorian Awards to both movies and TV at the beginning of the year, corresponding with the yearly film award season that culminates with the Oscars. However, this year marks the first time the Dorian TV Awards will fly solo, now more closely aligning with the television industry's highest honor, the Emmy Awards, which are handed out in the fall. The winners of the first annual Dorian TV Awards will be announced August 21st.

Stay tuned.....

Friday, June 12, 2020

Reverend's Reviews: Pictures for a Pandemic Pride

Happy socially-distanced Pride, everyone! Viruses, rioters and looters may be abundant nowadays but we in the LGBTQ community must do the best we can to celebrate. It is interesting to note that Pride month each year commemorates a riot, a street protest in June, 1969 that was sparked when bar patrons at New York City's Stonewall Inn, led by trans people of color, fought back against routine police violence. Over the next six days, the small band of patrons were joined by 1,000 protestors who clashed in the streets with police and energized the movement for LGBTQ equality.

Sadly, today also marks four years since the Pulse massacre in Orlando, Florida. We must take a moment to remember the 49 lives senselessly stolen at the popular gathering place for young LGBTQ people. Out today in virtual release via Laemmle Theaters in Los Angeles and others is a powerful new documentary, For They Know Not What They Do, that incorporates one Pulse survivor's story. The film is Daniel Karslake's sequel to his 2007 film For the Bible Tells Me So and continues the exploration of how religion has been used to oppress many LGBTQ individuals. Thankfully, it also shines a hopeful light on the growing number of conservative Christian parents who are becoming more accepting and supportive of their "sinful" children.

Karslake provides intimate, sympathetic portraits of four US families. One is an evangelical Christian married couple who struggled with both a gay brother/brother-in-law and their own gay son, the latter of whom became involved in the "ex-gay" reparative therapy movement with tragic results. Another couple confronted the difficult reality that their daughter is transgender; she is today political activist Sarah McBride. A bi-racial Christian couple similarly struggles to accept their transgender son.

And then there is the Hispanic Catholic family with a gay son and grandson, Vico. His traditional, Puerto Rican grandmother was the more resistant to Vico's sexuality but she grows to a greater understanding after Vico survived the 2016 Pulse shooting. Tragically, several of his friends were killed or wounded that night. One can't not be moved by this family's story.

For They Know Not What They Do incorporates appearances by such anti-LGBTQ stalwarts as Pat Robertson, Focus on the Family, and Exodus International. But there are also powerful, unexpected statements of support for our community from some Protestant Evangelical clergy and congregations. The film is ultimately uplifting, proving that "conversion" of hearts and minds is possible for those anti-LGBTQ folks who need it most. For more information about how to watch it, visit the First Run Features website.

Suspense writer Shirley Jackson hasn't been widely regarded as an LGBT pioneer despite the presence of some such-oriented characters in her books, notably The Haunting of Hill House. This perception is sure to change thanks to Shirley, the new biopic/psycho-drama now available on Hulu and other streaming services. Director Josephine Decker won a Special Jury Award for Auteur Filmmaking at January's Sundance Film Festival, while Elisabeth Moss gives a spellbinding performance as the neurotic author that is already gaining her end-of-the-year awards talk.

In the film, Shirley resides with her husband Stanley (played by the reliably great Michael Stuhlbarg) on the campus of the women's college at which he teaches. She already has a successful writing career but is struggling with her new work. That is, until a young married couple arrive to temporarily live with Shirley and Stanley. Fred (handsome Logan Lerman) is Stanley's new teaching assistant, and his wife Rose (a strong turn by Odessa Young) is expecting their first child.

There are obvious shades of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? as the hosts begin to play seductive mind games on their unsuspecting boarders. Interestingly, Fred and Rose increasingly become like Stanley and Shirley. The film also features lesbian interactions between Shirley and Rose as well as resonant feminist commentary. Decker makes it all Gothic and occasionally morbid à la Jackson's stories. Shirley is both insightful and creepily entertaining.

Darren Coyle's Chasing Sunshine offers a decidedly lighter take on not only lesbian relations but the state of modern love in general. Though made in 2018, it is newly available for streaming via Amazon and other sites. Set in San Fernando Valley and the greater Los Angeles area, this romantic comedy centers on struggling actress Darcy (a winning performance by out actress Kassie Thornton, who sports an "It Gets Better" t-shirt throughout).

When Darcy discovers a note she believes to be from her secret admirer slid under her door, she embarks on what becomes an increasingly wacky scavenger hunt. Being car-less, however, forces Darcy to recruit her best friend's boyfriend, Jack (Trevor Penick, very funny), as her driver. The enjoyably mismatched duo have discussions and debates as they drive to each new clue. They also pick up Jack's occasional Lyft clients, who provide some of the film's funniest moments.

Coyle has a good eye for offbeat SoCal locations as well as a good ear, as evidenced by David Ricard's jaunty, a cappella bebop score. Chasing Sunshine is at times perceptive, at times silly but a feel-good flick worth checking out during Pride month.

Last but not least among new movie offerings for Pride is Boys on Film 20: Heaven Can Wait. This latest assortment of gay-themed shorts from around the world is out now on VOD and DVD from Peccadillo Pictures. Of note, the Boys on Film collection is now at 20 years the world's longest-running short film series.

While the 11 shorts offered here are consistently good, two of them – Just Me and Mine – are decidedly downbeat. Another pair, Chromophobie and Manivald, are noteworthy for their unique animated takes on gay life. Don't Blame Jack serves as the 29-minute centerpiece of this 2 1/2-hour showcase. It is the sensitively-written and -performed story of a bipolar man failing to find stability, until he happens to meet an understanding (and sexy) new guy.

I really liked the visually-impressive Mankind, about a gay man, Will, who is accepted as a finalist for the first manned mission to Mars. It will be a one-way trip, however, which is unhappy news to Will's lover. And this collection's finale, The World in Your Window, is a touching must-see about an 8-year old boy struggling to console his father in the wake of his mother's death. He gets unanticipated help from a tough, tattooed neighbor.

Whether you'll be venturing out or staying in, there are numerous safe ways to celebrate Pride!

Reverend's Ratings:
For They Know Not What They Do: A-
Shirley: B+
Chasing Sunshine: B-
Boys on Film 20: Heaven Can Wait: B

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

Friday, June 5, 2020

Dearest Review: Oh, Goddess!

Believe it or not, Showgirls has been in our lives for 25 years now. Who could have guessed back in 1995, when Paul Verhoeven's infamous NC-17-rated "erotic drama" was first unleashed onto the world, that we would still be talking about it today? Instantly reviled as one of the worst movies ever made by critics and moviegoers alike, it has since been embraced by cult and/or LGBTQ audiences as a camp classic and even reevaluated by a few daring souls who freely, unironically label it a masterpiece.

It is these Showgirl stans, representing both Team Trash and Team Art, that add their voices to the new documentary You Don't Nomi, available on demand and digitally June 9th. And by "add their voices", I do mean just that, as none of the commentators are interviewed on screen; nope, no talking heads here. There's no room for them, as director Jeffrey McHale takes a deep dive into not only the world of Showgirls but the worlds of all of Verhoeven's cinematic oeuvre, from the Oscar nominated Turkish Delight up to the Oscar nominated Elle. He re-frames footage from Showgirls into actual scenes from Robocop, for example, juxtaposing the sex and sin of the former alongside the violence and mayhem of the latter. It's an interesting approach that gets stretched thin at times, but then there's a reveal like Verhoeven's fetishistic attachment to women's fingernails that makes the artistic conceit worthwhile.

April Kidwell as Nomi in Showgirls: The Musical

You Don't Nomi largely eschews the typical format of the usual "making of a classic movie documentary", relegating archival interviews (circa the film's premiere) of the three main players (Verhoeven, screenwriter Joe Eszterhas and Nomi Malone herself, Elizabeth Berkley) to the start of the proceedings, while limiting obvious observations (e.g., "All About Eve remade with strippers") to brief asides. Also of note, particularly to Jessie Spano devotees, is a shockingly robust collection of clips from Berkley's Saved by the Bell glory days.

This leaves the meat of the doc to the unseen "Greek chorus" of aforementioned commentators, who range from the author of a book of poetry inspired by Showgirls to the leading lady of the Off-Broadway musical adaptation to drag icon Peaches Christ (seen at midnight screening pre-shows rising from a papier-mâché Goddess volcano dolled up as either Nomi or Cristal, naturally). It is their startlingly heartfelt and at times surprisingly personal connections to Showgirls that I found fascinating, attesting to the all-mighty power of film – even if that film is as bad as Showgirls.

Dearest Rating: 7/10

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

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Reverend's Reviews: Au Revoir, Hollywoodland

Once upon a time, there was a magical kingdom called Hollywoodland. It was a place where dreams came true... at least for some. The kingdom's name was later shortened to Hollywood but it continues to exist in Southern California today. There isn't a lot going on there right now though, so I recommend a trip back in time with the help of out megaproducer Ryan Murphy.

Murphy's stylish new historical fantasy Hollywood is now streaming on Netflix. It centers on an ethnically- and sexually-diverse group of actors and filmmakers trying to break into the film industry in the aftermath of World War II. This was the era when the world-famous Hollywood sign actually read "Hollywoodland" until 1949. While some of the series' characters are fictional or fictionalized, many players during the "golden age" of movies are included: closeted actor Rock Hudson; actresses Vivien Leigh, Anna May Wong and Tallulah Bankhead; gay director George Cukor; and African-American Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel (reincarnated here by Queen Latifah).

The show also draws considerable inspiration from the late Scotty Bowers' memoir "Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars". Bowers was a former Marine who ran a Los Angeles gas station that ended up as a front for celebrities (male and female) looking to hire young men for, shall we say, private entertainment. The leading men in Hollywood all start out working or connecting at the Golden Tip, a service station run by the Bowers-esque Ernie West (a dapper and funny Dylan McDermott).

All end up drawn to a biopic – written by a black and gay screenwriter played by the sexy Jeremy Pope – inspired by the real-life story of Peg Entwistle. The frustrated actress famously committed suicide at the age of 24 by jumping from the "H" of the old Hollywoodland sign. When the film's first-time director campaigns for his African-American girlfriend to play the title role in Peg, it sparks not only a dramatic metamorphosis of the project but the entire industry.

I've heard from some Hollywood viewers who have been confused by Murphy's approach in mixing the real and fictional here. “I wanted to do something where I gave some, if not all, of these people a happy ending,” Murphy recently told Time magazine. “How do I make a commentary on the power of Hollywood to change hearts and minds? I decided to put together a fictional alternative-universe Hollywood and then populated it with some real people, and other fictional characters loosely based on real people.” What most struck me about his series, though, is how it reveals the gay "power behind the throne" of the old studio system. Its mostly Jewish founders along with (albeit closeted) gay men truly made the film industry what it became.

The show's cast comprised of both seasoned veterans and talented newcomers is excellent. In addition to the previously mentioned Latifah and McDermott, there's Patti Lupone as a studio head's wife who unexpectedly ends up in charge, Jim Parsons as a viciously manipulative talent manager, Holland Taylor as a casting director, Darren Criss as Peg's bi-racial director, Mira Sorvino as an aging actress, Michelle Krusiec as the criminally neglected Anna May Wong and, best of all, stage actor-director Joe Mantello as a closeted studio exec. Jake Picking makes an impression as Rock Hudson despite looking and sounding little like him, but David Corenswet proves to be the real deal as fictional lead character Jack Castello.

Entertaining and sexy, Hollywood is also uneven in tone at times (like most of Murphy's oeuvre) and has some melodramatic elements that verge on camp. However, it ends on a powerfully retro-hopeful note. Women, gay men and people of color end up in power positions that are still denied to too many of us even today. It's sad that the series' vision remains more a fantasy than reality.

Speaking of melodramatic, the gay-themed 1967 movie Reflections in a Golden Eye has just been released on Blu-ray for the first time courtesy of the Warner Bros. Archive Collection. Although it is an adaptation of Southern writer Carson McCullers' 1947 novel about secret passions on a US Army base, the film plays more like Tennessee Williams. This is heightened by the presence of lead actors Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor, who previously headlined screen versions of several of Williams' famous plays including A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

In Reflections, Brando plays Major Weldon Penderton. The buttoned-up officer becomes smitten with handsome young Private Williams, who is given to nude horseback riding and sunbathing so who wouldn't become smitten? Williams is played by Robert Forster (who passed away last year) in his film debut. Meanwhile, Penderton's flamboyant, party-throwing wife Leonora (Taylor) is having an affair with another officer played by Brian Keith. I laughed out loud when I read the salacious copy on the Blu-ray's cover: "In the loosest sense he is her husband... and in the loosest way she is his wife!"

The movie was given prestige cred by the great director John Huston and renowned producer Ray Stark, who would later re-team, somewhat oddly, on the 1982 film version of Annie. Unfortunately, too much is left unexplained about Reflections' main characters for it to be satisfying, despite featuring what may be Brando's most vulnerable performance on screen; his Southern accent is sometimes unintelligible though. Another plus is the cinematography by Aldo Tonti and an uncredited Oswald Morris. Of note, the movie was initially released with a gold hue throughout, which Huston intended, but the studio replaced it with full color prints one week later. The Blu-ray includes remastered versions of both the golden and regular versions. Reflections in a Golden Eye is primarily worth watching today for this visual novelty.

Of course, Hollywood hasn't been the exclusive domain of filmmakers for some time now. Today marks the virtual theatrical opening in Los Angeles and elsewhere of New French Shorts 2020, the latest collection in an annual showcase of some of the most exciting new short films and cinematic voices from France. Online ticket purchases for this nearly 150-minute program will help support currently closed art house theaters across the US. For a full list of cities and theaters that will benefit, visit the KinoMarquee website.

These seven shorts run the gamut from animation to absurdist comedy with a substantial dose of queer romance, and include award winners from the Cannes Film Festival, Locarno, Palm Springs ShortFest and more. The program's two gay tales are well worth watching. The Distance Between Us and the Sky involves a meeting of two young men at a remote gas station in Greece. While one fills up his motorcycle, the other haggles provocatively for some euros so he can get home to Athens. While Vasilis Kekatos' film is sexually charged, it ends on a very sweet and romantic note. It won both the Short Film Palme d'Or and the Queer Palme at Cannes in 2019.

Marine Leveel's Magnetic Harvest (La traction de pôles, which may serve as a double entendre) is the second gay short. Lonely farmer Mika is busily searching for a lost pig and trying to get his organic farming certification. The return of his longtime but platonic friend, Paul, might just provide Mika a respite from looking for love online. Time and circumstance will tell. Both lead actors as well as Mika's hookup are attractive in a refreshingly naturalistic way. This film is a charmer, but all of this year's French Shorts selections are well worth checking out.

Reverend's Ratings:
Hollywood: B+
Reflections in a Golden Eye: C
New French Shorts 2020: B+

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

Friday, April 24, 2020

Reverend's Reviews: Concerned & Conflicted

The adjectives above might apply to me or they might apply to the subjects of the films I'm reviewing this week, or both. Read on to find out which!

I am personally concerned that the best movie I've seen thus far this truncated cinema year isn't getting the wide theatrical release it would have received if not for the current coronavirus pandemic. True History of the Kelly Gang (IFC Films) is now available to rent or purchase digitally, and I'm happy to report it will be playing exclusively on the big screen in the Los Angeles area for at least the next week at the Mission Tiki 4 Drive-In in Montclair.

Ned Kelly has long been celebrated in his native Australia as a folk hero. Essentially the Down Under version of Robin Hood or Jesse James, he and his devoted band of followers fought to drive the British out and restore the land to its native citizens during the 1870's. Alas, Kelly was ultimately executed for his efforts. A number of previous movies have presumed to tell his story but none have taken such an intimate, sexually-fluid approach as Justin Kurzel's impressive new production.

Adapted from the Booker Prize-winning historical novel by Peter Carey, it stars George MacKay as the title outlaw. If his lead role in last year's Oscar-nominated 1917 didn't make MacKay a star following prior impressive performances in Pride and Captain Fantastic, this movie should... so long as enough people see it. He remains charismatic but is also downright sexy here, with numerous nearly-nude scenes revealing his chiseled physique. There is no shortage of male nudity in True History of the Kelly Gang, with Nicholas Hoult and Charlie Hunnam showing off what God gave them too. There is also no shortage of men wearing women's clothing, as that was a prime tactic Kelly and his men took to throw off their male-establishment pursuers. Finally, Kelly is shown as enjoying a gay-ish relationship with his best friend as they sleep together and caress each other for warmth, maybe more.

The film's great, mostly Aussie cast also includes Essie Davis (The Babadook, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries) and Oscar winner Russell Crowe, who sings in one scene much more impressively than he did in Les Misérables. I also admired director Kurzel's gender-bending approach as well as Ari Wegner's vibrant, sepia-toned cinematography and the percussive music score by Jed Kurzel. This is a movie that deserves to be seen in whatever format one can find it.

New on Netflix this week is the provocative, revealing Circus of Books. Directed by Rachel Mason, the documentary focuses on her own parents. Barry and Karen Mason were an unassuming straight married couple with three young children in 1982, when they became the owners of West Hollywood's most popular destination for gay porn until it closed just last year. Can you say "conflicted"?

The film details multiple aspects of WeHo's gay history starting with police raids on local gay bars in 1967 and subsequent protests that pre-dated 1969's Stonewall uprising. Indeed, Circus of Books was originally the New Faces gay bar, which then became Book Circus for a number of years until the Masons bought it and flipped the words around. They soon became the biggest international distributors of gay porn almost despite themselves. It wasn't long before the initially ignorant Barry and Karen found themselves at one of the epicenters of the AIDS pandemic as well as anti-obscenity persecutions under the Reagan administration.

Rachel, the documentarian, takes an admirably objective approach to their "family business" until things become more uniquely personal. It turns out that her brother Josh, one of Barry and Karen's two sons, is gay. When Josh came out to his parents during his college years, he was met with resistance from his mother, a devout Jew. Raised to believe homosexuality was "an abomination," Karen concluded "God must be punishing me for owning this business" when one of her sons turned out to be gay. She later recognized her hypocrisy and both she and Barry became involved in PFLAG.

In addition to the fascinating family history and dynamics uncovered in Circus of Books, it features entertaining new interviews with the likes of former gay porn superstar Jeff Stryker (who still looks great), longtime porn publisher Larry Flynt and current drag star Alaska, who at one point worked at the store. This is one documentary that truly has to be seen to be believed.

JUST ANNOUNCED: Outfest invites all to join a live stream Q&A with Chi Chi LaRue, Buck Angel and director Rachel Mason tonight at 7:00 pm PST as they take you on a journey discovering how LA's queer adult industry came into existence to the players who helped champion sexual, human and LGBTQ rights, as well as the many who were lost before we could recognize their efforts. Join the conversation on @Outfest's Twitter, Facebook Live and YouTube Live.

Concerned characters and conflicted feelings are at the heart of the new gay-themed Israeli film, 15 Years (available on VOD and DVD from Breaking Glass Pictures). That's how long Yoav and Dan have been partners. Despite their relationship being open, which Dan takes more advantage of, they appear happy at the story's start. Things start to change, though, when their longtime friend Alma announces she is pregnant. It gets Dan talking about he and Yoav having a child, which Yoavi declares he is absolutely opposed to due to his negative experience with his own parents. Things quickly go downhill from there for the couple.

15 Years is a mature, perceptive tale. It is sensitively written and directed by Yuval Hadadi, with fine performances by the attractive Oded Leopold and Udi Persi as Yoav and Dan, respectively. It also won the Best Narrative Feature Award at last year's Chicago Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival. I found some of the characters' motivations a bit murky or confusing as the movie progressed, and the ending is particularly so. Still, its worth checking out during these "shelter in place" days.

Reverend's Ratings:
True History of the Kelly Gang: A-
Circus of Books: B+
15 Years: B

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

Monday, April 20, 2020

Dearest Review: Late Night Double Feature Picture Shows

Have you nixed Netflix? Hurled Hulu? Dissed Disney+? Seeking inspiration for your next quarantine streaming binge? Searching for something off-the-wall in these increasingly off-the-wall times? Then look no further than Time Warp: The Greatest Cult Films of All-Time. This new 3-part, monthly documentary series (available on demand and digital starting tomorrow) takes a deep dive into the history of films on the fringe, from Reefer Madness to The Rocky Horror Picture Show to The Room and beyond.

Each episode is divided into two sub-genres of cult films, beginning with Part 1's overview of midnight movies and "subversive cinema". Part 2 (available May 19th) shines the spotlight on horror and sci-fi faves, with Part 3 (available June 23rd) rounding up the comedy and camp classics. Each of the 47 movies selected is given a nice chunk of time, providing plenty of clips, interviews and behind-the-scenes tidbits to entice you to check them out, either for the first time or as a second (or fifty-second) viewing.

Of course, as with any list of the "greatest", there are bound to be some odd inclusions (Fast Times at Ridgemont High feels more like a mainstream hit to me) and egregious omissions (where for the love of god is Mommie Dearest?!?) And the "host" sections with directors Joe Dante and John Waters and actors Illeana Douglas and Kevin Pollak are superfluous but at least brief. Naturally, Waters (who has made a second career out of appearing in movie-themed documentaries like this for years now) injects some levity here, for example referring to The Human Centipede trilogy as "The Lord of the Rims".

Aside from footage from the films themselves, the meat of this series is provided by an impressive collection of filmmakers and cast members of said films, providing insightful commentary on their movies in particular and cult films in general. This all-star cast of "talking heads" includes: Barry Bostwick, Nell Campbell and Patricia Quinn (Rocky Horror's Brad, Columbia and Magenta, respectively), Jeff Bridges and John Turturro (The Big Lebowski's Dude and Jesus), Pam Grier (Coffy and Foxy Brown herself), David Patrick Kelly ("Warriors come out to play-ay"), director Rob Reiner, Fran Drescher and Michael McKean (co-stars of This Is Spinal Tap), Penelope Spheeris (director of The Decline of Western Civilization, the only documentary in this documentary), and a typically unhinged Gary Busey (pontificating on Point Break).

And that's just Part 1. Part 2 features The Evil Dead's Ash himself, Bruce Campbell, cult movie super producer Roger Corman (Death Race 2000), Jeff Goldblum (Buckaroo Banzai), Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange), Joe Morton (The Brother from Another Planet), monster makeup maven Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead), Sean Young (Blade Runner) and directors Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator), Tobe Hopper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) and Rob Zombie (The Devil's Rejects). Rounding out the cast in part 3 are comedy legend John Cleese (Monty Python and the Holy Grail), Gary Cole (Office Space), cult movie icons E.G. Daily (Valley Girl), P.J. Soles (Rock 'n' High School) and Mary Woronov (Eating Raoul), Showgirls goddess Gina Gershon, Jon Heder (a.k.a. Napoleon Dynamite), John Cameron Mitchell (director/star of Hedwig and the Angry Inch), The Room's Greg Sestero ("Oh hi Mark"), Best in Show scene-stealer Fred Willard and directors Peter Farrelly (Kingpin), Amy Heckerling (Fast Times) and Kevin Smith (Clerks).

For a full list of films featured in Time Warp: The Greatest Cult Films of All-Time, click here (how many have you seen?) And if the makers of Time Warp ever do a Part 4, they better include Mommie Dearest! Not to mention The Apple, Barbarella, Better Off Dead, Brazil, Bubba Ho-Tep, A Christmas Story, The City of Lost Children, Delicatessen, Donnie Darko, El Topo, Forbidden Zone, Grey Gardens, The Harder They Come, Heathers, John Dies at the End, Johnny Guitar, Kung Fu Hustle, Little Shop of Horrors (both versions), Manos: The Hand of Fate, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Pee-wee's Big Adventure, Phantom of the Paradise, Polyester, Repo Man, The Return of the Living Dead, Run Lola Run, They Live, The Toxic Avenger, Troll 2, Road House, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, Skidoo, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, Valley of the Dolls, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, The Women... okay, and maybe a part 5 and 6 too.

Dearest Rating: 7/10

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

Monday, April 13, 2020

Dearest Review: Anal-ize This

Prostate exams have been the butt of jokes since the first proctologist lubed up and said "bend over". They've paid the bills for stand-up comedians and comedy screenwriters for years now, but a unique new independent film (available tomorrow on demand) has taken this standard medical procedure for men of a certain age and turned it into the starting point for a wild trip, not down a rabbit hole, but up a whole other kind of hole. And the title of this surreal mix of serial killer thriller and Cronenbergian body horror? Butt Boy.

No, Butt Boy is not a lame-ass member of the X-Men or an ambient instrumentalist who specializes in music to fist by, he's just a sad sack schlub of an everyman named Chip Gutchell, played by Tyler Cornack, the film's director and co-writer (with Ryan Koch). Chip has all the makings of the kind of guy neighbors would call "normal" and "average" before saying "I didn't know he had that in him": a shrewish wife, a dead-end job and a distinct lack of purpose. But all that changes with a routine doctor visit; with just one digital penetration of his sphincter, Chip discovers the joys of anal play. And just a K-Y'ed finger won't do. Soon, the remote control is missing and the family pet is nowhere to be found. Chip is out of control, and it quickly becomes apparent that his newfound, unbridled lust for finding more and larger objects to shove up his bum will soon have a body count.

Who's Sorry now?

Cut to nine years later and Chip is a reformed self-sodomizer who covertly uses Alcoholic Anonymous meetings to squelch his rectal cravings. It is here that he crosses paths with Russell Fox (Tyler Rice, channeling Christian Bale), a burnt-out police detective with a tragic past and "seen it all" attitude. Chip becomes Russell's AA sponsor, and not a moment too soon as Chip falls off the butt-stuff wagon and right into Russell's suspicious gaze. An ill-fated "Take Your Kid to Work Day" later and Russell quickly discovers that Chip is harboring a dangerous secret in his derrière... and he'll have to enter the (literal) bowels of hell to get to the bottom of this mystery.

From the stark typeface of its opening credits to its mood-setting electronic score (also by Cornack and Koch), Butt Boy is purposefully stylized as a throwback to early-80s low budget sci-fi/horror flicks; it would have been right at home on the Blockbuster Video shelves next to such beloved schlock classics as Repo Man, Re-Animator and Basket Case. Cornack's commitment to delivering this absurd story completely with a straight face is admirable (even the film's shockingly-sole fart gag is treated as a life or death situation), although a little bathroom humor here and there wouldn't have been unwelcome in a movie called Butt Boy.

Dearest Rating: 7/10

Butt Boy available on demand from iTunes on Tuesday April 14. Watch the trailer here.

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

Friday, April 10, 2020

Reverend's Reviews: COVID Home Vid


Like most of my fellow Americans, I've been living under a "shelter in place" order the last few weeks thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. Working primarily from home, however, has given me the opportunity to catch up on a lot of online, streaming, and backlogged home video releases. When life gives you lemons, you gotta make lemonade!

I have enjoyed a number of streaming series. My fave is Amazon Prime's Hunters, a rooted-in-fact account of a diverse group of people out to exterminate surviving World War II Nazis hiding out in America circa 1977. It boasts a terrific cast (including Al Pacino, Logan Lerman, Lena Olin, Dylan Baker in a viciously villainous turn, and the ever-delightful Carol Kane), taut plotting, and great period details plus occasional musical numbers and faux theatrical trailers or public service announcements. The plot, which includes a lesbian romance, gets increasingly strained and less rooted-in-fact by season one's end (there's a huge climactic spoiler I so want to reveal but won't). Still, Hunters proves to be a rip-roaring, occasionally – yet appropriately – harrowing, and at times deeply moving show.

My brief takes on a few other series I've binged recently:

War of the Worlds (Epix), a modern-day adaptation of H.G. Wells' classic tale of alien invasion. It is slow-building but creepily effective, even as it replaces the original story's hulking warships with diminutive, dog-like invaders. After a few episodes, you won't be able to get their mechanized walking sound out of your mind. There are a lot of intelligent twists and turns added to Wells' foundation, and the impressive international cast includes Gabriel Byrne, Elizabeth McGovern, Lea Drucker and hunky Adel Bencherif.

Pennyworth (also on Epix) is a thoroughly enjoyable Batman prequel/spinoff that details the origins of Bruce Wayne's trusted bodyguard/butler/personal assistant more popularly known by his first name, Alfred. Set in swinging 1960's London, the title character is personified by the sexily confident Jack Bannon. He must thwart a plot to prevent a hostile takeover of Great Britain led by three great villains played by Jason Flemying, Polly Walker and a delectably funny-nasty (and sapphic) Paloma Faith. Handsomely produced and smartly written throughout.

Thanks to online chat, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness (Netflix) has proven to be the water-cooler smash of the season even while we haven't been gathering at water coolers. This documentary series about several unique personalities who have run or continue to run animal sanctuaries in the United States is fascinating even though it goes on at least two hours/episodes too long (with an additional, up-to-date episode reportedly set to premiere this Sunday). Its central figure is the openly gay Joseph Maldonado-Passage, a.k.a. Joe Exotic, who at one point was married to two men simultaneously and is currently serving time in federal prison for plotting to kill one of his tiger-saving adversaries, Carole Baskin. As the series reveals in exceptional detail, Joe and his cronies are an obsessive, drug-addled bunch. Baskin, meanwhile, remains under suspicion for possibly killing her second husband, who hasn't been seen or heard from since 1997.

The Politician (Netflix) is prolific gay producer Ryan Murphy's latest and focuses on the machinations of a privileged, sexually-fluid high school senior obsessed with eventually becoming president of the United States. First, however, he has to be elected student body president and he has some unexpected competition. Out, Tony Award-winning Ben Platt of Dear Evan Hansen fame balances intensity and vulnerability beautifully in his first lead TV series role. He is well supported by Gwyneth Paltrow and Bob Balaban as his adoptive parents, Murphy fave Jessica Lange as the deranged mother of a fellow student, and an impressive array of trans, gender non-conforming, and disabled actors. Like most of Murphy's series, the tone of The Politician veers uncomfortably between dark comedy and affecting drama but it is a strong show with plenty to say about the state of American politics pre-COVID-19.

Movie theaters remain closed as part of the unanticipated toll the pandemic is taking on our lives. This has forced film distributors to re-route their new productions from exhibition on the large screen to small screens. Such is the case with two new, similarly-titled movies: Almost Love and What Love Looks Like. Both are now available on demand, with What Love Looks Like currently streaming for free on Amazon Prime. It is set in Los Angeles and follows four heterosexual couples who meet cute plus one established couple having issues, largely thanks to the guy's cell phone addiction. Unfortunately, writer-director Alex Magana's screenplay here is simplistic and vague on character details, while his photogenic cast give amateurish performances. The film's best feature is Magana's warm, color-saturated cinematography.

Mike Doyle's more accomplished Almost Love has a comparable story structure but is set in New York City and has a longtime gay couple at its center. Adam and Marklin, together five years, have reached a pivotal point in their partnership and are contemplating whether to get married. Their friends Cammy, Haley and Elizabeth are dealing with their own relationship challenges that include, respectively, dating a homeless man, having a 17-year old student fall in love with them, and not wanting to have a child whereas their partner does want one. The movie boasts good performances, abundant angsty humor à la Woody Allen, plus an amusingly smug appearance by the great Patricia Clarkson as a renowned artist who secretly has Adam do her painting for her. There is also a jaunty music score by Dabney Morris.

I've also had time to watch some of the Blu-ray discs that were gathering dust on my bookshelf including – finally – the campy cult classic Beyond the Valley of the Dolls! The least known and most interesting, however, is the 1959 western Warlock. I'd heard about this hard-to-find film for at least 20 years and bought it as soon as it was released on Blu-ray last year by Twilight Time. It was long acclaimed as a superior entry in its genre as well as for its not-so-subtle gay subtext.

Henry Fonda heads the cast of Warlock as Clay Blaisedell, a freelance lawman hired by the desperate citizens of the outlaw-plagued title town after their latest sheriff was run out of town. He arrives with his "partner" of 10 years, the fastidious Tom Morgan, who is soon decorating the pair's new living quarters and running the local saloon, which he and Blaisedell fancifully re-name "The French Palace." When one of the outlaws (played by Richard Widmark) decides to go legit and serve as sheriff, the repercussions threaten the carefully-manicured relationship between Blaisedell and Morgan. Made at a time when westerns were known to be inhabited by heroes wearing white and villains wearing black, filmmaker Edward Dmytryk (who was blacklisted for a time) overhauled things with intriguing shades of grey. This underseen, beautifully photographed movie is a must.

And just arrived on home video is Cats (Universal), the misbegotten film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's long-running stage musical about, well, cats. Critics were merciless to this gloriously bizarre adaptation when it was released last Christmas but it is in the throes of becoming a new cult classic. Prior to the coronavirus shutdown of theaters, there was an increasing number of midnight screenings with attendees dressing as cats and singing along! I suspect these will resume once we can go to the movies again and that the home video release may heighten (lower?) the film's reputation.

In fairness, the cinematic Cats has been given more of a plot than the stage version including a true lead character, a true villain, and backstories for several of its felines including the downtrodden Grizabella (played by Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson). Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography is energetic, the built-to-scale sets are imaginative, and the "digital fur" costumes aren't bad; the Blu-ray contains several interesting behind-the-scenes featurettes exploring these elements. The digital makeup highlights are another story, appearing unfinished or outright grotesque at times. If one doesn't buy the key conceit of both the stage and film versions – adult humans as singing & dancing cats – one is pretty much guaranteed to laugh the movie off. Going the animated route, which producer Steven Spielberg was reportedly pursuing back in the 1990's, would likely have been a more palatable/successful approach. The 2019 result is undeniably enjoyable though, regardless whether one takes it seriously or as camp.

Reverend's Ratings:
Hunters: A-
War of the Worlds: B
Pennyworth: B+
Tiger King: B-
The Politician: B+
Almost Love: B
What Love Looks Like: C+
Warlock (1959): B+
Cats (2019): B

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

Friday, March 6, 2020

Reverend's Reviews: A Filmic Fusion

The clock is springing forward this weekend, and all manner of interesting couplings, reflections and revelations are now available on movie screens large and small.

In Los Angeles, the 2020 Outfest Fusion is in full swing now through March 10th. This also marks the event's 20th edition. Fusion is Outfest’s people of color-focused, international film, music and storytelling festival that spotlights breakthrough works from today’s most exciting underground artists, musicians and creators. Outfest's new Executive Director, Damien Navarro, wrote: "When it comes to driving representation in the business of filmmaking for diversity and inclusive storytelling at scale, I believe Fusion just barely scratches the surface. Our workshops and career mentorship of persons of color need to embrace those from broader backgrounds. We must continue to expand exhibition of multicultural and multinational stories from artists of every swatch and corner of the world."

Reverend agrees, and Fusion 2020 is presenting a number of commendable short and feature films. Chief among these are 2 Black Boys and Breaking Fast, both screening on Sunday, March 8th. The first is a short film directed by Rachel Myers and based on the poetry of Giovanni Adams. The film's narrative reflects Adams’ experience as a black, queer, Christian man crossing lines of identity, affinity and ideology. It features an original score by RC Williams, some impressive dance work, and striking black and white cinematography by David Tayar.

Breaking Fast is a romantic comedy set against the twinkling lights of West Hollywood. The plot follows Mo, a practicing Muslim reeling from a heartbreak. When an all-American guy named Kal offers to join him in his nightly iftars (the traditional meal eaten by Muslims during Ramadan), the two hotties start to discover they have more in common than meets the eye. Written and directed by Mike Mosallam, the movie also features an appearance by the great Veronica Cartwright of The Birds, Alien and The Witches of Eastwick fame.

Several recent home video releases also deal with fusions of cultures, ages and/or nationalities. Season 2 of the French webseries Woke (Dekkoo Films) continues the strained relationship between Hicham, a gay Muslim, and Thibaut, an uncompromising LGBT activist. Hicham ends up falling unknowingly for a trans performer named Elijah, whose gender identity sparks a new internal conflict for Hicham. He continues to learn, however, and in the process comes to a deeper understanding of his likely true love, Thibaut.

Also new from Dekkoo is Testosterone, Volume 4, their latest collection of sexy gay short films. Unfortunately, the mood of most of them is unusually morose, dealing as they do with relationship false starts or long-term failings. The one welcome exception is J.C. Calciano's comedic The Handyman, even though it is the most amateurish of the five shorts included. Ori Aharon's film fest favorite Rubber Dolphin is the best (and longest) of them but ends on a sad note. The others are Faces, Writhing and Fish Tank.

The best of the new gay-themed movies on home video is End of the Century (available from Cinema Guild). This 2019 production by Argentinian filmmaker Lucio Castro received considerable acclaim wherever it was shown last year but got a fairly limited release in the US. It details a decades-hopping romance between Ocho, a poet on holiday in Spain, and Javi, a Spanish-born Berliner visiting his parents at the same time. After a couple of false starts, the handsome pair finally connect and embark on their relationship odyssey. End of the Century is touching, thought-provoking and, yes, sexy. Among the impressive extras on the DVD is Castro's 2017 short film Trust Issues, which is a must-see hoot.

Reverend's Ratings:
2 Black Boys and Breaking Fast (screening at Fusion): A-
Woke, Season 2: B
Testosterone, Volume 4: C+
End of the Century: B+

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

Friday, February 7, 2020

If We Picked the Oscars 2019

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: Ford v Ferrari, The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women, Marriage Story, 1917, Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood and Parasite
CC: I love Jojo Rabbit, not only for its audaciously funny approach to life in Nazi Germany but for its unexpected, gut-wrenching emotional moments and terrific cast. This may ultimately prove to be bold director Taika Waititi's masterpiece.
KH: With my own personal top 5 of the year all nominated here, this is an easy one, with my favorite movie of 2019 – Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood – obviously getting my vote for the big one.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: I'm very surprised that Terrence Malick's excellent A Hidden Life was completely snubbed. Based on a powerful true story, it is arguably the longtime Academy darling's most moving and accessible film.
KH: Pedro Almodóvar's Pain and Glory was #6 in my top ten of the year and our Dearie Award winner for Movie of the Year, so here's another easy choice.

For their final voting, Academy members are asked to rank the Best Picture nominees from #1 to #9, so here are our rankings:
CC: 1. Jojo Rabbit, 2. 1917, 3. Marriage Story, 4. Little Women, 5. Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood, 6. Parasite, 7. The Irishman, 8. Joker (I haven't seen Ford v Ferrari)
KH: 1. Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood, 2. Little Women, 3. 1917, 4. Marriage Story, 5. Jojo Rabbit, 6. Ford v Ferrari, 7. Parasite, 8. The Irishman, 9. Joker

The nominees for Best Actor are: Antonio Banderas in Pain and Glory, Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood, Adam Driver in Marriage Story, Joaquin Phoenix in Joker and Jonathan Pryce in The Two Popes
CC: This is a real toss up for me. Joaquin Phoenix is undeniably powerful in Joker but I'm a longtime fan of first-time nominee Jonathan Pryce, who gives a wonderful performance as Pope Francis in The Two Popes. Under the gun, I think I would lean toward Pryce.
KH: As Salvador Mallo, a filmmaker coming to terms with his life in Pain and Glory, Antonio Banderas gave the performance of a lifetime.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: I expect I'm going to be mentioning A Hidden Life a lot, and August Diehl's soulful turn as Catholic martyr Franz Jagerstatter is my pick here, although Taron Egerton is a close second for me as Elton John in Rocketman.
KH: Our Movie Dearest Man of the Year, Taron Egerton, was fabulous and fantastic as Elton John in Rocketman.

The nominees for Best Actress are: Cynthia Erivo in Harriet, Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story, Saoirse Ronan in Little Women, Charlize Theron in Bombshell and Renée Zellweger in Judy
CC: I was very impressed by Cynthia Erivo's fierce take on emancipator Harriet Tubman and would love to see her move closer to EGOT glory (she could yet win the Oscar this year for Best Song). However, Renée Zellweger's is now for me the definitive, and appreciably compassionate, take on Judy Garland and would get my vote.
KH: Our Movie Dearest Woman of the Year, Renée Zellweger, totally transformed herself – body, soul, voice – into Judy Garland in Judy.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Daisy Ridley was very impressive as the center of the last three Star Wars episodes and coulda/shoulda been recognized for her presumably final appearance as Rey in The Rise of Skywalker.
KH: She's nominated for her terrific supporting turn in Little Women, but Florence Pugh was equally great in a totally different role in Midsommar.

The nominees for Best Supporting Actor are: Tom Hanks in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Anthony Hopkins in The Two Popes, Al Pacino in The Irishman, Joe Pesci in The Irishman and Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood
CC: Anthony Hopkins deserves the Oscar for making Pope Benedict XV likeable, no easy task!
KH: Brad Pitt was effortlessly cool as stuntman Cliff Booth in Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Sam Rockwell both cracked me up and moved me as young Jojo Rabbit's closeted Nazi educator and ultimate protector.
KH: Dolemite Is My Name's Wesley Snipes, our scene stealer of the year.

The nominees for Best Supporting Actress are: Kathy Bates in Richard Jewell, Laura Dern in Marriage Story, Scarlett Johansson in Jojo Rabbit, Florence Pugh in Little Women and Margot Robbie in Bombshell
CC: The often icy Scarlett Johansson blew me away with her warm, funny yet tragic turn as Jojo Rabbit's secretly rebellious mom.
KH: It's difficult to imagine how Jojo Rabbit would have turned out without Scarlett Johansson as Jojo's loving... and a little loony... mother Rosie.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Rebecca Ferguson was great as the most gleefully vicious villain since Hannibal Lecter in the neglected Doctor Sleep. And snicker all you want, but I thought Jennifer Hudson, Judi Dench and newcomer Francesca Hayward were all terrific in the much-derided Cats.
KH: As Senator Dianne Feinstein in The Report, Annette Bening turned in another outstanding performance.... where's her Oscar already?

The nominees for Best Directing are: Bong Joon Ho for Parasite, Sam Mendes for 1917, Todd Phillips for Joker, Martin Scorsese for The Irishman and Quentin Tarantino for Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood
CC: Sam Mendes did a masterful job directing his intimate World War I epic 1917, seemingly shot as one continuous take.
KH: No other director would have had the guts to rewrite history so audaciously, not to mention as entertainingly, as Quentin Tarantino did with Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Terrence Malick for A Hidden Life, again.
KH: With Little Women, Greta Gerwig did the near impossible: took a story we have seen many, many times before and made it feel not only fresh and new but also modern, without forfeiting its timelessness. Isn't it about time that the Academy just increases the number of nominations (like in Best Picture) in at least the directing and acting categories already?

The nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay are: The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women and The Two Popes
CC: Taika Waititi for Jojo Rabbit gets my vote, and I'm tempted to add a "Heil, Hitler" for good measure. Just kidding!
KH: Greta Gerwig for Little Women, see above.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Mike Flanagan did an excellent job adapting Stephen King's novel sequel to The Shining while honoring Stanley Kubrick's classic film version with Doctor Sleep.
KH: Toy Story 4 needed a compelling reason to exist, and Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom's smart and clever script provided it.

The nominees for Best Original Screenplay are: Knives Out, Marriage Story, 1917, Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood and Parasite
CC: I would go with Noah Baumbach's sensitive Marriage Story, although I'd be tempted to vote for Rian Johnson's Knives Out just for fun.
KH: Tarantino already has two screenplay Oscars and my vote for directing, so my vote here would go to Noah Baumbach for Marriage Story, his finely-crafted, warts-and-all exploration of divorce.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: The heartfelt and moving The Last Black Man in San Francisco (by Joe Talbot, Jimmie Falls and Rob Richert), completely ignored by the Academy.
KH: Pedro Almodóvar, a previous winner here for Talk To Her, deserved a return invite for his bittersweet, semi-autobiographical Pain and Glory.

The nominees for Best Cinematography are: The Irishman, Joker, The Lighthouse, 1917 and Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood
CC: 1917.
KH: Roger Deakins' expert camerawork on 1917 was equal parts stunning technical marvel and awe-inspiring artistic achievement.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC:The gorgeous Portrait of a Lady on Fire.
KH: Claire Mathon's lush photography of Portrait of a Lady swept the three major American critics' group awards, yet somehow came up short with the Academy.

The nominees for Best Production Design are: The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, 1917, Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood and Parasite
CC: Jojo Rabbit.
KH: From the Manson Ranch to the Playboy Mansion, Barbara Ling and Nancy Haigh brought the world of Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood to life.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Downton Abbey.
KH: The stately Thrombey manor, with all its nooks & crannies and bric & brac, was a character in and of itself in Knives Out.

The nominees for Best Costume Design are: The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Little Women and Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood
CC: Jojo Rabbit.
KH: Mayes C. Rubeo's creative designs (Yorki's paper uniform) and colorful couture (everything worn by Scarlett Johansson) took the whimsicality of Jojo Rabbit to an even higher level.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Downton Abbey.
KH: Not sure how the drab duds seen in The Irishman and Joker got in over the much more eye-catching fashions seen in Dolemite Is My Name. Or Downton Abbey. Or Rocketman...??

The nominees for Best Original Score are: Joker, Little Women, Marriage Story, 1917 and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
CC: I would send maestro John Williams out on a high note with an Oscar for his final Star Wars movie.
KH: His stirring, transporting score for 1917 is Thomas Newman's 15th nomination and is more than worthy of being his first win.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Bear McReary's "monster opera" approach to Godzilla: King of the Monsters was spectacular, but his score was likely disqualified since it utilizes some music from the Toho classics.
KH: Michael Giacchino was the perfect choice to compose Jojo Rabbit and his absence here is truly glaring. Just listen to his "Jojo March" and be instantly transported back to Nazi Germany... by way of Taika Waititi of course.

The nominees for Best Original Song are: "I Can't Let You Throw Yourself Away" from Toy Story 4, "(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again" from Rocketman, "I'm Standing With You" from Breakthrough, "Into the Unknown" from Frozen II and "Stand Up" from Harriet
CC: Sir Elton John (with Bernie Taupin, of course) definitely gets my love for the peppy, inspirational "(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again" from Rocketman, his otherwise overlooked bio.
KH: "Stand Up", performed by and co-written (with Joshuah Brian Campbell) by Harriet star Cynthia Erivo, is a powerful coda to the story of Harriet Tubman, who's actual last words – "I go to prepare a place for you" – are the song's haunting final refrain.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Taylor Swift's contribution to the Cats soundtrack, "Beautiful Ghosts", is appropriately haunting and one of the overall score's few understated songs.
KH: I predicted a win for "Glasgow" (written by Caitlyn Smith, Kate York and Mary Steenburgen... yes, that Mary Steenburgen) from Wild Rose that now won't happen due to the lazy miopia of the Academy's Music Branch. But that doesn't mean it isn't a far better song than at least two of the ones the Academy did chose (see my "Worst Nomination of the Year", below).

The nominees for Best Film Editing are: Ford v Ferrari, The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Joker and Parasite
CC: I haven't seen likely winner Ford v Ferrari so would vote for Jojo Rabbit.
KH: Ford v Ferrari is a film editor's dream gig, and nominees Andrew Buckland and Michael McCusker drive it into the winner's circle.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Would nominating 1917 here somehow spoil its one-take conceit? The at least occasional editing is what makes it so believable.
KH: How did The Irishman, which needed at least a 40-60 minutes cut from it, get nominated while Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood, which could have gone on for another hour or two, wasn't?

The nominees for Best Sound Mixing are: Ad Astra, Ford v Ferrari, Joker, 1917 and Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood
CC: Once Upon a Hollywood.
KH: The dense soundscape... car radios, classic tunes, flamethrower... of Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood added immensely to the mesmerizing quality of the film.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
KH: Musicals usually fair well here, so where's Rocketman?

The nominees for Best Sound Editing are: Ford v Ferrari, Joker, 1917, Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
CC: OK, here's Rise of Skywalker, which would be my choice.
KH: Reportedly the Academy is mulling over the idea of combining the the two sound categories into one, a good idea that is long overdue considering that the nominations are almost always pretty close to identical. So in that spirit, my vote goes to Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood here as well.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Godzilla: King of the Monsters, another big noisy epic and one of my underrated faves of 2019.
KH: Like musicals, animated films used to appear here more often too, and the hero's unique and endearing voice in Abominable is all thanks to its expert sound crew.

The nominees for Best Visual Effects are: Avengers: Endgame, The Irishman, The Lion King, 1917 and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
CC: It's always hard to ignore a Star Wars movie in this category, so I wouldn't.
KH: 1917 had the most seamless and therefore invisible effects, a far more impressive accomplishment than all the other nominee's CGI overload/overkill.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Godzilla: King of the Monsters provided a feast of magnificent monster mayhem.
KH: How anyone could watch Alita: Battle Angel and not be blown away by the flawless creation of the cyborg title character is beyond me.

The nominees for Best Makeup and Hairstyling are: Bombshell, Joker, Judy, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil and 1917
CC: Judy.
KH: The makeup in Bombshell felt more like a stunt than a creative necessity; my pick is for the far more subtle and effective work seen in Judy.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Jojo Rabbit.
KH: Just like the designers behind Judy, the Rocketman team transformed their lead into a pop culture icon.

The nominees for Best Animated Feature are: How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, I Lost My Body, Klaus, Missing Link and Toy Story 4
CC: I really liked Klaus, which could eventually become a Christmas classic.
KH: Despite Toy Story 4 being a terrific film in its own right, the Toy Story franchise has been amply Oscar'ed in the past, and its about time that Hiccup and Toothless (not to mention their creator Dean DeBlois) got some long overdue love. So my vote goes to the DreamWorks Animation series' soaring final chapter, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: I also really liked the fun new version of The Addams Family.
KH: Abominable was an unexpected delight for me on all levels, and it's shocking how underrated it is, especially in comparison to the nominees with a similar protagonist (Missing Link) or setting (Klaus).

The nominees for Best International Feature Film are: Corpus Christi (Poland), Honeyland (North Macedonia), Les Misérables (France), Pain and Glory (Spain) and Parasite (South Korea)
CC: Honeyland, which is important on multiple levels.
KH: No surprises here: Pain and Glory, plain and simple. (Note: Corpus Christi is the only nominee in any category this year that I haven't seen yet; it opens in the US in limited release on February 19th).
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: France criminally submitted the good but not great Les Misérables over Portrait of a Lady on Fire.
KH: They weren't their country's official Oscar submissions, but Argentina's End of the Century and France's Portrait of a Lady on Fire, both featuring same-sex romances, are equally award-worthy.

The nominees for Best Documentary Feature are: American Factory, The Cave, The Edge of Democracy, For Sama and Honeyland
CC: Honeyland redux.
KH: The Syrian Civil War has now taken over as the Oscar's favored nonfiction subject of late, with two very similar docs, The Cave and For Sama, making the cut this year. And while I found some of its filmmaker's actions questionable, that it elicited that response proves how effective the uncompromising, at-times deeply distressing For Sama is at conveying the almost impossible-to-comprehend reality of living in the midst of war.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: One Child Nation, an eye-opening look at China's adoption policies and abuses.
KH: My favorite documentary of the year, the mesmerizing Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché, somehow wasn't even on the long list, so I'll go with short list finalist One Child Nation, a devastating exposé of China's "one child" policy.

The nominees for Best Documentary Short Subject are: In the Absence, Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl), Life Overtakes Me, St. Louis Superman and Walk Run Cha-Cha
KH: Yes, I'm going with the requisite "inspirational kids' story": Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl).

The nominees for Best Animated Short Film are: Dcera (Daughter), Hair Love, Kitbull, Mémorable and Sister
CC: Kitbull is too sweet!
KH: Sister gets my vote for its deft mixture of melancholy and absurdity.

The nominees for Best Live Action Short Film are: Brotherhood, Nefta Football Club, The Neighbors’ Window, Saria and A Sister
KH: In a strong field this year, I pick The Neighbors' Window, the most emotionally effective and narratively satisfying.

And now for our own special category of dishonorable mention, the Worst Nomination of the Year:
CC: I was truly impressed by the digital de-aging of stars Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino in The Irishman. But a nomination for Best Visual Effects? Something tells me not even Jimmy Hoffa would approve. In general, Scorsese's overly familiar, overlong epic is over-recognized.
KH: My biggest disappointment on Oscar Nomination Morning was the lack of a nomination for "Glasgow" from Wild Rose in the Best Original Song category. That disappointment turned to outrage when, in its place, were the umpteenth nominations for Randy Newman and Diane Warren for, respectively, "I Can't Let You Throw Yourself Away" from Toy Story 4 and "I'm Standing with Your" from Breakthrough. It seems that Newman and Warren are now the Music Branch's Meryl Streep; they'll nominate them for just about anything these days, even these two trite, terrible tunes.

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.