Friday, January 31, 2020

Short Cuts 2020, Part 3: Oscar's Documentary Short Subject Nominees

For the 15th year, ShortsTV presents this year's Academy Award nominated animated, live action and documentary short films at a theater or streaming platform (starting February 4th) near you. These special programs are usually the only way for most movie fans to see all of these otherwise illusive short film nominees that can make or break your office Oscar pool. In the last of three parts, Movie Dearest takes a look at this year's five nominees for Best Documentary Short Subject.

This category is a mixed bag this year. There are two investigative pieces that start off with interesting subject matter but end up feeling frustratingly incomplete, and two personal profiles that don't dig any deeper than "aren't these guys great". Rounding out the nominees is the requisite "children overcoming adversity inspirational story" that usually ends up winning.

And the nominees are...

In the Absence, Seung-jun Yi & Gary Byung-Seok Kam (USA, 28 minutes), trailer.

On April 16, 2014, a Korean ferry carrying 476 passengers sank. A shocking amount of bureaucratic incompetence leads to the preventable loss of 304 lives. This AFI Docs Festival award winner engrossingly recounts the events of the disaster, but fumbles with the aftermath, curiously leaving out key details like murder charges and manhunts.

MD Rating: 6/10

Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl), Carol Dysinger & Elena Andreicheva (UK, 39 minutes), trailer.

Welcome to the Skateistan Schoolhouse and Skate Park in Kabul, Afghanistan, where young girls are taught how to read, write and... skateboard? Although that last subject is never really explained in this IDA and Tribeca award winner, it's hard not to be won over by the beaming faces of the courageous students, eager to learn... and skate.

MD Rating: 7/10

Life Overtakes Me, Kristine Samuelson & John Haptas (Sweden/USA, 39 minutes), trailer.

In Sweden, hundreds of refugee children are lapsing into a coma-like illness called 'Resignation Syndrome'. This Netflix short takes an odd approach to exploring this fascinating medical mystery, relying heavily on repetitive patient histories and relegating the facts to voice overs during random, bleak montages of the Swedish countryside.

MD Rating: 6/10

St. Louis Superman, Sami Khan & Smriti Mundhra (USA, 28 minutes), trailer.

Bruce Franks Jr. is a civil rights activist, 'battle rapper' and Missouri State Representative. Apparently he is known as Superman to his constituents, thus the title, although nobody actually calls him that in this documentary. He is frequently upstaged by his precocious son. If this review seems a little choppy and incomplete, so is this short.

MD Rating: 5/10

Walk Run Cha-Cha, Laura Nix & Colette Sandstedt (USA, 20 minutes), trailer.

Two young lovers are separated by war and reunited years later. No, not the Judi Dench Britcom As Time Goes By, but the story of Paul and Millie Cao, Vietnamese immigrants who have discovered in middle age a new level of freedom in ballroom dance. Easily the most "feel good" of the nominees, this is a sweet story but not a particularly revelatory one.

MD Rating: 6/10

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

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

Monday, January 27, 2020

Short Cuts 2020, Part 2: Oscar's Live Action Short Film Nominees

For the 15th year, ShortsTV presents this year's Academy Award nominated animated, live action and documentary short films at a theater (starting January 29th) or streaming platform (starting February 4th) near you. These special programs are usually the only way for most movie fans to see all of these otherwise illusive short film nominees that can make or break your office Oscar pool. In the second of three parts, Movie Dearest takes a look at this year's five nominees for Best Live Action Short Film.

This year's nominees are a strong batch hailing from around the world (including two Tunisian co-productions, who knew) and from a mix of first time nominees and Oscar veterans, all hoping for their first win.

And the nominees are...

Brotherhood (a.k.a. Ikhwène), Meryam Joobeur & Maria Gracia Turgeon (Tunisia/Canada/Qatar/Sweden, 25 minutes), trailer.

A Tunisian farm family is shocked when the oldest son unexpectedly returns... with his new pregnant wife. A stark, well-modulated drama with an almost documentary-like feel from the Oscar nominated producer of last year's best in show Fauve; not as devastating as that one but pretty close.

MD Rating: 7/10

Nefta Football Club, Yves Piat & Damien Megherbi (France/Tunisia, 17 minutes), trailer.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Tunisia, two young brothers come across a donkey wearing headphones that turns out to literally be a drug mule. The only comedy in the bunch has proven to be quite the film fest fave, with over 20 awards. Even so, the ultimate punchline doesn't quite live up to the charming absurdity that precedes it.

MD Rating: 7/10

The Neighbors’ Window, Marshall Curry (USA, 20 minutes), trailer.

Maria Dizzia (Orange is the New Black) plays a stressed-out mother of three who finds herself obsessed with watching the free-spirited younger couple across the way from her. Based on a true story, this "grass is always greener" tale starts out the way you'd expect but evolves into an emotionally deep exploration of random connections.

MD Rating: 8/10

Saria, Bryan Buckley & Matt Lefebvre (USA, 23 minutes), trailer.

A dramatization of the dire hardships faced by the young women held at the Virgen de La Asuncion "Safe Home", a Guatemalan girl's orphanage where a a deadly fire in 2017 tragically claimed 41 of their lives. The harsh, hopeless reality is palatable, yet I can't help but think that this story may have been better served as a documentary.

MD Rating: 7/10

A Sister (a.k.a. Une Soeur), Delphine Girard (Belgium, 16 minutes), trailer.

An operator at a 911-like emergency hotline receives a call from a woman trapped in her kidnapper's moving car. Highly reminiscent of the 2018 Danish feature The Guilty, this mini-thriller succinctly and efficiently delivers on the suspense during its tight running time.

MD Rating: 8/10

Coming soon: Reviews of the Oscar nominees for Best Documentary Short Subject.

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

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Reverend's Reviews: Wacky New Year!

The new cinematic year has launched with two of the stranger offerings since, well, last month's Cats. One is a costly effort to revive a worthy character that will likely end up a financial disaster for its studio. The other is a long-overdue adaptation of one of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft's stories, boasting a wild-card director and Nicolas Cage's latest wacky performance.

Doctor Dolittle, the people-averse veterinarian who can literally talk to the animals, has long been my favorite literary creation. He was created by British author Hugh Lofting during World War I, while Lofting was serving in the army and horrified by the mistreatment of animals he witnessed first hand. The 1967 movie musical adaptation, which was itself a box office bomb, is my all time favorite movie. The less I say about the late 1990's updated versions/bastardizations starring Eddie Murphy, the better.

Now, megastar Robert Downey Jr. and Oscar-winning screenwriter Stephen Gaghan (Traffic, Syriana) have delivered their $175 million take on Dolittle to the big screen. It serves as Gaghan's directorial debut and, from all reports, entrusting such a big-budget, effects-laden fantasy to a neophyte was an unfortunate mistake. Rewrites and reshoots added considerably to the film's already hefty budget. It opened last weekend to a so-so $50 million worldwide.

I didn't find Dolittle as awful as many reviews would have one believe. Perhaps because of my affection for the character, I could more easily recognize the good qualities and intentions behind this admittedly over-produced, overly frenetic adventure. I expect Gaghan's original screenplay was more sophisticated than what ultimately made it to theaters, which is a pity. One definitely gets a sense of what could have been, given the considerable talent behind the scenes.

The screenplay involves a not very kid-friendly plot to assassinate young Queen Victoria (played by Irish actress-of-the-moment Jessie Buckley) that Downey's Dr. Dolittle is recruited to thwart. Various animals with the voices of such big names as Tom Holland, Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, Octavia Spencer and, most winningly, John Cena (as a polar bear) help the good doctor search for a mythical, life-giving plant that Dolittle's wife died trying to find. Their quest faces opposition from a villainous royal physician (Michael Sheen) as well as Dolittle's father-in-law (an under-utilized Antonio Banderas), plus a fire-breathing dragon with a severe case of constipation.

To be fair, the many young children at the screening I attended laughed often and could be overheard declaring how much they enjoyed the movie upon exiting the theater. The CG critters are realistically rendered and the film's vibrant color scheme dazzles. Sadly, Downey gives an underwhelming performance in the title role and speaks in a whispery Scottish (?) brogue. All in all, Dolittle isn't bad but it clearly could have been so much better.

Speaking of vibrant color schemes, this weekend's weird new theatrical release is Color Out of Space. Based on a highly regarded novella by horror/sci-fi writer H.P. Lovecraft, it details the traumatic effects of a meteorite crash on the inhabitants of a remote farmhouse. This is a more lavish production than a previous American adaptation in 1988 retitled The Curse, which many Lovecraft fans don't consider worthy of the source material.

Cult director Richard Stanley, best known for having been removed from the helm of 1996's bizarre remake of The Island of Dr. Moreau, largely redeems himself with this beautifully photographed (by Steve Annis) creepfest. Nicolas Cage headlines as patriarch of the afflicted family. Cage plays the role straight for the first two-thirds of the film, then gets to go gonzo as he falls prey to the alien force attached to the meteorite. The juvenile actors who play his three children actually give more grounded, affecting performances throughout. Also surprisingly good is Tommy Chong as a pot-smoking (of course) squatter who first suspects there is an alien invasion afoot.

Things get gross as bodies are fused, limbs get severed, and alpacas are... I don't really know what. While I wouldn't call Color Out of Space entertaining or even logical, Lovecraft's devotees in addition to fans of director Stanley may feel some degree of redemption.

Reverend's Ratings:
Dolittle: C+
Color Out of Space: C

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

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Short Cuts 2020, Part 1: Oscar's Animated Short Film Nominees

For the 15th year, ShortsTV presents this year's Academy Award nominated animated, live action and documentary short films at a theater (starting January 29th) or streaming platform (starting February 4th) near you. These special programs are usually the only way for most movie fans to see all of these otherwise illusive short film nominees that can make or break your office Oscar pool. In the first of three parts, Movie Dearest takes a look at this year's five nominees for Best Animated Short Film.

Family relationships dominate the bulk of this year's 'tiny toon' contenders, with three stop-motion independent shorts vs. two higher profile 2D productions, all from first time nominees. Notably, no computer animated works were nominated this year, a first in the category in some time.

And the nominees are...

Dcera (Daughter), Daria Kashcheeva (Czech Republic, 15 minutes), trailer.

With her father hospitalized, a daughter looks back on their complicated relationship. Using papier-mâché puppets and mimicking live action techniques such as handheld camera movements and rack focus, this Student Academy Award winner captures a raw, almost documentary-like style that nonetheless fails to mask it's uncompelling story.

MD Rating: 6/10

Hair Love, Matthew A. Cherry & Karen Rupert Toliver (USA, 7 minutes), clip.

On a very special day, an African American father tries to do his daughter’s hair for the first time. A Kickstarter record-setter released theatrically by Sony Animation with The Angry Birds Movie 2, this sweet story effectively mixes a little drama in with the comedy, creating a charming, crowd-pleasing tear-jerker fit for any family.

MD Rating: 7/10

Kitbull, Rosana Sullivan & Kathryn Hendrickson (USA, 9 minutes), trailer.

An unlikely friendship develops between a scrappy stray kitten and a gentle-souled pit bull. A rare 2D project from  Pixar (via their "SparkShorts" program), this dog-and-cat tale has an atypically darker edge to it as well which, unfortunately, is undercut by an oddly abrupt happy ending.

MD Rating
: 6/10

Mémorable, Bruno Collet & Jean-François Le Corre (France, 12 minutes), clip.

An aging painter, lost in dementia, finds himself untethered from reality, drifting through an increasingly surrealistic world. An award winner at the prestigious Annecy International Animated Film Festival, this stop-motion tour de force is a post-impressionistic feast for the eyes, only slightly hampered by its familiar scenario.

MD Rating: 7/10

Sister, Siqi Song (China/USA, 8 minutes), trailer.

A man relates his childhood memories of growing up with his annoying younger sister in 1990s China. Also a BAFTA and Annie Award nominee, this black and white stop-motion award winner is filled with flights of fancy laced with absurd humor that suddenly gives way to a harsh, emotionally wrenching reality. The best of the bunch, by far.

MD Rating: 9/10

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

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

Monday, January 20, 2020

Oscars, 2019: America, America

Franky and Jimmy

Movie Dearest wraps up 2019 in Film with a new review round-up of this year's Oscar nominees, all set in the good ol' U.S. of A.:

The Irishman (now streaming on Netflix):
A Martin Scorsese epic gangster biopic starring Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci? No, this is no Goodfellas, but an epically overlong slog through the violent life of labor racketeer/"house painter" (mob-speak for hit-man) Frank Sheeran. The use of digital technology to "de-age" its stars through the years mostly works, and likely looks better on the home screen where most will probably watch it as an unofficial "mini-series". Despite crackerjack performances from Pesci and Al Pacino (in his least "Al Pacino-y" performance in a while) as ill-fated Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa, The Irishman is never as Good as the fellas. (6/10)

American Factory (now streaming on Netflix):
A sequel of sorts to directors Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert's other Oscar nominated doc, the 2009 short The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant, this first film from the Obama's Higher Ground Productions focuses on that same Ohio plant after it is bought by a Chinese billionaire and converted into a glass factory, staffed by both American and Chinese workers. The "fly-on-the-wall" style candidly captures the varied culture clashes and setbacks between the local working class and their Asian co-workers, bringing into sharp relief the fact that the metaphorical chasm that separates the East from the West is still as vast as ever. (7/10)

Breakthrough (now streaming on HBO):
This amazingly true story — about a St. Louis teenager who, through his mother's unwavering faith, miraculously survives a plunge into an icy lake — was pretty much ignored until its Oscar nod for yet another Diane Warren end credit ballad. Don't let its "Christian drama" designation cloud your judgement though, as its refreshingly even-handed with its religious overtones, plus it features a surprising host of (mostly TV) talent in its cast, including This Is Us' Chrissy Metz and, as a skinny jeans-wearing "hip" pastor, Topher Grace. Although its "inspirational" plot is awfully familiar, this marks a solid feature debut for director Roxann Dawson (of Star Trek: Voyager fame). (6/10)

Ford v Ferrari (available on Blu-ray and DVD February 11):
Matt Damon and Christian Bale (actually using his own accent) headline this crowd-pleasing dramatization of the public feud between the two automotive super-powers of its title that came to a head at the '24 Hours of Le Mans' endurance race in 1966. On the surface this may seem like the butchest movie ever, a period Fast and the Furious, but director James Mangold and his stars (along with some standout supporting turns from Tracy Letts as a blustering Henry Ford II and Jon Bernthal as a shockingly sexy young Lee Iacocca) ground it; it's more "average Joe against the system" than "us (as in U.S.) against them". Naturally, kinetic racing footage abounds. (7/10)

Richard Jewell (coming soon to Blu-ray and DVD):
Clint Eastwood continues his unofficial series of "American hero" biopics (see also American Sniper, Sully, etc.) with the story of the security guard who discovered a bomb during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. The hailing of the hero is short-lived though when the press reports that the FBI fingered him as the prime suspect; cue the media circus. It's almost laughable how broadly Eastwood paints his antagonists; fed Jon Hamm might as well be twirling an oily mustache, and Olivia Wilde's femme fatale journalist is just plain embarrassing. The film is saved by a truly outstanding performance from Paul Walter Hauser as the wrongly accused Jewell. (6/10)

Bombshell (in theaters now):
Retelling the events that led up to the ouster of Fox News CEO Roger Ailes after his sexual harassment of newscasters Megyn Kelly, Gretchen Carlson and others came to light, this docudrama hits the screen just three years after the events it depicts, yet it feels oddly dated in this post-"#MeToo" age. Much has been made about the cast's transformations into the real people they portray but I found Charlize Theron's distinctly deeper voice as Kelly, Nicole Kidman's prosthetic chin as Carlson and pretty much everything they stuck on John Lithgow as Ailes distracting and counterproductive to telling a story that boils down to "appearance shouldn't define you". (6/10)

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

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Oscars, 2019: Random Thoughts & Trivial Pursuits

Best Picture Nominees, Class of 2019

It seems that the drill the last few years following the announcement of the Oscar nominations is to spill a lot of ink (virtual or actual) on who or what wasn't nominated as opposed to who or what was nominated. Much righteous indignation is expressed, "hashtags" are created, boycotts are threatened... it all gets a little repetitive and more than a little tedious. So there will be no talks of "snubs" here (we'll save that for our "Egregiously Overlooked" section in our annual "If We Picked the Oscars" piece next month), just some general observations, trivia and the like on the artists and films that did receive nominations for the 92nd Academy Awards.

Best Picture Spotlight:
  • At 209 minutes, The Irishman is the longest Best Picture nominee this year and the sixth longest Best Picture nominee of all time.
  • Joker is the second movie based on a comic book to be nominated for Best Picture, following Black Panther last year.
  • 1917 is the only Best Picture nominee with a number for its full title. If it wins, it will join Gigi (1958) and Argo (2012) as the Best Picture winners with the shortest titles.
  • Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood is the only Best Picture nominee to have... an ellipsis in its title.
  • Parasite is the first South Korean film to be nominated for Best Picture as well as the first to be nominated for the International Feature category, a.k.a. the category formerly known as Foreign Language Film. It is also only the 6th movie to be nominated in both of those categories and the 11th non-English-language film to be nominated for Best Picture.
  • Every Best Picture nominee this year has at least four nominations, while every other nominated movie this year has less than four nominations, a feat that has never happened before in Oscar history.

Five guys, a girl and a pizza

Acting Spotlight:
  • This year's first time acting nominees are Antonio Banderas, Cynthia Erivo, Scarlett Johansson, Jonathan Pryce and Florence Pugh.
  • Adam Driver is the only nominee this year (for Marriage Story) who was also nominated last year (for BlacKkKlansman).
  • With her two nominations (Best Actress for Marriage Story and Best Supporting Actress for Jojo Rabbit), Scarlett Johansson becomes the 12th actor to be nominated in two acting categories in the same year. The odds are in her favor to win; seven of the the 11 previous actors in this scenario won.
  • The Irishman's Al Pacino and Joe Pesci are the 19th co-stars from the same movie to both be nominated for Best Supporting Actor. The odds of one of them winning aren't very high though; only six times in the past has one of the actors in this scenario won.
  • All five of this year's nominees for Supporting Actor are previous Oscar winners. Tom Hanks, Anthony Hopkins and Al Pacino all won for Best Actor (Hanks twice), while Joe Pesci won for Supporting Actor. The only nominee who has not won an acting award is Brad Pitt; his Oscar win was as one of the producers of 2013 Best Picture winner 12 Years a Slave.
  • In addition to the five Supporting Actor nominees, previous winners in the acting categories are Kathy Bates, Leonardo DiCaprio, Charlize Theron and Renée Zellweger.
  • Nine of the twenty acting nominees played real people: one Best Actor nominee (Jonathan Pryce as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio in The Two Popes), three Best Actress nominees (Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman in Harriet, Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly in Bombshell and Renée Zellweger as Judy Garland in Judy), four Supporting Actor nominees (Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict XVI in The Two Popes, Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa and Joe Pesci as Russell Bufalino in The Irishman) and one Supporting Actress nominee (Kathy Bates as Bobi Jewell in Richard Jewell).

Scarlett fever

Double Features:
In addition to double acting nominee Scarlett Johansson, who starred in Avengers: Endgame as well as Marriage Story and Jojo Rabbit, several other of this year's Oscar nominated artists acted in more than one nominated movie this year, including:
  • Laura Dern in Marriage Story and Little Women (both Best Picture nominees)
  • Adam Driver in Marriage Story and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
  • Tom Hanks in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and Toy Story 4
  • Al Pacino in The Irishman and Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood (both Best Picture nominees)
  • Brad Pitt in Ad Astra and Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood
  • Margot Robbie in Bombshell and Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood
  • Taika Waititi in Avengers: Endgame and Jojo Rabbit

  • Martin Scorsese is now the most nominated living director with his nomination for The Irishman, his ninth nomination for Best Director.
  • With his 52nd nomination this year (his 47th in a score category) for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, John Williams extends his own record as the living person with the most Oscar nominations. The all-time nominations record is held by Walt Disney, with 59 nominations.
  • With the nomination for How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the How To Train Your Dragon series is the only animated trilogy to receive a nomination for Animated Feature for each of its three parts.
  • Honeyland is the first movie to be nominated for both Documentary Feature and International Feature, a.k.a. the category formerly known as Foreign Language Film. 
  • 63 women are nominees this year, a new record.

Big Sister

Shorts and Soundtracks:
  • Two of the short film nominees have practically identical titles: Sister in Best Animated Short and A Sister in Best Live Action Short.
  • Two of the Best Picture nominees feature Stephen Sondheim songs: "Send in the Clowns" from A Little Night Music in Joker and "Being Alive" and "You Can Drive a Person Crazy" from Company in Marriage Story.
  • Meanwhile, two nominated movies — The Irishman and Pain and Glory — feature Édith Piaf singing "La Vie en Rose" on the soundtrack.

A Little Woman Is Born:
Believe it or not, Little Women is this year's A Star Is Born, as it is the third remake of a Best Picture nominee from the 1930s that is also nominated for Best Picture in the 2010s. In fact, there are several similarities between the four Oscar nominated versions each of both stories:
  • Both of the original versions, 1933's Little Women and 1937's A Star Is Born, were nominated for Best Picture and Best Director, and both won a Writing Oscar.
  • The generally regarded "worst" versions, 1949's Little Women and 1976's A Star Is Born, each won one Oscar, while the widely regarded "best" versions (at least prior to this century, arguably), 1994's Little Women and 1954's A Star Is Born, both received multiple nominations but didn't win any Oscars.
  • The newest versions, this year's Little Women and last year's A Star Is Born, are/were both nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress and Adapted Screenplay. This A Star Is Born won one Oscar; we'll have to wait and see if this Little Women matches or bests that on February 9th.

Jo, Jo, rabbit

And speaking of Little Women:
  • Of the four actresses who have played Jo March — 1933's Katharine Hepburn, 1949's June Allyson, 1994's Winona Ryder and 2019's Saoirse Ronan — only the latter two were nominated for Best Actress. However, Hepburn did win her first Best Actress Oscar in 1933, for her performance in Morning Glory.
  • The 1994 Little Women received three nominations — Best Actress, Costume Design and Original Score — which are three of the six categories that the 2019 version is nominated in.
  • Thomas Newman was nominated for his score to the 1994 Little Women and is also nominated for Original Score this year for 1917, competing with the 2019 Little Women score by Alexandre Desplat. In 1994 the Original Score Oscar didn't go to Newman, it went to The Lion King, which was also remade in 2019.

And speaking of A Star Is Born:
Wait, Bradley Cooper is a producer of Joker? It actually isn't that unusual once you remember that Joker director Todd Phillips directed all three Hangover movies, starring Cooper, and Warner Bros. is the studio behind both A Star Is Born and Joker (not to mention all three Hangover movies).

And speaking of Little Women and Joker:
In addition to Saoirse Ronan being nominated for playing Jo March, a character that was previously played by Winona Ryder in an Oscar nominated performance, this year also sees Joaquin Phoenix  nominated for playing the Joker, a character that was previously played by Heath Ledger in an Oscar winning performance.

A pair of jokers

And furthermore... because Phoenix is nominated in the Best Actor category and Ledger won in the Supporting Actor category, if Phoenix wins the Oscar it will be the opposite of the only other time two actors won Oscars for playing the same character. In 1972, Marlon Brando won Best Actor for playing Vito Corleone in The Godfather, followed two years later by Robert De Niro winning  Supporting Actor for playing a young Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II. Interestingly, both Joker and Corleone are "criminal masterminds" and, bringing it full circle, De Niro co-starred alongside Phoenix in Joker.

All in the family:
Cousins Randy Newman and Thomas Newman are competing with each other in the Best Original Score category, for their work in Marriage Story and 1917, respectively. And indie power couple Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig directed two of the Best Picture nominees, Marriage Story and Little Women; and while neither were nominated for Best Director, they are both nominated for Writing Awards, Baumbach for Original Screenplay and Gerwig for Adapted Screenplay.

"Over the Rainbow", 80 years apart

Original Songs Redux:
Twelve previous nominees for Original Song (including four winners) were reprised in nominated films this year:
  • "Over the Rainbow" (winner) from The Wizard of Oz (1939) and "The Trolley Song" from Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) in Judy
  • "I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo" from Orchestra Wives (1942) in Ad Astra
  • "Unchained Melody" from Unchained (1955) in Walk Run Cha-Cha
  • "A Time for Love" from An American Dream (1966) in Marriage Story
  • "Take My Breath Away" (winner) from Top Gun (1986) in Corpus Christi
  • "Be Our Guest" from Beauty and the Beast (1991) and "Circle of Life", "Hakuna Matata" and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" (winner) from The Lion King (1994) in The Lion King
  • "You've Got a Friend in Me" from Toy Story (1995) in Toy Story 4
  • "Let It Go" (winner) from Frozen (2013) in Frozen II

And speaking of Original Song:
  • With "You've Got a Friend in Me", "When She Loved Me", "We Belong Together" and now "I Won't Let You Throw Yourself Away", Randy Newman has had a Toy Story tune from each of the four  movies nominated for Original Song.
  • For the past three years, three actress/songwriters have received two nominations – in an acting category and for Original Song –for the same movie: Mary J. Blige for Mudbound, Lady Gaga for A Star Is Born, and now Cynthia Erivo for Harriet.
  • And listen to this year's nominees here...

My favorite nominations this year:
The three that made me go "yes!" when they were announced were: Scarlett Johansson in Jojo Rabbit for Best Supporting Actress, Antonio Banderas in Pain and Glory for Best Actor and Little Women for Best Picture.

Thanks for playing:
Several high profile contenders were surprisingly left empty handed post-Oscar Nomination Morning, including Apollo 11, Dolemite Is My Name, Downton Abbey, The Farewell, Hustlers, Just Mercy, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Uncut Gems, Us and Waves. Parting gifts will include a bag of sour grapes, a Starbucks gift card and/or an Independent Spirit Award.

And finally, I'd like to thank the Academy:
For not nominating Dark Waters, Gemini Man, Her Smell, A Hidden Life, Motherless Brooklyn and The Painted Bird, films I really had no desire to see and if they had been nominated I would have been forced to watch them. Having to sit through Breakthrough will be hard enough.

Stay tuned to Movie Dearest for more Oscars, 2019.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Oscars, 2019: Where To Watch


The nominations for the 92nd Oscars were announced yesterday, and when looking over the list you realize that you've got a lot of catching up to do before the big night. But where can you see all of the nominated movies? Sure, some are still in theaters, but why go out when you can just settle in for the night in front of your TV and binge watch all the nominees?


Movie Dearest shows you how:

Now available on Blu-ray and DVD - click on link to purchase from Amazon:
Ad Astra  ⧫  Joker  ⧫  Judy  ⧫  The Lighthouse
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil  ⧫  Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood  ⧫  Rocketman

Coming soon to Blu-ray and DVD - click on link to pre-order from Amazon:
Pain and Glory - January 21  ⧫  Harriet, Parasite - January 28
Ford v Ferrari - February 11  ⧫  A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood - February 18
Knives Out - estimated February release
Bombshell, Little Women, Richard Jewell,
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker - estimated March release
1917 - estimated April release

Now streaming with subscription:
For Sama, Les Misérables (availability TBA) - Amazon Prime
Breakthrough - HBO
Avengers: Endgame, Kitbull, The Lion King (available January 28),
Toy Story 4 (available February 5) - Disney+

Amazon Video - click on link to purchase on Amazon Video:
The Cave - available for purchase now
Jojo Rabbit - available for purchase February 4
Frozen II - available for purchase February 11

Available online:
Walk Run Cha-Cha - The New York Times

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Movie Dearest's Top 10 of 2019

Sony/Ringer illustration


Movie Dearest creator Kirby Holt names his favorite films of 2019.

As I look over this list of films I have selected as my own personal canon for the last year of the second decade of the 21st century I realize that, despite their varied outward appearances and disparate genres, they all share a unifying theme: love. Naturally there's the tales of romantic love, both found and/or lost, and familial love, such as parental or between siblings. But there's also examples of different kinds of love, such as one's love of country (as in the midst of war) or one's passion for their art (acting, singing, writing) or career (senate investigator, sex therapist, superhero). There is the love one discovers when making a new friend (even if they are a bit different) or the love of just cruising around the Hollywood hills with an old one.

So yes, it is safe to say that I love these movies. Let me count the ways...

1. Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood
Quentin Tarantino's spunky satire of/audacious homage to show biz circa 1969 is a gloriously gonzo saga that only he could make, let alone get away with. A fairy tale-perfect cast of characters, led by our dauntless hero Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), his loyal cohort Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) and the fair maiden-next-door Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), inhabits this fully-realized Southern California dreamland where, like the title suggests, a vicarious happily ever after is waiting... that is, if you don't mind getting your hands a little dirty.

Sony Pictures/Ringer illustration
2. Little Women
Much more than a classic reimagined for the new millennium, Greta Gerwig's bold adaptation of the perennial literary (and film adaptation) favorite casts a welcome, enchanting spell, making you forget that you've seen this story told so many times before. This time out, all the March girls get to shine, allowing for vivid characterizations of not just Jo (Saoirse Ronan) but also Meg (Emma Watson), Beth (Eliza Scanlen) and especially Amy (Florence Pugh), now no longer your least favorite sister. This may be the 'tearjerker' of the year, but it earns every drop.

3. 1917
What Sam Mendes created with this World War I thrill ride is a sublimely crafted epic of intimate proportion, a story of soldiers catapulted through the insanity of warfare fueled by duty, not just to their station but to their own moral souls. By way of the refined talents of cinematographer Roger Deakins and editor Lee Smith, the film is constructed as one continuous shot, embedding it with a visceral energy that propels the viewer, right alongside the protagonists, deep into the trenches, through 'no man's land', and beyond.

4. Marriage Story
Noah Baumbach's film à clef is a smart, finely modulated look into a sinking marriage and the subsequent struggle to stay afloat when one's whole world has been washed away. As the soon-to-be-divorced couple, Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are both at the top of their game, delivering raw, unsympathetic performances in a story that doesn't ask you to take sides. Bonus: ever the firecracker, Laura Dern adds another variant of her patented ballbuster to her résumé as a no-nonsense divorce lawyer.

Fox/Ringer illustration
5. Jojo Rabbit
Set in Nazi Germany during the waning days of World War II, Taika Waititi cements his status as the satirist of our age with this deliriously dark comedy about a boy and his führer (played by Waititi himself, of course). Seen through the eyes of our young hero, a fanatically devoted member of the Hitlerjugend named Johannes "Jojo" Betzler (12-year-old Roman Griffin Davis, in his film debut no less), this twisted take on the "horrors of war" trope is at turns hilarious, harrowing and heartwarming, the latter amply supplied by a luminous Scarlett Johansson as Jojo's loving Mutter.

Illustration by Eliud Rivera
6. Pain and Glory
The films of Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar have always been at least partially autobiographical, and his latest (titled Dolor y gloria in his native land), is no exception by any means. Antonio Banderas is simply brilliant as Almodóvar avatar Salvador Mallo, a melancholic film director battling chronic pain and haunted by memories of past disappointments who finds solace in unexpected reunions and inspiration in the most serendipitous of discoveries. Almodóvar's other muse, Penélope Cruz, co-stars, via flashback, as Salvador's loving madre.

7. The Peanut Butter Falcon
A headstrong fisherman on the run, a tenacious social worker and a runaway young man with Down syndrome form the found family unit at the core of this quirky sleeper hit, 2019's highest grossing independent film. First time feature writer/directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz and their cast — Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson and newcomer Zachary Gottsagen — weave an inspiring tale about chasing your dreams... especially if that dream is to become a professional wrestler known as "The Peanut Butter Falcon".

8. Abominable
In a year dominated by sequels and a Lion King-sized remake, the most enjoyable animated film was the one that was the most original. Teeming with imagination, this delight-filled DreamWorks Animation adventure featured stunningly beautiful visuals of the landscapes of China, lovely music via violin and a magical, adorably abominable snowman named Everest as its leading man. Eschewing crude humor and unabashedly embracing its warm and fuzzy side, Abominable effortlessly instills within you a sense of joy and pure wonder.

Marvel Studios/Ringer illustration
9. Spider-Man: Far From Home
The Avengers may have assembled and the Joker may have... danced down a staircase, but the best comic book movie of the year was this globetrotting escapade, the latest web-slinging romp of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, once again brought charmingly to life by Tom Holland. In this outing, he faces off against a 'dimension-hopping hero' named Mysterio, brought roguishly to life by Jake Gyllenhaal. Imbued with a sense of fun that most superhero sagas sorely need and sadly lack, Far from Home was by far the wildest trip to the movies I had last year.

Illustration by Dhawal Bhanushali
10. The Report
This taut throwback to such low-key government conspiracy thrillers as All the President's Men features Adam Driver in his other great performance this year. Here he enacts US Senate investigator Daniel Jones, charged by Senator Dianne Feinstein (a brisk turn by the always outstanding Annette Bening) in exposing the CIA's use of torture on political prisoners post-September 11. In a perfect world (and less truncated season), this tense drama would be more in the awards conversation, but don't let its underdog status keep you from reviewing The Report.

Honorable Mentions – The Next 10:
Why stop at just 10? In alphabetical order...

20th Century Fox/Ringer illustration
Alita: Battle Angel
Robert Rodriguez's best work in years centers on a patchwork half-human/half-robot heroine (Rosa Salazar, enhanced with dazzling digital effects) fighting for survival in a cyberpunk post-apocalypse world. Sci-fi action at its best.

Ask Dr. Ruth
You may know Ruth Westheimer as the plucky sex therapist who was ubiquitous during the 80s. But did you know she is a Holocaust survivor or that she fought in the Palestine War? This fascinating bio-doc has all the answers.

Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché
Even hardcore cinephiles may not know of the pioneering French director Alice Guy-Blaché, the first woman to direct a film, but this remarkably researched and exquisitely crafted documentary will absolutely change that.

End of the Century
Not just this year's "sexy foreign dudes in love" movie, Fin de siglo from Argentina is enriched by its themes of attraction, loss and "the path not taken". And it has sexy foreign dudes in love.

Illustration by Jennifer Dionisio
Although this biopic is not without its faults (just skip all the flashbacks to Judy's younger days), Renée Zellweger's breathtaking transformation into the iconic star is not just the comeback of the year, its the performance of a lifetime.

One Child Nation
Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang's chilling exposé of the horrors wreaked by China's one-child policy is not an easy watch at times, yet it is a captivating anthropological look at the consequences of blind nationalism.

Illustration by Anh Nguyen
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
France may not have selected Céline Sciamma's Portrait de la jeune fille en feu to represent it at the next Oscars, but that doesn't mean you should pass over this achingly romantic period romance between an artist and her subject too.

Illustration by Zohar Lazar
Taron Egerton is spangled and spectacular in this deliriously over-the-top musical fantasia depicting the transformation of Reginald Dwight into Elton John... and he sings the songs too. Rami who?

Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street
Freddy's Revenge is now notorious/celebrated as a cult gay fave for all its none-too-subtle homoerotic overtones, but whatever happened to horror's first 'final boy'? Jesse himself, Mark Patton, reveals all in this entertaining doc.

Tell Me Who I Am
A stark look at twin brothers and the emotional extent that one took to protect the other from their unspeakable past, this unflinching documentary is hauntingly engrossing, shockingly intimate, yet ultimately cathartic.

More Honorable MentionsWhat the heck, here's another 10 to enjoy: The Biggest Little Farm, Downton Abbey, Ford v Ferrari, Frozen II, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, Hustlers, Knives Out, Midsommar, Toy Story 4 and Wild Rose.

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