(*homocinematically inclined)

Friday, April 9, 2021

Short Cuts 2021, Part 2: Oscar's Live Action Short Film Nominees

For the 16th year, ShortsTV presents this year's Academy Award nominated animated, live action and documentary short films, now playing in select theaters as well as digitally (watch the trailer here). 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.

Three American shorts face off against a pair from the Middle East, all from filmmakers invited to the Big Night for the first time. The common theme among this year's batch of nominees is conflict, with a diverse collection of protagonists struggling to "do the right thing" in difficult situations.

And the nominees are...

Feeling Through, Doug Roland & Susan Ruzenski (USA, 18 minutes), trailer.

A homeless youth (Steven Prescod), searching for shelter for the night on the streets of New York City, finds unexpected inspiration when he encounters a DeafBlind man (DeafBlind actor Robert Tarango). While it teeters awfully close to the "magical other" trope, this feel-good fable nails it on the strength of its winning lead performances.

Oscar Connection: To date, Marlee Matlin (one of Feeling Through's executive producers) is the only deaf performer to win an Academy Award; she won the Best Actress Oscar for 1986's Children of a Lesser God.

MD Rating: 7/10

The Letter Room, Elvira Lind & Sofia Sondervan (USA, 33 minutes), trailer.

After he is transferred to the mail room, an amiable corrections officer (a mustachioed Oscar Isaac) is drawn into the private lives of two death row prisoners. A promising premise that never quite commits to a tone: gritty prison drama or irreverent comedy? It's the Orange Is the New Black of short films.

Oscar Connection: Oscar Isaac (who is married to The Letter Room's writer/director Elvira Lind) has yet to be nominated for an Oscar himself, but if he ever is and then wins he will only be the second person named "Oscar" to do so. The first and so far only Oscar-winning Oscar is legendary songwriter Oscar Hammerstein II (who actually won two Oscars).

MD Rating: 6/10

The Present, Farah Nabulsi & Ossama Bawardi (Palestine, 23 minutes), trailer.

The simple task of shopping for an anniversary gift for his wife turns into a series of demoralizing frustrations for a Palestinian man (Saleh Bakri) as he navigates the Israeli checkpoints of the occupied West Bank. A powerful, universal story of persevering, of holding fast to one's humanity, in the face of seemingly insurmountable oppression.

Oscar Connection: The Present is the only short film this year nominated for both an Oscar and a BAFTA Award.

MD Rating: 8/10

Two Distant Strangers, Travon Free & Martin Desmond Roe (USA, 32 minutes), trailer.

A young black man (Joey Bada$$) is forced to relive a deadly encounter with a white police officer (Andrew Howard) over and over again. This "Spike Lee's Groundhog Day" couldn't be timelier, but a "gotcha" moment rips it back to harsh reality. Point made, but at the expense of our empathy for the film's hero (not to mention his poor hungry dog).

Oscar Connection: Prolific "tough guy" character actor Andrew Howard (Watchmen, Perry Mason) also appears in another Oscar nominated movie this year, Tenet.

MD Rating: 7/10

White Eye, Tomer Shushan & Shira Hochman (Israel, 20 minutes), trailer.

On the streets of Tel Aviv a man finds his stolen bicycle; the situation intensifies when the presumed thief appears. Unfolding in real time and in one continuous take that amps up the growing sense of inevitable, inescapable dread, this tense mini-drama shows how quickly lives can change, and often for the most senseless of reasons.

Oscar Connection: You may recall another film shot as one continuous take from last year, the Oscar winning 1917.

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.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Reverend's Reviews: Mapplethorpe, Apartheid & Prison Viewed Through a New Lens

Plenty of artists have been the subjects of movies over the years. Vincent van Gogh, Michelangelo, Frida Kahlo, Jackson Pollock, Caravaggio, Diane Arbus and Jean-Michel Basquiat are but a well-known few. Several of them have been LGBTQ. Now, we can add gay photographer Robert Mapplethorpe to the list. One of the most consequential and controversial artists of the 20th Century, he is being newly represented by the biopic Mapplethorpe, The Director's Cut. A re-worked version of the original 2018 release, it is now available for viewing via Hulu and VOD.

The film marks the narrative feature debut of acclaimed documentarian Ondi Timoner and stars Doctor Who alum Matt Smith in the title role. Mapplethorpe, The Director’s Cut features an all-new soundtrack and offers restored scenes depicting the artist’s childhood love of photography, his embattled relationship with his father, and his lingering yet ambivalent connection to the Catholic Church in which he was raised. It also more deeply explores Mapplethorpe's love affair with rocker Patti Smith (Marianne Rendón) and his subsequent, pivotal romance with powerhouse art collector Sam Wagstaff (played by current Tony Award nominee John Benjamin Hickey). We see the development of his precise, erotically-charged photographic style along with his climb toward mainstream recognition. His eventual success was only briefly halted by Mapplethorpe's untimely death from AIDS complications in 1989.

The story behind this new, revised version of Timoner's film is almost as tumultuous as its subject's life. Producer Jamie Wolf saw an early cut of Mapplethorpe and was especially impressed with its reverberant quality, which she felt effortlessly transcended the traditional biopic. Wolf, who is quietly known for her creative hand as a producer (Newtown, City of Gold, The Truffle Hunters), has a particularly strong commitment to enabling a director’s vision. When she learned the original version of Mapplethorpe had been altered for its theatrical release, Wolf recalled an article by Richard Brody in The New Yorker which chronicled Kenneth Lonergan’s long journey to restore the original cut of his 2011 film Margaret, after a version he did not endorse was first distributed.

Wolf and partner Geralyn Dreyfous persuaded the Samuel Goldwyn Company, distributor of the 2018 release, to allow them to follow the Margaret road map and create a director’s cut of Mapplethorpe. Wolf tapped Nathalie Seaver, Executive Vice President at Foothill Productions, to work with her on the project, which was expected to be a three-month endeavor. However, with their meticulous attention to detail – which included adding an original score by Drazen Bosnjak and a new soundtrack assembled by Michael Turner – the film's re-working stretched to over a year. Having seen both versions, I can attest that the new Director's Cut is a significant improvement. Smith's performance is especially impressive.

Director and co-writer Ondi Timoner has built her reputation as a documentarian, accomplishing the unusual feat of garnering two Grand Jury Prizes at the Sundance Film Festival with her film Dig! in 2004 and We Live in Public in 2009. Timoner’s first exposure to the work of Robert Mapplethorpe came when she was 12 years old. “I had a calendar of Mapplethorpe’s flowers,” she says. “I absolutely loved it, but I had no idea that there was this other side to his photography.”

The photographer’s famed floral portraits, especially of the white calla lily, have now rippled across generations. But many of his other images, including full-frontal male nudes, were considered so transgressive that much of his work was covered up at an early exhibition in Boston and could only be viewed by lifting up an obscuring curtain.

As Timoner reveals in the film's press notes: “My goal in making this film was to make an anthem for artists. I make films about difficult visionaries, about people who are unable to turn away from the quest, even when they come up against doubt and ridicule and struggle, as well as the penalties often involved. Robert Mapplethorpe set out to make people bend to his vision, to embrace what they deemed obscene, and worship it as holy. That’s an incredible thing."

Reverend recently had the pleasure of speaking further with the multi-talented Timoner via phone about her new Director's Cut:

: Can you talk about the process of making your film?
OT: I originally optioned the rights to a script by Bruce Goodrich. In exploring (Mapplethorpe's) life, I learned how he comes into his art and that led him into his sexuality. His art was the bridge to this life that he saw as beautiful. No matter how you feel about some of his controversial choices, like knowingly infecting people with AIDS, he lived his life authentically and there is beauty in that.

REV: How was your collaboration with Matt Smith?
OT: He's fantastic, an incredible artist and also a serious intellect. Originally, James Franco was cast but my then-9-year-old son, who was a Doctor Who fan, suggested Matt. (Matt and I) had lots of debates on set about every little thing I'd written. He was so right for the part, jaw-dropping. We shot the whole movie in 19 days and started at the end of Mapplethorpe's life. Matt had to lose weight before we began shooting. He remains a good friend and an ally to this day. My son actually hit it off with Matt and they're still friends.

REV: Did you receive any reaction to the film from Mapplethorpe's brother Edward (who is also a photographer) or other family or friends?
OT: I did. I didn't have any help from Robert's brother while making it, but Matt and I met to tour the Guggenheim Museum one day and coincidentally bumped into Edward. He said he loved the film! Robert's last assistant, Brian English, also saw and loved it.

REV: You are primarily a documentarian but do you plan to make other narrative films?
OT: Yes, I actually have a script I've written about my father's (Eli Timoner) meteoric rise and life called A Stroke of Genius. He founded Air Florida. He passed away recently but I was able to spend his final weeks with him and went through the script page by page with him. He had a stroke when I was 9. It's another movie set primarily in the 1970's, like Mapplethorpe.

REV: That sounds great! What would you say is the most important legacy of Mapplethorpe's work or life?
OT: I think that, hopefully, one can see the poignancy in him living truthfully, to see the price he paid for that but also the value of that. His legacy is the beauty of his work. That will never end. He made photography a collectible art form, and he helped to advance the LGBTQ movement through his art.

32 years after his death, Robert Mapplethorpe's influence undeniably lives on!

It was also 30-some years ago that I learned about apartheid, the shockingly racist policy of South Africa's then-government. Although black activist Stephen Biko was murdered in 1977 while he was unjustly imprisoned, I was largely unaware of his story or the horrific conditions his people were living under until the release of Richard Attenborough's 1987 film Cry Freedom. Thankfully, apartheid was dismantled in the 1990's through a combination of Nelson Mandela's leadership and international pressure.

Untold until now is the equally disturbing story of gay white men who lived under apartheid. Oliver Hermanus's 2019 film Moffie (a word that was the Afrikaans equivalent of faggot) is finally being released in US theaters and on VOD this Friday, April 9th, from IFC Films. It was an official selection at that year's Venice Film Festival and won the Mermaid Award for best LGBTQ entry at the Thessaloniki International Film Fest. Then COVID hit and unfortunately but understandably delayed release plans.

Set in the early 1980's, Moffie depicts the travails of 17-year old Nicholas Van de Swert (played by the very photogenic Kai Luke Brummer). It was national policy at the time that all white boys over the age of 16 had to serve in the South African military for two years. It was assumed that all such boys were heterosexual, but Nicholas is gay so necessarily closeted in light of social mores that treated LGBTQ citizens almost as badly as the country's black citizens.

Nicholas and his fellow recruits have to endure a sadistic sergeant, difficult desert conditions, and a war against neighboring Angola. On the plus side, he falls in love with the similarly closeted Dylan after they spend a night sharing a sleeping bag while on patrol in the desert. Dylan is eventually discharged and sent to a psychiatric facility for "treatment," but Nicholas continues to carry a torch for his special friend.

Adapted from an autobiographical book by Andre Carl van der Merwe, Moffie is a revealing, moving and occasionally sexy exploration of South Africa's treatment of gay men under apartheid. The movie is chock full of sweaty, frequently naked young men but doesn't feel exploitative. Jamie Ramsay's naturalistic, intimate cinematography helps in this regard. So do the sympathetic performances of all the actors involved. While I was wishing for a more upbeat ending to the film after Nicholas and Dylan are reunited, the happiest ending to this or any apartheid-era story is that apartheid no longer exists.

Writer-director Jon Garcia already has a substantial gay following thanks to his three-part, Mormons-in-love saga The Falls. Garcia's latest release Luz (newly available this week on VOD) marks an impressive, more accomplished development in the filmmaker's career. Moving on from same-sex LDS missionaries, Garcia relates the romance that gradually develops between two cellmates in a men's prison.

Mafia driver Ruben (a great, vulnerable performance by Ernesto Reyes) is sentenced after an accident that resulted in the death of his boss' trans girlfriend. The slightly older, more experienced Carlos (Jesse Tayeh) takes Ruben under his wing... and more. After Carlos is unexpectedly released from prison, Ruben has to wait three more years until his own term ends. Once it does, he sets out to find Carlos with conflicted feelings of both retribution and desire. Ruben also seeks his deaf daughter, who has been taken in by mafia boss (and Ruben's cousin) Julio.

While Luz hits some of the same emotional notes as The Falls, the film benefits from a tighter narrative as well as some more graphic sex scenes than its predecessors. Reyes and Tayeh also give more professional performances than Garcia's previous leading men. In addition, Luz has a genuinely happy ending, which is rare among the recent LGBTQ films I've seen. One can become illuminated while streaming Luz.

Reverend's Ratings:
Mapplethorpe, The Director's Cut: B+
Moffie: A-
Luz: B

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

Friday, April 2, 2021

Short Cuts 2021, Part 1: Oscar's Animated Short Film Nominees

For the 16th year, ShortsTV presents this year's Academy Award nominated animated, live action and documentary short films in select theaters and digital platforms starting today (watch the trailer here). These special programs are usually the only way for most movie fans to see all of these otherwise illusive short film nominees that can make or break your office Oscar pool. In the first of three parts, Movie Dearest takes a look at this year's five nominees for Best Animated Short Film.

This year's is a full slate of first-time nominees, half American and half international, with three contenders traditionally animated, one CGI and one a hybrid of the two. Connection, either finding one or avoiding one, is a recurring theme among the five nominees, fitting considering the year they represent.

And the nominees are... 

Burrow, Madeline Sharafian & Michael Capbarat (USA, 6 minutes), clip.

An intrepid bunny just wants to build her dream home (complete with disco!) but finds that her new underground neighborhood is a little crowded. The most traditional toon nominated this year, this charmer recalls those lovely illustrated children's books of your youth, lovingly brought to life with mirth and warmth.

Oscar Connection: This Pixar Sparkshort was originally planned to be released theatrically with Pixar's Animated Feature nominee Soul

MD Rating: 7/10

Genius Loci, Adrien Mérigeau & Amaury Ovise (France, 16 minutes), trailer.

A young woman finds herself drawn into a bizarre spiritual odyssey through an ever-changing urban milieu. This year's "arty" entry utilizes a mixture of pale watercolors and stark black ink drawings in it's attempts at expressionistic imagery, but the result is just a muddy visual style masking another pretentious attempt at "deep meaning".

Oscar Connection: Adrien Mérigeau previously worked on the Cartoon Saloon Animated Feature nominees The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea.

MD Rating: 3/10

If Anything Happens I Love You, Will McCormack & Michael Govier (USA, 13 minutes), trailer.

A mother and father struggle to deal with an unspeakable loss in the aftermath of a senseless tragedy. Netflix's first nominee in this category shows how animation can dynamically depict emotions – sadness, guilt, overwhelming grief – through simple lines and shades of color. Despite some conventional moments, it is a powerful story artfully told.

Oscar Connection: Laura Dern, who won the Oscar last year for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Marriage Story, is an executive producer.

MD Rating: 7/10

Opera, Erick Oh (USA/South Korea, 9 minutes), trailer.

A celestial pyramid depicts the trials of humanity. As a myriad of events unfold, ominous music intones while tiny, button-faced beings (saviors, servants, soldiers, slaves...) scramble about in a perpetual march towards an inevitable doom. A mesmerizing sensory feast you'll want to watch more than once to take it all in.

Oscar Connection: Erick Oh was an animator on the Oscar winning films Brave, Inside Out and Piper, as well as the nominated shorts The Dam Keeper, Sanjay's Super Team and Lou.

MD Rating: 8/10

Yes-People (a.k.a. Já-Fólkið), Gísli Darri Halldórsson & Arnar Gunnarsson (Iceland, 9 minutes), trailer.

Residents of an apartment building face their daily routines in a (relatively) positive manner. The only straight-forward comedy among this year's cartoon contenders strives for absurdism but its one-joke premise – the only dialogue spoken is "já", Icelandic for "yes" – literally gets lost in translation.

Oscar Connection: It's a big year for Iceland at the Oscars this year. In addition to this nominated short, the main characters from Best Original Song contender Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga hail from Iceland as well.

MD Rating: 4/10

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.


Saturday, March 20, 2021

MD on IG: Enter the Dragon

As a hidden dragon freed by a crouching tiger of a heroine to help save their ancient land from a scary (and strikingly topical) plague in Disney's latest animated ethno-epic Raya and the Last Dragon, Awkwafina joins the likes of Robin Williams' Genie and Dwayne Johnson's Maui as a magical sidekick that elevates the entire enterprise to a whole other level of whimsical lunacy. And if you were among those who longed in vain for Elsa to have a lady love interest in Frozen II, then you'll have a field day shipping Raya and her frenemy Namaari here; the slash fanfic practically writes itself.

MD Rating: 8/10

Raya and the Last Dragon is now playing in select theaters and also streaming on Disney+ via "Premiere Access" for an additional fee.  

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Friday, March 5, 2021

Reverend's Reviews: Three is a Magic Number

Readers of a certain age, like me, will surely remember the delightful Schoolhouse Rocks cartoons. One of their more memorable toons/songs was "Three is a Magic Number." It was actually the first Schoolhouse Rocks episode that aired, between such fave 1970's Saturday morning shows as Land of the Lost and Jabberjaw. And in the event you are too young to be familiar with it (God bless you), here it is:

Several recently-released movies seem out to prove that three can indeed be a magic number when it comes to romantic or sexual relationships. There were a couple of earlier big-screen stabs at polyamorous relationships, notably 1982's Summer Lovers (featuring a pre-stardom Daryl Hannah and Peter Gallagher) and 1994's more gay-friendly Threesome (featuring a pre-saved Stephen Baldwin). It took a few more decades, but trios and throuples of all varieties have definitely become their own genre! Here's my rundown of some of the newer entries:

Throuple (now streaming on Amazon Prime) centers on a straight couple vacationing in the Hawaiian islands who discover that their neighbors make up the titular, sexually-fluid trio. The vacationing guy, James (played by Jordan Turchin), becomes increasingly intrigued by the dynamics between the two very hot men and their female associate. James' more conservative partner Lexi (Ingrid Vollset) is threatened by the growing amount of time he spends with the neighbors. Another neighbor enters the scene and things take a very interesting turn involving an apparent murder. Throuple's script (written by Phillips Payson, who also directs, and Zoe Eisenberg) segues from "who's doing it" to "who dunnit." Both the direction and acting are amateurish in spots but it's hard to beat this film's eye candy plus its beautiful Hawaiian setting.


There is No "I" in Threesome (now streaming on HBO Max) is a first-person documentary by Jan Oliver Lucks that gets points for its tongue-in-cheek title. Jan and his fiancée Zoe were engaged to be married. In an ultimately unwise move, they mutually agreed to have an open relationship in the final months before their wedding. While Zoe is straight, Jan is bisexual. Zoe develops a relationship with a fellow actor named Tom, and the new pair decide to invite Jan to explore the possibility of a throuple between them. Sadly, things don't end well for at least one of them. As he recounts their experience, Jan becomes admirably vulnerable and applies an interesting twist to his filmmaking technique. However, the doc suffers from some dullness and repetition until this late-in-the-game revelation.


The One You Feed (now streaming on Amazon Prime) weaves a strange, time-tripping tale that ends up as a polyamorous/homoerotic horror flick. A nameless young man is attacked by an unseen creature while hiking in the desert. He is rescued by a hunky, also nameless stranger who takes the wounded man to a remote farmhouse he shares with a dominating, similarly nameless woman. She tends to the young man's wounds while the three of them gradually end up becoming sexually intertwined. The movie was directed by Drew Harwood, who co-wrote it with Gareth Koorzen. Both are actors who also play the male leads here, which adds an extra behind-the-scenes layer of intrigue. In press notes, they state that they set out to depict a love story free from labels. They succeeded, although their final film has some inexplicably bizarre elements like a repeated use of eggs, ant hills, incest and a lack of modern conveniences at the farmhouse. Rebecca Fraiser's impressively fierce performance as the cigar-smoking lady of the house is worth noting. The One You Feed is unusual but undeniably intriguing.

The best of these new releases is Show Me What You Got (now playing theatrically in select cities as well as available on demand at Level Forward Live). It marks the directorial debut of acclaimed cinematographer Svetlana Cvetko, who also shot the film in striking black and white. Marcello, the spoiled son of a famous Italian actor, has escaped his ex-girlfriend by fleeing to Los Angeles. He by chance meets Nassim, an aspiring actor originally from Tehran who also knows martial arts. Marcello asks Nassim to train him in martial arts and they end up becoming close friends. The pair then cross paths with Christine, a barista and animal rights activist who is grieving the recent death of her Italian-born grandfather. The trio take a beautifully-shot trip to Joshua Tree and end up becoming more intimately involved with one another. They commit to sharing "a life filled with support and no judgment" but things become complicated once they travel to Puglia, Italy to reckon with Marcello's father and pregnant ex-girlfriend. With its attractive, charismatic cast and energetic direction, this threesome film truly is magical.

Reverend's Ratings:
Throuple: B
There is No "I" in Threesome: C+
The One You Feed: B-
Show Me What You Got: B+

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

Saturday, February 27, 2021

MD on IG Review: Lady for A. Day

It is striking how mesmerizing Andra Day's transformation into the iconic Billie Holiday is compared to the rest of Lee Daniels' The United States vs Billie Holiday. While Day (in basically her first film role) utterly commits to her raw, fierce, heartbreaking portrayal, she is surrounded by stilted dialogue, one-note performances and Daniels' own overindulgent tendencies (pick a tone, Lee). You'll have to endure all that though (plus Leslie Jordan's ridiculous wig) because Day as Lady Day is an absolute must-see.

MD Rating: 6/10

The United States vs Billie Holiday is now streaming on Hulu.

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Friday, February 12, 2021

Indie Favorites Dominate the 2020 Dorian Award Nominations


GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics has announced the nominations for their 12th Annual Dorian Awards, honoring the best in film for 2020 (plus the first two months of 2021 à la the Oscars). Leading the pack with 6 nominations is Lee Isaac Chung's tender family drama Minari, including nods for both Film of the Year and Foreign Language Film of the Year. Chloé Zhao's powerfully moving Nomadland (the #1 movie in both my and Chris' top 10 of last year) close behind with 5 nominations. Promising Young Woman (4 nominations), First Cow and Sound of Metal (3 nominations each) round out the contenders for the Film of the Year prize.

The four acting races include a diverse array of talent, including two nominations for the late Chadwick Boseman (for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and Da 5 Bloods); he is among the contenders for the "Wilde Artist of the Year" award as well. Meanwhile, four of the five finalists for Director of the Year (Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman, Regina King for One Night in Miami, Kelly Reichardt for First Cow and Zhao) and Screenplay of the Year (Radha Blank for The Forty-Year-Old Version, Eliza Hittman for Never Rarely Sometimes Always), Fennell and Zhao) are women.


King and Zhao are also nominated for Artist of the Year (along with Elliot Page and Dolly Parton), with Blank also a finalist for the "We're Wilde About You" Rising Star Award. She is joined in that category with two other multiple nominees, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm's Maria Bakalova (a supporting actress nominee) and Never Rarely Sometimes Always lead actress nominee Sidney Flanigan. They are joined by One Night in Miami's Malcolm X, Kingsley Ben-Adir, and young Minari scene-stealer Alan S. Kim.

LGBTQ-themed films, naturally, fared well, with two romances – Two of Us from France and I Carry You with Me from Mexico – named finalists for Foreign Language Film of the Year. The latter is also a contender for LGBTQ Film of the Year, along with Ammonite, The Boys in the Band, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Supernova and Uncle Frank. And Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen and Welcome to Chechnya were nominated for both Documentary of the Year and LGBTQ Documentary of the Year.

Promising Young Woman

GALECA (of which Movie Dearest's own Chris Carpenter and myself are long-standing members) will announce the Dorian Award winners in all categories (including this year's recipient of the "Timeless Award" for lifetime achievement) on April 18th in an original special on Revry TV.

For more information about GALECA, you can visit the official website or do the social network thing via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

And the nominees are...

FILM OF THE YEAR: First Cow, Minari, Nomadland, Promising Young Woman and Sound of Metal

FILM PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR - ACTOR: Riz Ahmed in Sound of Metal, Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Anthony Hopkins in The Father, Delroy Lindo in Da 5 Bloods and Steven Yeun in Minari

FILM PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR - ACTRESS: Nicole Beharie in Miss Juneteenth, Viola Davis in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Sidney Flanigan in Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Frances McDormand in Nomadland and Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman

SUPPORTING PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR - ACTOR: Chadwick Boseman in Da 5 Bloods, Sacha Baron Cohen in The Trial of the Chicago 7, Daniel Kaluuya in Judas and the Black Messiah. Leslie Odom, Jr. in One Night in Miami and Paul Raci in Sound of Metal

Sound of Metal

SUPPORTING PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR - ACTRESS: Maria Bakalova in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Candice Bergen in Let Them All Talk, Olivia Colman in The Father, Amanda Seyfried in Mank and Youn Yuh-Jung in Minari

DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR: Lee Isaac Chung for Minari, Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman, Regina King for One Night in Miami, Kelly Reichardt for First Cow and Chloé Zhao for Nomadland

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM OF THE YEAR: Another Round, Bacurau, I Carry You with Me, La Llorona, Minari and Two of Us

DOCUMENTARY OF THE YEAR: Collective, Crip Camp, Dick Johnson Is Dead, Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen, Time and Welcome to Chechnya

SCREENPLAY OF THE YEAR: Radha Blank for The Forty-Year-Old Version, Lee Isaac Chung for Minari, Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman, Eliza Hittman for Never Rarely Sometimes Always and Chloé Zhao for Nomadland

LGBTQ FILM OF THE YEAR: Ammonite, The Boys in the Band, I Carry You with Me, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Supernova and Uncle Frank

First Cow

LGBTQ DOCUMENTARY OF THE YEAR: Born To Be, Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen, Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado, A Secret Love and Welcome to Chechnya

VISUALLY STRIKING FILM OF THE YEAR: Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, Mank, Nomadland, Soul and Wolfwalkers

CAMPY FLICK OF THE YEAR: Bad Hair, Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, The Prom and Wonder Woman 1984

UNSUNG FILM OF THE YEAR: The Assistant, Driveways, First Cow, The Forty-Year-Old Version, Miss Juneteenth, Never Rarely Sometimes Always and Shirley

THE WE'RE WILDE ABOUT YOU RISING STAR AWARD: Maria Bakalova, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Radha Blank, Sidney Flanigan and Alan S. Kim

WILDE ARTIST OF THE YEAR: Chadwick Boseman, Regina King, Elliot Page, Dolly Parton and Chloé Zhao

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Reverend's Interview: Supernova Explodes with Gay Love and Loss

I've been recommending the movie Supernova to friends for the last couple months now. When I first mentioned it, virtually all of them have thought of the lame 2000 sci-fi/horror flick that starred a frequently naked James Spader and Angela Bassett. Uh, not THAT Supernova. This new, grounded-in-reality Supernova stars Oscar winner Colin Firth and Oscar nominee Stanley Tucci as a longtime gay couple faced with the challenge of one partner's early onset dementia. It is now playing in select theaters and will be available for streaming beginning February 16th.

Firth and Tucci are both receiving awards buzz for their performances as Sam and Tusker, respectively. The men have spent 20 years together, and they are as passionately in love as they have ever been. But in the two years since Tusker was diagnosed with early onset dementia (specifically Posterior Cortical Atrophy, or PCA), their lives have had to change. As Tusker’s condition progresses, Sam is forced to place his life on hold and become his partner’s full-time caregiver. Their time together has become the most important aspect of their lives, so they plan a road trip across England while Tusker is still able to travel, to see friends and family and revisit memories from their long life together.

Supernova was written and directed by the relatively-new British filmmaker Harry Macqueen. It is only the talented Macqueen's second feature following a successful acting career. He was inspired to write it after both a former co-worker and a close friend's father were diagnosed with early onset dementia in 2015. Macqueen was also struck by the documentary Right to Die?, which follows a 59-year old man and his wife of 37 years to a clinic in Switzerland that specializes in physician assisted suicide. Once there, the man legally took his own life rather than prolong his declining condition.

"The man in the documentary, my colleague, and my friend’s father all had versions of young onset dementia that had played out in very different ways," Macqueen writes in the film's press notes. "These experiences made me want to find out more about this disorder specifically, as well as the vital debate around end-of-life choices – one that still rages to this day in many countries around the world. Running parallel to this was my passionate desire to write a story that framed a same-sex relationship in an original manner; to present a loving relationship for which the sexuality of the characters didn’t in any way shape the narrative."

Macqueen developed the screenplay over a three-year period, working closely with leading dementia specialists at University College London (UCL) and The Wellcome Trust, a charity dedicated to supporting science and research in the fields of biomedical research and medical humanities. He also collaborated with many individuals and families affected by the condition.

Once the script was finished, Macqueen and his producers moved on to casting. They discussed the notion of making one of the couple American, and what that might do to the dynamic of the film's primary relationship. “The fact that one of them was American became a strategic way of not making the project feel too British,” notes producer Emily Morgan. “We liked the idea of coming at it slightly from left field, so that there was an edge and originality to the pairing.” That's when they came up with the notion of approaching Stanley Tucci, who lives in London. “He has that edge of being American, but at the same time he’s so embedded in the UK,” added Morgan. “He was an ideal choice.”

Tucci, for his part, was "floored" by Macqueen's screenplay. It was during Tucci’s first meeting with Macqueen that the subject of who would play Sam, the other half of the relationship, was first broached. “We got on famously,” Macqueen remembers, “and during my meeting with him, he said, ‘Can we talk about who plays opposite me? Have you thought about Colin Firth? Because I could get the script to him.’ Of course, I said, ‘That would be amazing, thanks very much.’ And Stanley said, ‘Good, because I gave it to him yesterday, and he read it and loves it and he wants to meet you.”

Firth and Tucci have been friends ever since they met on the set of the 2001 film Conspiracy. As Tucci recently said in Entertainment Weekly of his 20-year relationship with Firth: "Our love for each other, our respect for each other, that intimacy was already there. When you have a really good friend, it's like a lover. You know a lot about each other, things that other people don't know — things that even spouses don't know — and that makes you incredibly close."

The resulting movie is beautiful, moving and reflective. It resonated with me strongly as both a gay married man in my 50's and as a full-time hospice chaplain. I mentioned this to writer-director Macqueen at the start of a recent phone interview that he was kind enough to grant to Reverend. He responded, "That's so lovely, thank you. I wanted to approach (the subject) as honestly as possible. I spent a lot of time researching it and trying to get it right. A woman whose husband died last year of PCA attended the premiere in London and thanked me for capturing her experience. She said it was difficult trying to get her friends to understand what she had gone through, and she could now tell them to watch Supernova. That's why I made it, really."

Macqueen (center) on the Supernova set with Tucci and Firth

Here is the remainder of my interview with Macqueen:

CC: What was it like on set with Firth and Tucci? Did any difficulties or challenges arise?
HM: It was awful, they are absolute tyrants (laughs). In all honesty, they are lovely guys and incredible actors. Right from the start, they fell in love with the script and they really trusted me. They were on board 100% right from the start. They also worked incredibly hard, especially Tucci.

CC: You obviously did your research while writing the film. Have you learned anything additional about dementia since its completion?
HM: I'm still involved in that world quite a lot. Here in the UK, and I expect it's the same in the United States, most people who have had COVID-19 now have dementia. It is scary as I expect we'll be seeing even more cases of early onset dementia from now on.

CC: Talk to me about your film's interesting music score by Keaton Henson. Who is he?
HM: I'm glad you noticed that. This is his first film. He's a folk musician over here and has quite an underground following. It's interesting because he doesn't like to perform live. I heard a piece of his he wrote for an orchestra here in London and I was blown away by it. His music isn't meant to be overly glossy. I think he did a great job on the film.

CC: Are you working on something new? What's next for you?
HM: I'm trying my best to. It's a funny time to be trying to create stuff with so many crazy things going on in the world, but I am writing a couple of new films and doing some writing for television too. I'm also an actor and will be acting in a film too but it's been postponed (due to the pandemic).

CC: Is there anything else you would like readers to know?
HM: (Making Supernova) has been one of the most profound and important experiences of my life. The characters and themes reflect my attempt to do these people and their stories justice in a truthful and original manner – to place a selfless, loving relationship in the context of an immediate future that hangs in the balance. From the outset, my desire was to make an empowering, powerful, challenging, and timely film about what we are willing to do for the people that we love.

In this regard, Macqueen definitely succeeds. Supernova is one of the best films of the last year. For more information about it as well as local theatrical showtimes, visit the film's official website.

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

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Movie Dearest's Top 10 of 2020

No doubt about it, 2020 was a long, trying, heartbreaking, infuriating, bewildering year. Yet amid all the social, political and cultural turmoil, I found comfort in "escaping to the movies", even though that generally meant relocating to the couch and firing up the Roku. I was rewarded with a myriad of cinematic delights, from a diverse array of filmmakers, ranging from eye-opening documentaries and eye-popping animated films to boundary-pushing dramas and subversive comedies.

Yes, 2020 will be remembered for many things (good, bad and very, very ugly) but, for me at least, I will hold the memories of my favorite movies from this past year close, and cherish them for offering welcome respite from the perils of reality.

Note: Although the Academy and several other awards groups, not too mention critics, have extended their eligibility dates into 2021, I decided to include below only films that were released - either wide or limited, theatrically or digitally, or any combination thereof - within the calendar year of 2020.

Road Trip

1. Nomadland - Chloé Zhao accomplishes a rare feat here, creating an intimate experience – about a woman (a sublime Frances McDormand) who has lost everything, struggling to survive as a literal "nomad" in contemporary America – within a larger message (how this country can fail its people) that never turns sentimental or didactic. A truly beautiful film that will stick to your soul for some time.

Female Trouble

2. Promising Young Woman - Carey Mulligan, irresistibly magnetic as the post-promising femme of the title, is on a mission in this blistering, darkly comic deconstruction of male/female relationships and everything that can go wrong therein. Actress-turned-writer/director Emerald Fennell goes far afield from her Call the Midwife past with this, her feature film debut. Challenging, chilling and shockingly cathartic.

Brian's Swan Song

3. Driveways - One can find kindness in unexpected places, a truth for the characters in this quiet drama from director Andrew Ahn as well as for those thankful viewers who have stumbled upon this "hidden gem" of a film. The late Brian Dennehy, in one of his last performances, shines as an unexpected grandfather figure to the lonely boy next door (Lucas Jaye). A simple, lovely story of love, loss and acceptance.

Eight is Enough

4. My Octopus Teacher - When one thinks of a nature documentary, words like "personal" and "intimate" hardly come to mind, but such is the case with this moving exploration of man's relationship with nature, specifically one man (documentary filmmaker Craig Foster) and one animal (the titular mollusc) and the surprising, unique relationship they develop over a year's time, together, in her octupus' garden under the sea.

Strangers on a Trail

5. News of the World - Tom Hanks (in, believe it or not, his very first western) portrays a traveling "news reader" who finds himself charged with returning a young orphan girl (Helena Zengel, in a dazzling debut) to a family she's never known in Paul Greengrass' sprawling, picturesque throwback to John Ford yarns of the past. Through their perilous travels, the two overcome hardships and language barriers to forge a connection beyond words.

Gingers, Snap!

6. Wolfwalkers - Ireland's Cartoon Saloon champions traditional animation once again with this, the final chapter of director Tomm Moore's "Irish Folklore Trilogy" (following the equally beguiling The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea). Filled with richly detailed backgrounds, expressive characters and dynamic action, each frame of this enchanting tale of lasses getting their lupine on is a work of art, a colorful, Celtic feast for the eyes.

The Farmer's Son

7. Minari - The Asian vegetable minari thrives in out of the way places, an appropriate metaphor for the South Korean immigrant family that relocates to rural Arkansas to start a produce farm in Lee Isaac Chung's fond remembrance of his own 1980s youth. As the parents, Steven Yeun and Yeri Han ground the tender story, while young Alan S. Kim and old Youn Yu-jung take turns stealing scenes... and hearts.

In Old Chicago

8. Ma Rainey's Black Bottom - The real Ma Rainey was "Mother of the Blues", the "black bottom" was a popular dance in the '20s, and Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, a dramatization of a turbulent recording session wherein Ma (a volcanic Viola Davis) clashes with upstart trumpeter Levee (Chadwick Boseman, simply electric in his final role), is director George C. Wolfe's mesmerizing screen adaptation of the August Wilson stage classic.

The Inspector, Generally

9. The Mole Agent - Meet Sergio Chamy, an octogenarian gent eager to try new things, who is hired by a private investigator to go undercover in a nursing home to find evidence of elder abuse. But Sergio finds something else entirely in this quirky documentary (Chile's submission for the International Feature Oscar) that plays like the oddest, most heartwarming reality show ever. If you're into Bernie Sanders mitten memes, this is the movie for you.

Swimming with Shark

10. The Assistant - As a day in the life of the junior assistant (Julia Garner, quietly riveting) to a New York City film producer of the Harvey Weinstein variety unfolds, we are witness to mundane office tasks, unnerving outbursts and a prime example of how not to conduct a Human Resources meeting. In her narrative feature debut, writer/director Kitty Green teaches a master class on the slow burn.

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

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm - Sacha Baron Cohen finally won me over with this razor-sharp, ripped-from-the-headlines satire co-starring 2020 "it girl" Maria Bakalova.

Boys State - The best of this year's many political documentaries isn't even about a real government, a good thing as no real one could be this engrossing and enthralling.

The Gentlemen - Guy Ritchie's rollicking crime caper features delicious turns from its all-star cast, especially Michelle Dockery, Hugh Grant and Colin Farrell.

Mank - David Fincher's homage to/dissection of "old Hollywood" by way of Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), brought to life in gorgeous, glorious black and white.

A Secret Love - 2020's best LGBTQ movies were non-fiction, as seen in this bittersweet gem about the remarkable, decades-long romance of Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel.

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon - Everyone's favorite Plasticine ovine-of-few-words returned for another outrageous outing, taking him to outer space and back.

Soul - Flavored with a heaping helping of NYC jazz, Pixar goes all existential in this imaginative Heaven Can Wait-meets-Nine Lives (?) fable.

Swallow - Haley Bennett is stunning as a woman obsessed with ingesting various knick-knacks as a means to cope with her crumbling psyche in this not-quite-horror horror film.

The Vast of Night - Moody and steadily unsettling, director Andrew Patterson's thrilling debut turns back the clock to a 1950s "Small Town, USA" on the evening of an extraordinary (extraterrestrial?) encounter.

Welcome to Chechnya - A harrowing, horrifying look into the atrocities inflicted upon gay and lesbian people in modern Russia is without a doubt a hard watch but an absolute must-see.

More Honorable Mentions – What the heck, here's another 10 to enjoy:

  • The international true crime/high crimes docs Assassins and The Dissident.
  • Gay faves The Boys and the Band and Uncle Frank, headlined by knock-out performances by Jim Parsons and Paul Bettany, respectively.
  • Gunda: Pigs is pigs.
  • The bittersweet Italian drama The Life Ahead, starring the legendary Sophia Loren and young newcomer Ibrahima Gueye.
  • Netflix and Frills: the fab biodoc Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado and the all-star, all-camp musical The Prom.
  • The charmingly offbeat indie dramedy Saint Frances.
  • Aaron Sorkin's timely take on The Trial of the Chicago 7, featuring a stellar ensemble including Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Rylance and Jeremy Strong.

Streaming Guide:

  • Amazon Prime: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Uncle Frank and The Vast of Night
  • Apple TV+: Boys State and Wolfwalkers
  • Disney+: Soul
  • HBO Max: Welcome to Chechnya
  • Hulu: The Assistant, The Mole Agent and Nomadland (available February 19th)
  • Netflix: The Boys in the Band, The Life Ahead, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Mank, Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado, My Octopus Teacher, The Prom, A Secret Love, A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon and The Trial of the Chicago 7
  • Showtime: Driveways, The Gentlemen and Swallow
  • Starz: Saint Frances


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