(*homocinematically inclined)

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Reverend's Preview: 21st Annual FilmOut San Diego Prepares To Take Flight

The LGBTQ Film Festival known as FilmOut San Diego celebrate its 21st anniversary this year from September 9th–12th. 47 movies will be screened during the mostly in-person, four-day festival at The San Diego Natural History Museum (THE NAT) and The Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA) both located in San Diego’s historic Balboa Park. Award-winning films from Sundance, SXSW and Berlin Film Festivals will be featured, along with independent features and a variety of short films.

According to its organizers, FilmOut San Diego "annually affirms the ongoing integrity and boundless imagination of our community and the artists who tell our stories. The Board of Directors believes its work is an integral part of an ongoing effort to build a vibrant, affirming and sustainable LGBTQ community in San Diego County." Local filmmakers will be represented during the fest by two noteworthy short films: Las Reinas de los Cuentos and the very funny We All Die Alone.

The Opening Night film on September 9th will be Peeter Rebane’s Firebird. This visually-impressive gay romance, based on a true story, opens in Soviet-occupied Estonia in 1977. Troubled soldier Sergey (played by the hunky Tom Prior, who also co-wrote the screenplay) falls in love with an esteemed fighter pilot, the equally attractive Roman. Unfortunately, their relationship becomes complicated by the affections of their commanding officer's daughter as well as by a suspicious KGB agent, at a time when homosexuality was considered a criminal offense. Their love story spans five years, and the film culminates in a performance of Stravinski's title symphony. The screening will start at 7:00 PM at THE NAT and will be followed by an Opening Night Party until 11:30 PM.

A final performance by the late, great Cloris Leachman highlights Jump, Darling, the fest's Closing Night film on September 12th. Written and directed by debut filmmaker Phil Connell, it follows a rookie drag queen (played by newcomer Thomas Duplessie) reeling from a breakup who moves in with his declining grandmother (Leachman) to protect her from the local nursing home. The film is a thoughtful exploration of the right to live as who we are and how we wish. It will screen at 7:00 PM and be followed by a Closing Night Dessert Reception at MOPA.

Other fest highlights include veteran filmmaker Q. Allan Brocka’s Boy Culture: The Series (Men's Centerpiece), Kelly Walker’s My Fiona (Women's Centerpiece) and Rafael Gomes’ Music for Bleeding Hearts (International Spotlight). One of my personal faves to be screened is Potato Dreams of America, a 99% autobiographical saga according to writer-director Wes Hurley. Precocious 12-year-old Vasili, affectionately nicknamed Potato, lives with his grandmother (a terrific, largely serious turn by Lea Delaria) and prison-doctor mother in the USSR circa 1985. His near-religious devotion to American movies is hilariously personified by a movie-loving Jesus Christ. Potato and his mother are eventually brought to the US by an American man with whom his mother has been having a correspondence. Once in 1990's NYC, Potato begins to define his homosexuality with the help of repeat viewings of Gregg Araki's indie gay classic The Living End. It's a funny, lovable flick and even features the occasional musical number!

In addition to the in-person festival, four additional films will be available exclusively online during the festival. These will give patrons who aren't quite ready to mingle in person the opportunity to participate in FilmOut from home. One of the movies is Beyto, a Turkish twist on the familiar coming out story. The title character is a competitive swimmer in Switzerland, played by the very appealing Burak Ates. Originally from Turkey, Beyto falls in love with another male teammate. However, he remains closeted from his conservative parents. After a friend of his mother spots Beyto at a Pride parade, his parents trick him into returning to Turkey and force him to marry a longtime female friend. It often plays like a 1950's melodrama but is sadly contemporary. Fortunately, love wins out in the end for all concerned. Beyto is directed and co-written by Gitta Gsell, a Swiss woman filmmaker. Her sensitive, respectful approach is a plus.

I also recommend the truly surprising Festival Spotlight film: Boulevard! A Hollywood Story. It is the latest work by out, Emmy-winning documentarian Jeffrey Schwarz. His previous queer-centric documentaries include The Fabulous Allan Carr, Tab Hunter Confidential, Vito and I Am Divine (the latter of which is currently streaming on Netflix). Additionally, Schwarz was the recipient of the 2015 Frameline Award, which honors those who have made a major contribution to LGBT representation in film, television and the media arts.

For Gloria Swanson, the iconic star of Sunset Boulevard, both the movie and the character of Norma Desmond provided a renewed spotlight. Seeing in Norma a portal back to the fame she once commanded during her early years as an actress in silent pictures, Swanson strategically began to envision a Broadway musical adaptation of the film in which she would star. Enter Dickson Hughes and Richard Stapley, two young songwriters and closeted romantic partners. They found themselves caught in Swanson’s web when she hired them to write the more succinctly titled Boulevard, a musical version of her now-classic film. Life imitated art when Gloria fell for Richard, and the men found themselves living a real-life version of the movie!

Jeffrey Schwarz is well known to this writer from his previous appearances at the Long Beach QFilm Festival. I was thrilled that he let me be one of the first to view the final edit of his latest work, as well as to be the first journalist he spoke with about it. Here is a summary of our recent conversation:

CC: It was good to see you in the film! Is this the first time you actually appear in one of your documentaries?
JS: Yes, it is the first time and hopefully the last (laugh). I didn't intend to be in it at first, but I wanted to show the process of making the movie and ultimately realized having the camera follow me was the best way to do it.

CC: What inspired you to tell this story?
JS: I've always loved Sunset Boulevard and I've learned that, for gay people, our taste in movies comes out before we do. I also love learning about the behind-the-scenes drama of classic movies, and devoured film historian Sam Staggs' book Close-Up on Sunset Boulevard. It was here I first learned about Gloria Swanson's failed attempt to launch a musical version of Sunset Boulevard and the resulting creative threesome with her composers. It was a fascinating story. Part of what motivates me to make movies is to discover these hidden stories, especially from a time when LGBT people couldn't tell our stories openly. I initially was most interested in Swanson but became more interested in Richard Stapley and Dick Hughes. They were a gay couple but never acknowledged their relationship publicly.

CC: Why do you think Sunset Boulevard still holds such appeal, especially for gay men?
JS: That's such a great question. Gay people are drawn to these bigger-than-life characters and especially people like Norma Desmond, who is defiant and (even though she loses her mind) confident in who she is. There have been volumes written about this topic so this is my best summation. It's also just such a brilliant and cynical image of Hollywood, and not much has changed. The film is also a powerful testament to actresses over the age of 50 playing lead roles, which was pretty much unheard of then and is still difficult today.

CC: You interviewed the late (and gay) movie historian Robert Osborne for this film. How was that experience?
JS: I interviewed him for my last movie about Allan Carr. (Osborne died in 2017.) I was inspired to ask him then if he would say a few things about Sunset Boulevard. He was always so generous with his time and such a lovely man. I miss him a lot.

CC: I'll be curious to see if your documentary creates enough interest in the Boulevard musical that someone will yet produce it. What do you think?
JS: Who knows? It's hard because the Andrew Lloyd Webber version is so dominant. (A movie version of it starring Glenn Close is in the works.) I hope the story goes on. I hope to make a feature film about it someday. But who knows? Maybe some Broadway producer will get interested in it.

CC: I sure hope so! What's next for you?
JS: I have a few things waiting in the wings. One is a doc about the making of Showgirls. I'm busy editing that right now. I try to be working on a few projects simultaneously because you never know which are going to fly.

I hereby proclaim Boulevard! A Hollywood Story a must see! For complete festival info including tickets, sponsorships and volunteer information, visit the FilmOut website. You can also follow the fest on Facebook at FilmOut San Diego or on Instagram and Twitter at @FilmOutSD.

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

Monday, August 30, 2021

WandaVision Bewitches the 2nd Annual Dorian TV Awards


Disney+'s wickedly wacky WandaVision leads this year's Dorian TV Awards with three wins, including two for Kathryn Hahn as the Marvel mini-series' over-the-top antagonist Agatha Harkness. Hahn was victorious in both the supporting performance and musical performance categories, the latter for her character's unexpected hit theme song "Agatha All Along". WandaVision's decades-spanning period looks also earned it the Dorian for "Visually Striking" TV show of the year.

Other winners include Pose, Hacks, It's a Sin, I May Destroy You and Love, Victor. Voted on by GALECA, The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics (of which I and fellow Movie Dearest critic Chris Carpenter are members) unveiled the winners of this year's Dorian TV Awards last night in a star-studded extravaganza that you can still watch – for free and on demand – on Revry TV.

Monday, August 23, 2021

MD Review: The Dirty Dozen (More or Less)

In the constantly rebooting morass that is DC Comics' attempts at their own "cinematic universe", James Gunn's The Suicide Squad falls right in step with its predecessors, this despite its creator's "rebel auteur" image among fanboys. The Warner-owned franchise's formula – hire a hip director to bring their "visionary" talents to the project and give them carte blanche to run roughshod over decades of comic book history – is on full view in this blood-soaked, hyper-violent and, ultimately, run of the mill anti-hero yarn. Only in a DC movie do they start the retconning during the end credits.
MD Rating: 5/10
The Suicide Squad is now playing in theaters and streaming on HBO Max through September 5th.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Reverend's Interview: Hitting the Road with Joe Bell

Growing up as an LGBTQ teenager is not without its traumatic moments. Most of us weather them but, sadly, some have endured so much bullying that suicide is the only option they can see to have some peace.

Such was the case for Jadin Bell, a 15-year old Oregon boy who took his own life in 2013 after months of abuse from his schoolmates. He was bullied for being gay both in person and online. Though tragic, his death subsequently raised the national profile of youth bullying and gay victimization. This has led to greater precautions against these in schools and society.

Jadin's death also motivated his grieving father, Joe, to take a dramatic step to honor his son's memory. Joe Bell embarked on a walk across America in April, 2013. He intended it to last two years as he would speak about his late son's experience to whomever would listen to him. Joe's life would also end prematurely in October, 2013, when he was struck and killed in Colorado by a semi driver who had fallen asleep at the wheel.

Jadin and his father are being commemorated this month with the release of a major motion picture. Titled Joe Bell, it tells each of their stories in deeply moving yet ultimately inspiring fashion. Notably, the screenplay was written by Diana Ossana and the late Larry McMurtry, who won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for Brokeback Mountain in 2006. The film will be released in theaters this Friday, July 23rd, having had its world premiere at last year's Toronto International Film Festival. Joe Bell garnered rave reviews, both for the film as a whole and for the lead performances by Oscar nominee Mark Wahlberg as Joe and young Reid Miller as Jadin.

As Wahlberg states in the movie's press notes: "With movie theaters reopening, we are excited to partner with exhibitors to bring the extraordinary story of Joe Bell and his son Jadin to audiences around the country." Additionally, the film's producers note: "Joe Bell has always been a labor of love and a story that we feel is necessary and resonant, not only first and foremost for the LGBTQ+ community but universally for parents and caretakers at large."

Co-star Reid Miller, who is now 21 years old, has previously appeared in such TV series as Play by Play, You, The Fosters and Training Day. He played the lead role in the campy holiday-horror film, Santa Jaws, and has also written and directed several short films. Miller recently spoke with Reverend about this powerful new entry in the LGBTQ film genre.

REV: I've been researching you and you are a very talented young man. Congratulations on your success thus far!
RM: Thank you so much!

REV: Had you heard about Jadin and Joe Bell prior to this project? What was your reaction to the script when you first read it?
RM: I actually hadn't (heard about them). I remember hearing little things from my friends about Jadin taking his own life but no real details. When I read the script it was a visceral reaction, which feels like an understatement. I grew up in a small Texas town and endured isolation and bullying at that age. No one should have to go through that. It was hard reading about what Jadin went through to lead him to do what he did. It makes me mad at the people who made him feel that way. He was such a light in his family and in the community.

REV: What was the casting process like for you? Did you have to audition and do callbacks?
RM: Oh yeah. Auditions and callbacks. There was so much pressure to get the casting right. They initially wanted a name actor in the role, but Jadin was young and had a very specific look. Plus, I felt I understood what Jadin went through, at least parts of it. The process was pretty rigorous. I did an audition tape in early 2019 and got a callback right away. But then there was a change of directors (from Cary Fukunaga, who moved on to the new James Bond adventure No Time to Die, to Reinaldo Marcus Green) and I didn't hear anything for months. When I finally did, there was a series of meetings with the director and Mark Wahlberg at Mark's house. I felt like things were going well but didn't know for sure. Finally, Reinaldo said "You're the guy!"

REV: Speaking of Mark Wahlberg, you have great father-son chemistry on screen. How was your experience working with him?
RM: It was great. He's a very talented guy, a very nice guy. He also created a very safe environment where I felt safe to be put on the spot since I really had to express my own woundedness while playing Jadin.

REV: How have viewers responded to the film and your performance thus far?
RM: It's always been very powerful reactions, sometimes very visceral and emotional. Some have said how they feel I brought Jadin back to life, which is great to hear but especially from members of his family.

REV: What do you hope viewers take away from the movie or the Bells' story?
RM: I say this a lot but I hope people gain a greater sense of empathy and acceptance. There is so much hate right now, especially online where there is a lot of bullying. I wish people would just take a step back and say "It's not all about me." Empathy is so important.

REV: There is a lot of debate going on in LGBTQ circles about whether only LGBTQ actors should play LGBTQ roles. As an actor, what do you think?
RM: I've heard this a lot, especially in my circles because of my age. I think it all comes down to who is the best person for the role and the story. We're living in an intense time right now and everyone is so sensitive!

REV: I agree completely. So, what are you working on now? What are some of your goals as an actor and filmmaker?
RM: I have some stuff coming up, now that we're finally at a point where people are getting vaccinated and auditions and things are opening up again. I just finished a short film that I directed and wrote that I want to develop as a feature. I'm all about action! I want to be Tom Cruise! Or his son. Can't he have a kid in one of his movies? Can't he be a father for once? (laughs.)

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

Sunday, July 11, 2021

MD Review: Along Came a Spider

After a much too long (in more ways than one) journey to her own solo adventure, the first lady of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Natasha Romanoff, is finally front and center in Black Widow. And, as trite as it may sound, it was well worth the wait. From Russia with love and filled with femme fatales, non-corny humor (rare for the MCU) and a tatted-up David Harbour squeezed into a tight super-Soviet suit, star Scarlett Johansson and director Cate Shortland deliver a globe-trotting, high stakes espionage thriller to rival the best of Bond.

MD Rating: 8/10

Black Widow is now playing in theaters and streaming on Disney Plus with Premiere Access.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Reverend's Reviews: Pride Goes On with New Movie Offerings

Another Pride month has come and gone. Thankfully, this was a more in-person celebratory Pride than last year's Pandemic Pride nightmare. It also allowed for some of the LGBTQ and other film festivals that were either cancelled or strictly virtual last year to stage combo in-person/online hybrid comebacks!

Most prominent among these was New York's Tribeca Film Festival. Co-founded by Robert DeNiro, the fest celebrated its 20th anniversary June 9th-20th. Longtime DeNiro friend and collaborator Martin Scorsese offered himself as Executive Producer of a major LGBTQ-interest documentary that celebrated its world premiere. Building a Bridge focuses on Fr. James Martin, a Catholic priest who has made an international name for himself in recent years by daring to reach out publicly to LGBTQ Catholics.

As related in the film, Fr. Martin was inspired by the tragic 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando and the apparent apathy of his peers to pen a book, Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity. The book's publication and Martin's subsequent appearances on outlets from Colbert to Fox News made him a celebrity, beloved by many but denounced by many others who claim he's a heretic or worse.

Directed by Evan Mascagni and Shannon Post, their documentary follows the outspoken but good-humored Martin (who belongs to the more progressive Society of Jesus, i.e. Jesuits) as he speaks to packed houses across the US, often inundated by protestors. He also consoles queer youth and struggling parents, and ultimately journeyed to Rome. With the election of Pope Francis (a fellow Jesuit) in 2013 and his famous "Who am I to judge?" comment, it appeared the Roman Catholic church was finally beginning to accept the LGBTQ+ community. However, a Vatican statement issued on March 15th of this year barring priests from blessing same-sex unions has made Martin's mission more critical than ever. Paradoxically, he publicized in just the last two weeks a letter of support for his ministry from Pope Francis himself. Confusing, no?

As an openly gay Catholic priest (though no longer Roman) myself, I sympathize with Fr. Martin and appreciate his outreach to those LGBTQ members who are struggling to remain in the church. That being said, I realized while watching Building a Bridge that there is something disingenuous about the film and Fr. Martin's ministry. He has never publicly outed himself but I suspect he is gay. The best witness Martin could provide would be to come out publicly. Now more than ever, representation matters in all social settings. Fr. Bryan Massengale, a priest and theologian interviewed in the documentary, came out as gay in recent years and apparently suffered no disciplinary action. It also doesn't help Fr. Martin's credibility that he is forbidden from publicly endorsing same-sex marriage. He gives an uncomfortably coy response when asked about his personal stance on this topic.

The most interesting character in the film is actually Michael Voris, head of the right-wing conservative Catholic group Church Militant. Billed as "the American society for the defense of tradition," Church Militant is comprised of numerous dysfunctional individuals and families dedicated to countering "the legitimization of sodomy." Here's the thing: Voris is a "former" gay man and son of a bipolar mother. He has blamed the sexual abuse of minors by Roman Catholic priests as the result of "the homosexual infiltration of the church." He actually threatened to out Fr. Martin at one point. The reformed/"recovered" queen doth protest too much!

I did find Building a Bridge to be inspiring but also frustrating. There's no doubt, though, that many LGBTQ Roman Catholics eager for acceptance by church representatives will appreciate this documentary.

A number of LGBTQ film festivals in the US made at least partially in-person comebacks during Pride month. Reverend was able to view several selections offered at two of them, NYC's NewFest and Connecticut's OutFilm CT. Here's my rundown of the best:

Boy Meets Boy: Kind of a gay version of Before Sunrise, writer-director Daniel Sanchez Lopez details the whirlwind, 15-hour romance between cute Berliner Johannes, a dancer, and the hot Harry, a tourist from the UK. They meet at a dance club and embark on a date that Harry describes as "my first time on a date without Tinder or Grindr." They have conversations about such wide-ranging topics as religion, modern relationships, and how "everyone's a cheese." Much of their dialogue seems improvised, to the film's benefit. Also similar to Andrew Haigh's 2011 Weekend, it is romantic and sexy, with a climactic edge of suitable melancholy.

Beyto: A Turkish twist on the familiar coming out story. The title character is a competitive swimmer in Switzerland, played by the very appealing Burak Ates. Originally from Turkey, Beyto falls in love with another male teammate. However, he remains closeted from his conservative parents. After one of his mother's friends spots Beyto at a Pride parade, his parents trick him into returning to Turkey and force him to marry a longtime female friend. The movie plays like a 1950's melodrama but it is sadly contemporary. Fortunately, love wins out in the end for all concerned. Interestingly, Beyto is directed and co-written by Gitta Gsell, a Swiss woman filmmaker. Her sensitive, respectful approach is a plus.

Potato Dreams of America: This is a 99% autobiographical saga according to its writer-director, Wes Hurley. Precocious 12- year old Vasili, affectionately nicknamed Potato, lives with his grandmother (a terrific, largely serious turn by Lea DeLaria) and prison-doctor mother in the USSR circa 1985. His near-religious devotion to American movies is hilariously personified by a movie-loving Jesus Christ. Potato and his mother are eventually brought to the US by an American man with whom his mother has had a correspondence. Once in 1990's NYC, Potato begins to define his homosexuality with the help of repeat viewings of Gregg Araki's indie gay classic The Living End. It's a funny, lovable flick and even features the occasional musical number!

Swan Song: Easily the best film on the current film fest circuit, and scheduled for theatrical release next month. Cult fave Udo Kier stars as "Mr. Pat" Pitsenbarger (a real person) in this lovely dramedy by Todd Stephens of Another Gay Movie, Edge of Seventeen and Gypsy 83 fame. He is a retired, unapologetically gay hairdresser living in a Sandusky, Ohio nursing home following a stroke. Mr. Pat leaves against medical advice after he receives a $25,000 request to do a newly-deceased client's hair and makeup before her funeral viewing. We follow him across town as he collects necessary supplies, visits his old haunts, and re-connects with other former clients as well as a protege-turned-rival played by the one and only Jennifer Coolidge. Other standouts in the cast are Linda Evans (yes, Dynasty's Crystal Carrington) as his deceased former client and Michael Urie as her grandson. But this is the 77-year-old Kier's show and he gives an excellent, unglamorous yet dignified performance somewhat reminiscent of Terence Stamp's in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. I expect he'll be remembered come awards season.

Be on the lookout for all these gems in the coming months!

Reverend's Ratings:
Building a Bridge: B
Boy Meets Boy: B+
Beyto: B+
Potato Dreams of America: B+
Swan Song: A-

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

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

MD Review: Beyond the Sea

Take Pixar's tried and true (and maybe a little tired) buddy movie formula, add a dash of The Little Mermaid's interspecies envy along with a heaping helping of Italian "that's-a spicy meatball" tropes and presto! You've got Luca, a family-friendly fantasy that barely rocks the boat as far as creative originality or animated ingenuity goes but is nevertheless a charming and entertaining "fish out of water tale" (literally).

MD Rating: 7/10

Luca is now streaming on Disney Plus.

Monday, June 21, 2021

MD Review: Bodega Nights

Before Hamilton catapulted him into the zeitgeist, Lin-Manuel Miranda was the Broadway wunderkind behind In the Heights, his 2008 Tony Award winning musical about those who live and love in the Washington Heights neighborhood of NYC. The film adaptation, brought to the screen by Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu, is a dizzyingly giddy visual and aural fiesta that transcends the stage-bound original, sending its diverse cast of characters into swimming pools and up brownstones for its stunningly choreographed (by Christopher Scott) musical numbers. You don't need to know what a "piragua" is or ever crossed the George Washington Bridge to enjoy a hot summer night visiting these Heights.

MD Rating: 8/10

In the Heights is now playing in theaters and streaming on HBO Max through July 11th.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

The Dorian Awards Strike a Pose with 2nd Annual TV Honors

With six nominations, the final season of FX's Pose sashays into the lead at the 2nd Annual Dorian TV Awards, presented by GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics. The Marvel Cinematic Universe's first Disney+ series WandaVision was close behind with five nominations, followed by a trio of HBO heavy hitters – I May Destroy You, It's a Sin and Mare of Easttown – with four nods each.

Saturday Night Live breakout Bowen Yang racked up an impressive four individual nominations (including two in the TV Musical Performance category), while other multiple nominees include I May Destroy You multi-tasker Michaela Coel, WandaVision's wickedly wacky scene-stealer Kathryn Hahn, HBO MVP Jean Smart (Hacks and Mare of Easttown) and The Queen's Gambit's leading lady Anya Taylor-Joy.

GALECA (of which I and fellow Movie Dearest critic Chris Carpenter are members) will reveal the winners of this year's awards for television fabulousness in a star-studded extravaganza on August 29th and you can watch it all – for free and on demand – on Revry TV.

For the full list of nominees, see the comments section below.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Reverend's Interview: International Gay Love from Eytan Fox

Steven Spielberg, Chloe Zhao, Kelly Reichardt and Martin Scorsese. These are four of my picks of the top five filmmakers living and working today. The fifth is writer-director Eytan Fox. He is also the only gay artist among this quintet.

Fox was born in New York City but grew up in Israel after his family immigrated there. He broke through internationally as a filmmaker in 2003 with Yossi & Jagger, a groundbreaking love story between two male Israeli soldiers. He followed it up with a moving 2012 sequel, simply titled Yossi. In between, Fox directed The Bubble, about a group of friends in Tel Aviv and a young Palestinian who comes to live with them; the superb Walk on Water, in which a hunky Mossad agent tracks the gay grandson of a Nazi war criminal; and the delightful Cupcakes, a musical comedy about friends entering an international song contest. His films have won 28 international awards altogether. Fox also developed the acclaimed Israeli television series Florentine, The Bar Mitzvah and Mary Lou.

His latest production is Sublet, which will be released in select US theaters on June 11th. It will also become available on VOD July 9th. The film follows Michael (played by current Tony Award nominee John Benjamin Hickey), a travel columnist for The New York Times. He flies to Tel Aviv to write an article about the destination pre-COVID, after he and his husband have suffered a personal tragedy. Michael is still grieving, so he just wants to do his research and return home.

He sublets an apartment from a young film student, Tomer (sexy newcomer Niv Nissim). Michael gradually finds himself drawn into the life of the city with Tomer's help. Superficially, the two men couldn’t be more different. Michael is surprised to find a city filled with fascinating contradictions and pulsing with life. But what really begins to turn things around for him is the unlikely and intense bond he forms with Tomer, which transforms both their lives in unexpected ways.

Fox's trademark compassion, humor and visual flair illuminate Sublet, which is his first movie in several years. Why the delay? As Fox writes in the film's press notes: "Besides the difficulties of making movies in the small Israeli film industry in which I work, it took me time to figure out who I was in the context of today’s quickly changing reality, and to express that as a filmmaker." The release of his finished film was then delayed a year by the COVID-19 pandemic.

He continues in the press notes, poignantly: "I’m 56 and probably never going to have biological children. In a very real way, however, my films are my children. They are conceived, nurtured, and eventually set free into the world with the hope that they will find their way there safely. In sending Sublet out into the world, I’m hoping that this story of men from two generations facing their demons and finding a way back to love from grief will strike a chord with people, the way Yossi & Jagger did many years ago. Maybe it too will change the world a little in the process."

I recently had the great privilege of speaking with Fox via phone in advance of the release of his latest "child."

REV: Hello Eytan! How are you? Where are you calling from?
EF: I am in Tel Aviv, which is back to normal (after last month's violence between Israel and Palestine). It's been a crazy time but I am doing well, thank you.

REV: When did you first get interested in filmmaking?
EF: I always wanted to be some kind of artist. I was a dancer in high school, then discovered photography in college. After I completed my time in the Israeli army, I studied film at Tel Aviv University.

REV: Has it always been your intention to tell primarily gay or LGBTQ stories?
EF: It wasn't a conscious decision, but I realized I wanted to fill my films with all kinds of subjects important to me. When I started making films, the culture here was very homophobic and nationalistic. It was a therapeutic experience for me. After people saw my films with their gay characters, they naturally started to ask me if I was gay. That was my coming out. I still try to tackle issues very important to me, including my homosexuality.

REV: How did you select your two lead actors in Sublet, John Benjamin Hickey and Niv Nissim?
EF: John I saw off-Broadway in the original production of Love! Valour! Compassion! and it blew me away. I later saw him in the movie. He was wonderful in it and I started following his career. He seemed perfect to me for this role as a New Yorker, openly gay and an artistic guy. John came to Tel Aviv and we then had chemistry tests with several actors for the role of Tomer. With him and Niv, it was in many ways love at first sight. They became close on screen and off. Niv took John home to his parents for dinners (laugh). It was truly a case of life imitating art.

REV: This is your first film primarily in English. Was that much of an adjustment for you or your Israeli artists?
EF: Not really, no. I was born in the states and have America in me. I have John's character in me and it was easy for me to teach the character of Michael to him. I actually had to learn more about young gay people in Tel Aviv today. I showed the script early on to some friends and they said "You don't know anything about young people today" (laugh). So I had to go out to the modern clubs and gay centers and talk to younger gay men.

REV: Do you continue to receive much criticism from conservatives regarding the gay content in your films?
EF: Let me say it is much easier now than when I started. The achievements we (the LGBTQ community) have made worldwide are amazing. My early films in the late 1980's were either banned or I had a hard time raising money for them. It wasn't until my films started to be shown outside of Israel that it began to become easier. When I made Yossi & Jagger, the Israeli military would not give me any access. They said, "Absolutely not." When it got out that I was preparing the sequel, the military came to me and said, "What do you need?"

REV: Wow, that is amazing! So what's next for you? Or do we have to wait another 5 to 10 years?
EF: I'm working on a few different projects, mostly for television. I'm kind of sad to admit that. I'm afraid everything is moving to TV. I am developing a show in Israel about a gay rabbi.

REV: That sounds great! Anything else you want my readers to know?
EF: Sublet is going to be shown here this weekend (the last weekend of May), finally. And in a theater! I'm so happy that the film is finally being shown. We were supposed to premiere in April 2020 but the festival was cancelled due to COVID. I'm happy that those of us who made it are now able to have closure with the film. And I'm happy we can travel again! Sublet lets people see Tel Aviv but they can also come visit us. We are coming back to life! Now that I think of it, that's like the characters in the film. We're all coming back to life.

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

Monday, May 31, 2021

MD on IG: The de Vil and Miss Stone

As the titular Disney villainess of Cruella, Emma Stone never lights up a cigarette (so as not to send the kiddy-darlings into nicotine fits, right?) yet she does face off against Emma Thompson as a psychopathic fashion doyenne who's prone to tossing rivals of a cliff to their horrific deaths. So who exactly is this movie made for? Not half as campy as it should be, Cruella is an origin story nobody asked for turned into the latest over-long, over-CGI'ed entry in Disney's incessant live action-fication of its beloved animated canon.

MD Rating: 5/10

Cruella is now playing in theaters and also streaming on Disney+ with Premiere Access.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Reverend's Reviews: Sadists and Sequins

When I was coming of gay age back in the 1980's, there were two prominent gay-themed movies I was obsessed with seeing: Making Love and Querelle. Unfortunately, both films were rated R and I was only 14. They were shown on HBO approximately one year after their theatrical release but late at night, so I recall sneaking down to our living room and watching them with minimal volume so as not to wake my mother or brother. On a side note, Querelle is available on HBO Max today, nearly 40 years later!

Querelle served not only as my introduction to elements of S&M but to filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the young enfant terrible of German cinema. It would sadly be his last production, as he died at the age of 37 shortly after its completion. Some of his other acclaimed movies are Fox and His Friends, Lola, Berlin Alexanderplatz and The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant. Many of Fassbinder's works were controversial since the gay writer-director often portrayed homosexuals, transsexuals, prostitutes and criminals sympathetically.

A new biopic about Fassbinder appropriately titled Enfant Terrible is now playing in US theaters. While undeniably gifted and quite prolific during his fairly brief career, the man is also shown as demanding, racist, sexist and abusive, sadistically so. His abuse of drugs and alcohol is also graphically depicted. Actor Oliver Masucci, who plays Fassbinder, and director Oskar Roehler have created a no-holds-barred dramatization of his life that can be as off-putting at times as it is illuminating.

The movie opens with a card reading "Each man kills the thing he loves," a memorable quote from Querelle (which was adapted from gay writer Jean Genet's novel). Primarily set during the 1970's, Enfant Terrible traces Fassbinder's evolution from a community theatre actor and playwright into one of the world's most renowned filmmakers. It is filmed in a stylized and theatrical manner, not unlike Querelle. An angel of death even appears to Fassbinder several times as his health declines.

Masucci does a superb job resurrecting the man and his debaucheries, which must have been difficult for the actor at times. The supporting cast is also excellent. At more than two hours, the film is arguably too detailed and revealing although Fassbinder's fans will likely love it for this reason. Just don't say I didn't warn you.

Another new release this week is the gay coming-of-age tale Sequin in a Blue Room. It is also pretty unflinching in its depiction of a 16-year-old named Sequin, who is exploring his burgeoning sexuality through an obsession with no-strings sexual encounters. After one such hookup he receives a mysterious invitation to the Blue Room, a strictly anonymous sex party. Sequin connects there with a hot, captivating stranger but they suddenly become separated. Utterly fixated on this man, Sequin sets off on an exhilarating yet dangerous mission across Sydney, Australia to track him down. Meanwhile, a gay classmate becomes attracted to Sequin but Sequin is too distracted to see it.

The movie marks the impressive feature debut of Australian writer-director Samuel Van Grinsven and features a breakout performance from bisexual actor Conor Leach, who plays Sequin. It won the Audience Award for Best Feature at the 2019 Sydney Film Festival and played to wide acclaim around the world, including Outfest and the Toronto International Film Festival, before the COVID-19 pandemic. The titular Blue Room is artistically staged and shot with an intense, accompanying techno score. The film also features a nice, deserved romantic ending.

Sequin in a Blue Room is now available for streaming on multiple VOD platforms courtesy of Peccadillo Pictures.

Enfant Terrible: B-
Sequin in a Blue Room: B

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

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

MD on IG: Psycho Beach Party

If you are in need of a Kool-Aid colored splash of escapist nonsense (and who doesn't these days?) then Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is just the frothy flick for you. From the insanely original minds of its stars/creators Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo comes this campy, crazy, culotte-clad comedy destined for quotable culthood, so see it now to one-up all your friends. Among its many joys (not too mention, to be fair, a few shaggy edges) is the sight of an entirely game for silliness Jamie Dornan embracing his inner goofball while managing to be sexier then all three Fifty Shades movies combined.

MD Rating: 7/10

Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is now available for purchase and rental via digital, Blu-ray and DVD.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Reverend's Interview: Feeling Special with Ryan O'Connell

I wouldn't say we are living in the most enlightened of ages, but we are making progress in at least one way. People with physical disabilities, long excluded from leading roles in the entertainment industry, are finally being recognized as major talents on screen and stage. Wheelchair-bound Ali Stroker won a 2019 Tony Award for her groundbreaking performance as Ado Annie in the Broadway revival of Oklahoma!, while the numerous deaf cast members of last year's movie Sound of Metal just helped it nab two Academy Awards.

One of the most prominent such talents is actor-writer-comedian Ryan O'Connell. Born with a mild form of cerebral palsy (CP) in 1986, O'Connell had multiple surgeries and intense physical therapy while growing up in Southern California. He performed in plays and musicals throughout his high school years despite his physical limitations, and he also studied screenwriting. While O'Connell was in high school, he discovered another potential handicap: he was gay.

As O'Connell recounted to Vulture magazine in 2019: "The moment I realized I was gay was – truly – seeing Ryan Phillippe's ass in (the 1999 movie) Cruel Intentions. I remember seeing Ryan Phillippe's ass and being like, ‘That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life.’ And then being, like, ‘Oh, fuck me: I’m gay and disabled; this is so rude."

He continued: "I was closeted until I was 17. I came out because I really liked this boy who I knew was gay, and I knew that in order to pursue him I needed to be out of the closet. I came from a very gay family. My grandfather was a closeted homosexual who died of AIDS. My uncle’s gay. My sister’s bi."

O'Connell has mined much of his personal journey in Special, the series he created for Netflix in 2019. He adapted it from his 2015 memoir I'm Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves. O'Connell stars in the show as Ryan Hayes, an insecure gay blogger with CP who still lives with his mother, Karen (played by the luminous Jessica Hecht). He also wrote the series and serves as one it's producers along with actor-producer Jim Parsons of The Big Bang Theory fame. The first season was a hit with both gay viewers and the disabled community. It also garnered notice from the Television Academy, which nominated the show for several Primetime Emmy Awards including Outstanding Short Form Comedy Series and nominated O'Connell for Outstanding Actor. Special also received a Special Recognition Award from GLAAD last year. Even more viewers have discovered the series while bingeing streaming content during the COVID-19 lock-down.

The second and final season of Special is set to premiere on Netflix on May 20th. It picks up two months after the dramatic finale of season 1, when Ryan had a huge fight with his mother and moved out. Ryan, who still hasn't spoken to Karen, has a case of writer's block that's getting him in hot water with his self-absorbed boss, Olivia (Marla Mindelle). Enter Tanner (Max Jenkins), a flirty dance instructor who charms Ryan despite not being totally available. When his writer's block eventually lifts, Ryan is inspired to write a long form piece about disability. From there, he begins a journey of self-discovery that creates unexpected complications in his relationship with Tanner. Cute newcomer Buck Andrews is partly responsible for these as Henry, a more aggressive gay guy on the autism spectrum who befriends Ryan.

Meanwhile, Ryan's best friend Kim (the delightful Punam Patel) lets her guard down when she meets Harrison (sexy Charlie Barnett, who previously starred in the movie Private Romeo, a gay take on Romeo & Juliet). He is a sensitive and fabulously wealthy tech mogul, but Kim's insecurities and jealous tendencies continue to hamper her personal life and threaten to push Harrison away. This season is about the primary characters — Ryan, Karen and Kim — coming into their power and realizing they all deserve big, gorgeous lives whether society agrees or not. Did I mention Leslie Jordan also appears as an unexpected new friend to Karen?

Reverend was privileged to speak recently with the very funny O'Connell about the new and exciting season of his hit show.

REV: How have things changed in your life or career since season 1?
RYAN: I guess the one thing is that whenever you want to make gay shit it's an uphill climb, unless you're Ryan Murphy (laugh). It has gotten a little easier for me. I'm at point one-and-a-half now instead of at the very beginning of my career.

REV: Given your success, do you feel any pressure to be the spokes model for gay men with disabilities?
RYAN: (Pause) No (laugh). Of course, when you are representing a historically marginalized group there is a responsibility to be truthful about it. I've learned I have to divorce myself from my fears about representing the community and be authentic. It's true what they say, "Write what you know." You have to write and speak your truth.

REV: I understand season 1 was pretty autobiographical. How much of season 2 is based on your life?
RYAN: Season 2 is actually not autobiographical at all. I would say the themes are very true to my life experiences but not the actual experiences. I've always been more fully cooked than Ryan on the show. I moved out of my parents' house when I was 18 and lost my virginity at a normal age (laugh). But the show is emotionally authentic to my life.

REV: What do you recommend to people with CP or other disabilities who want to make it in the entertainment industry?
RYAN: First things first, you have to feel you have the right to be there. Rob Schneider in Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo and Adam Sandler were who I aspired to be when I started out. And why not? They were hilarious and popular! You have to have confidence and be tenacious. It took four years to get season 1 of Special together. The rejection was so demoralizing. It was a very painful process. But you have to keep at it because rejection is part of the process. You have to emotionally bottom to be a top, bitch, so put on that strap-on and get to work! (laugh)

REV: You and Max Jenkins (who plays Ryan's new love interest, Tanner) create some sexy sparks this season! What was working with him like?
RYAN: Max is great! I discovered him when he did the original High Maintenance series back in like 2011. We became friends when he moved to LA. I got so excited to give him a really juicy part on the show.

REV: What are you working on now that Special is, sadly, ending?
RYAN: I'm finishing a novel, Just Be Looking at Him, and working on a movie of it with Greg Berlanti (the out producer of the CW's multiple superhero series plus director of the 2018 Love, Simon movie). I also sold a show called Accessible to HBO and am waiting to hear if they're going to film it.

REV: Very exciting! I wish you continued best of luck in all your efforts.
RYAN: Thank you so much!

Season 2 of Special premieres on Netflix on May 20th.

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

Friday, April 23, 2021

If We Picked the Oscars 2020

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: The Father, Judas and the Black Messiah, Mank, Minari, Nomadland, Promising Young Woman, Sound of Metal and The Trial of the Chicago 7
CC: Out of a very strong list of contenders, I will go with the moving Nomadland, which topped my personal top 10 list.
KH: Nomadland is not only the best film of 2020, it will be one of the best films of the 2020s.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Da 5 Bloods, arguably Spike Lee's most entertaining and least preachy movie to date.
KH: Next year the Academy will finally get rid of the annoying variable number of Best Picture nominees and just have a solid ten from then on. Too bad they couldn't have done it this year so there would have been room for the excellent News of the World and Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.

For their final voting, Academy members are asked to rank the Best Picture nominees from #1 to #8, so here are our rankings:
CC: 1. Nomadland 2. Mank 3. Promising Young Woman 4. The Trial of the Chicago 7 5. Judas and the Black Messiah 6. Sound of Metal and 7. Minari (Regrettably, I haven't yet seen surprise nominee The Father)
KH: 1. Nomadland 2. Promising Young Woman 3. Minari 4. Mank 5. The Father 6. The Trial of the Chicago 7 
7. Judas and the Black Messiah and 8. Sound of Metal

The nominees for Best Actor are:
Riz Ahmed in Sound of Metal, Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Anthony Hopkins in The Father, Gary Oldman in Mank and Steven Yeun in Minari
CC: As I expect most Academy voters will do, I would honor Chadwick Boseman not only for his excellent performance here but his whole body of work during his tragically shortened life/career.
KH: Chadwick Boseman was simply electric as a show-boating musician in his all-too-soon swan song.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Sacha Baron Cohen in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.  It seems odd to me that it has been honored in several other categories but the mastermind behind it was not nominated for his singular, satirically perceptive title character.
KH: Two non-American actors caught my attention and should have caught Oscar's as well: Tahar Rahim in The Mauritanian and Mads Mikkelsen in Another Round.

The nominees for Best Actress are: Viola Davis in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Andra Day in The United States vs. Billie Holiday, Vanessa Kirby in Pieces of a Woman, Frances McDormand in Nomadland and Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman
CC: Andra Day came out of left field in her big screen debut with a stunning incarnation of Lady Day and deservedly steals the crown from her exceptional co-nominees.
KH: In one of the most competitive categories this (or really any) year, I'd be happy with a victory for four of the five nominees (apologies to my namesake), but I will be most pleased if it ends up being my personal favorite performance (male or female) of 2020, Carey Mulligan.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Chloe Grace Moretz's badass turn in Shadow in the Cloud, a gloriously entertaining but underseen action-horror hybrid.
KH: The fierce but loving moms played by Yeri Han in Minari and Nicole Beharie in Miss Juneteenth should be here.

The nominees for Best Supporting Actor are: 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, Paul Raci in Sound of Metal and LaKeith Stanfield in Judas and the Black Messiah
CC: Daniel Kaluuya's powerful, star-making performance as Black Panther leader Fred Hampton.
KH: As Abbie Hoffman, Sacha Baron Cohen was the stand out of Chicago 7. With this and the Borat sequel, he's coming off a great year.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: As many have previously noted, the omission of Delroy Lindo for his unforgettable work in Da 5 Bloods is borderline criminal.
KH: This year's Supporting Actor race is the most egregious example of category fraud in some time (see below), especially since great performances from Bo Burnham in Promising Young Woman and the late Brian Dennehy in Driveways got passed over for title characters.

The nominees for Best Supporting Actress are: Maria Bakalova in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Glenn Close in Hillbilly Elegy, Olivia Colman in The Father, Amanda Seyfried in Mank and Youn Yuh-Jung in Minari
CC: I have not been a fan of Amanda Seyfried, so her fun yet touching turn as actress Marion Davies was an award-deserving revelation to me.
KH: It's a close race between two comedic scene-stealers, Maria Bakalova and Youn Yuh-Jung, with my final vote going to the latter for her rascally omma.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Veteran actress Ellen Burstyn gave yet another memorable performance as the fierce mother of a grieving daughter in Pieces of a Woman.
KH: MIA: "old" pro Jodie Foster in The Mauritanian and newcomer Helena Zengel in News of the World.

The nominees for Best Directing are: Lee Isaac Chung for Minari, Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman, David Fincher for Mank, Thomas Vinterberg for Another Round and Chloé Zhao for Nomadland
CC: Don't get me wrong: I love Nomadland, Chloe Zhao's previous films, and the likelihood of Zhao becoming only the second woman to win the Best Director Oscar.  However, my vote would go to David Fincher, whose Mank serves as a masterful tribute not only to the rightful author of Citizen Kane but to Fincher's own late, beloved father.  Fincher also has not yet won an Oscar and I think one is well deserved here.
KH: Chloé Zhao for Nomadland, no question.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Spike Lee for Da 5 Bloods, one of his best films to date.
KH: Paul Greengrass, previously nominated for directing the 9/11 drama United 93, should have got nomination #2 here for News of the World.

The nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay are: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, The Father, Nomadland, One Night in Miami and The White Tiger
CC: I'm still not sure how the Borat sequel qualifies as adapted.  At any rate, Nomadland gets my vote.
KH: Again: Chloé Zhao for Nomadland, no question.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: First Cow by Kelly Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond, a lovable, gay-ish critical and festival darling that was completely neglected by the Academy.
KH: Speaking of Paul Greengrass, he should have got nomination #3 here as well, for co-writing (with Luke Davis) News of the World.

The nominees for Best Original Screenplay are: Judas and the Black Messiah, Minari, Promising Young Woman, Sound of Metal and The Trial of the Chicago 7
CC: Despite a finale that is arguably too pat, Emerald Fennell's script for Promising Young Woman is constantly surprising and undeniably feminist.
KH: There was no more original or thought-provoking film in 2020 than Emerald Fennell's Promising Young Woman.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Andy Siara's Groundhog Day-esque Palm Springs was one of the smartest, funniest movies of the year and this category is usually where the Academy recognizes such efforts.
KH: Hannah Bos and Paul Thornton for the unsung gem Driveways.

The nominees for Best Cinematography are: Judas and the Black Messiah, Mank, News of the World, Nomadland and The Trial of the Chicago 7
CC: While the naturalistic Nomadland has been worthily acclaimed, I was struck even more by the gaslamp-lit images by Dariusz Wolski in the Tom Hanks western News of the World and would vote for it.
KH: I was mesmerized by Erik Messerschmidt's deep dive into the Old Hollywood black and white esthetic in Mank.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: The slavery-suspenser Antebellum has much to recommend it despite an M. Night Shyamalan-like twist, most notably Pedro Luque's deceptively gorgeous cinematography.
KH: Another film with a meticulously recreated period look was the 1950s-set The Vast of Night, courtesy of director of photography Miguel I. Litten-Menz.

The nominees for Best Production Design are: The Father, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Mank, News of the World and Tenet
CC: Mank, a physically flawless valentine to classic Hollywood, hands down.
KH: From motion picture sound stages to Hearst Castle, the Mank team (production designer Donald Graham Bart and set decorator Jan Pascale) immersed us in Tinseltown's classic era.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Say what one will about Disney's adaptation of Artemis Fowl but its more fantastical design elements looked terrific.
KH: The breath-taking visuals of both Soul and Wolfwalkers prove that animation deserves to be invited to this party.

The nominees for Best Costume Design are: Emma, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Mank, Mulan and Pinocchio
CC: The shoes worn by Chadwick Boseman's Levee aren't the only memorable Ann Roth fashion choices seen in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.
KH: Alexandra Byrne's gorgeously eclectic fashions for the newest version of Jane Austen's Emma were an Anya Taylor-Joy to behold.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Jenny Beavan's costumes are one of the few commendable aspects of the woeful Dolittle remake.
KH: How did another recent adaptation of a literary classic, Dickens' The Personal History of David Copperfield (with the quirky, creative designs of Suzie Harman and Robert Worley), not make this cut?

The nominees for Best Original Score are: Da 5 Bloods, Mank, Minari, News of the World and Soul
CC: Former rockers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross hit new artistic heights with their jazzy scores for both Mank and Soul, with Soul taking a narrow lead.
KH: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross created two musical scores for Soul, one for the "real world" of New York and one for the otherworldly afterlife. Add in Jon Batiste's transcendent jazz and how could you vote for anything else?
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Hans Zimmer created an alternately potent and lyrical score for Wonder Woman 1984, appropriately imbued with retro 80's musical touches.
KH: Oscar winning composer Ludwig Göransson (Black Panther) has been batting a thousand lately; in addition to his instantly iconic theme for The Mandalorian he turned out the moody melodies of Tenet as well.

The nominees for Best Original Song are: "Fight for You" from Judas and the Black Messiah, "Hear My Voice" from The Trial of the Chicago 7, "Húsavík" from Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, "Io Si (Seen)" from The Life Ahead and "Speak Now" from One Night in Miami
CC: "Fight for You" (by H.E.R., Dernst Emile II and Tiara Thomas) is a rare, enjoyably funkadelic nominee!
KH: In this frigid sea of end credit blandness, it is the mighty "Húsavík" that stands as tall as the Icelandic mountains that "sing through the screams of seagulls". Kudos to the song's composers Savan Kotecha, Max Grahn and Rickard Göransson for putting the "pow" in this power ballad.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Written for Ryan Murphy's dazzling (yet unrecognized) adaptation of the Broadway musical The Prom, "Wear Your Crown" deserved to be nominated if for no other reason than Meryl Streep's mid-song rap that pays homage to Michelle Obama!
KH: Where are the show tunes? Actual musicals got the short shrift this year, whether live action ("Square Root of Possible" from Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey) or animated ("Rocket to the Moon" from Over the Moon).

The nominees for Best Film Editing are: The Father, Nomadland, Promising Young Woman, Sound of Metal and The Trial of the Chicago 7
CC: I found Aaron Sorkin's The Trial of the Chicago 7 to be a fairly standard courtroom drama, so its tight editing provides most of the film's tension and excitement.
KH: Frédéric Thoraval helped ratchet up the tension to "11" in Promising Young Woman.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Tenet is a no-brainer for me in this category since Jennifer Lame's editing necessarily supports the film's nominated visual effects.
KH: The editing team of Mark Czyzowski and Sidney Wolinsky contributed greatly to the taut WWII thriller Greyhound.

The nominees for Best Sound are: Greyhound, Mank, News of the World, Soul and Sound of Metal
CC: I haven't seen likely winner Greyhound so I would go with Soul all the way.
KH: A lot has been said about Sound of Metal's use of sound to represent the main character's deafness like it has never been done before. My vote goes to the crew of Greyhound for creating a soundscape that put you on that ship right alongside Tom Hanks' heroic captain.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: The striking sci-fi indie The Vast of Night is utterly dependent on its memorable sound effects and editing.
KH: You may notice that the two sound categories (mixing and editing) have been combined into one this year, which may account for why a musical like The Prom (which relies more on mixing) was left out in the cold.

The nominees for Best Visual Effects are: Love and Monsters, The Midnight Sky, Mulan, The One and Only Ivan and Tenet
CC: I would vote for the startlingly realistic mutated critters in the enjoyable Love and Monsters.
KH: In the spirit of such quirky past nominees in this category such as Little Shop of Horrors and The Nightmare Before Christmas, the bizarre mutant creature creations of Love and Monsters get my vote.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: The CGI animal cast of Dolittle is one of the few other attributes of the remake.
KH: Shame on the voters of this category for not recognizing the truly ground-breaking – not to mention life saving – techniques used to disguise the endangered subjects of the documentary Welcome to Chechnya. The moment where one's true face is revealed was the most emotional use of visual effects I have ever seen on film.

The nominees for Best Makeup and Hairstyling are: Emma, Hillbilly Elegy, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Mank and Pinocchio
CC: The looks sported in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom are period perfect.
KH: While I marveled at the transformation of Viola Davis into Ma Rainey and the copious use of ringlets in Emma, the Pinocchio team not only turned a boy into a wooden puppet but also various cast members into apes, snails and even a fish.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: I enjoyed Judi Dench's owl-like appearance and other actors' avian guises in Artemis Fowl.
KH: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm successfully camouflaged Sacha Baron Cohen in public and gave Maria Bakalova a glam makeover.

The nominees for Best Animated Feature are: Onward, Over the Moon, A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon, Soul and Wolfwalkers
CC: Soul, despite my more personal fondness for its fellow Disney/Pixar honoree Onward.
KH: I loved Pixar's as-usual top quality CGI in Soul and Aardman's always crazy claymation in the Shaun the Sheep sequel, but it is high time that Cartoon Saloon's traditional hand-drawn artistry gets the gold with the breathtakingly beautiful Wolfwalkers.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: I watched Scoob! upon the recommendation of my 6-year old nephew and thoroughly enjoyed it!
KH: None. In fact, this year I would have been just fine with only the three nominees I mentioned above in this category.

The nominees for Best International Feature Film are: Another Round (Denmark), Better Days (Hong Kong), Collective (Romania), The Man Who Sold His Skin (Tunisia) and Quo Vadis, Aida? (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
CC: Another Round could have turned out offensive but instead is a fairly profound treatise/character study.  The deft handling by Thomas Vinterberg explains why he ended up a surprise nominee for Best Director.
KH: Quo Vadis, Aida? is a devastating, infuriating look at the Srebrenica massacre featuring a haunting performance by Jasna Djuricic. You won't want to sit through it twice, and that is a compliment.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: I Carry You With Me, Mexico's powerful, fact-based docudrama detailing an over-the-border gay love story.
KH: The lovely romance of two older women in France's Two of Us deserved to be recognized.

The nominees for Best Documentary Feature are: Collective, Crip Camp, The Mole Agent, My Octopus Teacher and Time
CC: I loved the beautifully shot and unexpectedly moving My Octopus Teacher.
KH: It's nice to see some "feel good" docs in this category for a change, and the bittersweet wonders of My Octopus Teacher have proven it to be the little nature film that could... win the Oscar, that is.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Welcome to Chechnya, which details the ongoing persecution of LGBTQ citizens of Russia and other conservative Eastern European countries.
KH: Speaking of "feel good", where's the delightful The Truffle Hunters? Or the more traditional-for-this-category Welcome to Chechnya for that matter.

The nominees for Best Documentary Short Subject are: Colette, A Concerto is a Conversation, Do Not Split, Hunger Ward and A Love Song for Latasha
CC: I would vote for the eye-opening, inspiring Hunger Ward.
KH: The short and sweet A Concerto is a Conversation is a lovely, loving look at family and the inspirations they find within themselves.
Egregiously Overlooked:
KH: The Speed Cubers was another inspirational tale of underdogs finding their place in the world.

The nominees for Best Animated Short Film are: Burrow, Genius Loci, If Anything Happens I Love You, Opera and Yes-People
CC: The devastatingly beautiful (or beautifully devastating) If Anything Happens I Love You.  I'm still crying.
KH: I was mesmerized by the audacity and brilliance of Erick Oh's Opera.
Egregiously Overlooked:
CC: Disney's kinda dated but still adorable and hilarious Out, which featured a lead gay character.
KH: It was sad to see that the two LGBTQ-themed shortlist semi-finalists Kapaemahu and Out didn't make it to the finals. #OscarsSoStraight?

The nominees for Best Live Action Short Film are: Feeling Through, The Letter Room, The Present, Two Distant Strangers and White Eye
CC: I liked the effective Groundhog Day meets George Floyd meets Twilight Zone approach taken in Two Distant Strangers.
KH: The two non-American contenders – The Present and White Eye – resonated the most with me, with the edge going to the BAFTA winning The Present for its emotional resonance.
Egregiously Overlooked:
KH: Although I have yet to see it, it was a bit of shock not to see Pedro Almodóvar's The Human Voice (starring Tilda Swinton) left out of the nominations.

And now for our own special category of dishonorable mention, the Worst Nomination of the Year:
CC: The laughable hairstyles in Ron Howard's embarrassingly corn-pone Hillbilly Elegy.

KH: Category fraud has been a consistent issue in the acting races for some time now, but there has never been an example as ridiculously perplexing as this year's Supporting Actor fiasco. Here's the deal: Warner Bros., the studio behind Judas and the Black Messiah, campaigned Daniel Kaluuya (who played the "Black Messiah" of the title) for supporting actor and LaKeith Stanfield (the "Judas") for lead, even though they are both technically the leads of the movie. The theory of how they both ended up in supporting is that some voters switched them (Kaluuya/lead, Stanfield/supporting) when they voted, but that Kaluuya still got more votes for supporting than lead; the rules state that a performance can't be nominated in both categories, so whichever one gets more votes is the one they are nominated in. And then Stanfield also managed enough votes to snag the fifth spot in supporting (which was up for grabs all season). Bottom line: this happened because those involved (the studio, the voters) all played fast and loose with the rules, which are very vague when it comes to the acting categories and who is lead vs. who is supporting. One would hope this embarrassing situation would lead to some changes in the future but, yeah, I'm not holding my breath.

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.