Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The 2017 No Blogging for Old Men Awards - Best Actress

Without a doubt the most difficult category for me to bring down to only 5 nominees, this years Best Actress category is crowded and incredible. This is the only category that compels me to discuss some honorable mentions real quick, those being the up-and coming soon to be superstar Anya Taylor-Joy who was incredible making her feature film debut in The Witch and has since been great in films like Barry and Split, Mary Elizabeth Winstead for her terrific work in 10 Cloverfield Lane, child actor Royalty Hightower for her remarkable debut in The Fits and Ruth Negga for her elegant, subtle and beautiful work in Loving. I'm sure there are even more I am not thinking of, and if I weren't trying to match the format of the Academy Awards here I could expand the category to 10 nominees with ease.

Hailee Steinfeld, The Edge of Seventeen

Featuring a great script and a perfect supporting performance from Woody Harrelson (whom I already nominated for Best Supporting Actor), a memorable, authentic teen comedy needs a memorable, authentic lead performance: enter Hailee Steinfeld, probably mostly known these days for her blossoming music career but everyone needs to turn their attention to just how awesome she is on camera. This is old news of course, given her Oscar nominated performance in True Grit when she was only 14 years old, but it's great to see she not only can be the lead of a film but completely knocks it out of the park too.

Isabelle Huppert, Elle

It has been established that Paul Verhoeven is basically a misunderstood genius, but when it comes to a film like Elle I believe any praise thrown his way needs to also be tossed in equal measure towards Isabelle Huppert who is astonishing in the lead role. You can't sell his brand of ambiguous, deeply thematic material without performances that fit the tone he, as a director, is looking for, and Huppert was the perfect choice to lead this highly sexual, violent and controversial picture.

Amy Adams, Arrival

I still can't believe that Arrival is nominated for 8 Oscars, which is a substantial amount, and yet the lead performance from Amy Adams is not one of them. I can't make sense of it. The film just doesn't work as well as it does (and it works really, really well) without her incredible, graceful performance, and given that the Academy obviously appreciates the hell out of the film, how did she fall short? Well, to make up for it, I am here to nominate her for my completely meaningless award, so congratulations Amy!

Emma Stone, La La Land

One of the hardest things I have had to admit this award season is that Emma Stone is going to win the Oscar and yet I don't agree. I will be thrilled to see her up there, the star of my favorite film of 2016 and she is beautiful, charming, and funny, an outstanding actress giving the performance of a lifetime...and yet I would personally give it to someone else. Emma would be my runner-up and by no means do I think the Academy is really make any sort of substantial mistake when she wins (and she will), and I hope La La Land racks up the trophies because the film is simply magical. I love Emma Stone, so don't misinterpret this. But...

the winner is...

Natalie Portman, Jackie

My single favorite performance from all of 2016, Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy is a stunning thing to behold. She has it all down, the look, the vocal patterns, the mannerisms. Everything. The collaboration of Portman and director Pablo Larraín proves to be a match made in heaven, and with the camera pulled in close Jackie presents its lead in a claustrophobic manner and there is no where for Portman to hide and she nails every single damn scene. It's devastating, gorgeous, must see stuff.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The 2017 No Blogging for Old Men Awards - Best Supporting Actor

Moving on to the next category, that being Best Supporting Actor, and I will be recognizing two actors from the same film that never appear on screen together, one of which will likely be receiving the Oscar (and rightfully so) and the other not nominated but his time in the film continues to stick with me.

Ashton Sanders, Moonlight

Here is the first of the two actors from the same film, this being the one that was not recognized with a nomination and unfortunately that isn't really a surprise. I'm sure many would question what makes this one performance more special than the others, as it is one of three actors to portray the main character Chiron throughout Moonlight, and it is important to note that I do not mean to slight Alex R. Hibbert or Trevante Rhodes in the least. Every performance in this film is remarkable, truly every one, but for whatever reason the second act of the film really hit me hard and it is when Chiron is a teenager and being bullied at school, and Ashton Sanders plays it perfectly, sometimes while barely saying a word. 

Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea

It is basically impossible to recognize Casey Affleck without also pouring the same praises onto Lucas Hedges, and vice-versa. They each have their own individual brilliant moments in the film, but it's the chemistry they share together and the comedy and heart their relationship provides that make the film work so well, on a far different level than just another "tear-jerker". Manchester by the Sea is devastating but it will also make you smile and laugh quite a lot, and much of that is due to Hedges with a terrific performance as the nephew left behind by a mother living a very different life and a father who has just passed away. 

Woody Harrelson, The Edge of Seventeen

The Edge of Seventeen didn't shatter any box office records, but this film will find its audience and it should. It needs to. A tremendous teenage comedy that doesn't feel forced like so many do, like you can tell it is an adult writing what he or she believes teenagers are rather than having any real authenticity, the lead performance from Hailee Steinfeld was the most recognized piece of the film (and she is absolutely wonderful), but the scenes she shares with Woody Harrelson playing her teacher provide some of the most memorable moments from the whole movie. Harrelson doesn't really show any shocking range from the type of performance we already knew he was capable of, but he doesn't have to. What he brings to The Edge of Seventeen is sheer perfection and essential to making me love the movie as much as I do.

John Goodman, 10 Cloverfield Lane

I recall back when 10 Cloverfield Lane was released last March, there were some articles buzzing about the Oscar prospects for John Goodman and I was immediately a pessimist no matter how much he deserved it. A perfect, terrifying performance, without a doubt, but one that would be overshadowed later in the year when all of the award season releases started hitting theaters, and sure enough that's exactly what happened. The good news is, fans of the film will never forget what Goodman delivered in 10 Cloverfield Lane. I sure won't.

the winner is...

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

If you are yet to see Moonlight but have taken notice of all the awards and praise Mahershala Ali has received for his performance thus far, you may be shocked to find out just how little he actually appears in the film, as he is only in the first of the three acts. Don't be distracted by how much time he is there, but rather focus on just how there he is during that first formative and powerful part of Chiron's life. It's actually far more impressive that he does so much without being a presence throughout and without a showy, over-the-top "Oscar moment" to point to, but that's the compliment I can pay to the entire picture. It's just so real and honest and moving, and Mahershala is completely brilliant and worthy of the Oscar he will win.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The 2017 No Blogging for Old Men Awards - Best Supporting Actress

With the Oscars approaching, award season is coming to a close. This also means it is time for me to announce who I would have nominated in 5 major categories and who I feel deserves to win in each.

Starting off with Best Supporting Actress, here are the nominees:

Viola Davis, Fences

She may not win in my world, but she is going to win the Oscar and it is a totally appropriate and worthy choice. Viola Davis gave an emotional, powerful, brilliant performance in Fences, a film based on a stage play so it utilized minimalist set pieces and allowed the actors to shine. They did, and Viola Davis gave one of the better performances of 2016.

Imogen Poots, Green Room

There was never a chance that Green Room would receive a single Oscar nomination, even with the critical acclaim it received. A genre film released in April about a punk rock band being stuck inside a Nazi club and having to fight for their survival doesn't exactly scream award season. That being said, it is a film executed with precision and confidence and the performances and style meld together into something awesome. The actors that leave an indelible impression on the audience once the film ends are Imogen Poots and the late Anton Yelchin, and Poots is fierce and perfectly cast here. I saw over 175 films released during 2016 and if I look back at the year in cinema off the top of my head, what Imogen Poots did in Green Room will always be part of what I think of.

Naomie Harris, Moonlight

Moonlight is a film that showcases masterful performances from top to bottom, and the supporting work throughout is remarkable. Naomie Harris is one of those pieces that without her, the film just doesn't fit. Playing the drug addicted mother of the main character Chiron, Harris adds an essential amount of uncomfortable into the narrative of the film, a character that will be easily disliked and yet also demands empathy because of the nuance she brings to the role. There have been a whole lot of drug addicted parent characters throughout the years in cinema, but Harris elevates it to something else entirely. 

Mackenzie Davis, Always Shine

Always Shine is one of those films I am going to spend some energy promoting to people in the near future, because it deserves all the attention it gets and it hasn't received nearly enough. A delicious little thriller directed by Sophia Takal and the stellar performance that brings the tension to it all comes from Mackenzie Davis. A psychological thriller demands an unnerving presence to send chills down your spin in order to work, and the pain her character Anna feels throughout as she watches her best friend's acting career take off while her life is stuck in neutral is crucial and spellbinding. 

the winner is...

Molly Shannon, Other People

Until I watched Other People, I would see Molly Shannon on television screen and the first thing I would think of, obviously, was Saturday Night Live. I had no idea she had a performance like this in her, with so much heart and soul and pain and honesty poured into a character that is dying of cancer, surrounded by her family while she is trying to make the best of what time she has left. It's a beautiful performance that may have received Oscar recognition had it not come from an under the radar indie feature, but it's a good one that is streaming on Netflix now. Watch it and see just how great Shannon is for yourself.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Small Screen: Taboo Episode 6

Anyone who has been keeping up with my thoughts on each episode of the FX series Taboo knows that my expectations were high and have been consistently disappointed by a very well made show that just wasn't doing anything to keep me glued to the screen.

Finally, fucking finally I got an episode I had been hoping for all along, and it's about damn time considering it was the sixth of only eight total. Taboo is clearly beginning to ramp up and race towards its conclusion and while the early portions of this most recent episode felt like much the same, when it started to hit its stride, I was hooked.

War has been declared between the East India Company and James Delaney (Tom Hardy), and this excellently directed and tense episode finally managed to make the stakes of the story feel substantial. We get some murder, incest, explosions and haunting visions of a rather terrifying deceased mother, and all of it adds up to something I actually enjoyed watching quite a bit. Now I can actually look forward to next week when the penultimate episode airs, rather than the previous weeks of begrudgingly reminding myself that even as the story has slogged along, at least there has been a lot of good to see stylistically and with a really intricate production that successfully transports the audience to the era it is trying to represent.

Please let this not be an anomaly. If Taboo can end strong, I will remember the series overall fondly even if it did overall disappoint. I would even be excited for another season, should that happen.

Episode Grade: B+

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Small Screen: The Young Pope "Episode 10"

I have no idea if Pope Pius XIII will ever grace my television again, as there is no guarantee of a season two let alone a guarantee of Jude Law's return even if it does happen, but what we got here for these ten episode was pure excellence. The Young Pope turned out to be intense, bizarre, fascinating and consistently beautiful, both in technical terms with top notch sets, costumes, and camerawork and also in regards to its often times poetic and profound narrative. I have no idea what to expect and no real substantive expectations before the series began, but now I can say it was a pleasure to enjoy these ten hours of storytelling.

It's funny, I am a huge fan of binge watching shows released in one lump sum on streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, and yet here just with HBO deciding to release two episodes a week rather than the usual one, I feel like The Young Pope came and went too quickly. Only 5 weeks ago the journey began, one that initially felt like a silly premise primed to find its audience merely through shock factor and blasphemy, and now I am sitting here thinking how much I hope to see more in the future. If it doesn't return though, Paolo Sorrentino created a brilliant limited series with an ambiguous ending that I am still unpacking right now.

The winning episode of the season proved to be the eighth but from top to bottom, start to finish The Young Pope was a hell of a watch. Even at its worst it was still good television.

Episode Grade: A-

Season One Grade: A-

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Small Screen: The Young Pope "Episode 9"

You know a show is outstanding when an episode like the penultimate entry of the first season of The Young Pope is considered a "step down" from the previous one. Other shows would kill to make just one installment this good, and it isn't even its best.

The episode kicks off with a lengthy and, par for the course for this show, beautifully written conversation/debate between the Pope and Spencer over what their official position on abortion should be. After this scene much of the episode surrounds the circumstances of Gutierrez as he is succumbing to alcoholism and dealing with a mess, both literally and figuratively. We still get plenty of the Pope here, of course, but let me tell you, the Gutierrez stuff is so elegantly handled and interesting, so an entire episode focused solely on him and his plight would have been just fine by me, granted the one subplot in this episode involving Gutierrez that focuses on the bed ridden, morbidly obese woman who owns the hotel he is staying in didn't really do much for me. I get what they are going for thematically, that Gutierrez and her are completely different people yet in a way are similar because both are currently trapped by their circumstances, but this was probably the only thing holding back this episode from matching the greatness of number eight.

With only one episode to go, which I will likely be watching tonight, the first season of The Young Pope has been quite an achievement. A great ending would likely cement it as a top ten show of the year entry, which is hard to promise in mid-February but I feel pretty confident with this one.

Episode Grade: A-

Monday, February 13, 2017

The 50 Finest Films of 2016 - #10 - #1

We have arrived at top 10, my favorite films from 2016. After seeing 176 of them in all from last year, these are the ones that have stuck with me and will stick with me the most, the ones that I either already have or will certainly buy and add to my collection so I can revisit them numerous times.

10. Silence

Despite how much I love the film, I am not nearly as surprised that Silence was ignored by the Academy as others are. That isn't to say it didn't deserve recognition, holy shit it did in numerous categories, but it's a challenging, long, painful story to witness unfold and I tend to lean towards believing the average Oscar voter shying away from such movies. I have read too many of those anonymous award voter stories where the person admits to not even watching films like Silence to be an optimist and believe this Scorsese epic got a fair shake. It's a beautiful, horrifying, incredibly made picture though, and down the road it will get the recognition it deserves.

9. Arrival

Based on the short story titled "Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang, the Denis Villeneuve directed Arrival is a stunning film lead by a lead performance from Amy Adams that is, remarkably, not nominated for an Oscar. Without her Arrival just doesn't work the way it does, a science fiction story with deep, emotional themes and messages spilling out over the edges, a movie with a focus on language and communication that makes you think and earn the profound payoff rather than spoon feed it to audiences. 

8. Jackie

I knew the performance would be there. I walked into Jackie expecting something special from Natalie Portman in the lead role as Jackie Kennedy, but what I didn't know and was pleasantly surprised to find out was just how fantastic the entire film would be. Filmed beautiful and yet painfully through a claustrophobic lens by director Pablo Larraín and cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine and scored with a haunting brilliance by composer Mica Levi, Jackie is 90 plus minutes of searing images and a pitch perfect example of not just acting, but flat out embodying a character.

7. Green Room

Way back in April of last year, I learned that a theater near me would be screening Green Room on its release day and I got to thinking: how can I leave work early to see it as soon as possible? A little lie to leave early and next thing I know I am sitting in a cinema ready to enjoy Jeremy Saulnier's follow up effort after the amazing Blue Ruin. I had high expectations but I still had no idea that I would be witnessing such a brutal, gloriously realized genre film that would end up in my top 10 of the year. A cold, sharp as a blade thriller that packs a huge punch, Green Room also feels more appropriate months after its release than it did that day. I mean after all, it includes a live performance of the song "Nazi Punks Fuck Off" by the Dead Kennedys. 

6. The Neon Demon

You either love the work of Nicolas Winding Refn or you don't. Considering Drive is one of my favorite films ever made and I feel alone on an island fighting the good fight for his film Only God Forgives, it should come as no surprise that I fall on the "love" side of the coin, and The Neon Demon is another stylish, sexy winner from the Danish filmmaker. A take down of the modeling industry and the way it pulls young women in offering a glamorous lifestyle only to churn them up and spit them out soon after, The Neon Demon isn't for everyone and many will be turned off by its violence and just how strange things get as it goes, but lord this film is for me. 

5. Manchester by the Sea

It's not enough to simply say that Manchester by the Sea is an emotional movie, it needs to be said that the reason it is extraordinary is how it earns that emotional response so naturally and honestly without even the slightest hint of manipulation. It's a devastating piece of cinema because it feels so real, with an incredible Oscar worthy performance from Casey Affleck and outstanding supporting work from everyone including Michelle Williams and newcomer Lucas Hedges. Out on Blu-ray and DVD tomorrow and premiering on Amazon Prime soon, make sure to check out Manchester by the Sea so you can understand why it is getting the awards attention and recognition it deserves.

4. The Witch

Speaking of awards attention and recognition that is deserved, The Witch received none from the Academy but I am not the least bit surprised. I mean, it's a low budget horror film that was released last February, which isn't exactly the type of thing that will keep buzz going for a year until the Oscars. Even I am totally shocked that such a movie released at that time of the year would land as my number 4 of the year, but The Witch never left me all year long. Hell, I even revisited it twice at home and my appreciation only grew. It is EXACTLY what I am looking for from the genre, with director Robert Eggers knowing how to build tension and terror that absolutely cuts through you without turning it into a gore fest merely for shock factor. Great ensemble performances from the whole family but it's the lead work from Anya Taylor-Joy that floored me, and it has been refreshing to see her in other solid films since as well. 

3. Moonlight

A masterpiece that not nearly enough people have seen based on box office numbers, Moonlight is a beautiful, heartbreaking, inspiring journey, a three-act story about a boy who becomes a man but is unable to find himself completely as he struggles with his homosexuality living in a world that won't accept it. Director Barry Jenkins has said that he didn't truly know the extent of what he had created until they were finished filming and were in the editing room, and I believe it because nothing about Moonlight feels like predetermined Oscar bait hoping to be admired. It dawns on you how astonishing and nuanced and gorgeous the whole experience is as you are watching and the sum of all the parts put together equals a perfect whole. Also, give Mahershala Ali the Oscar for Supporting Actor, a performance that makes up a small amount of screen time but much like his impact on Chiron, everything after his character last fills the screen doesn't meld quite as harmoniously without what he delivered during that first, powerful act. 

2. O.J.: Made in America

Initially when I said this, it felt like hyperbole, but it has been like 8 months since I watched O.J.: Made in America and nothing has changed, so I feel quite confident in saying it again: this is the greatest documentary I have ever seen. Nothing has ever been so deeply comprehensive, informative and fascinating as the long look at not only the life of O.J. Simpson but also the world that surrounded him and set him up to easily get away with murder. Directed by Ezra Edelman, this originally aired as a 5 night television special from ESPN studios, but once it became quite clear that they had something so masterful on their hands they decided to air it in theaters in order to qualify for the Oscars. While I may not advise taking this on as one 7.5 hour film, as I watched it over two nights because let's face it, finding that much time with a family and a full time job is damn near impossible, I do advise you watch this beauty in whatever time frame you feel comfortable. This is going to win the Oscar for Best Documentary and it should. It's incredible.

1. La La Land

There was never any doubt that La La Land would end up at the top of my list after my first viewing. Then I went back with my wife and daughter and saw it two more times after that. It's just magical theater and the one movie from the year that hit me with that "it" factor when something romantic clicks in my mind and I fall in love with everything about what I had just seen. The music, the style, the direction, the screenplay, the moves, the production design, the performances. Just the pure, perfectly realized vision of director Damien Chazelle who created a modern musical that is both nostalgic and yet completely new, starting with an opening scene that is one for the ages, a long take song and dance sequence that occurs on a jam packed Los Angeles freeway that is so expertly choreographed and executed that after three viewings I am still in awe. The chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone is superb, both beautiful people who fit into this story sublimely. I cannot get enough of La La Land.