2018 Oscar Picks

Ah, the Oscars. That magical night where we admire the gorgeous gowns, reward the incredible performances and hard work of everyone involved in making movies, and maybe accidentally give an award to a guy who maybe sexually harassed some women (cough cough, Casey Affleck). Last week the Academy Award nominations were announced and I instantly made my own decisions about which movies deserved which awards. Here are my Oscar picks (at least for the big categories. I’m sorry to say I didn’t watch any of the nominees for Best Foreign Language or Best Short Film. Sorry!)

Best Picture: Get Out

Admittedly this was a tough decision, because 2017 may have been a garbage time for politics but it was a great time for movies. I was torn between this and Lady Bird and The Shape of Water and The Post, but in the end writer-director Jordan Peeles fantastic horror film is a clear winner. Artistically, it was stunning, especially considering this is Peele’s first work as a director. But perhaps more importantly, it turned out to be exactly the kind of social commentary about race that the US needed right now, reminding well-meaning liberals that, as it turns out, saying you would vote for a third term for Obama does not excuse you from racism.

Best Director: Jordan Peele, Get Out OR Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird

I’m torn! Between two debut directors! Who both did an incredible job! Sorry, I’m just so overwhelmed that two of the best movies of the year were made by NEW directors! I seriously can’t decide between these two. Peele did an incredible, amazing job on Get Out (as previously stated) by pushing his audience to be more thoughtful about race (especially his white, liberal audience members) but Gerwigs work on Lady Bird was also marvelous. She got to the heart of the kind of coming-of-age story that is so rarely given to teenage girls, and did it with kindness, sensitivity, and honesty.

Best Actor: Daniel Kaluuya as Chris Washington in Get Out

Unlike some of the other actors up for awards, this is Daniel Kaluuya’s first major film role. Indeed, most of us only ever saw him in that one episode of Black Mirror (Fifteen Million Merits, which in all fairness was a great episode.) This was a bit of a toss-up between Kaluuya and Daniel Day-Lewis, who was up for his performance in Phantom Thread. However, I’m giving this one to Kaluuya, because while Day-Lewis has had decades to perfect his craft, Kaluuya pulled out a stunning performance from a still-young career, perfectly capturing both the big moments and the smaller, more careful touches. In particular, the scene where Chris interacts with a bunch of rich white people trying to show off how “down” they are with black people is a great vehicle for Kaluuya’s talents.

Best Actress: Sally Hawkins as Elisa Esposito in The Shape of Water

You know that saying about how Ginger Rogers had to do everything Fred Astaire did but backwards and in heels? Sally Hawkins did everything other actors did this year, but with no dialogue and acting against a CGI fish-man. And still, she pulled out one of the most beautiful, delicate performances I’ve ever seen, breathing so much life into her character that I’m just awe-struck. That’s not to say I wasn’t impressed by Margot Robbie in I, Tonya or Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird, but Hawkins just did such an amazing job that I have to give this one to her. She made that movie. It’s quite hard to convince an audience to stay on board when you’re trying to sell them the love story between a woman and a fish-man, and I don’t think it could have been done without her.

Best Supporting Actor: Richard Jenkins as Giles in The Shape of Water

Oh, speaking of stunning performances in The Shape of Water that helped me buy the whole inter-species love story, can we talk about Richard Jenkins here? Seriously, that man did so well that this category wasn’t even a contest for me. Jenkins’s performance as Elisa’s neighbor, a closeted illustrator who helps her care for the fish-man, is heart-wrenching and tender, showing such a full range of emotion and depth as he navigated between his wants and his realities, and as he tried to be kind and practical. In particular, his failed flirtations with a pie-salesman are so heartbreaking I almost cried. I will give a special shout-out though to Christopher Plummer as J. Paul Getty in All The Money in The World, if only because he managed to do a pretty good job under extremely short notice, and because his performance proves that you can recast someone from a project if they turn out to be a predator.

Best Supporting Actress: Allison Janney as LaVona Golden in I, Tonya

I liked the performances of Laurie Metclaf in Lady Bird and Octavia Spencer in The Shape of Water, but I don’t think either of them compare to Allison Janney’s turn as one of the worst stage mothers in history. Janney’s performance captures a cruelty and an anger that capture the movie’s themes of abuse and poverty perfectly. LaVona’s twisting cruelty toward her daughter is hard to watch, especially because Janney does such a good job with the material. Her voice, her violence, her chain-smoking, her expressions of near-regret before deciding to not apologize to Tonya, every detail is done to perfection.

Best Original Screenplay: Jordan Peele, Get Out

Did you think I was done heaping praise onto Jordan Peele and Get Out? Nope! I have a lot more to heap on! The script was absolutely terrific. From the racist logic behind the “Coagula” procedure to Rod’s iconic ending line (“I’m TS-Motherfuckin’-A. We handle shit. Consider this situation fuckin’ handled.) to that whole scene at the party where everyone wants to tell the black guy why being black is just so hip right now, everything was pitch-perfect, especially considering that most of Peele’s work before was in the realm of comedy. He did a fantastic job.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin, Molly’s Game (based on the book of the same name by Molly Bloom)

Look, it’s Aaron Sorkin. It’s pretty hard to compete with one of the most talented screenwriters of our time, and I do not think I’m exaggerating. I do think Sorkin was helped by having some absolute bang-up performances from his two leads, Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba, who spit out sharp-fire lines in that classic Sorkin style. He took an already exciting story (poker! Money! Celebrities! Russian mobsters!) and even made the less exciting parts (courtrooms! Legal terms!) and made them just as heart-racing and tense as the rest of the film. And almost every line uttered by Chastain’s character, Molly Bloom, was perfection.

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Five Movies Relevant to Our Times

You may think that we’re living in some bizarre, unprecedented times these days. You may think that nobody could have possibly predicted this. Well, turns out some movies did predict it! Here are five movies that may have predicted the future:

1) Idiocracy: After being put into a coma for five hundred years, Joe (Luke Wilson) and Rita (Maya Rudolph), awaken unexpectedly to find that the United States is now a bizarre, anti-intellectual corporate-controlled nightmare, and Joe is made into Secretary of the Interior when an IQ test marks him as the smartest man in the country. This movie may have not made much of an impact when it was released in 2005, but now its themes of anti-intellectualism and commercialism feel a little too close to home.

2) The Stepford Wives (the 1975 version): Fun fact: part of this movie was shot in my hometown of Norwalk, Connecticut! Most people probably know the plot: A young family moves into a wealthy suburb and the wife, Joanna (Katharine Ross), discovers a sinister side to the ever-smiling, pretty, docile wives and their creepy husbands. The themes of conformity and female suppression unfortunately feel quite prescient today. Also, those sexy robots…

3) Ex Machina: Speaking of sexy robots! Of course, I know there’s a lot more going on this creepy sci-fi thriller with the excellent cast of Domnhall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, and Oscar Isaac, but it’s hard not to see past the whole “misogynistic, powerful man creates robot women to exploit and play with”, and the other curious question of whether we can trust robots at all, especially when they seem to be so good at manipulating us.

4) The Post: Corrupt president? Check. President attempting to undermine free speech and the media? Check. Presidential administration attempting to cover up a massive scandal? Check. If you ever feel like the whole Russia scandal is giving you some serious Nixon vibes, head on over to watch The Post (which, in all fairness was only just released and was definitely written with Drumpf in mind), where Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep take you back to a time when the government was trying to delegitimize The Washington Post and The New York Times. Thank god that’s over!

5) Snowpiercer: Okay, maybe this one is a bit of a stretch, because I don’t actually think that we’re all going to end up on a train moving aimlessly for all time, but there are so many important questions and themes raised by this movie, and they’re way too relevant to ignore. From the question of how the rich may be profiting of revolutions (see that Dodge ad from the Superbowl of the infamous Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad), to the devastating consequences of global warming, this stunning, creepy thriller is a must-watch in 2018.

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Top 5 Documentaries of 2017

With the real world being such an awful nightmare, you might ask yourself, what’s the point in watching a movie about real life? Well, first off, some documentaries can provide some much needed hope and joy, or some valuable context to the world around us. Whether they tackle history or the modern day, discuss animals or people, here are five of the best documentaries of this year:

1) Jane

Directed by Brett Morgan, this film tells the story Jane Goodall, her life and her work in the wild with chimpanzees, using interviews with her today and old footage taken in the earlier years of her work. In addition to being an empowering look at Goodall’s work and resilience, it also gives us a narrative of the chimp colony she studied.

2) I Am Not Your Negro

This incredible film, directed by Raoul Peck, mixes archival footage of James Baldwin, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther KingSamuel L. Jackson narrates the words of James Baldwin, written so long ago but frighteningly relevant to today’s black experience, over footage of black America’s struggles and protests today.

3) Kedi

For hundreds of years, thousands of stray cats have roamed the streets of Istanbul, playing, hunting, living, and interacting with the humans around them. Director Ceyda Torun follows around seven of these cats, each with their own names and personalities. This movie is so lovely and gentle, and, for once, shows us a positive, uplifting relationship between people and animals.

4) City of Ghosts

Directed by the award winner Matthew Heinema, this doc is about the citizen journalist group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently (RIBSS), who are attempting, in the most dangerous of conditions, to report on the brutality of ISIS in Syria and the lack of response from the international community. The film also addresses the necessity of journalism and reporting and the many dangers that come with them.

5) One of Us

This intense film on Netflix was co-directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, who you may recognize as the team behind Jesus Camp. The two take on ultra-religious communities once again, telling the story of three former Hasidic Jews who choose to leave their communities as they attempt to find their way in the “real” world and weather the intense backlash from the Hasidic world.

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5 of the Best Animated Movies This Year

Most of us seem to tend to think of animated films as something for children, that they lack the same emotional depth and/or sophisticated plotting of live action. This is simply untrue. Animation is not merely for children. It is an exciting storytelling vehicle with its ability to suspend rules of reality and show anything you can imagine. It’s an under-appreciated medium. But it is gaining recognition and acceptance as a true art form. Here are five of the best animated films that came out this year.

Have A Nice Day

This Chinese dark comedy, written and directed by Liu Jian, feels a bit like a classic Tarantino film with the same quirky style and irreverent violence, but still maintains its cultural roots. The plot of the movie revolves around a young chauffeur in a small town in China who steals a bag with a large sum of money from his boss, and the reactions of those about town who learn of the theft. Jian’s sharp script has characters poking into each others’ desires and motivations all under the shadow of the money and the personal and societal expectations placed on them.

My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea

I think we sadly still have this idea that “weird” is a negative term, so many of us may feel reluctant to try out something weird or shy away from anything just a little too bizarre or confusing. That’s why I love this film (written and directed by Dash Shaw), whose plot centers around an ordinary high school suddenly sinking into the ocean and the attempts by the students and staff to get back to the surface. This is exactly the kind of premise that can only be accomplished in animation. The movie doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about how exactly it happened, but instead uses the bizarre circumstances to ask how exactly these totally ordinary people react to the totally extraordinary.  

Mary and the Witch’s Flower

Based on the book The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart, this fantasy anime tells the story of a young girl who suddenly finds herself with magical, mysterious powers. While Mary and the Witch’s Flower isn’t actually a project from the famous Studio Ghibli, it does have the same animation style and magical themes present in most Ghibli films. That’s because it’s a work produced by Studio Ponoc, a very new Japanese animation studio founded by several former Ghibli employees. Not to mention, the movie was directed by Hirosama Yonebayashi, a former animator and director at Ghibli. If you’re looking for a strong female protagonist in a magical setting, this is the movie for you.

Lu Over the Wall

This visually stunning anime film, directed by Masaaki Yuasa and written by Yuasa and Reiko Yoshida, tells the story a young man named Kai living in a small fishing village who meets an eccentric mermaid called Lu and proceeds on a wondrous adventure with her. While the premise may seem a little familiar, the movie makes up for it with beautiful animation and incredible visual imagery (giant water cubes with boats teetering off the edge, among other things). Yuasa is known especially for his fantastical, colorful animation style, and in this film, his talent and ideas perfectly shine through.

In a Heartbeat

Most of us can probably remember the heart-pounding, butterflies-in-the-stomach, red-cheek feeling of having our first crush. Nowhere has that been so perfectly depicted as in this American short film by Esteban Bravo and Beth David and produced by the Ringling College of Art and Design. Without a single word of dialogue, this four-minute film runs us through a whirlwind of emotions, led on by an anthropomorphic heart, and gives us a lovely, happy ending, a rarity for any film with LGBT themes and protagonists. If you’re ready to be taken on a roller coaster of emotion and sweetness, watch this right away.

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5 Women Working in Hollywood You Should Know About

If you ever watch the credits after a film, whether you’re staring at your laptop screen half-awake, waiting for a post-credit scene after a Marvel flick, or delaying having to re-enter real life after a particularly good escape, you see hundreds of names scroll by. It takes an enormous amount of effort to get a single movie onto the big screen, and these behind-the-scenes heroes never get as much press as the top-billed movie stars.

For women in these positions, that recognition is even harder to come by when working within a boys’ club. But despite the difficulties facing them, there are so many women working in Hollywood today who are creating incredible art and telling stories that need to be told.

We thought we’d tell you about a few of them.

Jane Goldman — Screenwriter & Producer

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English writer and producer Jane Goldman has left huge marks on action films so far in her career. Her writing credits include Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class, and Kingsmen: The Secret Service, showing her to not only have a knack for writing over-the-top action scenes, but also for bringing much-needed campiness to the screen. Regardless of whether you liked Kingsmen or not, it was definitely memorable. She was in the news a great deal because of her marriage to British TV host Jonathan Ross, but it’s important to note her own accomplishments and presence in big-budget Hollywood. In an article in the LA Times, Goldman’s work is described as quirky and eccentric, and Tim Burton is quoted saying that Goldman is “…very creative, very intelligent…” With praises from well-known directors like Burton, and with more projects set for the coming years, including a just-announced Kingsmen 3, Goldman’s momentum shows no signs of slowing.

Jane Goldman’s IMDb.

Autumn Durald — Cinematographer

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While the directors of movies are responsible for the sequences of shots, cinematographers add their own vision and flair to the work. They are usually in charge of camera operations and lighting and make technical and artistic decisions related to each shot. They are also the ones to thank in that moment where you are overcome with the need to say, “That’s a good shot.” American-born cinematographer Autumn Durald is best known for her work on Palo Alto, Gia Coppola’s directorial debut based on the short stories written by James Franco. That isn’t the extent of Durald’s resume, however. She has also worked on music videos for Arcade Fire, Tiesto, and London Grammar, as well as on commercials for Smirnoff and Coca-Cola. Durald has also leant her talents to a number of shorts over the years, but it looks like her next few years show more feature film productions, including Max Minghella’s directorial debut Teen Spirit starring Elle Fanning.

Autumn Durald’s official website.

Hannah Beachler — Production Designer

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If you’re wondering exactly what a production designer does, they are generally responsible for the overall “look” of the production, adding to set design and decoration. If Hannah Beachler’s name sounds familiar in that category, it may be because she is the production designer behind Beyoncé’s incredible Lemonade special, a fantastic collection of shorts and music videos that was actually nominated for multiple Emmys. While I would argue Lemonade is a film in its own right, Beachler’s feature film credits include Fruitvale Station, Creed, and the Oscar-winning Moonlight. While these three movies all had production design that was more raw and real, Beachler also has a knack for the more stylized and fantastical as seen in her work on Lemonade and in the upcoming Marvel picture Black Panther. The latter, of course, hasn’t been released yet, but based on the trailer alone, it’s clear that Beachler has a strong vision and talent. I’m so excited to see more of her work.

Hannah Beachler’s official website.

Lisa Lassek — Editor

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Continuing on a slight Marvel theme, let’s talk about Lisa Lassek, an editor who has worked within the franchise. This is surprising to some, but the majority of editors in Hollywood are actually women, and their job is to cut hours and hours of footage down to a cohesive sequence that is palatable to a mainstream audience. I want you to imagine editing something like Lord of the Rings. Just picture attempting to do that for a moment. Lassek has impressive credits, having worked as an editor on The Circle, The Cabin in the Woods, Avengers, and Avengers: Age of Ultron. Lassek also has extensive experience with television, having edited episodes on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Community, and, most recently, The OA. Editing is a daunting task and is one of the main reasons post-production on films can take so long. The movie needs to have a decent run time. It needs to make sense. It needs to line up with the director’s vision. When all of these requirements come together, we are left with the movie we actually get to see, the one that’s played in cinemas. Some of what remains is put on DVDs as deleted scenes or put in a five-hour-long director’s cut.

Lisa Lassek’s IMDb.

Ava DuVernay — Director, Writer, Producer

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Ava DuVernay has truly become a household name in the last few years, gaining recognition for her work as director and producer on acclaimed films such as Selma and 13th, as well as her work as a film distributor with her own company AFFRM (the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement). Her powerful work and strong directorial point of view landed DuVernay a handsome amount of nominations and awards, including an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature for 13th. That documentary also landed her a BAFTA in the same category. While DuVernay has also directed a few shorts, TV shows and TV movies, a great deal of her time in Hollywood has so far been in miscellaneous roles in production and promotion on the Hollywood circuit. It is clear, however, that DuVernay’s talents lend her to different roles in film production, working in a diverse amount genres and subject matters. Upcoming projects for DuVernay include directing the TV movie Battle of Versailles, on the 1973 Palace of Versailles fashion show, and the fantasy flick A Wrinkle in Time, which is set to be released next year.

Ava DuVernay’s official website.