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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2017 Most WTF Moments….So Far

Some time last year, 2017 came to us like a lover we abruptly fell in love with at a social function because it seemed so fresh and put together. It was one smooth operating sonofabitch. It promised to meet us at the corner outside, next to the deli with all the colored flowers, under the streetlight where it’s parked a fast ride to the future, baby. We had a feeling that, together, we could be someone. Well, it didn’t work out so well. We got in the car and it drove us straight to a fuckboy of a new year made of what is increasingly turning out to be a frat party prank of a reality.

And believe it or not, we still have two thirds of 2017 left to go! More miles and ditches and road stops ahead in which all kinds of shenanigans will take place to the tune of craziness on television. But let us contemplate on what we rode past so far in this prelude to Fury Road.

Photo Credit: NurPhoto via Getty Images

Drew Brown, Editor-in-Chief: After the madness of 2016, this year hasn’t been the year we were all hoping for. Reports of Chechnya allegedly detaining more than 100 men for being gay. According to the Independent, many have been tortured and at least four men have been killed. Yes, it’s no secret that with the many advances for the LGBT community there are still places in the world where being out is not an option. During my visit to Germany, I took a tour a of a former concentration camp where both Jews and Gay men were held, and the stories the guide told us were horrifying to say the least. It makes sick to think that this kind of abuse is still going on today.

Image via podtail.com

Natasha Grodzinski, Arts & Culture ContributorIf a person were to receive multiple allegations of sexual assault, be fired from their high-profile job, have the allegations taken to court and then be acquitted but have a reputation in ruins, what would be the best thing for them to do? Probably, as the kids say, go away quietly. Not Jian Ghomeshi. He now has his own podcast. The only possible explanation I could give on why this is happening is he must be an egomaniac. Even if you look aside from the number of women who came forward with sexual assault allegations concerning Ghomeshi both inside and outside of the workplace, the podcast itself (called The Ideation Project) is just bad. It’s him talking about some new-age “opening a conversation” stuff over trippy music. Listen if you want, but personally, I think I’ve heard enough from him.

Image via abc13.com

Claire Ball, Editorial ContributorUnited Airlines has been a complete disaster this year, to say the least. The airline has been a part of a slew of recent embarrassments. From a giant showcase rabbit dying, to stopping girls from boarding a flight for wearing leggings, and how can we forget the incident when United aggressively dragged passenger David Dao off of his fight? Honestly, everything about the airline infuriates me. This may be an obvious solution, but maybe United should just stop overbooking flights? Or join the 21st century and change their “dress code” to allow leggings? Regardless, the moral of the story: don’t fly United Airlines.

Devin Nunes, Republican U.S. Representative for California’s 22nd congressional district.

Hoon, Managing Editor: In the midst of investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and Trump’s allegations that Obama ‘wiretapped’ him — or, as the term came to increasingly denote, surveil him in ways that are if not illegal, unethical —, the Republican House intelligence committee chair Rep. Devin Nunes (California) made a secret visit on March 21st to the White House grounds to look at classified information pertinent to the case. The next day, Nunes returned to the White House with cameras to proclaim to a hastily prepared news conference that he’s found information regarding ‘incidental collection’ of information on U.S. citizens involved in Trump’s transition, which, translated, meant that he’s come across documents indicating that legal surveillance of foreign officials on U.S. soil led to incidental collection of U.S. citizens — Flynn, for instance — interacting with them. Why he felt the need to pretend to have found the information by himself and to brief Trump on information the White House presented to Nunes, and what this means regarding the sanctity of U.S. democracy and its capacity to withstand internal political turmoil is still unclear. That the Capitol was a setting for a half-written and dimly acted out spy story, on the other hand, is unbearably clear.

MegContributorAs if unhealthy, sugary drinks weren’t already hard to swallow, the notoriously ‘flat’ Pepsi ad was definitely a WTF moment. What was a sad attempt to encourage people to “join the conversation” was really a massive failure that affirmed the idea that lack of knowledge on inclusivity and global issues is still very much an issue. Pepsi created a campaign centred around supermodel Kendall Jenner who took time off from her bustling model career to save the multicultural mass protest against riot police by sharing a can of Pepsi. While this campaign has set a seriously narrow minded tone, I think the backlash that was received after is indication of the power that the people really can have in speaking out against what is so obviously wrong. After taking the campaign down, the issues surrounding it are still being talked about and addressed in a way that indicates change for how these subjects are approached. A few weeks later, Heineken came out with a campaign focusing on the same issues of encouraging dialogue over social issues but doing so in a way that was more raw and less commercialized. This WTF moment has thankfully turned itself around as other companies prove that careful and compassionate advertising is not lost.

Image: Mark Ralston/AFP

Kimberley, ContributorOver the years, it has become apparent that the Oscars have become irrelevant. Now simply used as a marketing tool, the Oscars often fail to offer any diversity within their selection of nominees. In 2017, major pictures, La La Land and Moonlight went head-to-head for the”Best Picture” title. After briefly hesitating to announce the award, presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway declared La La Land as the winner. The entire cast and crew came up to accept their award, not long before La La Land‘s producer, Jordan Horowitz announced that there had been a mistake. It was later confirmed that Warren Beatty was handed the wrong card, and because of this, La La Land received the award over the rightful winner, Moonlight. I can’t pretend to know what it takes to successfully run an award show, especially one as big as the Oscars. This is certainly one of the biggest WTF moments of 2017, and will probably be mentioned for years to come. I just hope it won’t overshadow the importance of Moonlight as a film and take away from its victory as the “Best Picture” winner.

Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump

Adina Heisler, ContributorWhile much of the attention has been given to some of the more outlandish, bizarre, and horrifying members and scandals of the White House and the Trump Administration, we shouldn’t forget about the unprecedented level of power and access Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner hold. Both now hold official roles in the White House (Ivanka is an “Assistant to the President” and Jared is a senior adviser), have been present at meetings with world leaders and domestic officials, and seem to have more influence than anyone else in the White House. Their qualifications? Being the daughter and son-in-law of the President. They may not be as flashy as the Donald, but their positions should be viewed with the same level of skepticism and outrage we give him, and his staff and cabinet.

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Recapturing Past Happiness: Toni Erdmann

Image Credit: Sony Picture Classics

Earlier in 2016, movies like Manchester by the Sea, Birth of a Nation, and Captain Fantastic dominated film festival chatter, with speculations as to which were going to be the heavy-hitters for the Oscar season at the end of the year. Amidst such chatter however, was one film that was not getting as much media attention, yet it was slowly gaining a more vocal  following. With each passing festival, quiet rumblings regarding the German family dramedy Toni Erdmann started penetrating conversations more sharply, as it began picking up accolades at the Cannes Film Festival, the Toronto Film Critics Association and, most recently, the Palm Springs International Film Festival. This week, the Oscar nominations were announced, with Toni Erdmann receiving one for Best Foreign Language Film. At this point, it should be no stretch of the imagination to think it could very well be the front-runner, and for good reason. Not only is it a deeply affecting story about how family dynamics can drastically change in our modern world, but it blends moments of great pathos with humour, and will leave you chuckling to yourself far after it’s done.

The story begins with establishing the rather solitary life of Winfried Conradi, a man who finds great pleasure in finding ways to remind those around him of the exuberance and fun that everyday life can offer. A man comes to his door with a package, and Winfried answers pretending to be his deranged, twin brother known for creating mail bombs, and he also has a peculiar affection for wearing play-teeth whenever he performs such pranks on people. Unfortunately, those around him are more likely to be turned off or annoyed by his youthful playfulness. A boy that he was teaching piano lessons to abruptly quits, and he also finds out that his grown daughter, Ines, planned an early birthday party at her mother’s house, which he was not invited to.

Sony Pictures Classics

Shortly after we are introduced to Ines, we begin to understand that the film is more about her, and even though her father may seem objectively annoying to so many, she may actually be in desperate need of the kind of help he can provide. She is currently working as a consultant for an oil company, and has the unenviable task of finding options to outsource some of their services, potentially laying off hundreds of workers. Initially, she efficiently performs her job by refusing to speak her mind, while also accepting the responsibility of unpopular decisions. Winfred recognizes that, perhaps because of her job, Ines has difficulty with emotional honesty.  Her inability to be honest with him especially proves worrisome.  At one point, he visits her and in his signature way to lighten the mood, gives her a lame but good natured joke-birthday present: a cheese grater in an expensive-looking box. The next morning after a fight, she tersely says “If I wanted to jump out the window tomorrow, you and your cheese grater wouldn’t be able to stop me.” Winfred’s strategy then reaches a new level of theatricality: sporting the play-teeth he is so fond of as well as an oddly-fitting wig, he pretends to be the eccentric Toni Erdmann, a supposed life-coach to one of her business associates, and proceeds to unexpectedly show up at different events. Needless to say, if seriously uncomfortable humour is not your thing, think hard about whether you want to see this film.

The film certainly raises some interesting questions regarding whether Winfried’s values of trying to live in the moment by taking everything in stride, is applicable in the corporate environment the Ines finds herself engulfed in, and as a result the relationship between them takes on a sweet but melancholy feel. When Winfried is Toni, one gets the feeling he is trying to expose the phony attitudes of Ines’ business associates, as his antics become more obnoxious, yet garner little response from them in the moment. Doing so reveals the heart at the centre of the film, as the once-cold Ines begins holding back sly smiles and giggles as she watches her father. As though she wants to join in his silliness, but knows she can’t. And the performances by the two main actors, Sandra Huller and Peter Simonischek, are stellar. Huller slowly reveals more layers of conflicted emotions, and Simonischek at times subtly shows the shadings of deep heartache thinly hidden behind his bizarre behaviors. Their performances are also a major reason why the comedy works so well, as their comedic timing can be so subtle that it feels completely emotionally authentic, grounding the outlandish plot, which makes it all the more charming and squirm-inducing.

About midway through, the film steps into darker territory meant to illustrate the consequences that Winfried’s carefree existence can have on the workers within the oil company. Yet soon after, the biggest crowd-pleasing moment in the film — that may make some audience members hold back tears — comes when Winfried pressures Ines into singing a certain Whitney Houston song in front of a group of strangers, underlining the emotional journey the character is on. The message that the writer and director Maren Ade may want us to leave with is that such a carefree and humourous outlook can co-exist in the seemingly cold modern corporate climate. But with that knowledge also comes the realization that those moments of happiness end up being all the more fleeting. Like Winfried notes, life starts moving so fast we end up just wanting to sit somewhere and force ourselves to try to remember and hold on to happier times.

Beginning today,  Toni Erdmann will be playing at the Tiff Bell Lightbox!  See it!

Awards Season Primer: What Movies Should You See Before the Oscars?

With the final Marvel film of the year recently released, it is now time to turn away from the colourful, popcorn-movie fun of the summer and dive head-first into more self-serious, contemplative territory at your local cinema. Fortunately, the films that are set to make serious headway this awards season make quite the eclectic selection, equally comprised of those with exciting new talent as well as some old favourites. But now, with a movie coming out more or less every week with some degree of awards ambition, it is difficult to find time to see everything. So here is a list of those that will most likely dominate the awards conversation until February.

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Image Credit: IMDB

Moonlight

Following a year when those in Hollywood were forced to confront the diversity issue in the film industry, it was refreshing to see a movie that felt so contemporary and needed. It tells a story that is universal yet from a perspective that is not often seen. Divided into three chapters, Moonlight centers around a young black man named Chiron, who grows up in Miami and struggles with his sexuality and his sense of self. Each chapter focuses on a different formative point in the character’s life and the people who help him on his journey. The number of stellar performances throughout are, frankly, an embarrassment of riches. No one should be surprised if Mahershala Ali  receives many best supporting actor nods for his deep and ultimately heartbreaking portrayal as Juan, a drug dealer and father figure early in Chiron’s life. Naomi Harris is equally memorable as Chiron’s frustrating mother, who tragically becomes one of the most consistently present individuals in his life. And the three actors who play Chiron at different ages all effectively highlight different elements of his personality. From Chiron’s careful reserve displayed by young Alex R. Hibbert, to his bottled-up anger shown by Ashton Sanders, and finally his false bravado as shown by the charismatic Trevante Rhodes. The cumulative effect of watching a character’s personality evolve in this way is unexpectedly powerful and unique. The writing also feels authentic and lived-in. With many recurring visual motifs to derive meanings from, expect this awards season to be quite fruitful for Moonlight, possibly on multiple fronts.  Watch the trailer here.

lalaland
Image Credit: IMDB

La La Land

If the Oscar telecasts of recent memory have taught us anything, it’s that Hollywood loves to reward movies about Hollywood, as seen from previous Best Picture winners like The Artist, Argo, and Birdman. La La Land is the latest in this pattern, but the idea of taking visual inspiration from cinematic classics to tell a story that feels specific to a younger generation is quite intriguing and innovative. It is the latest film from Damien Chazelle, whose Whiplash impressed audiences with its technical flourishes — it earned well deserved Oscars for editing and sound mixing — as well as for the specificity in the writing; prestigious music academies no doubt seem much scarier and foreboding now. La La Land, as Chazelle has noted in recent interviews, is a long gestating passion project; a musical love story between an aspiring actress and a jazz pianist set in modern day L.A, that is stylistically a throwback to the technicolour crowd-pleasers that were so common in the 1950’s and 60’s. Throw in Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as the main leads (whose on-screen chemistry was off the charts in previous films) as well as John Legend in a supporting role, and the result could very well be something that has the power to turn the bitterest musical cynic into a toe-tapping fool in the theatre aisle. The film has already received the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival as well as the most nominations at the Critics Choice Awards. It feels like this awards season has barely begun and yet it may be safe to say there is already a clear favourite for Best Picture down the road. Watch the trailer here.

manchesterbythesea
Image Credit: IMDB

Manchester by the Sea

Kenneth Lonergan has only directed three films over the course of sixteen years yet he has managed to establish a reputation for himself as a director able to mine the most profound and emotionally deep aspects of everyday existence. Manchester by the Sea not only cements that reputation but, given the critical and audience reactions thus far, it may also take his career to new heights in terms of mainstream success and recognizability. The film tells the story of a janitor, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), who is forced to become the guardian of his nephew following the sudden death of his brother (Kyle Chandler). Although themes regarding how people cope with grief and loss are explored from multiple angles, the story is also disarmingly funny due to the rapport between Lee and his nephew (the newcomer Lucas Hedges) — which gives the film a quietly uplifting feel throughout — and resonated with audiences during the Sundance Film Festival as well as TIFF. Affleck’s performance is likely to be one of the major on-going conversations during this awards season. Playing a man who has recoiled into himself due to past emotional trauma, the perfomance is a study in subtlety and nuance, easily making Affleck the front-runner for any and all best actor nominations. And although Michelle Williams, who plays the ex-wife to the Affleck character, is only in a few scenes, her performance is powerful enough to warrant attention as well. Expect to hear a lot about this movie in the coming months. Watch the trailer here.

jackie
Image Credit: IMDB

Jackie

It is very plausible that Natalie Portman may be well on her way to receive a second Best Actress nomination — and quite possibly, a win — for her portrayal of Jacqueline Kennedy in this biopic directed by Pablo Larrain, which tells the first lady’s struggle to maintain her husband’s legacy in the weeks following his assassination. As evidenced by the trailers, Portman seems to give a very disciplined performance capturing the signature grace in the posture and cadence of the former first lady, while also reveling in more melodramatic moments, which suggests how this film could be a very compelling and unsettling real-life character study. The stylistic choices throughout the trailer are also noteworthy. The tight, handheld camera angles on the subjects elicit an uncomfortable degree of intimacy, a choice in stark contrast to other recent biopics of larger-than-life figures where the reverence with which subjects are treated at times rob the films of some humanity. And the score by Mica Levi, who also composed the music for Under the Skin, feels equal parts eerie and transcendent. As such, the marketing of this film gives the impression that there could be many impressionistic or avant-garde touches, which is certainly intriguing. Based on the positive critical reception thus far, this is shaping up to be a film to definitely keep one’s eye on as the award season progresses. Watch the trailer here.

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Image Credit: IMDB

Fences

Denzel Washington may be well on his way to securing a seventh Oscar nomination for acting and, possibly, one for directing as well. The film, an adaptation of the play by August Wilson, takes place in New York in the 1950’s and focuses on the patriarch of a family — a former baseball player who presently provides by working as a garbage man — as he struggles to do what’s best for them. The choices he makes are informed by the discriminatory attitudes of the times that affected him, which nonetheless causes rifts with his son and wife. Based on the trailers, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, who plays his wife, seem to give rather intense and raw performances.  Washington portrays a man hardened by life’s disappointments to the point where he can’t adequately express love for his son. And Davis, portrays a woman of quiet dignity who can nonetheless express her boiling frustration with her husband. And the racial discrimination, a subject of the film, and how it affects those within a household differently will likely provide engaging insight into the internalized feelings produced by strained race relations of the past. Watch the trailer here.

silence
Image Credit: IMDB

Silence

There is still a bit of mystery surrounding how Silence will ultimately be received, as it was absent from all film festival schedules this past year with the first trailer having been released less than a month ago. But it is a new film by Martin Scorsese that suggests a production of high ambition, even for a man of his stature. The story involves two fifteenth century Jesuit priests (played by Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who travel to Japan, where practicing Christianity is outlawed, in search of their mentor (Liam Neeson). Moments in the trailer imply that a prevalent theme may be the questioning of one’s faith, something very much in Scorsese’s wheelhouse as he has explored similar ideas in The Last Temptation of Christ. And images of people being punished for presumably engaging in Christian practices are no doubt unsettling, evoking conflicting feelings as to how these main characters should be perceived. But perhaps the most interesting aspect may be Garfield and Driver as the main leads; two actors who have been more recently branching-out in exciting ways from the more mainstream fare that granted them initial success (Garfield with Hacksaw Ridge, and Driver starring in Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson). It will be interesting to see if either one is recognized this year.  Watch the trailer here.

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