Tag Archives: General

Wonder Woman: Female empowerment or just a brass bikini?

***SPOILERS ABOUND***SPOILERS ABOUND***

When I discussed this movie yesterday, I alluded to some frustration and disagreement about whether and how this film succeeded on a purely female empowerment level. To really discuss that meant massive spoilers, so I avoided it. However, after many more conversations IRL, it seems like I should dive into it all, best I can, but with the proviso that you should see the film first in order to make up your own mind and to not have anything revealed.

I will try to avoid all discussions of acting ability and dialogue in this conversation and concentrate solely on the plot points of the script and the scenes that made the cut. Because, truth be told, I think the root of my issues lay there not just in the unbalanced acting ability onscreen.

Let’s acknowledge that, yes, there is a strong woman pounding the tar out of bad guys. Let’s also acknowledge that a very gifted female director is behind the scenes and that she has cemented her legacy with this film alone, even if she hadn’t already with her previous efforts.

That said, there are two main issues that I think throw this film out of pure female empowerment and both grow out of a single root cause. They also both occur in the final act of the movie and are interrelated, but separate issues.

The root cause is the well-indicated, without crossing the PG line, of Steve Trevor and Wonder Woman’s night together. We should all have known at the moment that if they had sex, he needed to die. Honestly, I didn’t put it together at that point, but I did wonder at why the heck they did. Not because I’m a prude. And we know Wonder Woman knows the pleasures of the flesh from their conversation in the boat, so it wasn’t out of the question. However, crossing that line between these characters fundamentally changes many things that have implications later that weaken Wonder Woman’s decisions to my mind.  At the very least, it muddies the waters. Also, the way it is filmed, it appears to be his decision, even if he seems to acknowledge some unspoken nod off camera. Had the shot been from her POV it may have mitigated the issue, but it didn’t appear to be a POV shot to me. And, beyond that, I still think the scene shouldn’t have happened. But, if it had to happen, it should have been 100% with her in control on screen, not even in the implied control of a man. This moment ultimately colors two other major decision points.

First, Trevor sacrifices himself. The question here is why? There is an argument I’ve been involved with that claims Trevor is only at the front because of Wonder Woman and, therefore, all of his actions are in support of her. I disagree. We know Trevor never just follows orders from Etta’s comments to are Ares-in-disguise. He would have gone anyway in order to hunt down Dr. Poison/Maru, even if he hadn’t ever considered gods in his midst. But he also chooses to sacrifice himself both as a humanitarian and because he thinks he’s saving the girl he’s fallen for, not really fully believing she was a goddess and invulnerable (despite the earlier moment at the village). More importantly, Trevor taking the initiative diminishes Diana’s ownership of the resolution of the fight. Sure, there is a bigger fight going on, but that still isn’t his focus or what he really quite believes at that moment, by my and other’s estimation and even by the flashback/fill-in (cheap, BTW) of their conversation. And keep in mind that Ares, a decidedly male entity, is arranging all of this through his nudges, so who is in control?

Second, the final motivation for Diana’s ability to beat Ares is driven by…. and here is where the Fifth Element comments from my earlier post come in… love. But is that universal love, the capability to love humankind and go beyond the Amazons-first mentality, or is is the love of Steve Trevor, specifically, that drives her? And this is where their night together matters. Had they not been together, the moment of epiphany for Diana would have been chaste and unencumbered by the personal and physical love of a man. It would have been a realization about herself and, more generally, about all those around her. Instead, it comes off as a grief-stricken response about a relationship because there was a relationship. Legit? Sure, but it diminishes her into emotional woman, not a super hero defending the human race. In fact, it makes her no better than the petty Olympians to whom she is related in this tale who kill each other for personal sleights, damage and death to Earth below be damned.

Still not with me on this. OK, consider the final scene before the brief coda. Diana thanks Bruce for “bringing him back to her.” She doesn’t say, “thanks for reminding me why I do this,” nor “I miss all of these great heroes.” Nope, this is all about Trevor in the script, no one else and nothing else mattered in this reverie.

I don’t want to overburden a popcorn film with too much analysis, but Wonder Woman has been long anticipated for so many reasons and the reaction has been so strong, that I wanted to at least put on some critical goggles and consider the implications before we christen it a guide for all girls. It has some great aspects as reference, but I think the end was weakened in ways that could have been easily avoided.

1500 (and counting)

Image result for fireworks

I’ve been at this a few years now and this post marks my 1500th!

Many more movies and TV shows have been covered than the post number represents given that I double or triple-up items at times.

For those that have been finding it useful: you’re welcome. For those that aren’t following it… well, what can I say that you won’t have read anyway?

Seriously, this has been my passion for a while now. As I’ve said before, I do this as much for myself as my own memory aid and thought process as I do for all the friends and acquaintances that request recommendations. It also keeps me writing almost every day.

So what’s next? I’m still seeing about 250 films plus a ridiculous amount of TV a year, though I don’t write up everything…  For the record, yes, I still manage to have a life, see people, and do things. Really, I do. Film and TV are just how I unwind nearly every night, before trundling off to bed to read for a bit.

Thanks to all who’ve have continued to let me know you’re enjoying these posts. Most of that is off this site, but it is good to know it’s still being read.

And now on to 1501 and counting….

Oscars (2017): The results

How did I do with my predictions? My worst in years thanks to some honest competition and, well, a couple bits of stubbornness on my part. I actually hit the first four announcements out of the gate, and then things started to get interesting…

Here’s the top line:

62%, 15 out of 24

Of the major awards:
4 out of 7

Of the minor awards:
6 out of 9

Of the technical awards:
4 out of 8

So, basically, I mucked it up across all categories. If I’d not stuck to my guns on a few of the categories, I’d have done significantly better, but I really disagree with a few of the winners and I wasn’t willing to compromise my opinion to get a better hit rate. A few straggling write-ups will be coming over the next days as I squeezed in a few more films before the big night, but none changed my choices.

The detail follows.

THE MAJORS

Best supporting actress

My prediction: Viola Davis
Winner: Viola Davis

Best supporting actor

My prediction: Mahershala Ali
Winner: Mahershala Ali

Best actress

My prediction: Emma Stone
Winner: Emma Stone

Best actor

My prediction: Denzel Washington
Winner: Casey Affleck

OK, I wasn’t surprised here, but I was disappointed.

Best director

My prediction: Damien Chazelle
Winner: Damien Chazelle

Best foreign language film

My prediction: Toni Erdmann
Winner: The Salesman

Again, not an entire surprise here. Quality of Farhadi’s film aside, politics were certainly on its side.

Best picture

My prediction: La La Land
Winner: Moonlight

If you missed the presentation on this, read about how it happened. Honestly, Moonlight is a great movie, but I don’t know that I’d pick it as the top, especially given the 3 awards it won, versus La La Land’s 6. Whether it was the musical thing, the politics thing, or vote splitting, it is rare to lose top honors while picking up Director and at least one of the major actor awards  (not to mention score, song, cinematography, and production design). Frankly, just glad it wasn’t Manchester.

THE MINORS

Best adapted screenplay

My prediction: Moonlight
Winner: Moonlight

Best original screenplay

My prediction: La La Land
Winner: Manchester by the Sea

Feh. Just, feh.

Best animated feature

My prediction: Kubo and the Two Strings
Winner: Zootopia

As promised: AAAARRrrrrrggggg!!!!

I admitted all along that Zootopia was the likely winner. This was a stubborn hope on my part that enough of the Academy would see Kubo so it could win. It is the far superior piece of work. Hopefully Laika’s next will finally land a win.

Best documentary feature

My prediction: OJ: Made in America
Winner: OJ: Made in America

Best original song

  • La La Land – Audition (The Fools Who Dream) by Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
  • La La Land – City of Stars by Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
  • Moana – How Far I’ll Go by Lin-Manuel Miranda
  • Trolls – Can’t Stop the Feeling by Justin Timberlake, Max Martin and Karl Johan Schuster
  • Jim: The James Foley Story – The Empty Chair by J Ralph and Sting

My prediction: Fools Who Dream (or City of Stars… but La La either way unless they split the vote)
Winner: City of Stars

Yeah, La La… I’m not penalizing my self on this one. I did declare for the correct one before the show… I forgot to update. C’mon, I’ve been honest all along, just trust me on this one.

Best original score

My prediction: La La Land
Winner: La La Land

Best live action short

  • Ennemis Interieurs
  • La Femme et le TGV
  • Silent Nights
  • Sing
  • Timecode

My prediction: Sing
Winner: Sing

Best documentary short

  • 4.1 Miles
  • Extremis
  • Joe’s Violin
  • Watani: My Homeland
  • The White Helmets

My prediction: The White Helmets
Winner: The White Helmets

Best animated short

  • Blind Vaysha
  • Borrowed Time
  • Pear Cider and Cigarettes
  • Pearl
  • Piper

My prediction: Pearl
Winner: Piper

No real surprise given the Pixar background. At some point I do hope to see it. Pearl was available to me, but haven’t seen the rest yet so guessed.

THE TECHNICAL

Best costume design

My prediction: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Winner: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Best make-up and hairstyling

My prediction: Suicide Squad
Winner: Suicide Squad

Best production design

My prediction: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Winner: La La Land

This surprised me, I admit. And, honestly, don’t see it, but hey, good for them. All the nominees here were deserved.

Best cinematography

My prediction: La La Land
Winner: La La Land

Best film editing

My prediction: Arrival
Winner: Hacksaw Ridge

So totally disagree here, but, again, this was one of my stubborn choices. I really didn’t think this would be the result, though.

Best sound editing

My prediction: La La Land
Winner: Arrival

Of the possibilities for Arrival, this isn’t the one I would have selected, but am glad Arrival got at least one win.

Best sound mixing

My prediction: La La Land
Winner: Hacksaw Ridge

Yeah, this was a possibility and they did a heck of a lot of good work on the battle scene. I admit I selected based on an expected landslide for La La Land in this category.

Best visual effects

My prediction: Jungle Book
Winner:  Jungle Book

Oscars 2017 (final call)

So, it’s time to put all the cards on the table and make my final bets. The end of awards season has definitely clarified some of the potentials, but there are always surprises. 538’s ongoing statistical analysis was interesting, but felt somewhat flawed for a while. By the end, I was pretty much aligned with the stats which clarified as the post SAG awards season crept onward. Best Actress and Best Picture initially had the biggest gaps due to late arrivals of some films and the lack of eligibility of others to all the awards used as guidance.

I didn’t quite manage to get to all the films again… some just weren’t available to me. But I did get to most…  Reminder this is about predicting winners, not necessarily who I think should win. And with that disclaimer, here we go…

THE MAJORS

Best supporting actress

Viola Davis still has the edge here after a long awards season. I couldn’t argue with her win, but I think Spencer’s performance was more controlled and subtle.

Winner: Viola Davis

Best supporting actor

Mahershala Ali continued to dominate the season. It is possible he could still lose it, but not particularly likely.

Winner: Mahershala Ali

Best actress

This one of the categories that could surprise. Stone has been the favorite and La La Land is dominating all the awards ceremonies. But Huppert wasn’t even eligible for a number of the same awards, so we’ve not seen the play-off of the two. And Huppert has been doing well in foreign awards. I still bemoan the snub of Amy Adams for Arrival, but what can you do? Given the tidal wave of love for La La Land, I think it will carry this award away with it as well.

Winner: Emma Stone

Best actor

I’ve been surprised to see Affleck’s star still ascendant in this category, but Washington was very late to the season. There really is no comparison, to my mind, in ability. Washington’s performance is much more compelling. Gosling is great in La La Land, but the role doesn’t have the depth to compete here despite the juggernaut of a musical behind him.

Winner: Denzel Washington

Best director

Chazelle is still the likely winner here, especially after his DGA win. My preference is still Villenueuve. Arrival is beautifully and mindfully directed and structured. It isn’t as easy a movie as La La Land, but it is much better crafted.

Winner: Damien Chazelle

Best foreign language film

Winner: Toni Erdmann

A Man Called Ove is gaining some late momentum, but I think Erdmann’s momentum was stronger early, when a lot of votes probably were logged.

Best picture

 

My personal pick for best in this field is still Arrival. It accomplished some very difficult feats and left the audience with some very interesting ideas and did it all honestly, while managing to let you trick yourself. Hidden Figures managed to deliver a powerful, but personal story. Either are solid choices for the win.

However, La La Land, which I also enjoyed a great deal, has the Hollywood and Broadway inside track and massive momentum (not to mention 14 new nominations).

Winnner: La La Land

 

THE MINORS

Best adapted screenplay

Arrival. Period.  It even improved on the award-winning original story it was based upon. But, honestly, likely to be Moonlight. This gets harder to predict due to Moonlight being here rather than in Original (as it was for BAFTA and WGA where it won).

Winner: Moonlight

Best original screenplay

This is a bone that may get thrown to someone other than La La Land. While Lobster is quite unique, it just isn’t that great a script/story at the end of it all. Manchester, as well, fell flat for me. The strength it has is really the performances, not its words or story, but it has been gaining momentum due to its BAFTA win. Given the political tides, it could end up Hell or High Water, but think it released too long ago to capture the votes. Admittedly, after WGA, where Manchester lost to Moonlight (which is in the Adapted category here), it is even less clear. Given the continued groundswell for La La Land, I’m going with them to break the musicals curse (An American in Paris was the last time a musical won original script, back in 1951, with Gigi getting adapted in 1958).

Winner: La La Land

Best animated feature

Kubo and Two Strings came back into the running after BAFTA, despite the Anie going to Zootopia. But the momentum is clearly with Zootopia, despite all its weaknesses and flaws.

That said, I’m sticking to my guns on on this one for the right choice rather than the likely. It’s Kubo for the statuette because if it doesn’t win I will scream at the reveal.

Winner: Kubo and the Two Strings

Best documentary feature

Winner: OJ: Made in America

It is possible that 13th still takes this category, but the general winds suggest not.

Best original song

  • La La Land – Audition (The Fools Who Dream) by Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
  • La La Land – City of Stars by Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
  • Moana – How Far I’ll Go by Lin-Manuel Miranda
  • Trolls – Can’t Stop the Feeling by Justin Timberlake, Max Martin and Karl Johan Schuster
  • Jim: The James Foley Story – The Empty Chair by J Ralph and Sting

Winner: Fools Who Dream (or City of Stars… but La La either way unless they split the vote)

Honestly, I have a strong feeling that Miranda will take this to promote him to that rare PEGOT category.  But the support for a La La sweep is pretty strong and How Far I’ll Go just isn’t as good as the other options.

Best original score

Winner: La La Land

Really, is there any doubt on this one?

Best live action short

  • Ennemis Interieurs
  • La Femme et le TGV
  • Silent Nights
  • Sing
  • Timecode

As usual, throw a dart and pick one.

Winner: Sing

Best documentary short

  • 4.1 Miles
  • Extremis
  • Joe’s Violin
  • Watani: My Homeland
  • The White Helmets

Winner: The White Helmets

No particularly good reason for this pick other than its topical nature.

Best animated short

  • Blind Vaysha
  • Borrowed Time
  • Pear Cider and Cigarettes
  • Pearl
  • Piper

For its pure audacity, going with the new tech.

Winner: Pearl

THE TECHNICAL

Best costume design

Winner: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Best make-up and hairstyling

Both Suicide Squad and Star Trek received awards from their peer awards ceremony, but since the whole Academy votes here, I think it is Suicide Squad hands-down.

Winner: Suicide Squad

Best production design

Winner: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Passengers impressed me more, but the broad scope of Beasts and its popularity will probably take the night.

Best cinematography

Winner: La La Land

I don’t think it was the best, but I think it will get caught up in the tsunami that has been building for the movie.

Best film editing

Winner: Arrival

The editing made Arrival. No other nominee can claim that integral a role for its success. I know Hacksaw took BAFTA, but however adept, the story didn’t change based on the editing. I’m being stubborn here, I realize.

Best sound editing

Winner: La La Land

Hacksaw has a real chance here. The work during the battle is pretty amazing.

Best sound mixing

I’ve made this mistake in the past by going for the big action flicks like Rogue One… keeping any dialogue intelligible over all that racket took some serious effort. But given that the CAS award went to La La Land, I’m going to believe the professionals since they get to vote on it again for Oscar night.

Winner: La La Land

Best visual effects

Winner: Jungle Book

Oscars 2017 (nominations)

So I did pretty well with the nominations (my hit rate was 87% based on the full field of 103 choices across the major categories as listed on HSX), but there were definitely some surprises. I also didn’t list all of the potential categories, but I’ll be honest about where I hit or not below. Updates to my picks on winners will occur just prior to the big night… and I’m sure there will be some rethinking after the SAG awards this Sunday. This year, I also discovered 538’s ongoing statistical analysis of the choices, which was both surprising and a bit disappointing. But as we all know, stats often don’t tell the whole or a reliable story.

I still have some gaps at the time of the initial writing, but I hope to fill as many of them as possible before the great event.

THE MAJORS

Best supporting actress

Viola Davis has the edge here in a really tough field. I couldn’t argue with her win, but I think Spencer’s performance was more controlled and subtle.

Best supporting actor

Mahershala Ali is the clear front-runner, and deservedly so. While the other performances are all solid, his was the most ranging and subtle.

Best actress

I did get partially caught out here. Dropping Amy Adams and keeping Streep (who was also up for SAG) surprised me. Adams performance is solid, but understandably challenging to interpret due to the story. But Streep, as talented as she is, just wasn’t that good in Florence Foster Jenkins. Not adding Taraji Henson to this field was criminal. Huppert has a head of steam globally, and I did miss those winds previously, but it wasn’t that surprising. However I did call Negga for Blunt (again as compared to SAG).

The win here is tough. Stone will have a lot of focus and love. If I had to pick this moment, I’d go with the tidal wave of La La Land.

Best actor

Had this, though there was an outside chance Hanks would have been added over Mortenson.

The race here is Washington vs. Gosling. Washington is the better performance, but Gosling’s piano work alone is enough to astound. As of now, I think Washington will walk away with Oscar despite La La’s rolling thunder.

Best director

Chazelle is the likely winner here, but my personal preference would be Villenueuve, whose achievements in Arrival really outshine the other movies in this list.

Best foreign language film

Based on what’s been happening, Toni Erdmann is the likely win here.

Best picture

Had half-expected Silence to be part of this field, but had the rest of them, not that it was a difficult list to guess this year. The winner… now that gets more interesting.

My personal pick for best in this field is Arrival. It accomplished some very difficult feats and left the audience with some very interesting ideas and did it all honestly, while managing to let you trick yourself. Hidden Figures manages to deliver a powerful, but personal story. Either are solid choices for the win.

However, La La Land, which I did enjoy a great deal, has the Hollywood and Broadway inside track and massive momentum (not to mention 14 new nominations). I suspect La La takes the statuette.

THE MINORS

Best adapted screenplay

Arrival. Period.  It even improved on the award-winning original story it was based upon. But, honestly, likely to be one of the others; probably Moonlight.

Best original screenplay

La La Land is the likely winner. While Lobster is quite unique, it just isn’t that great a script/story at the end of it all. Manchester, as well, fell flat for me, the strength it has is really the performances, not its words or story.

Best animated feature

Kubo and Two Strings was one of the best animated flicks I’ve seen in ages. It was original, unique, and flat-out gorgeous and fun. However, I know Zootopia is likely to win.

That said, I’m sticking to my guns on on this one and sticking with Kubo for the statuette because if it doesn’t I will scream a bit at the reveal.

Best documentary feature

This one is tough, but I’m thinking the politics of the moment insist that 13th takes the category.

Best original song

  • La La Land – Audition (The Fools Who Dream) by Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
  • La La Land – City of Stars by Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
  • Moana – How Far I’ll Go by Lin-Manuel Miranda
  • Trolls – Can’t Stop the Feeling by Justin Timberlake, Max Martin and Karl Johan Schuster
  • Jim: The James Foley Story – The Empty Chair by J Ralph and Sting

La La may well work against itself here and split the vote. But, while not entirely upbeat as a song, I’d go with Fools Who Dream. If the vote splits, will probably go to Trolls.

The only wild card is Miranda. As I mentioned in the prelim to this post before the announcements, crowning another EGOT is a hard opportunity not to take for voters (and in this case PEGOT since he has a Pulitzer as well, which only 2 others have done before).

Best original score

Yeah, La La Land by a mile. No matter how you feel about this movie, the complexity and originality of the score is way beyond any of the other entrants.

Best live action short

  • Ennemis Interieurs
  • La Femme et le TGV
  • Silent Nights
  • Sing
  • Timecode

As usual, throw a dart and pick one (I really wish you could get to see these more easily). I’ll start with Sing as my choice and will revise based on buzz later.

Best documentary short

  • 4.1 Miles
  • Extremis
  • Joe’s Violin
  • Watani: My Homeland
  • The White Helmets

Ditto: but going with Joe’s Violin for now cause I like the title.

Best animated short

  • Blind Vaysha
  • Borrowed Time
  • Pear Cider and Cigarettes
  • Pearl
  • Piper

Second ditto: Going with Pear Cider and Cigarettes in honor of the nod to Jarmusch.

THE TECHNICAL

Best costume design

This gets interesting. Usually this goes to a period piece… but they are all period pieces. Several are flamboyant period pieces. Based on scope and challenge, I’m thinking Fantastic Beasts. While the others all did wonderfully, they were invisible (a feat in itself) but Beasts had both ends… the invisible and the inventive, which tips the scales in its favor.

Best make-up and hairstyling

Wow, just not the three I’d have expected. Suicide Squad, I think in this case. Harley Quinn and the Joker alone deserve it; utterly unforgettable, the pair of them.

Best production design

Another tough choice as each succeeds quite well in its way. I’m going to go to an outlier here because, honestly, the production design really did impress me: Passengers. However, Beasts is likely to take this one as well for similar reasons as costume. But I didn’t think the design in Beasts was really all that good… it felt forced and unreal rather than magical to me. Passengers was seamless and felt real to the tale rather than distracting from it.

Best cinematography

For this it is between Arrival and Silence. Arrival’s work is more complex, with focus and framing adding to the story telling. Silence is just plain pretty, from what I’ve seen. With no other nods, Silence may get its shot here. For my sensibilities, though, Arrival deserves it in this field.

Best film editing

Arrival, without question for me. The editing made this film. No other nominee can claim that integral a role for its success.

Best sound editing

La La Land for this. The soundscape of the film is just as important as its story in this case.

Best sound mixing

Thinking Rogue One for this one… keeping any dialogue intelligible over all that racket took some serious effort.

Best visual effects

For sheer inventiveness, probably Doctor Strange, though Jungle Book rewrote the tech handbook quite a bit and it has nothing else on order this year despite being such a huge, popular hit. And I’m not sure I could pull apart Kubo to place it in this category… so suspect others can’t either.

SAG awards and Oscar nominations

It is almost time again.

I’ve been watching, and rewatching in some cases, many movies as the voting deadlines near for SAG and Oscar prepares to announce their nominations. I thought I’d share my musings, rambling as they are, in hopes of making up my own mind and predicting the winners (not always the same thing).

This is one of the toughest years I can remember being part of as there are no clear winners in many categories and some of the majors are working from different pools.

For instance, La La Land is not up for Best Cast for SAG but will almost certainly up for Best Picture for Oscar. Yet Gosling, Affleck, and Washington are all going head-to-head for Best Actor. Of course, SAG is purely focused on performance, while Oscar, particularly Best Picture, is looking at a larger matrix of elements.

Best Picture/Best Performance by a Cast for SAG may be the toughest to call. Personally, my pick would be Arrival this year for Oscar Best Picture. It was the most incredibly constructed, most unique, and lent itself to lots of conversation and rewatching. I don’t think it has a chance due to the subject matter and because it is a “think piece” more than entertainment or flagellation. La La Land, again not up for SAG, has the inside Hollywood track and is a great piece of film; the last 5 min. prove that. It has garnered an astounding 182 nominations (and 127 wins) during its run at the time of this writing. But neither of these have best overall casts. For that, I think you have to look to Hidden Figures, which is a late tsunami coming down the lane and wasn’t competing until Christmas Day. It is a timely, topical, and well done with a well-balanced cast overall and subtly directed.

So, for the SAG win: Hidden Figures

For the Oscar nominations:
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Moonlight
Arrival
Manchester By the Sea
Fences
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water

For the Oscar win… still betting Hidden Figures, though La La Land may edge it out as it has a good shot at many of the other statuettes.

The competition among the women for Best and Best Supporting is equally tough. Every one of the nominees and potential nominees (SAG is already public, but Oscar has yet to declare) has put in a solid performance… and each is different, making direct comparisons difficult.

For SAG:

Amy Adams (Arrival)
Emily Blunt (Girl on the Train)
Natalie Portman (Jackie)
Emma Stone (La La Land)
Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins)

I’m expecting Stone to take this out of the SAG field.

I’d prefer Adams, but her performance isn’t obvious on first watch. It takes a second time through to recognize what is going on and what she is doing. And while Blunt ran circles around Stone in this category, her character is too ugly and the movie too middling, I think, to get her the votes. And in a stressed up world, I think the lighter movie will take the focus.

Oscar will likely include Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures) and Ruth Negga (Loving) and drop Blunt and Streep. And in that field of players, it is likely Henson for the win.

The Supporting female roles are a lot tighter.

SAG:
Viola Davis (Fences)
Nicole Kidman (Lion)
Naomi Harris (Moonlight)
Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures)
Michelle Williams (Manchester By the Sea)

Picking in this category is an embarrassment of riches. Everyone of them is worthy, which means 4 of them have to go home honored but empty-handed.

My guess, for both Oscar and SAG is Viola Davis. Her role had the most range and was the most overtly emotional.

The male races are equally tough.

For Best Actor, SAG has:
Casey Affleck (Manchester By the Sea)
Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge)
Ryan Gosling (La La Land)
Vigo Mortenson (Captain Fantastic)
Denzel Washington (Fences)

Oscar will probably swap Tom Hanks (Sully) for Mortenson, but neither is likely to win or change the race, though both are solid performances.

This one is really between Washington and Gosling. Both are good. Washington has a heck of a lot more range and directed the movie he starred in. Gosling, on the other hand, had to learn jazz piano for his role, which is still subtle and compelling. Also, Gosling is in the more upbeat ending, which can’t hurt.

I’m betting Gosling for SAG and Washington for Oscar, but it really is a toss-up.

For Supporting Actor, SAG and Oscar likely agree on the list:
Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
Dev Patel (Lion)
Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water)
Hugh Grant (Florence Foster Jenkins)
Lucas Hedges (Manchester By the Sea)

As to winners… thinking it is really Ali vs Bridges in both cases. With Ali coming off a great year of work, I’m more in his camp at the moment for both.

SAG doesn’t have an animated category, but Oscar certainly does.

I’m pretty sure Zootopia will take it, but it really should be Kubo and the Two Strings. Just too many missed Kubo and probably won’t take the time to see it. Moana just isn’t engaging enough to win, though who knows these days? Lin Manuel Miranda may carry enough weight to swing it and it would give him his EGOT. Crowning another EGOT is a hard opportunity not to take for voters.

OK, that’s my brain dump. Oscar declares its list in a day and SAG will announce its winners in a few beyond that and we’ll see just how on point I am this year.  And, as usual, I will have more in-depth musings on Oscar after nominations are out and the big night approaches.

My “Best of” 2016

I don’t usually do this, but too many folks have asked. So, I’ve gone back through my last year of films and tv (and it was a LOT). Here’s what I came up with out of about 280 posts which covered more than 300 films and TV shows over the last calendar year.

Film:
Not all of these are brilliant, but they are all good movies and often unique enough to make them worth the time. Most were released in 2016, but a few may have bridged across from 2015 (or earlier)… and a few have released that I’ve yet to see, but there is only so much time!

The best (in no particular order, but should be seen):

Kubo and the Two Strings
Arrival
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Moonlight
The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Deadpool
Anomalisa
A Monster Calls
Marguerite

The rest (again, no order, but unique or well done and deserve a watch):

Sing Street
Remember
Hologram for the King
The Wave
Finding Vivian Maier
Eddie the Eagle
Fundamentals of Caring
Miss You Already
April and the Extraordinary World
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Sticky
Demolition
Therapy for a Vampire
Dressmaker
Swiss Army Man
The Nice Guys
Doctor Strange
Spectral
The BFG

TV:
There is a heck of a lot of good TV out there now, but these were the new ones that caught me off-guard.

This is Us
Class
Night Manager
Magicians
Stranger Things
The OA
Westworld

Fall TV 2016

Yes, it is that time of year again… time to assess the new batch of shows and see how many stay part of my weekly life. I’ve been putting off this post simply because I fell behind my watching due to travel, but seems like I can’t really push this much further, so here we go…

Still watching

This is Us
Surprisingly good writing and plotting and probably the strongest start of the season for me. It has also managed to sustain its quality through its early episodes as well. The writers keep the structures changing and reveal characters in ways that remain unexpected and entertaining. One thing really going for it is the cast, who run with the scripts brilliantly.

Speechless
Suspect this will flare out eventually for me. The humor is often a little too obvious, but they always seem to just balance it before the end of the show to something digestible. It may well find its feet for the longer haul and get me fully committed. For now, it isn’t a bad half hour.

Timeless
A surprisingly weak opening for such a hotly anticipated show. Generally, there are some interesting mystery aspects, but a lot of obvious plot points and moments, and some very bad (forced) writing. Even after several episodes they haven’t found their feet. If I continue to watch, it is purely out of masochism to see what the heck the bigger mysteries turn out to be. What is interesting is seeing how this show differs from Frequency in how it deals with changes to a timeline.

Frequency
Some interesting writing and the show is unafraid to make some bold choices. Obvious choices at times, sure, but still willingness to go dark. The real question is whether the premise can be sustained for more than a single season without it feeling recycled. So far, so good, even when they make easy, stupid choices to force the plot along. Comparing it to Timeless in how the world works when time changes is also a bit of fun. I’d be a lot happier with this one if they’d get the police aspects right.

Conviction
Haley Atwell and Sean Ashmore get this another shot. They set up plenty of possibilities. Though it had a weak opening, it has plenty of paths to take. The danger lies in it giving in to the more Soap Opera edges of the overall tale. If it dips too far in that direction, I’ll be bailing, despite some of the fun dialogue and intriguing (if often containing flawed procedure) mysteries.

Luke Cage
Large comic book universes take advantage of wide readership to try different sensibilities and styles. While Daredevil and Jessica Jones are part of the same world as Luke Cage, each has its own rhythm and flavor. Though set in the present, Cage rings with echos of black exploitation films, but through a lens of Jackie Brown. It isn’t a fast-paced story for its first two thirds, and not exactly unpredictable, but it is intriguing and full of big characters. By the last third of the run, it is moving at a breakneck pace. I would have preferred a more self-contained end to the cycle rather than such an obvious play into its next season, but up till then it was fun. Also, having finished after the election, it had some particularly strong resonance in the last couple episodes. As part of the Marvel world, it is a fascinating sliver.

Westworld
This quasi-remake is a violent and slightly forced drama. I can’t quite decide if it is worth my time or not, but the mysteries set up by the end of the first episode were enough to bring me back to find out more. And more did come. It could still quickly lose me if they get too obvious or trite, but since this came from the mind of Johnathan Nolan, I’m willing to keep moving forward.

Jetisoned

The Exorcist
A rather creepy incarnation of the world Blatty introduced to the world decades ago. It manages to keep the sensibility of its origins while forging new paths and potential. It may not sustain, but the darkness isn’t suffocating and the mystery is involving. However, it also just didn’t keep me coming back.

Bull
Rides the wave of CSI and NCIS but from a jury picking and manipulating point of view. It exposes the seedier and sadder ideas behind our justice system, if not the realities. But the personalities just aren’t strong enough to carry the story for me and the tales themselves are just not that intriguing. Frankly, it is more upsetting to see how the system can be gamed for those with the money to do so than any thin enjoyment of solving the mysteries was for me (especially as some I solved in the first 2 minutes or less).

Notorious
It just ain’t Aaron Sorkin. Basically, a fast talking soap opera with people I couldn’t believe. I had no interest in getting behind or caring about them.

MacGyver
Just doesn’t have the writing or the personalities to carry this reboot. Utterly non-credible as well.

Lethal Weapon
Similarly here, the personalities aren’t quite strong enough. However, in this case, it is more the writing. The characters just aren’t believable and the plots and moments too predictable.

No Tomorrow
No way. Painful opening, interesting idea. But not even Gigi Rice and Joshua Sasse could save it.

Pure Genius
It wouldn’t be impossible to get more wrong about the medical world than this show does, but it would be hard. If you view this as a fantasy of how we’d like to have things work, fine, but it just isn’t even a little close. Added to that the writing is mediocre and the acting, particularly of the leads, is weak, so why bother to waste time on it?

Returning
Agents of Shield
Big Bang Theory
Elementary
Black List (rapidly killed my interest and is off my list)
iZombie

Some travelling streams

While travelling, catching up on recent films tends to get more difficult. But streaming services have changed the breadth of what I access rather nicely, though not always with my first choices.

This particular trip I queued up a few films and shows to rewatch and catch-up on and decided to capture some of the impressions rather than full-on discussions.

Hercules (1997)
This is the Disney mutation of the ancient myth. And that’s about the nicest thing I can say about it as a movie. I love the art. I even own some of the art. But the story? I don’t think I could have been more turned off than I was at the intoning of “that’s the Gospel truth” (which was clever) backing up utter distortions and awful changes to the recorded tale. This is also a film that was at the turning point for the studio in the types of stories they were aiming to tell… changes that led to the gobbling of Pixar and the triumph of Frozen. Admire the art, but run away from this one.

Moulin Rouge (2001)
Such a glorious and wonderful experience when I first saw it. Rich visuals, fun musical interpretations, good acting, huge romance. It was a modern opera that struck chords for a wide audience. Rewatching it again after so long, and without the high def always holding (another drawback of streaming), the tale fell flat for the first 30 minutes or so. That opening was always “shock and awe” so it wasn’t surprising this time through, but it was disappointing. Once the story found its legs, however, I found myself drawn back into the tragic love affair and the message. But I can’t recommend this one anymore other than as a curio of the Luhrmann opus or for the actors earlier in their careers.

Seven Deadly Sins (Nanatsu no taizai)
An odd little anime that starts like a typical romantic comedy and turns into something more complex and dark. I can’t tell you exactly why it drew me in other than the odd humor and hint of the bigger story, but it did and I wasn’t sorry that I spent the time. My biggest disappointment is that there doesn’t seem to be a second series, though it is set up. On the plus side, this series pretty much wraps up… at least enough so that you don’t feel left hanging.

Black Mirror (Series 1 & 2)
It took me a long time to return to this series after its premier episode. It was so deeply disturbing, I couldn’t imagine watching several stories along the same lines. Fortunately, the remaining episodes were less, let’s say challenging, but that wouldn’t be quite fair. They are, each and every one, about the dark side of humanity, and particularly technology. The casts are very good and the writing, even when you know where they’re going, gets there in interesting ways.

Shadowhunters (series 1)
The original film, Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, was underwhelming but with promise. The weakness of that promise killed it as a movie franchise but had it reborn as a TV series. Sadly, it is even weaker there. Utterly miscast and poorly written, it is painful to watch. I have read the books, so that isn’t helping my opinion. For all the issues I may have had with the original material, the characters were utterly clear and specific in look and attitude. The show has ignored a huge amount of those specifics to get a bunch of beautiful people in supernatural soap opera together. OK, the books are a bit of that too, but not nearly so much as this is. One episode was enough to send me running in despair.

The uncanny plot valley of the strange

There is a concept, “the uncanny valley,” that describes the human ability to unconsciously recognize things that are, well, just wrong. For example, how a CGI object moves, or even if a robot or computer is human, making it a bit of an overlap with the Turing test in concept.

These concepts have been around for a while and speak to the human level of comfort with the real over the artificial, and the consistent over the mixed. Recently, I recognized a reverse of that when it comes to plot construction thanks to the increased approach of using improv in the midst of scripts rather than fully scripted or fully improvised movies. A great example of this is Adult Beginners, where some nicely crafted script is interspersed with improvised scenes. Those moments, while well played and nicely edited into the film, sit oddly. In other words, the fully real interchanges appear unreal, while the crafted, more artificial bits, if you will, feel more natural. I don’t think this is just a matter of the quality of the improv, but more about the juxtaposition of the two which rub against each other in the wrong way. However, I do think there is a preferred leaning to the crafted script over improv for viewers.

Film has gone through many movements over the century-plus it has been around. We have been trained to expect fully crafted moments. This has been true for millennia with stage plays as well. This is a plus and a minus. We have expectations based on structure. Those structures are often unconsciously recognized by most of the audience, but are very obvious to those aware of the tropes and standards. Those expectations help us pick up clues and allow for great catharsis when love conquers, evil falls, or the little guy wins. But if you consciously know it is coming from the outset of the story, the result can sometimes be very unmoving. Scenes of improv have been used to help shake up those expectations, break the rhythms; make you sit up and take notice and think of the story as unpredictable as life really is. But it tends not to work as they stand out as, well, wrong.

This is why I tend to watch a lot of foreign fare; it riffs on the plots I grew up with rather than delivering them as expected. I typically recognize plots in seconds when watching something from the States. Both domestic and foreign approaches are similar, but I get moments of surprise by viewing the foreign because they are based on slightly different cultural templates. Templates, to be fair, which are highly familiar to their local audiences, just foreign (literally) to me.

There are uses of improv that do work, but they are, typically, used as the whole of the film and are then highly edited (aka crafted) into a cohesive whole. Robin Williams turn in Aladdin comes immediately to mind, but there are many out there. In these cases the improv was either an exploration to find opportunity in a story, or a way to provide a uniqueness and deep well of raw material from which the director could shape the story for audiences. Once crafted, it is no longer pure improv, it is scripted, just not in the traditional sense. And by being given shapes we recognize as part of the story-teller’s toolbox, we find it real and comfortable, though it is utterly artificial. Watch for these reactions in yourself as you view movies… what parts feel right and real versus artificial or out of place. This isn’t about bad directing or acting or script, it is about finding those pieces that don’t fit by their very nature, not because the craft was weak… it provides an interesting lens on the post-modernist films and experimentations with social media conventions that are starting to flood the market.

For further reading: A wonderful little retrospective of 2015 movies around the uncanny valley over at Fandor many of which are discussed on this site. There are also some nice examples of the idea over at Stranger Dimensions as well. (And for some truly silly, completely off-topic analytic fun, check out Wired’s Force Awakens vs. A New Hope statistical comparison if you haven’t found it yet.)