Monday, February 29, 2016

I Smile Back

The story of addiction can be rough. In the film I Smile Back we meet a woman who has a lovely home, husband and family. Her depression and distance from them was so sad to me as she would reject prescribed therapies to self-medicate with coke and alcohol. Interesting to watch a comedian like Sarh Silverman play such a serious dramatic role so well. She played it with respect and compassion. Sad story, good film.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Fun Home

Last year at the Tony Awards I became aware of the musical Fun Home. A stirring performance of the song Ring of Keys enchanted and delighted me. I learned that the musical was derived from a graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. Over the next few weeks I heard a lot of interviews with the author and writer of the musical. Over the summer my Father had a health issue that had me in doctor's waiting rooms where Fun Home kept me company. I loved the book I loved the story. Poignant and brave. Around the holidays my daughter asked what shows I was interested in seeing on Broadway. Fun Home was at the top of my list. Under the Christmas tree this year was a ticket for me along with the announcement that both of my daughters would join me. We made reservations for dinner and made an evening of it.

The show? We made our way into the Circle on the Square and took our seats. The show is staged in the round and we were seated next to the orchestra. An intimate theater. The actors were amazing, the set was an engineering marvel and by the end they had captured my heart. With no intermission, the climax of the play was powerful and the tears flowed freely during the last song. I left the theater with a huge smile on my face and a song and story in my heart forever. What a wonderful show, what a wonderful story. Thanks to Ms. Bechdel for sharing her life and her family with mine. What an experience.

Oscar Picks 2016

This is where I post how I would vote if I were a member of the Academy. Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant were huge standouts to me this year. Star Wars: the Force Awakens was a crowd pleaser and Brooklyn was one of the nicest films of the year. I have really enjoyed this year in film. Popping the popcorn and tuning in on Sunday night. Wishing Chris Rock a good show! Happy Oscars!

Picture - The Revenant
Actor - Leonardo DiCaprio - The Revenant
Actress - Brie Larson - Room
Supporting Actor -Christian Bale - The Big Short
Supporting Actress -Jennifer Jason-Leigh - The Hateful Eight
Director - Alexandro Innaritu
Animated Feature - Shaun the Sheep
Foreign Feature - Son of Saul
Documentary Feature - Amy
Animated Short - Sanjay's Super Team
Live Action Short -Day One
Documentary Short - Body Team 12
Cinematography - The Revenant
Editing - Mad Max: Fury Road
Costume Design - Cinderella
Makeup and Hair Styling - Mad Max: Fury Road
Original Score - Hateful Eight
Original Song - Simple Song #3
Production Design - Mad Max: Fury Road
Sound Editing - Sicario
Sound Mixing - Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Visual Effects - Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Adapted Screenplay - Carol
Original Screenplay - Spotlight

Friday, February 26, 2016

Oscars 2016: The Films

Until I saw The Revenant I was sure that Mad Max: Fury Road was the best picture of the year. Now they sit side by side in my brain on an equal footing. I think The Revenant will take the Oscar. Of the animated films, Pixar's Inside Out will probably walk away with the statue, but the very charming Shaun The Sheep Movie was my favorite animated film this year. The documentary Amy pulled at a lot of heartstrings and was a nice tribute to a short career. Cartel Land and Winter on Fire could win just on the bravery of capturing the harrowing footage. The only foreign film I saw was Son of Saul. I'll be interested to see if it wins. All of the animated shorts were lovely in their own way. Pixar could walk away with this one too with Sanjy's Super Team, but World of Tomorrow did some innovative stuff. Live action short could go to Stutterer for the sentimental, Day One for the intensity or Ave Maria for a laugh.I got within 4 films of seeing every feature nominated for an Oscar. Not bad! It's been a good year for film.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Oscars 2016: The People

The most consistent thing I have been saying about movies this year is that the stories are OK, but the performances have been outstanding. The supporting acting categories for this year's Oscar will become a popularity contest because all 8 nominated performances are so good. I'm still not sure who I'll pick for my Oscaar Pool, but Jennifer Jason-Leigh for The Hateful Eight and Kate Winslet in Steve Jobs stand out. For the men I really can't pick, all were strong in their own way. Best Actor for me this year was Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant. Such intensity and commitment paid off. Inarritu could win Best Director for the film as well. It's really a masterpiece. The Best Actress will probably go to Brie Larson for her powerful performance in Room, But Saoirse Ronan put in some good work in Brooklyn so we'll see. Bravo to all!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Oscars 2016: The Stories

There were so many great scripts this year. The trend of stories based on true events is still running strong. For original screenplay I think that Spotlight is the standout. Inside Out and Ex Machina are very clever, bu there is an intensity and resonance in the way the journalists dog down the story that is so compelling to me. The adapted screenplay I liked was Brooklyn. A nice story of making decisions and growing up that sat well with me. Carol is a similar story about making decisions that is also well written. Any of the adapted screenplays could win the Oscar and I wouldn't be surprised.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Oscars 2016: The Sounds

Music sets tone and the emotional path in a film. Several beautiful scores accompanied the best films this year. John Williams did a nice job blending the nostalgic with new music in the score of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I really liked the score to The Hateful Eight for it's intensity and drive. I thought that the original songs this year were just alright. Simple Song #3 was the only one that impressed me. For all of the light sabers, robots and space chases I thought the sound in Star Wars: The Force Awakens was most effective. Though I thought the sound editing in Sicario really took you along for the ride.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Oscars 2016: The Sights

Everything we see on the screen feeds our senses. Two of the most stunning films to me this year were Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant. From editing to makeup to costumes to production design, editing and cinematography, both are stunning. Both are masterful in their visual effects, but I think based on pure emotion, Star Wars: The Force Awakens marries the old and the new to a wonderful effect. Costumes almost become a character in Carol and The Danish Girl. The Oscar could go to any of these and be well deserved.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Boy & the World

The last attainable film in My Oscar Project was Boy & the World. This lovely animated feature follows a young boy out of his idyllic world to the reality of industrialism and environmental decline. The animation is colorful and involved. The story is simple and deep. Loved this film.

Friday, February 19, 2016


I have no interest in extreme adventure, and I think mountain climbers are nuts. I rented Everest after seeing Josh Brolin in an interview. He made the telling of a disasterous ascent of Everest in 1996 interesting. This film was shot for IMAX and even on my small screen it looks amazing. The climb was hampered by a storm, and lives were lost. The story is wrenching and the climb and descent harrowing. The film made me cry a few times,so it made the connection. Good film.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Man Up

In an unlikely meeting, a story of mistaken identity is told in romantic style. In Man Up the strength of the film lies in it's actors. Simon Pegg and Lake Bell light up the screen with likable characters that I rooted for. Really enjoyed this film.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Oscar Nominated Shorts Animation

The shorts nominated for Oscars tend to be very short, so 4 extra shorts were added to the Oscar Nominated Short Animated Films program to fill out a 90 minute program. 

Bear Story shows a charming bear with a street show that tells his story. Sweet and poignant.

Prologue depicts a battle in line drawings that is surprisingly effective and graphic.

Sanjay's Super Team is comprised of some surprising characters as his religion meets his fantasies. Maybe they are the same thing?

We Can't Live Without Cosmos is a story of friendship and exploration. Mostly friendship.

World of Tomorrow looks at the future in analytical style with a childlike joy. Very creative.

The Loneliest Stoplight is a story about a stoplight at an abandoned intersection. The signature style of Bill Plympton is delightful.

The Short Story of a Fox and a Mouse shows off stellar animation in the story of a mouse who turns from food to friend in the eyes of a protective fox. Stunning visuals.

If I Was God takes us back to the classroom in the eyes of a young boy. Frogs and girls hold his attention, but how to get the attention of the right one?

These were all wonderful in their own way.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Son of Saul

In my quest to see as many Oscar nominated films as possible, I found myself reluctantly going to see Son of Saul. I have pretty actively avoided films that take place in the Holocaust. I've never seen Schindler's list. Though everything I have heard about the film was positive, the setting can be too much for me. To watch a man's experience escorting victims into the ovens, hearing their screams, collecting their belongings, cleaning the chambers and shoveling their ashes is horrific. We have the constant perspective of looking over Saul's shoulder. All of the atrocities are background and blurred out of focus, yet you know exactly what's going on. Saul also goes on a mission that seems to be an effort to keep hope alive for him. A sad story told in a very skillful film. Tough stuff.

Oscar Nominated Shorts Live Action

Every year they release the Oscar Nominated Shorts in three programs. Today I saw the Live Action Short Films.

Ave Maria is the story of a miserable family that breaks down outside a convent on the West Bank. The nuns have taken a vow of silence so the comedy lies in their efforts to communicate.

Day One shows us the first day of an interpreter in Afghanistan assigned to special forces. The harshness of the environment and the situations are an eye opener.

Everything Will Be OK gives us a front row seat to a kidnapping. Desperate and touching.

Shok shows us two friends and the consequences of having something valuable like a bike in Kosivo.

Stutterer tells a tale of online romance for a young man who has difficulty speaking. The online relationship is great until the young woman wants to meet. He sweats it out until the surprise ending.

I find shorts very satisfying and liked all of these quite a bit. Well done.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Pawn Sacrifice

People with high intellect can become mentally unstable. In Pawn Sacrifice we watch Bobby Fisher fall down the rabbit hole of paranoia as he rises to world championship status in the chess world. I remember when Fisher was a sensation and everyone was playing chess. An interesting film about an interesting man and his struggles.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

99 Homes

The cruelty and despair of the housing crisis is the setting for 99 Homes. When the ruthless real estate mogul hires one of his eviction victims, morality and ethics get pushed to the limit. This is an excellent drama with excellent performances and a powerful ending. Gripping. Excellent film.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


Moving a prisoner should be easy for the FBI, right? In Flashback we see where the difficulties lie. The prisoner is a 60s kinda dude and the FBI agent goes by the book. Sentimentalities are preyed on and the results are unexpected. Very funny with classic performances, I enjoyed this road trip film a lot. Good rental!

Saturday, February 06, 2016


The dramatization of couples losing children makes for wrenching film. In Meadowland a couple copes with losing their son and it is a powerful drama. There is very little dialog, but with there is it is a bit of a gut-punch. This film is a poignant story of family, love, loss and coping. A bit raw. Good film.

Friday, February 05, 2016


When it came to light that George W. Bush may not have been the war hero he claimed to be, CBS ran with the story...a little too fast. Armed with photocopied documents and vague promises that they were authentic, Mary Mapes released the story. This opened she and Dan Rather to accusations of lying, forgery and ultimate disgrace. In the film Truth this story is dramatized with a sympathetic eye to Mapes and Rather. Well done.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

A Ballerina's Tale

Last year, A Ballerina's Tale was screened at Tribeca Film Festival with a Q & A with Misty Copeland. I missed the event but finally saw the film on DVD. This documentary speaks a bit to Copeland's rise to principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater, but speaks more to her struggles to stay there despite injuries. Her dancing is beautiful and the brutality of the ballet, both psychologically and physically is apparent. Copeland is a beautiful dancer whose career is both historic and inspiring. Hard work and perseverance pays off.