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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Moonlight (2016)

This is the movie I like the best that is nominated for best picture.  I still have three more to watch, but this is the one, I think.  Here is what I love about it.  It is gritty and real and tells of several struggles all at once and does so eloquent;y and without the tension that I felt throughout Lion and without the long drawn out periods that were emotional angst overload that happened in Manchester by the Sea.  I know, that one or La La Land, which is lushly beautiful, are more likely winners, but this is my choice.
What is the movie about?  It is summed up in the question posed by Mahershali Ali's character: “Who is you, man?” In particular, it is African American culture and people living in poverty.  It is gritty and clear eyed and surprisingly wonderful to watch. 
I have long been fascinated with issues of identity as a subject matter for films, but they’ve rarely been explored with the degree of eloquence and heartbreaking beauty as in this masterful film. “Moonlight” is a film that is both lyrical and deeply grounded in its character work, a balancing act that’s breathtaking to behold. It is one of those rare pieces of filmmaking that stays completely focused on its characters while also feeling like it’s dealing with universal themes about identity, sexuality, family, and, most of all, masculinity. And yet it's never preachy or moralizing. It is a movie in which deep, complex themes are reflected through character first and foremost.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Loving (2016)

Do not miss this beautifully crafted movie about the case that led to the Supreme Court ruling that it was unequal protection under the law to prevent people of different skin colors from marrying.  It got only one Academy Award nomination, for Best Actress, but it is exceptional in a quiet way.  It reiterates the fact that at the time people believed it was against the will of god to allow such marriages.  Although we all know that a careful reading of the Bible will not find god weigh in in on this, or gay marriage either.  Just something people wanted to be true so they said it was so. 
The film is a rare mainstream film that provokes frustration and rage without resorting to monologues or melodrama. Which is something to see in and of itself.  The two people at the center of this period drama aren’t prone to long speeches. They’re quiet, conservative, almost shy folk who ended up at the center of one of the most important Supreme Court cases of the ‘60s by virtue of falling in love, getting married and having children. Nichols’ approach is careful, reserved and deeply considerate of the human story he’s trying to tell.  Simply gorgeous.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Elle (2016)

This is a very disturbing movie, which I am surprised wasn't among the Best Foreign Language film nominees.  I watched it because Isabelle Huppert is nominated for best actress, and having seen all the nominees, this is my pick to win that category.  She is astounding as a woman who is raped in her home, and then goes on to have a relationship of sorts with her rapist.  It is very difficult to watch and I am not sure I fully understand either.  She had a traumatic childhood, with a father who was notorious because he suddenly snapped one day and killed everyone in their neighborhood, then came home and had her help him start a fire with all their furniture.  Ok, that will mark you for life, and people were not sure that she herself wasn't involved in the killings.  She has a bitter relationship with her mother, who is no prize either, and problematic ties with her son and her ex-husband.  She is a successful video game maker, which makes her reaction to her own violence hard to untangle from her playing off the fantasies of young men, and so there is that angle as well.  Sexually very complex, and well depicts the unsettling relationship between sex and violence for some.  Well worth a watch, but be prepared.  Not easy going.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Lion (2016)

This is really a harrowing story about a young boy who gets lost in India as a five year old.  He comes from an uneducated day laborer family who have no resources at all, they live day by day.  He accidentally gets locked on a train, and travels far from home--from Hindi speaking India to Bengali speaking India.  He is lucky enough to be adopted by an Australian couple and it is not until he is having dinner at a friend of a friend's house that he has a flashback memory from his childhood.  He then becomes haunted by the question of who he is, what happened to his older brother, and where he is from.  He remembers more and more, but has a fruitless search for a long time.  Too long, really, from a cinematic point of view, but he eventually has some success.   It is surprisingly tense and difficult to watch because while it has a happy ending, it really does touch on some delicate issues that were hard to watch.  Dev Patel as the boy grown up is excellent.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

13th (2016)

This documentary, nominated for the Best Documentary at this year's Academy Award, takes on the always controversial topic of race in America.  The film opens with former President Obama stating that while America has only 5% of the world's population, it has 25% of the world's incarcerated population.  One of every four people behind bars is an American.  That is a staggering fact, and the movie postulates that the situation was created with the end of slavery and the 13th Amendment.  The South was powered on slave labor and when slavery ended, the need for labor was high.  Black men went from being enslaved to being imprisoned, where they were literally sentenced to hard labor.  The documentary brings us through the additional reasons that kept African American men behind bars in ever increasing numbers up to the present day.  It is both painful and persuasive, and not in a good way.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Joe's Violin (2016)

This is the feel good entry into the short documentary film finals.  It is my Valentine's Day choice.  The feel good movie for this category, which is otherwise populated with stories of Syria.  Really good stories about Syria, mind you, and important things to think about but not the stuff of romance. 
Joe was born in Western Poland in 1923.  He played the violin and his mother sang along with him as a boy.  He loved music, but when the Nazi's invaded Poland when he was 16 years old, he left the violin behind and moved to Western Poland, and was exiled to a work camp in Siberia for the rest of the war.  Luckily he survived, and while he was in a relocation camp in Germany after the war, he bought the violin he would have for the rest of his life.  He played it often after that, but as he crept up into his 90's, the violin laid idle.  So when the New York City schools asked for people to donate their unused instruments so that students who could not afford them could use them, he gave up his violin.  He also gave up it's story with it, and the movie is about the girl who gets his violin.  Bring a tissue, it is heartwarming.  So try to see a little good in the world today and enjoy your loved ones.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Manchester By The Sea (2016)

This is definitely a sad movie, but it doesn't feel as sad as the things it describes.  I have four more best picture nominees to watch, but this is the best so far.  And I am early in the viewing for Best Actor movies, but Casey Affleck absolutely nails this role.  It is a must see movie about the wear and tear of trauma and grief.  Affleck plays Lee Chandler, a man haunted by a tragedy from his past that he feels morally responsible for.  He leaves his home town and becomes largely absent in his own life as a result.  That is until his older brother dies young and leaves Lee as his guardian.  That pulls Lee back to the scene of his crime and he is not the only one who holds himself responsible for his actions.  As he says, he just can't shake it, he can't move beyond it, not even for his nephew.  It is sad and gritty and real, and very good.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

La La Land (2016)

This is the one that drew all the nominations this year.  It helps that it has a two star cast, and that it is a musical, but it is also beautiful cinematically as well.  I did not know this when I saw it but the director, Stephan Elliott,  reportedly once told the Observer film critic Mark Kermode that that he’d made The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert to bring screen musicals back from the grave into which Xanadu had put them.  Those are old references, but if I had known he did Priscilla, I would have been more eager to see this film, which is truly an ode to old style Hollywood musicals.  In that vein it is impeccable.  The story is secondary to the staging, and the script is secondary to the performance, and with those priorities this is perfection.  The poster photo does an excellent job of conveying these pluses.  The positioning of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling is absolutely seductive, as is the coloring of the clothes and scene and the way the photo conveys movement and excitement.  I was a little surprised to see this range in Gosling, but I have always thought he was terrific and this movie solidifies that opinion.  It is not my choice to win best picture, but it might be mine for best director.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

4.1 Miles (2016)

This short documentary, which is on the short list for the Academy Award was powerful and moving.  It is my second choice for the win.  It chronicles the final leg of the voyage from Syria to Europe for refugees who take the Mediterranean Sea route, and the experience of this for the Greek island that is the closest.
It is absolutely heart stopping to watch the rescue unfold.  There is a rubber raft in the water, with so many people squeezed into it that there is no air at all between them, they are just one big mass.  The raft is taking on water, sinking, and the wind is bracing.  The ship is concerned by the wind, and their own safety but they can see that the raft won't make it without them rescuing it.  There are people in the water already.  The men pull each and every person out of the sea and into their boat, wrap them in a blanket, place them around the boat which is also not meant to hold so many, and in the end, they take them to Europe, in the form of their tiny island that has been overwhelmed with refugees day in and day out.  "You can see the war in their eyes" one rescuer says.  It is traumatic for all, including the viewer.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Moana (2016)

Here is another Disney movie with a strong character with brown skin, this time from Hawaii.  Moana  draws on themes that are familiar from films like Mulan and Pocahontas: The heroine isn’t just buoyed by her own inner strength, she’s drawing on the teachings and traditions of her culture as well. Moana is the daughter of a Polynesian chief, being groomed to succeed her father and advise her people, but she’s as much the recipient of received wisdom as she is blazing her own path.  She is guided by her grandmother, the tales of her people, and the desire to fix things that have happened in the past to make the future bright for her people.  She is brave, resourceful, and independent.  But she also gets a little help from Maui, the god who tilted the world off it's axis when he stole the heart of Te Fiti, and Moana aims to have him help her restore it.  The music is a winning combination of a collaboration between Samoan musician Opetaia Foa’i, composer Mark Mancina, and Hamilton composer/star Lin-Manuel Miranda, and it draws on Polynesian drumming and choral vocals for a rich, hypnotic sound.  All in all a great option in the Best Animated Film category, and a step above Zootopia, the only other that I have seen to date.