Chris James’ Top 10 of 2016

Now that the Oscar nominations are announced, it is time to share some of my favorite picks of the year. On a weekly basis, I will detail my picks in a variety of categories leading up to the Oscars.

For now, see below for my top 10 films of 2016!

10. “Toni Erdmann”

Most people’s idea of a crowd pleaser is hardly a nearly three hour German comedy. However, those people probably have not seen “Toni Erdmann” and should get on it. Stat! It’s a simple enough premise. A goofball Dad (Peter Simonischek) surprises his workaholic daughter (Sandra Hueller) with a visit in an effort to get her to lighten up. In the process come some of the funniest comedy set pieces of the decade. Whether it be a nude party, Whitney Houston karaoke or toenail kerfuffle, the film makes one howl with laughter. Yet, in every frame, the divide between Father and daughter is evident. It even makes a broader statement how work and rigidity rules the world and takes away a person’s ability to connect with people. By the end, once one stops laughing, one may feel their heart soar, overcome with emotion they didn’t know the movie was provoking. All that and there are plenty of fake teeth gags to boot.

9. “Hello, My Name is Doris”

Talk about a unique character. Doris (Sally Field) is an old spinster who spent most of her life taking care of her mother and working at a dead end job. After her mother’s death, Doris begins to take her life by force, spurred into action by a new office crush on a much younger man (Max Greenfield). As she goes after this seemingly unobtainable fling, Doris soon becomes a mascot of the hipster community. Sally Field has simply never been better. Her natural star charisma makes Doris lovable, but its the dark shadings of her character that give Doris depth. Do not let the light veneer of the movie fool you, there is heavy lifting going on, both in the acting and writing departments. This is a gem you will not want to miss.

8. “Hidden Figures”

It’s hard not to be boggled both by the accomplishments of the women at the center of “Hidden Figures,” but also by the fact you may never have heard their story before. Katherine (Taraji P. Henson), Mary (Janelle Monae) and Katherine (Octavia Spencer) are three black women in the 60s working at NASA who all have a hand in helping John Glenn orbit around the moon. What’s wonderfully refreshing about the film is how it focuses on the accomplishments, rather than the hardships. It’s a celebratory film about the extraordinary accomplishments of this group of women. Better yet, it shows they can be wives, mothers, brilliant mathematicians and pillars of the community. They are not one thing or one issue, and they know how to have a good time.

7. “O.J.: Made in America”

Even decades since his infamous trial, O.J. Simpson has captured the American zeitgeist. While “The People vs. O.J. Simpson” illustrated how the trial echoed the tensions of both then and now, this documentary goes even further. Simpson’s celebrity was larger than just the trial. It was the ultimate rags to riches story about a man who flew too high to the sun. As the black community was continuously taken advantage of by the American justice system, O.J. rose higher and higher the more he denied his racial heritage. The murky racial undertones of society laid a fascinating background for the tumultuous journey that would shape our perception of Simpson. It’s a sprawling epic that is engrossing for all 467 minutes of its run time.

6. “Hell or High Water”

There’s something so cathartically anarchistic about David MacKenzie’s modern day western. Toby and Tanner Howard (Chris Pine and Ben Foster, respectively) are bank robbers who take from the banks only to repay them with their own money in the form of paying off a home loan they can’t seem to get out from other. Hot on their tracks is Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), a rough and tumble good ole boy sheriff, and his half Mexican half Native American partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham). The cat and mouse game is entertaining and expertly plotted enough to compete to be named one of the best of the year. What puts it over the edge is the way it uses civilians to comment on the world its depicting. In many cases, the people in these banks are either complicit or sympathetic to the robbers. As the world and banks cease to work for them, they see no reason to work for the banks. Toby says, “I’ve been poor my whole life, like a disease passing from generation to generation.”

5. “Zootopia”

It’s hard to believe that the most nuanced and apt depiction of our current fragmented society would come from Disney. The fact that the world is populated entirely with animals does not dilute the point. Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) is a small town bunny who earned a spot on the police force in the metropolis of Zootopia. However, while there, she learns no one wants to honor her diversity spot. Placed as a meter maid, she ends up involved in a missing person’s case. She makes an ally in street smart predator Nick Wilde (voiced by Jason Bateman). As their mystery unfolds, Judy and Nick realize how everything is hinged on the stigmas associated with predators. The central plot is gangbusters, but the dark undercurrent of the world of Zootopia is what makes the film extraordinary.

4. “20th Century Women”

Who thought it would be a good idea to make a movie about how the people closest in our lives are still fundamentally unknowable? Mike Mills did, and he created a God damn masterpiece. It’s 1979 in Santa Barbara and single mother Dorothea (Annette Bening) wants to ensure her son grows up to be a good man. She enlists the fellow tenants and hangers on in her home to help usher him into manhood – tortured artist Abby (Greta Gerwig), emotionally promiscuous Julie (Elle Fanning) and, to a lesser extent, hippie mechanic William (Billy Crudup). The film constantly subverts what one knows about each of these characters. In doing so, it weaves a rich crochet of complex characters who are among the most real creations of the year. Mills’ direction of the film has not gotten the praise he deserves. Much like Paul Thomas Anderson in “Boogie Nights,” Mills is able to peel back the fantasy veneer of 70s Southern California to arrive at a more measured depiction.

3. “Lion”

Few movies have affected me emotionally as “Lion.” The central story is enough to make one’s eyes well. Director Garth Davis manages to let the story be the star, but adds enough flourishes to keep things interesting. As a child, Saroo (Sunny Pawar), is lost in India at a train station and ends up on the other side of the country in an area where they do not speak his language. His journey to survive without his family makes for a harrowing first hour. It helps that Pawar is an absolute natural in front of the camera. From there, Saroo is put in an adoption agency and adopted by an Australian couple, Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John (David Wenham) Brierley. Saroo is raised by the Brierleys into a successful adult. However, he feels guilty that his birth family doesn’t know if he’s alive or dead. He uses Google Earth to go in search of his hometown and find his birth mother. Patel and Kidman bring home the emotions in the second half, building to a climax that will have you reaching for the Kleenex.

2. “La La Land”

Even though the film has only been out slightly over a month, it has already been discussed ad nauseam over whether or not it is a quality movie. Such is the fate of any Best Picture frontrunner. The reason this film has gotten hit as hard as it has is due to its stunning ability to capture a specific feeling. One can simplify this to Hollywood tinted nostalgia beloved by those stuck in the Tinseltown bubble. That is a cheap read of something much stronger. It’s a film that taps into the emotional heights creativity and dreaming can lead a person. The tale of a struggling actor (Emma Stone) and uncompromising jazz artist (Ryan Gosling) isn’t complex. However, the original movie musical centered around sprawling dance sequences is ambitious. Yet, in one line, Mia (Stone) hits the point of the film on its head. “People love what other people are passionate about.” Director Damien Chazelle ups the ante with each shot because filmmaking and artistry is what he’s passionate about. I’m incredibly happy he was able to sweep me away with a film that reminded me why I love film.

  1. “Moonlight”

Few films are more important or of the time as “Moonlight.” In a world where there are two years of #OscarsSoWhite and Black Lives Matter is a headline, honest representation of the black experience, especially the black queer experience, is paramount. “Moonlight” arrives as an oasis. The film is told in three parts. As a young child, Chiron (Alex R. Hibbert), referred to as “Little,” hides away from his bullying classmates only to be taken in by Juan (Mahershala Ali), a kind drug dealer in the area. Chiron’s feeling of isolation and worthlessness only increases as a teenager (Ashton Sanders). His mother, Paula (Naomie Harris), has only increased her drug intake and the kids at school haven’t become more kind. The only person who sees him is Kevin (Jharrel Jerome), an extroverted kid in his class he connects with. The two of them develop an instant connection that is more than friendship. This informs the final section. Now called “Black,” Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) is contacted by an adult Kevin (Andre Holland) and the two get together for dinner.

No matter the time in his life, Chiron is a man struggling to feel love. He can’t find it at home. He gets glimpses of it from Juan and his wife Teresa (Janelle Monae). At the core, Chiron can’t love himself. Being a gay black man in an underprivileged neighborhood, he was beat down by life around him, but still finds the will to get up another day. Every frame edited together perfectly builds this loving portrait of a man struggling with identity. It, quite simply, is a masterpiece.

What are your favorite films of 2016? Put them in the comments.

THE OSCAR NOMINATIONS ARE HERE INSTANT GIF REACTION

 

It’s 5:18 am on Tuesday, January 24th and I await at my computer petrified and excited for what Oscar might bring for me this year. It’s much like Christmas morning for me.

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Without further ado, see below for the official 2016 Oscar nominations, as well as my prediction score and commentary:

Best Picture

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  • “Arrival”
  • “Fences”
  • “Hacksaw Ridge”
  • “Hell or High Water”
  • “Hidden Figures”
  • “La La Land”
  • “Lion”
  • “Manchester by the Sea”
  • “Moonlight”

Prediction Score: 9/9

An incredibly strong and indisputable lineup. What’s even better is the diversity not just in terms of race, but in terms of genre, size and tone. We have four films headlined by people of color,  three films carried by women at the forefront and still had room for three legitimately good, more traditionally masculine films. Hell, we even have a film about the black queer experience. After two years of #OscarSoWhite, this is encouraging.

Continue reading THE OSCAR NOMINATIONS ARE HERE INSTANT GIF REACTION

Locked In Oscar Predictions

I can hem and haw for another few days, but I might as well put my chips on the table and name in the sand. Without further ado, see my predictions for the Oscar nominations for 2016.

All are ranked by the likelihood of being nominated. While Best Picture is a sliding scale from 6-10, I listed 10 but predict 8.

Best Picture

  1. “La La Land”
  2. “Moonlight”
  3. “Manchester by the Sea”
  4. “Arrival”
  5. “Lion”
  6. “Hell or High Water”
  7. “Hidden Figures”
  8. “Hacksaw Ridge”
  9. “Fences”
  10. “Deadpool”

Alternate: “Nocturnal Animals”

Continue reading Locked In Oscar Predictions

Worst 10 Movies of 2016

Many of us don’t have too many fond memories of 2016. In fact, one might say it was quite a shit-storm of a year. In terms of movies, there were very high highs, but also incredibly low lows. In order to move into the promising new year of 2017, let’s cast out the bad in 2016 before focusing on the good we want to see more of.

Full disclosure: Much as many might think I see every movie available, I’m gonna give myself some credit in the fact that I missed quite a bit of bad movies this year. There are many movies not on this list that may be worse. I’m just not gonna watch them.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at the ten worst movies of 2016.

10. “Too Late”

What’s more impressive than a 22 minute tracking shot? Five 22 minute tracking shots! The independent film “Too Late” has its ambitions high, but comes off as a homemade Quentin Tarantino knock off. The out of order storytelling and bald dialogue, however, aren’t fond recalls of pulpy predecessors. They instead are lazy reminders that style cannot fully act as a substitute for substance.

9. “Birth of a Nation”

There are many elements in Nate Parker’s directorial debut to admire. His central performance is strong and modulated, building to the inevitably gory conclusion. Some shots are artistically framed and very powerful. However, Parker is intent on hitting the audience over the head with symbolism. Most egregiously is his insistent use of an angel metaphor that seems straight out of a children’s play. The plotting of the film is also suspect. While Nat Turner (Parker) has a clear arc and direction, the supporting characters, particularly the female ones, are all pawns abused to move the story forward in ungainly ways. This clumsy progression of plot builds to an impressively shot sequence of blood lust. There is a compelling story here, but Nate Parker wasn’t quite sure how to tell it.

8. “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2”

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It is the curse of many sequels to try and replicate what made the original so successful. “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” falls into every one of these predictable pitfalls. The sitcom plot elements look a lot hokier. The jokes and observations are more stale. Nia Vardalos’ central character Toula has lost all of her bite. There’s only so many funny one liners Andrea Martin can squawk to save the film. Unfortunately, it’s not enough.

7. “Nocturnal Animals”

After “A Single Man,” I was ready to watch whatever project Tom Ford would sign himself onto. This dual narrative thriller seemed like the best possible next step for the fashion designer turned director. It was so disheartening to see Ford fail at both the gritty, redneck horror film that Amy Adams’ Susan is reading. It was even worse to see him fail to nail the satire of emptiness of the highbrow art world. On one hand, we get this graphic, yet empty story of a man whose family was disgraced by generic rednecks. Even worse is the central storyline, which does nothing more than try and heap injustices onto our leading lady and task Adams with displaying a myriad of different ways to take her glasses off in disgust. It’s an artistic misfire from an artist I’m still interested to see more of.

6. “Swiss Army Man”

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There is a lot of grand ambition in Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s latest film, which won raves and boos everywhere it played. It’s not that the film solely featured Paul Dano and a dead, farting Daniel Radcliffe corpse. The inventive nature of the film makes it harder to put it on here. However, the initial promise behind the central relationship grows strange as the film is unable to stick to whatever world it exists in. Everything becomes more muddled throughout the second act, until we reach the conclusion. However, the conclusion leaves such a terrible taste in one’s mouth. It stomps the heart of the protagonists out and shines a light on what we’ve really been watching. One out of touch man who thinks the world revolves around him struggle with the pains of not having everything handed to him.

5. “Dirty Grandpa”

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It’s an easy target to pick on this January comedy. However, it isn’t such a bad idea to pair Zac Efron, who is strong at self aware comedy (see “Neighbors”), and Robert De Niro, a living legend. The idea of a raunchy R-rated comedy may not be novel, but doesn’t inspire immediate disgust. What kills the movie is its laziness. The characters are thinly drawn and broadly played. As a shrew girlfriend, Julianne Hough makes a compelling case why she should never be allowed on screen again. Every perfunctory plot point happens five minutes after one wishes it would. For knowing what’s gonna happen at each turn, the film drags like molasses. The level of apathy is taken to new heights with this.

4. “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice”

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There are so many bad movies wrapped into this one masterpiece of self-serious dreck. Granted, I only saw the extended version, rather than the theatrical cut. However, it seems that made the film more cohesive. Yet, just because a film makes more sense, doesn’t make the plot points work any better. Batfleck’s entrance into the world never fully gels. His rivalry with Superman is longwindedly explained. It’s resolution is perhaps the most jaw-dropping plot point of the year. We’re still not sure what movie Jesse Eisenberg was in as Lex Luther, but that one looks even worse than the one at hand. Introducing Gal Godot’s Wonder Woman made a nice case for her film. However, this overstuffed mess sank with a deafening thud.

3. “Midnight Special”

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This may be one of the more controversial choices of the list. Jeff Nichols is a very strong director, who worked wonders with “Loving” later in the year. However, that does not distract from how inert his first film this year, “Midnight Special” was. Following a misunderstood boy being hunted for his powers, many might commend the film for its restraint and practical effects. However, those are ignoring the thin plot that unfolds as quickly as paint dries. The child actor at the center of the film, Jaeden Lieberher, has little star power to carry the film. Even more reliable actors, such as Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst, Joel Edgerton and Adam Driver are all dulled out by this poor “E.T.” copycat. Stay away.

2. “Suicide Squad”

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DC has the worst one-two punch of the year. No film this year was more disappointing. The advertising onslaught promised an edgy superhero film with complicated antiheroes and an interesting visual palette. What we got was Hot Topic lite. The film was all empty, garish pizzaz. It was an aggressive onslaught of visual and aural cacophony with no discernible  characters or story. No villain has been more wooden or inconsequential than Cara Delevingne as the Enchantress. The “heroes” at the center were neither bad enough to be interesting or good enough to be rootable. They existed in this bland uncanny valley. Margot Robbie’s much heralded turn is the most original part of the film. However, her Harley Quinn becomes a caricature of itself halfway through the film, much in the way Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow ran out of steam by the fourth Pirates movie. The less said about Jared Leto’s Joker, who seems to pop in and out of the movie with no discernible motivation, the better.

  1. “Collateral Beauty”

Every other film on the list I would not like to return to. “Collateral Beauty” is a one of a kind failure. On one hand, it is possibly the worst film I’ve seen in recent memory. It is mean spirited, full of ungainly twists and unsatisfying in every arena one would judge a film. However, the film goes so far past the boundaries of a bad movie that it becomes absolutely engrossing. How much worse can this dreck get? The film continues to build bad decisions on top of each other like a drunk jenga, culminating in a final fifteen minutes that have to be seen to believed. All I can see is, like Naomie Harris in the film, I now see the collateral beauty in everything I see.

What was your worst film of 2016? Share in the comments.

Yearbook Superlatives for the Film Year of 2016

The year in film is a lot like a yearbook. There’s more to celebrate and list than just the best and the worst films of the year. As John Hughes once wrote in “The Breakfast Club,” there’s the geek, the jock, the bad kid, the popular girl and the basket case. Let’s take a look back at the highlights of film in 2016 – the many varied faces and moments of note in this… interesting year.

Most Welcome Trend in 2016 – Musicals

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Being the Oscar frontrunner always makes one a target. “La La Land” is not immune to criticism. However, one thing many can agree on is how welcome the musical genre is. Rather than focus on high notes and vocal prowess, “La La Land” whetted our appetite for grand dance spectacles. Additionally, John Carney once again explored our love for making music with the charming “Sing Street.” Even Disney got back in the game, with “Moana” reminding us of the power of a good rallying cry, a la “How Far I’ll Go.”

Most Welcome Trend in 2016 (part two) – Old Lady Love Stories

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Hollywood has always been notorious for tossing out its female starlets once they get to a certain age. Just look at Amy Schumer’s perfect skewering of this concept of the “Last Fuckable Day.” However, no one told Sally Field, Susan Sarandon and Isabelle Huppert about this. Sarandon explores how one can have a late in life romance once they set their sights off their grown children in “The Meddler.” Field proves that older women still got it, as she lusts after Max Greenfield in “Hello, My Name is Doris.” Lastly, no one will ever accuse Huppert of being easy to pin down. While “Things to Come” may appear to be more conventional, it is anything but. There’s much to be said of “Elle,” although a “love story” would be far from the correct classification.

Most Overrated Trend in 2016 – Superheroes

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There’s nothing new to say. Its apparent there are too many superhero movies out there. However, this was the first year when there was no redeeming superhero film. The less said about the DC dumpster fire duo (“Batman v. Superman” and “Suicide Squad”) the better. However, we’ve recently seen Golden Globe nominee “Deadpool,” which proved that as long as you are more vulgar than expected, people won’t complain they’ve been served the same origin story they’ve seen before. It’s the film equivalent of being served a Big Mac, except now with ketchup. It’s different and you may enjoy it, but it doesn’t change that you’re eating cinematic junk food.

Most “Of the Time” Movie (Fun Edition) – “How to Be Single”

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Despite “50 Shades of Grey” being an epic garbage fire, Dakota Johnson emerged somewhat unscathed, desperate to prove herself a leading lady. She delivered in spades as the head of this effervescent ensemble piece. While the film doesn’t always flow with ease, its consistently fun. More than that, its a great encapsulation of dating in the year of 2016. Rather than be too judgemental or lean too heavily on apps, it examines what it means to be single in a big city.

Most “Of the Time” Movie (Real Edition) – “Zootopia”

Long ago, the bar was raised for children’s films. They no longer had to just be good for kids, they had to entertain adults as well. The bar was just raised again, as “Zootopia” decided to entertain kids and shock adults by holding a mirror to the fundamental problems our society deals with today. Using animals to demonstrate the nuances of how racism is built into society’s infrastructure was a tall ask. However, the film pulled it off aplomb, even if it did so making us uncomfortable about the deep rooted prejudices we all share.

Best Meditation of Faith – “The Witch”

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Martin Scorsese may have devoted three hours towards Jesuit priests in Japan. However, the best (and most frightening) exploration of faith is in “The Witch.” The film shows a family divided at its core as their beliefs pit them against their own once strange happenings come for them.

Best Sex Scene – “Sausage Party”

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It was the epic orgy we never knew we needed. It also made us look at all of our food in a much more different way.

Best Love Story – Chiron and Kevin (“Moonlight”)

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If your heart doesn’t go through a flurry of emotions through Barry Jenkins’ masterpiece, then you should make sure it’s still beating. The final act of the film is packed with more history and heartbreak in each line. It builds to one of the most satisfying endings of the year.

Best Lush – Emily Blunt (“The Girl on the Train”)

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Everyone behind the camera seemed to be as drunk as Emily Blunt, they just weren’t as skilled of drunks as she was. Here’s wishing her fiery portrayal of Rachel was tasked to a better movie.

Best Smoker – Natalie Portman (“Jackie”)

Portman exudes class with every puff of her cigarette.

Most Joyful – Taron Egerton (“Eddie the Eagle”)

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While the movie might not be anything more than paint by numbers, Egerton lifted the film beyond its limitations thanks to his endlessly gif-able performance.

Best Dressed (Male) – Viggo Mortensen (“Captain Fantastic”)

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For living in the woods exclusively, Viggo’s Ben Cash sure knew how to make a fashion statement.

Best Dressed (Female) – Kate Winslet (“The Dressmaker”)

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And that’s how Winslet landed a Hemsworth.

Best Dressed (Family) – Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender (“The Light Between Oceans”)

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Their characters may have been sobbing for two straight hours, but can they really be that unhappy when she looks so perfect in knitwear? They should’ve been allowed to keep that baby just based on their style alone.

Best Acting on a Phone – Ruth Negga (“Loving”)

Negga has an expressive face that was meant to play on the big screen. The way her face registers every emotional beat as she is delivered pivotal news on her court case is revelatory.

Worst Acting on a Phone – Laura Linney (“Sully”)

Who would’ve thought the brilliant actress’ most interesting work this year would be announcing the titles of “Downton Abbey?” “Sully” gave her the exact role she made fun of in “Inside Amy Schumer.” It was embarrassing for all involved.

Most in Need of a New Agent – Zac Efron

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I’ve been beating the drum for Zac Efron since early on in his career. “Neighbors” saw him take his model status and find a unique punchline with it. Projects such as “The Paperboy” also see his desire to explore. Why then was he a typical frat boy in three different vehicles. While 2/3 of them were fun, the joke is starting to run stale. For as much talent as Efron exhibits, he needs a new challenge to keep him from being a “flavor of the moment.”

Most in Need of Thanking Their New Agent – Hugh Grant

Who would’ve expected Meryl Streep to be outacted by Hugh Grant? For that matter, who thought “Florence Foster Jenkins” would be the movie to suggest that non-monogomous relationships can thrive? As St. Clair Bayfield, Grant manages to give us the frothy film we were advertised, as well as a more adventurous film about a very unconventional relationship.

2016 Prom Queen – Kathryn Hahn

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Eat your heart out Zack Galifinakis, there is a new raunchy scene stealing sidekick in town. Except, she’s always been there. Kathryn Hahn finally got a chance to shine as one aggressively “Bad Mom.” Rather than just be a walking punchline, she was able to give her character a really nice arc between obscenities. However, her year didn’t end there. She gave us a masterclass of both comedic and dramatic acting, sometimes in the same scene, in season three of “Transparent.” Her climactic outburst to the Pfefferman family is both cathartic and devastating. For everything Rabbi Raquel learns about herself, she finds more questions she doesn’t have the answer to.

2016 Prom King – O.J. Simpson

No one was more prevalent without actually doing anything this specific year. Yet, between FX’s “The People vs. O.J. Simpson” and the ESPN masterpiece “O.J. Made in America,” O.J. Simpson was everywhere. It’s not because there was any new development in the court case of the century, which took place over 20 years ago. It’s because what his case had to say about racism, sexism and celebrity then only rings more true today.

Tune in for the Best and Worst of 2016 coming soon.

Thank You Garr y Marshall for bringing me to LA

It was the summer of 1999. My most anticipated movie was not “Tarzan.” It wasn’t “The Mummy.” It certainly wasn’t “Star Wars Episode 1: A Phantom Menace.” It somewhat was “Pokemon: The First Movie.” No wait, it legitimately was “Runaway Bride.”

runawaybride_2Yes, the poorly reviewed Julia Roberts-Richard Gere romcom was the most anticipated movie of the year by a mile for a seven year old boy. This was not a joke.

Some backstory: I grew up in a redneck town with one theater in my town. That theater, the Valley Cinema, was a former two theater cinema next to the grocery story that thought it would be smart to put a tarp in the middle of one of the screens to make a third screen. Soundproofing be damned. My Dad had seen three movies in his life at age 40 — “The Sound of Music,” “Duel” and “The Love Bug.” I watched three movies a day. I loved them. Couldn’t get enough. My Mom was my movie education, for better or worse.

Pretty_woman_movieIn the 90s (and today), my Mom’s favorite movie of all time was “Pretty Woman.” She knew I was interested in movies and made the bad (good) parental decision to let a six year old watch an R-rated movie. That movie was “Pretty Woman.” It confirmed that I wanted to move to LA, make movies, live a glamorous life and make people as happy as Vivien made Edward (no, not the other way around). Also, I fell deeply in love with Julia Roberts. I would talk about her to my friends at T-ball practice (they all made fun of me). I would talk about her constantly. Her red hair, her laugh, her smile. She was everything that told me that being an adult was the best.

When I saw Runaway Bride, I had my new favorite movie, but I had a question.

Who was the bad guy? – Christopher James, age 7 (1999)

My Mom didn’t know what to answer. As a Disney lover kid, each movie had a bad guy. Even Pretty Woman had Jason Alexander and the guy whose skateboard turned into a knife and I would close my eyes and have nightmares (in a movie about a prostitute, that was what scarred me). She answered:

No one. – Susan James, age 39 (looks 29)

How can that be? Every movie has to have a bad guy.

Two years later (and two years wiser), I eagerly bought tickets to “The Princess Diaries.” I was charmed and delighted, but I had the same question.

The fact of the matter is, Garry Marshall did not see people as good or bad. He saw us all as flawed people. His movies weren’t always good. I’m watching “Runaway Bride” right now and it ain’t Oscar material, but I still love it. But he had this joy in presenting people as not baldly one way or another. In fact, he took joy in showing people at the most joyous points in their life… falling in love.

I want to take tonight, after binging both “Pretty Woman” and “Runaway Bride,” to thank Garry Marshall. I want to thank him for making me an elementary school outcast. I want to thank him for getting my hopes up that I might win over Julia Roberts, a full 24 years my senior.  I want to thank him for teaching me people aren’t good or bad, they’re just people. Most of all, I want to thank Garry Marshall for happiness. He brought me LA. He brought me Julia Roberts. He showed love. He showed joy. He showed happiness. As a Julia Roberts loving Hollywood bound kid stuck on a farm, he showed me that life was made to be loved. For 81 years he loved life. I thank God that he left pieces of his love for us to cherish forever. As long as Julia Roberts saves Richard Gere back, there will always be a part of Garry Marshall’s love in the world.

Real Time Gif Worthy Emmy Reactions – 2016

The Emmy Nominations are here! The Emmy nominations are here! Seeing as I have a job that I need to get back to, but still want to scream from the hilltops. Here are my reactions (many times in gif format) to the nominations.

  • Best Drama Series
    • The Americans
    • Better Call Saul
    • Downton Abbey
    • Game of Thrones
    • Homeland
    • House of Cards
    • Mr. Robot

Most Happy For: “Mr. Robot” for being a risky show that has a shot at gold and “The Americans” for being a quality show that finally broke through.

Snooze: “Downton Abbey.” At least it’s done.

Snubbed: I knew “The Affair” and “Unreal” wouldn’t get love here, but it still stung.

  • Best Comedy Series
    • Blackish
    • Master of None
    • Modern Family
    • Silicon Valley
    • Transparent
    • Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
    • Veep

Most Happy For: “Blackish” and “Master of None” both were the best comedies on TV and deserved their spots here.

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Snooze: Why, “Modern Family,” why? Even “Silicon Valley” had a down season.

Snubbed: When will they catch onto the likes of “Casual,” “Broad City,” “Younger” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”? Sigh.

  • Best Limited Series
    • American Crime
    • Fargo
    • The Night Manager
    • The People vs. OJ Simpson
    • Roots

All love for American Crime and People vs. OJ Simpson!

  • Best Made for TV Movie
    • A Very Murray Christmas
    • All the Way
    • Confirmation
    • Luther
    • Sherlock: The Abominable Bride
  • Best Actor in a Drama
    • Kyle Chandler – “Bloodline”
    • Rami Malek – “Mr. Robot”
    • Bob Odenkirk – “Better Call Saul”
    • Matthew Rhys – “The Americans”
    • Live Schreiber – “Ray Donovan”
    • Kevin Spacey – “House of Cards”

Most Happy For: Rami Malek for the new series love and Matthew Rhys for finally breaking through.

All together solid, but not mindblowing category.

  • Best Actress in a Drama
    • Claire Danes – “Homeland”
    • Viola Davis – “How to Get Away with Murder”
    • Taraji P Henson – “Empire”
    • Tatiana Maslany – “Orphan Black”
    • Keri Russell – “The Americans”
    • Robin Wright – “House of Cards”

Most Happy For: I’ve loved Keri Russell forever and am always happy when good things happen to her.

Snubbed: Leave, Claire Danes, and make room for queen Shiri Appleby. She is literally… “Unreal” (pun over).

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  • Best Supporting Actor in a Drama
    • Jonathan Banks – “Better Call Saul”
    • Ben Mendelsohn – “Bloodline”
    • Peter Dinklage – “Game of Thrones”
    • Kit Harrington – “Game of Thrones”
    • Michael Kelly – “House of Cards”
    • Jon Voight – “Ray Donovan”

Most Happy For: Kit Harrington got great things to do this season and happy he was rewarded for it…

Snooze: …If only they had realized Peter Dinklage had no material this season. Lazy voting.

  • Best Supporting Actress in a Drama
    • Maggie Smith – “Downton Abbey”
    • Lena Headey – “Game of Thrones”
    • Emilia Clarke – “Game of Thrones”
    • Maisie Williams – “Game of Thrones”
    • Maura Tierney – “The Affair”
    • Constance Zimmer – “Unreal”

MAURA TIERNEY AND CONSTANCE ZIMMER ARE NOMINATED ALL PRAYERS ARE ANSWERED! EVEN THOUGH HEADEY AND CLARKE DON’T BELONG HERE I WILL REFRAIN FROM COMPLAINING AS LIFE IS GOOD AND JUST WATCH THESE GIFS!


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  • Best Guest Actor in a Drama
    • Max von Sydow – “Game of Thrones”
    • Reg E. Cathey – “House of Cards”
    • Mahershala Ali – “House of Cards”
    • Paul Sparks – “House of Cards”
    • Hank Azaria – “Ray Donovan”
    • Michael J Fox – “The Good Wife”
  • Best Guest Actress in a Drama
    • Laurie Metcalf – “Horace & Pete”
    • Molly Parker – “House of Cards”
    • Ellen Burstyn – “House of Cards”
    • Allison Janney – “Masters of Sex”
    • Margo Martindale – “The Americans”
    • Carrie Preston – “The Good Wife”

While “House of Cards” was not great this season, I’m happy all of the amazing guest cast is heralded, as they did ace work this season, and in seasons past. Very worthy.

  • Best Directing in a Drama
    • Downton Abbey – “Episode 9”
    • Game of Thrones – “The Door”
    • Game of Thrones – “Battle of the Bastards”
    • Homeland – “The Tradition of Hospitality”
    • Ray Donovan – “Exsuscito”
    • The Knick – “This Is All We Are”

Pretty solid list, with Battle of the Bastards easily taking the cake.

  • Best Writing in a Drama
    • Downton Abbey – “Episode 8”
    • Game of Thrones – “Battle of the Bastards”
    • Mr Robot – “eps1.0_hellofriend.mov (Pilot)”
    • The Americans – “Persona Non Grata”
    • The Good Wife – “End”
    • Unreal – “Return”

Most Happy For: Unreal and Mr. Robot, duh!!! Great work including them.

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Snooze: Downton Abbey. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  • Best Actor in a Comedy
    • Anthony Anderson – “Black-ish”
    • Aziz Ansari – “Master of None”
    • Will Forte – “Last Man on Earth”
    • William H Macy – “Shameless”
    • Thomas Middleditch – “Silicon Valley”
    • Jeffrey Tambor – “Transparent”

Most Happy For: Aziz Ansari for his brilliant work in Master of None.

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Snooze: Thomas Middleditch has been win worthy in the past, but this season was a bit of a slog.

  • Best Actress in a Comedy
    • Ellie Kemper – “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
    • Julia Louis Dreyfus – “Veep”
    • Laurie Metcalf – “Getting On”
    • Tracee Ellis Ross – “Black-ish”
    • Amy Schumer – “Inside Amy Schumer”
    • Lily Tomlin – “Grace & Frankie”

Most Happy For: Ellie Kemper finally makes it in! Tracee Ellis Ross gets in!!! Laurie Metcalfe has three nominations today and is brilliant in Getting On!!!!! Way too look outside the box.

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Snooze: Lily Tomlin? Really? Even Amy Schumer wasn’t as on her game this year.

Snubbed: Chief among many snubs, Constance Wu is consistently brilliant in Fresh Off the Boat.

Also, the winner of this category should be Rachel Bloom for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, but now she is not even nominated.

  • Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy
    • Louie Anderson – “Baskets”
    • Andre Braugher – “Brooklyn Nine Nine”
    • Keegan Michael Key – “Key & Peele”
    • Ty Burrell – “Modern Family”
    • Titus Burgess – “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
    • Tony Hale – “Veep”
    • Matt Walsh – “Veep”

Most Happy For: Matt Walsh for breaking in. Veep has such a deep, funny supporting cast. Also, Titus Burgess forever!

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Snooze: Ty Burrell… again? Can we be over this Modern Family deal?

  • Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy
    • Niecy Nash – “Getting On”
    • Allison Janney – “Mom”
    • Kate McKinnon – “Saturday Night Live”
    • Judith Light – “Transparent”
    • Gaby Hoffman – “Transparent”
    • Anna Chlumsky – “Veep”

Most Happy For: I smile every time someone mentions Niecy Nash.

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Snubbed: Everyone I love…

Amanda Peet – Togetherness

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Donna Lynn Champlin – Crazy Ex Girlfriend

Hilary Duff – Younger

Jennifer Lewis – Black-ish

  • Best Guest Actor in a Comedy
    • Tracy Morgan – “Saturday Night Live”
    • Larry David – “Saturday Night Live”
    • Bob Newhart – “Big Bang Theory”
    • Bradley Whitford – “Transparent”
    • Martin Mull – “Veep”
    • Peter MacNicol – “Veep”
  • Best Guest Actress in a Comedy
    • Tina Fey & Amy Poehler – “Saturday Night Live”
    • Melissa McCarthy – “Saturday Night Live”
    • Amy Schumer – “Saturday Night Live”
    • Christine Baranski – “The Big Bang Theory”
    • Laurie Metcalf – “The Big Bang Theory”
    • Melora Hardin – “Transparent”

Interesting how this whole category was swept by only four shows? Wish they would’ve broadened the bench more.

  • Best Directing in a Comedy
    • Master of None – “Parents”
    • Silicon Valley – “Daily Active Users”
    • Silicon Valley – “Founder Friendly”
    • Transparent – “Man on the Land”
    • Veep – “Morning After”
    • Veep – “Kissing Your Sister”
    • Veep – “Mother”

Veep had some strong moments, but three nominations? Wow.

Silicon Valley didn’t need two for a subpar season.

Immensely happy about the nod for Master of None.

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  • Best Writing in a Comedy
    • Catastrophe – “Episode 1”
    • Master of None – “Parents”
    • Silicon Valley – “Daily Active Users”
    • Silicon Valley – “The Uptick”
    • Veep – “Morning After”
    • Veep – “Mother”

Just started watching Catastrophe the other night and it is hilarious. Great out of the box nomination.

  • Best Actor in a Limited Series
    • Bryan Cranston – “All The Way”
    • Benedict Cumberbatch – “Sherlock: The Abominable Bride”
    • Idris Elba – “Luther”
    • Cuba Gooding Jr. – “The People vs. OJ Simpson”
    • Tom Hiddleston – “The Night Manager”
    • Courtney B. Vance – “The People vs. OJ Simpson”

I’m just going to keep saying hooray for OJ in gif format.

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  • Best Actress in a Limited Series
    • Kirsten Dunst – “Fargo”
    • Felicity Huffman – “American Crime”
    • Audra McDonald – “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill”
    • Sarah Paulson – “The People vs. OJ Simpson”
    • Lili Taylor – “American Crime”
    • Kerry Washington – “Confirmation”

Brace yourself… for Marcia Clarke gifs

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Now Felicity Huffman ones.

I rest my case. Thank you Emmys!

  • Best Supporting Actor in a Limited Series
    • Jesse Plemons – “Fargo”
    • Bokeem Woodbine – “Fargo”
    • Hugh Laurie – “The Night Manager”
    • Sterling K. Brown – “The People vs. OJ Simpson”
    • David Schwimmer – “The People vs. OJ Simpson”
    • John Travolta – “The People vs. OJ Simpson”

Travolta and Schwimmer over Joey Pollari and Conner Jessup for American Crime? That’s a real crime.

  • Best Supporting Actress in a Limited Series
    • Melissa Leo – “All the Way”
    • Regina King – “American Crime”
    • Sarah Paulson – “American Horror Story: Hotel”
    • Kathy Bates – “American Horror Story: Hotel”
    • Jean Smart – “Fargo”
    • Olivia Colman – “The Night Manager”

Really strong list. Love more Paulson love.

  • Best Directing in a Limited Series
    • All the Way
    • Fargo – “Before the Law”
    • The Night Manager
    • The People vs. OJ Simpson – “From The Ashes of Tragedy”
    • The People vs. OJ Simpson – “The Race Card”
    • The People vs. OJ Simpson – “Manna From Heaven”
  • Best Writing in a Limited Series
    • Fargo – “Palindrome”
    • Fargo – “Loplop”
    • The Night Manager
    • The People vs. OJ Simpson – “Marcia Marcia Marcia”
    • The People vs. OJ Simpson – “From The Ashes of Tragedy”
    • The People vs. OJ Simpson – “The Race Card”

That’s the nominations! Enjoy the show on September 18th.

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Mid Year Check In goes to the Animals

Where has the time gone? It’s already July 1st, which means (after a long absence) we’ve got to check in on the movies that have come out so far. Since my love will always be Oscars, we will do it category style:

Best Picture

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  1. “Zootopia”
  2. “Everybody Wants Some!!”
  3. “Hello My Name is Doris”
  4. “The Witch”
  5. “Hail Caesar!”

It’s been quite the year for exclamation points. In all honesty, “Zootopia” is an easy number one at this point. It’s ambitious storytelling paired with the dynamic world it paints resulted in a truly original work that feels bigger than any other work this year. It’s got an epic scope without losing scope of being a kids movie. From there “Everybody Wants Some!!,” “Hello My Name is Doris” and “The Witch” all operated as wonderfully effective genre pieces and have individual elements that deserved to be singled out come year’s end. “Hail Caesar!” didn’t quite live up to lofty expectations, but it is a joyously fun ode to the good ole days of filmmaking.

Best Director

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  1. Robert Eggers – “The Witch”
  2. Richard Linklater – “Everybody Wants Some!!”
  3. Yorgos Lanthimos – “The Lobster”
  4. Joel and Ethan Coen – “Hail Caesar!”
  5. Michael Showalter – “Hello My Name is Doris”

The main change here is I really want to single out Eggers for achieving a distinct, specific vision with his film. It’s the one film so far this year that made me want to see more of that filmmaker. While I really liked “The Lobster” rather than loved it (the second half in the forest didn’t work as well as the hotel), Lanthimos proved his strength as a filmmaker. He was able to cultivate a unique and salty tone that works, despite being far from what most people respond to. It’s a strong work of filmmaking.

Best Actor

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  1. Colin Farrell – “The Lobster”
  2. John Goodman – “10 Cloverfield Lane”
  3. Taron Egerton – “Eddie the Eagle”
  4. Matthias Schoenaerts – “A Bigger Splash”
  5. Josh Brolin – “Hail Caesar!”

The above is quite an eclectic mix. Farrell brings so many interesting layers to the character and proves to be an expert tonal match for the material. Speaking of character, character actor John Goodman finally got his time in the spotlight and slayed it basically playing the male version of Annie Wilkes from “Misery.” Nothing matches the boundless energy and enthusiasm Egerton brings to the role of Eddie the Eagle. He makes the formula film work so well and proves he is one of the top talent to watch. Schoenarerts, meanwhile, is the straight man that let’s the rest of the fine ensemble build until he strikes in the final act. A glorious, talented actor gets another role to showcase his gifts. Brolin, another always dependable actor, fantastically anchors a quirky Coen comedy stacked with comedic relief. It’s a great example of how to anchor a film.

Best Actress

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  1. Sally Field – “Hello My Name is Doris”
  2. Anya Taylor-Joy – “The Witch”
  3. Susan Sarandon – “The Meddler”
  4. Dakota Johnson – “How to Be Single”
  5. Mary Elizabeth Winstead – “10 Cloverfield Lane”

It’s been a strong year so far for older female women. Sally Field has got one of the most textured characters of her career and absolutely kills it on both the comedic and dramatic fronts. I pray she stays in the Oscar conversation. Sarandon also is gifted with a complex part for a woman her age and absolutely slays it. Further proof that more stories should be told about women over the age of 50. On the other side of the age spectrum, newcomer Anya Taylor-Joy makes an compelling case for future roles in “The Witch.” Her raw talent glistens from her astute performance. Similarly astute in a far different genre is Dakota Johnson. While the movie she is in is frequently wonky, Johnson taps into something authentic and relatable. In fact, I believe it trumps even her mother’s performance in “Working Girl” (fun fact: I dislike “Working Girl” so that was just a little bit of shade). Mary Elizabeth Winstead also channels her inner 80s heroine in “10 Cloverfield Lane.” She starts as a fleeing fashion student and ends up cut from the same cloth as Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley.

Best Supporting Actor

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  1. Alden Ehrenreich – “Hail Caesar!”
  2. Glen Powell – “Everybody Wants Some!!”
  3. Ralph Fiennes – “A Bigger Splash”
  4. Ben Wishaw – “The Lobster”
  5. Ralph Ineson – “The Witch”

Sometimes you feel as if you saw the birth of a star. Alden Ehrenreich made a convincing case to be a true movie star in his first big role in “Hail Caesar!” It’s proof he deserved to win the part of Han Solo and I’m excited for him to make the role his own, rather than be Harrison Ford-lite. Similarly, Powell perfected a sort of charismatic naturalist. He unintentionally aced his interview to be the next Matthew McConaughey. The consummate professional, Fiennes let loose (in more than one way) and was exhilarating to watch in “A Bigger Splash.” In just small moments, Wishaw steals every scene he is in. Whereas, in a much larger supporting role, Ineson casts an imposing shadow that permeates his film.

Best Supporting Actress

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  1. Olivia Colman – “The Lobster”
  2. Kate Dickey – “The Witch”
  3. Frances O’Conner – “The Conjuring 2”
  4. Chloe Sevigny – “Love & Friendship”
  5. Zoey Deutsch – “Everybody Wants Some!!”

No one can give a better line reading than Olivia Colman. She absolutely slays every moment on screen in “The Lobster.” In many ways, she epitomizes everything that works about the film. Dickey manages to shade her malicious mother in interesting ways that makes her both loathsome and sympathetic. While many aren’t huge fans of the sequel to “The Conjuring,” the main thing that hooked me to the film (which I found strong, but not at the level of the first) was O’Conner’s committed performance as the desperate mother.  Sevingy excels at the Whit Stilman comedic sensibilities better than anyone else in the film. Lastly, Zoey Deutsch undermined the traditional “girl role” in a fratboy film and crafted a unique and lived in character we all wanted to know more about. It takes true talent and made me interested to see her tackle greater challenges.

Can Blackish make it to Best Comedy Series?

This is an abbreviated post originally published by me on Awards Circuit, where I am now a contributing writer. Please go over to that site and follow me as well for even more awards and movie/TV fun.

While delivering a strong first season last year, no one was quite ready for how simultaneously hilarious and relevant Black-ish would become in its second season. The ABC sitcom is a spin on the traditional family sitcom. Dre Johnson (Anthony Anderson) is a successful marketing executive whose family lives in a nice suburb and has a great deal of wealth and privilege. However, Dre feels his family is out of touch from his roots, as he grew up in a poorer neighborhood in Los Angeles. With the help of his crotchety father, Earl “Pops” Johnson (Laurence Fishburne) and evangelical mother, Ruby Johnson (Jenifer Lewis), Dre tries to bring his culture back to his home. On the other side of the equation is his mixed-race anesthesiologist wife, Rainbow “Bow” Johnson (Tracee Ellis Ross), whose hippie upbringing has led her to instill their children with other values.

Last year, Black-ish walked away with only one nomination – Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for Anthony Anderson. It’s clear to assume he will be back on the ballot after this outstanding second season, which has garnered critical praise. However, will this be the year that Black-ish breaks through in some of the other categories, including Best Comedy Series?

24-blackish.w750.h560.2xWith the second season, Black-ish has tackled some tough topics through comedy, including the n-word, gay marriage and family finances. However, the show truly struck a nerve during the sixteenth episode of the season, entitled “Hope,” which saw the Johnson family discuss police brutality against African Americans after the youngest twins see reports of a police shooting on TV and their oldest son, Andre Johnson Jr. (Marcus Scribner) wants to join in protest. At the very least, that episode can be in conversation for Best Directing and Writing for a Comedy Series due to its poignancy, claustrophobic direction and complex and humorous handling of a very serious subject.

Sometimes it takes the Emmys a few years to give a network comedy a slot in the top category. Take for example Parks and Recreation (first Comedy Series nomination in season 3), The Big Bang Theory (first Comedy Series nomination in season 4), How I Met Your Mother (first Comedy Series nomination in season 4) and The Office (first Comedy Series nomination and win in season 2). Anthony Anderson’s acting nomination proves it is on the Emmy radar. Is it possible they wowed voters enough to make it in to the top category? Of the seven nominees from last year, both Louie and Parks and Recreation are ineligible this year since no new episodes of the show aired. One of those slots could go to Black-ish.

Read more on Awards Circuit for full details.

Hit Me With Your Best (Short Film) Shot: World of Tomorrow

There’s something so beautifully simple about Don Hertzfeldt’s animation work. It’s very blunt, often times in a very humorous way, but it still has the distinct power of driving our imaginations and emotions further than we could have prepared to have gone.

“World of Tomorrow” takes a very simple premise – young girl is taken into the future by her future self – and delivers a depressing and beautiful look at the future, showing class structure, love, the desire to live forever and the inevitability of death. As stark, morose and dauntingly huge as all of these topics are, they seem rosy and cute through the eyes of an effervescent child.

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Being a media person, the shot I chose spoke to an interesting and disturbing trend predicted by the future. As these clones have stored memories from their previous hosts, they are able to watch and visit any memory or place or time. With this ability, people get lost watching things that have happened. In time, people look back on other people watching other people do things. It’s a strange paradox of people passively watching, rather than doing new things.

In many ways, with social media becoming more obligatory and obtrusive, we are creating this future for ourselves. In the age of Snapchat where the mundanity of one’s life is pushed out for “real-time story,” people seem to spend more time looking at other people’s lives than creating their own memories and experiences. In fact, we now have an actual condition, FOMO (fear of missing out), that has resulted from this phenomenon. Have we lost the ability to be like the young Emily – chasing butterflies, looking into strange eggs and just all around having an innate curiosity?

So much is said in such a short time. This small glimpse into the future has left more to unpack than most feature films do in bloated two and a half hour running times. This is an art form that rarely gets its proper due. With the internet making content distribution easier, hopefully projects of this length and variety become more readily viewed by the general population. However, if this level of quality keeps up, pretty soon we will end up like the future people in “World of Tomorrow,” constantly consuming content to the point that we aren’t actively doing things anymore.

Sometimes the gold makes us all go a little bit mad.