My Oscar Predix – 2016

Here we are, mere hours before the ceremony and I have locked in my predictions. See below:

  • Best Picture – “La La Land”
  • Best Director – Damien Chazelle – “La La Land”
  • Best Actor – Denzel Washington – “Fences”
  • Best Actress – Emma Stone – “La La Land”
  • Best Supporting Actor – Dev Patel – “Lion”
  • Best Supporting Actress – Viola Davis – “Fences”
  • Best Adapted Screenplay – “Moonlight”
  • Best Original Screenplay – “Manchester by the Sea”
  • Best Animated Feature – “Zootopia”
  • Best Documentary Feature – “O.J. Made in America”
  • Best Foreign Language Feature – “The Salesman”
  • Best Cinematography – “La La Land”
  • Best Costume Design – “La La Land”
  • Best Film Editing – “La La Land”
  • Best Makeup & Hairstyling – “Suicide Squad”
  • Best Original Score – “La La Land”
  • Best Original Song – “City of Stars” – “La La Land”
  • Best Production Design – “La La Land”
  • Best Sound Editing – “Hacksaw Ridge”
  • Best Sound Mixing – “La La Land”
  • Best Visual Effects – “The Jungle Book”
  • Best Animated Short – “Pearl”
  • Best Documentary Short – “The White Helmets”
  • Best Live Action Short – “La Femme et le TGV”

Happy Oscar watching!

EVERY 89th ANNUAL ACADEMY AWARDS NOMINEE – RANKED!

Sixty two films and shorts received at least one nomination at the 89th Annual Academy Awards. Representing the pinnacle of the film industry in 2016, I sought to see each nominee before the Oscars telecast tomorrow. This Sisyphean task came to a close last night after my viewing of “My Life as a Zucchini.” All I can say is Oscar has led me down quite a path this year. I spent Valentine’s Day watching teenagers diffuse bombs in “Land of Mine.” Out of desperation, I am now the ashamed owner of both “Allied” and “Doctor Strange.” Feel free to shame me.

However, it is all worth it for 2 reasons.

  1. I get to be smug throughout my Oscar party when I’ve seen “A Man Called Ove” and no one else has.
  2. Now I can rank every Oscar nominated film this year.

The quality of all these movies varied wildly. Lone makeup and visual effects nominees aren’t exactly supposed to hold a candle to films with fourteen nominations. Without further ado, here are the rankings:

DREADFUL

Craft comes at a cost. While there may be an impressive visual here and there, these films truly stink up the joint.

62. “Suicide Squad”

Nomination: Best Makeup & Hairstyling

Suffice it to say there is no redeeming qualities in this Hot Topic garbage fire of a miscalculation. People don’t leave the film as viewers, but as victims. It’s a rotting corpse in the middle of cocktail party. It’s nomination is as embarrassing as Cara Delevingne’s dancing. Making Margot Robbie look all the wrong forms of trashy chic does not an Oscar nomination make.

61. “Nocturnal Animals”

Nomination: Best Supporting Actor (Michael Shannon)

Michael Shannon is the scenery chewing silver lining in this off-putting piece of celluloid. It’s angry but haphazard. It’s toxic, but with no meat on its storytelling bones. It’s pretty to look at, but utterly empty. It’s a hollow shell of with a poisonous coat masquerading as art.

60. “A Man Called Ove”

Nominations: Best Foreign Language Feature, Best Makeup

There have been more nuanced portrayals of the elderly in “Last Vegas.” This Swedish entry takes maudlin to a new, disastrous level.

59. “Allied”

Nomination: Best Costume Design

Any spark saw in the first Casablanca section evaporates after Marion Cotillard has a baby in the middle of a bombing. If only Robert Zemeckis recognized camp, he could’ve parlayed this ludicrous film into something absolutely hilarious. Instead, we’re left with a turgid dud. However, can Hollywood give us the film of lesbian spy Lizzy Caplan ASAP?

58. “Passengers”

Nominations: Best Original Score, Best Production Design

Did the pitch longline for the film read: “Slightly rape-y space Titanic?” Nevertheless, the ship looked astounding. Too bad one of the occupants was a sleepy Jennifer Lawrence who couldn’t muster up enough energy to even pretend to act like a journalist.

57. “Borrowed Time”

Nomination: Best Animated Short

Like Pixar, but for adults. Except Pixar is for all ages, and this is just a sad cowboy deciding whether to jump to his death. Don’t bother informing us once you make that decision.

AGGRESSIVELY AVERAGE

Literally nothing to see here. Too bad to be good. Too competent to be trash.

56. “13 Hours: The Soldiers of Benghazi”

Nomination: Best Sound Mixing

The bro-iest war film this side of “War Dogs.”

55. “Pear, Cider and Cigarettes”

Nomination: Best Animated Short

An animated depiction of addiction that wants to be like “Fight Club,” but comes off as a 35 minute deleted cinematic from the lamest “Grand Theft Auto” entry.

54. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

Nominations: Best Sound Mixing, Best Visual Effects

Yes, Darth Vader gets to go ape shit on some guys for three seconds. For the rest of the time, I have to slog through the least interesting protagonists this side of the “Transformers” films.

53. “Ennemis Interieurs”

Nomination: Best Live Action Short

Reeks of its own self importance and timeliness. The French immigration interview wants to be tense, but comes off stilted and incomplete.

52. “Timecode”

Nomination: Best Live Action Short

It’s cute to see two guards dance together. However, it can barely sustain itself for a short.

51. “Hacksaw Ridge”

Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Andrew Garfield), Best Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing

It’s two movies for the price of one. The first is a hackneyed drama that would’ve seen dated in the 1940s. “Aw shucks” couldn’t be said more times for a film. The second half is an effective, it blood lusting, powerhouse. Still, 40% of a good movie isn’t enough.

50. “Blind Vaysha”

Nomination: Best Animated Short

A dark fairy tale that thinks it is more interesting than it actually is.

49. “Tanna”

Nomination: Best Foreign Language Feature

We’ve seen “Romeo and Juliet” before…

SLIGHT, BUT WITH SILVER LININGS

There’s more good here than bad… sometimes barely.

48. “Star Trek Beyond”

Nomination: Best Makeup & Hairstyling

A perfectly rudimentary entry in the franchise that still gets the job done and entertains. Some of the otherworldly species look interesting.

47. “Extremis”

Nomination: Best Documentary Short Subject

Doesn’t probe much deeper than “death happens.” However, it is remarkable in its frankness at looking at its subject.

46. “Trolls”

Nomination: Best Original Song

Dopey as all hell, but undeniably affecting and charming. Can see how children would latch onto it and appreciated the look and energy of it.

45. “Deepwater Horizon”

Nomination: Best Sound Editing, Best Visual Effects

Spins its wheels at the beginning. However, is a stronger character study that it gives itself credit for. When things go south, the film earns its nominations. If it got 3 more passes in the initial planning/writing stages, we’d have something to talk about.

44. “Doctor Strange”

Nomination: Best Visual Effects

The only visual effect you need is Tilda Swinton.

43. “Silent Nights”

Nomination: Best Live Action Short

Comes so close to telling a sweet love story. Unfortunately, one can’t ignore the ham-fisted genre conventions that keep it from soaring.

42. “Sing”

Nomination: Best Live Action Short

A satisfying trifle that evaporates after seeing it.

41. “Silence”

Nomination: Best Cinematography

Scorsese’s meditation of faith is starting to be hailed by many. However, it still remains this obtuse slog with rewarding moments sprinkled throughout. Perhaps that was the intention. Andrew Garfield’s accent hopefully wasn’t intentional. Still, there is quite a bit that is interesting that one can take from the film.

40. “Arrival”

Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Production Design, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing

This is the film most in need of a re-watch. Initially the pacing felt wildly off for me. The climactic twist seemed to come out of nowhere, while Amy Adams’ role as a mother felt like a perfunctory mutation off of Sandra Bullock’s character in “Gravity.” Still, there is something that has stuck with me that warrants a revisit. Who’s up for a movie night?

CHARMERS

Had a great time, despite them not being perfect movies.

39. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”

Nominations: Best Costume Design, Best Production Design

Definitely the least effective of the films set in J.K. Rowling’s world. However, what a wonderful world to be in. The period nature of the film extends the world in ways I was eager to see. Plus, it was filled with fabulous sets and costumes.

38. “Watani: My Homeland”

Nomination: Best Documentary Short Subject

Wins points for focusing the immigration narrative on one story and finding a distinct voice about a hot topic in the shorts categories.

37. “4.1 Miles”

Nomination: Best Documentary Short Subject

Wins points for dramatizing the immigration narrative in a matter of fact manner and finding a distinct voice about a hot topic in the shorts categories.

36. “Sully”

Nomination: Best Sound Editing

The plane landing on the Hudson is absolutely thrilling, even as Clint Eastwood’s uneven direction and storytelling skills are less so. Say hi to Laura Linney in the most thankless role of the entirety of 2016. Still, there’s more to love than complain about.

35. “The Salesman”

Nomination: Best Foreign Language Feature

Asghar Farhadi’s unique morality maze doesn’t fully get going until well past the halfway point. However, once it gets going, man is it good.

34. “Piper”

Nomination: Best Animated Short Film

Would it be mean to call this Pixar’s best output this year? The tale of a small bird is slight, but it is super fun to watch.

33. “Manchester by the Sea”

Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Casey Affleck), Best Supporting Actor (Lucas Hedges), Best Supporting Actress (Michelle Williams), Best Original Screenplay

Gets too much praise and too much flack at the same time. It’s affecting, yet meandering. Still, as the aching heart at the center, Casey Affleck’s performance is a stunning marvel.

32. “I Am Not Your Negro”

Nomination: Best Documentary Feature

Powerful subject with powerful words from James Baldwin. However, after having seen “The 13th” a couple of times, I couldn’t help but compare this one unfavorably to that. Perhaps a re-watch is in order, as there were many strong segments.

31. “Kubo and the Two Strings”

Nominations: Best Animated Feature, Best Visual Effects

Stunning visuals carry a film whose story often feels too stilted to soar. Some wonky vocal performances also weigh down a film that is ready to take flight.

30. “The White Helmets”

Nomination: Best Documentary Short Subject

It is easy to see why George Clooney would want to adapt this into a feature film. It is gripping and affecting.

29. “The Lobster”

Nomination: Best Original Screenplay

Amazing concept and deliriously funny first half sabotaged by a second half that loses its way. Still, there is a lot of talent and ambition here.

EXTREMELY FOND OF…

Great movies I would like to seek out again, but not terribly committed to.

28. “The Jungle Book”

Nomination: Best Visual Effects

It doesn’t reinvent the wheel and stumbles in some instances. However, the magic of the Disney classic still runs through its veins.

27. “Life, Animated”

Nomination: Best Documentary Feature

What could come off as cloying (and to some might) was extremely heartwarming to me. It may be cheesy and self-serving, but I love any film that shows me other people who learned to grow and relate to others through film.

26. “La Femme et le TGV”

Nomination: Best Live Action Short

Tells a wonderfully complete story of a woman going to extreme lengths to follow a potential suitor. The twee world set by the film may seem ripe for parody, until it ends and you realize how utterly charmed you’ve been by it.

25. “Fire at Sea”

Nomination: Best Documentary Feature

I can’t explain why pairing the harrowing story of refugees going across the Mediterranean Sea with a young kid going to the eye doctor worked so well for me. Yet, it did. So sue me.

24. “Florence Foster Jenkins”

Nominations: Best Actress (Meryl Streep), Best Costume Design

Meryl brings the laughs, but Hugh Grant navigates the transitions between buoyant fun and tear jerking moments to bring the film to success.

23. “Hail, Caesar!”

Nomination: Best Production Design

I want to live in The Coen Bros. vision of Old Hollywood, flaws and all.

22. “Jim: The James Foley Story”

Nomination: Best Original Song

I never thought I’d be move by the movie that got a lone original song nomination. However, “Jim: The James Foley Story” is a particularly wrenching look at a murdered conflict journalist. Funny enough, the worst part of the film was the song.

21. “Pearl”

Nomination: Best Animated Short

On a technical level, the film’s ability to utilize VR is spellbinding. However, it only elevates a story that already makes you want to cry.

20. “The Red Turtle”

Nomination: Best Animated Feature

The wordless, but gorgeous, animated film opts for metaphors and imagery to tell a moving story. It’s not something I feel compelled to see again, but am thankful I got to see it now.

19. “Fences”

Nomination: Best Picture, Best Actor (Denzel Washington), Best Supporting Actress (Viola Davis), Best Adapted Screenplay

“ACTING” in all caps, but in a good way. Every person involves nails the source material with great force. However, there is a piece missing that keeps it from being cinematic. This keeps it from soaring to greatness, but all the elements are there and chugging along.

18. “Moana”

Nominations: Best Animated Feature, Best Original Song

Disney has been on a roll with the princess series. This latest entry is a barn-burning girl power story that puts its heroine front and center without a love interest. Instead, it crafts a wonderfully unique film that still adheres to everything that makes Disney work.

17. “My Life as a Zucchini”

Nomination: Best Animated Feature

The whimsey of the animation tampers the extremely depressing nature of the film. The filmmaking and story perfectly complement each other to make a unique and enriching film experience.

16. “Captain Fantastic”

Nomination: Best Actor (Viggo Mortensen)

Viggo Mortensen gives the performance of his career in a film so offbeat and wonderful. It’s never afraid to be both dark and light, sometimes in the same scene. All the child actors are carefully attuned to this beat as well, which makes the movie truly sing.

15. “Land of Mine”

Nomination: Best Documentary Feature

“The Hurt Locker” meets “The Hunger Games,” only better. There’s something profoundly human at the core of this film. It helps the movie takes time to make us care about the characters before sending them out on the death-ridden beaches.

14. “Elle”

Nomination: Best Actress (Isabelle Huppert)

What a film!? There are so many feelings, emotions and opinions swirling around in every frame of this provocative film. It has to be seen to be believed.

UNEQUIVOCAL LOVE

I absolutely loved watching these and will remember these as the landmarks of this film year.

13. “Joe’s Violin”

Nomination: Best Documentary Short Subject

Yes, I cried during the annual Holocaust documentary. There’s something so refreshing about watching two people from completely backgrounds find a common interest to gush about.

12. “The 13th”

Nomination: “The 13th”

While glossy, Ava DuVernay’s ability to lay out a story pays off in incredible spades. Her work shows how the prison industrial complex, specifically around black men, has grown over a century in ways that is neither didactic, nor needlessly confusing.

11. “Loving”

Nomination: Best Actress (Ruth Negga)

Soft spoken, but with grand ambition. Director Jeff Nichols makes a true ode to America, while acknowledging the flaws and how far we have to go. Joel Egerton and Ruth Negga are a perfectly cast couple. I could watch them do mundane house chores all day.

10. “Jackie”

Nominations: Best Actress (Natalie Portman), Best Costume Design, Best Original Score

Director Pablo Larrain is a genius. His recreation of the events following JFK’s assassination are so specifically his vision. It’s haunting and harrowing in a way few films reach.

9. “Toni Erdmann”

Nomination: Best Foreign Language Film

Link to Top 10 Piece here.

Needless to say, you had me at Whitney Houston sing along and nude birthday party.

8. “Hidden Figures”

Nominations: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer), Best Adapted Screenplay

Link to Top 10 Piece here.

Even better than “The Help” at marrying outrage over the segregated South and buoyant fun as these talented women changed the world.

7. “O.J. Made in America”

Nomination: Best Documentary Feature

Link to Top 10 Piece here.

Sprawling and magnificent. Miniseries or movie? Let’s just call it a masterpiece.

6. “Hell or High Water”

Nominations: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Jeff Bridges), Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing

Link to Top 10 Piece here.

A taut, riotous and totally modern western in the best sense of the word. It’s mad as hell and just won’t take it anymore.

5. “Zootopia”

Nomination: Best Animated Feature

Link to Top 10 Piece here.

The most fun your child will have about learning about privilege and society’s nature to perpetuate racism.

THE ALL TIMERS

These make my all time greatest movies list!!!

4. “20th Century Women”

Nomination: Best Original Screenplay

Link to Top 10 Piece here.

Consistently surprising in all the best ways. It’s a rich tapestry of characters woven together with great love and care.

3. “Lion”

Nominations: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Dev Patel), Best Supporting Actress (Nicole Kidman), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score

Link to Top 10 Piece here.

Tearjerker doesn’t even begin to cover it. It hits you like an emotional bus.

2. “La La Land”

Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Ryan Gosling), Best Actress (Emma Stone), Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Editing, Best Original Score, Best Original Song (x2), Best Production Design, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Everything

Link to Top 10 Piece here.

I think we can call a moratorium on “La La Land” think pieces. It’s lightness when we need it most, but also is a great piece about overcoming self doubt to achieve one’s dreams.

  1. “Moonlight”

Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali), Best Supporting Actress (Naomie Harris), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Original Score

Link to Top 10 Piece here.

Just the best. Literally in all ways. It’s wonderfully specific, but poetically universal. It’s great to see a new world and point of view reflected on screen. This is why the world needs cinema.

Which movies have you seen leading into tomorrow’s ceremony?

If I Was In Charge of Oscar Nominations…

With just seven days to go before the big ceremony, it’s time for me to reveal my Oscar nominations in winners in all the major categories.

In preparation for the ceremony, I will have all films watched by next Saturday. Still up are the shorts, “My Life as a Zucchini” and “Doctor Strange.” However, this year has been so rich in film, it will be hard for any new films to displace the choices below.

Best Visual Effects

  1. “The Jungle Book”

  2. “Kubo and the Two Strings”
  3. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”
  4. “Deepwater Horizon”
  5. “Star Trek: Beyond”

It is hard to argue with the technical prowess behind Disney’s latest live action adaptation, “The Jungle Book.” However, it only narrowly toppled the rich, distinct vision of “Kubo and the Two Strings.” Laika has truly carved a unique niche in the marketplace. One can’t help but look forward to any project with their name on it.

Best Sound Mixing

  1. “The Witch”

  2. “Hacksaw Ridge”
  3. “Sing Street”
  4. “La La Land”
  5. “Zootopia”

“The Witch” was such a singular vision and technical marvel. This continued down to the sound design of the film, which only added to the impending menace that permeated the film. Of the musicals this year, “Sing Street” had an even stronger grasp of some craft elements. The delightful ’80s band saga was a sleeper hit that is hard to match.

Best Sound Editing

  1. “The Witch”

  2. “Hacksaw Ridge”
  3. “The Conjuring 2”
  4. “Deepwater Horizon”
  5. “10 Cloverfield Lane”

“The Witch” and “Hacksaw Ridge” both were sound marvels this year. “The Conjuring 2” was another effective horror film that managed to use sound, even more than sight, to make me squirm in my seat. The same can be said for “10 Cloverfield Lane,” which knew how to make every motion and sound so acute in the underground bunker.

Best Production Design

  1. “La La Land”

  2. “Jackie”
  3. “10 Cloverfield Lane”
  4. “Passengers”
  5. “The Witch”

Present day Los Angeles, the White House in the 60s, an underground bunker stuck in the 80s, an intergalactic space cruise and the 18th century woods. There’s very little these all share in common, except for the specificity the strong production designers put into every set. It bears repeating that genre elements often bear the most unique production design.

Best Original Song

  1. “Drive It Like You Stole It” – “Sing Street”

  2. “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” – “La La Land”
  3. “How Far I’ll Go” – “Moana”
  4. “Can’t Stop the Feeling” – “Trolls”
  5. “The Great Beyond” – “Sausage Party”

Few musical moments have been as enjoyable as “Sing Street’s” climactic performance. While one cannot begrudge Emma Stone’s show stopper, “Audition,” “La La Land” owes more to its score than songs for its effectiveness. Pop hits such as “How Far I’ll Go” and “Can’t Stop the Feeling” both add color and flavor to their animated films. As tempted as I was to add “Runnin” from Pharrell in here, I do love a good sendup of Disney musicals. The raunch filled opening of “Sausage Party” delivered that and so much more.

Best Original Score

  1. “La La Land”

  2. “Moonlight”
  3. “Jackie”
  4. “The Fits”
  5. “Lion”

The fact that Oscar went for the perfect trifecta of Old Hollywood magic (“La La Land”), complicated growing pains (“Moonlight”) and impending dread (“Jackie”) is a happy miracle. The one that I would add to their lineup would be “The Fits.” The music in that film truly gave it the beat it needed to take flight and move. In many ways the score is the backbone of that film.

Best Makeup & Hairstyling

  1. “Hail, Caesar”

  2. “The Dressmaker”
  3. “Star Trek: Beyond”

While Oscar loves old age makeup, I love the crazy Coen fun house version of Old Hollywood. Plus, if I’m gonna go old age, its gonna be with Judy Davis (see “The Dressmaker”).

Best Film Editing

  1. “Moonlight”

  2. “O.J. Made in America”
  3. “20th Century Women”
  4. “Hell or High Water”
  5. “La La Land”

There was no more put together masterpiece than “Moonlight.” Every shot fit and spoke volumes based on its position in the film. The editing was breathtaking. On the other side of the coin is the sprawling “O.J. Made in America.” Keeping a subject engrossing for seven hours is a tall task. However, it is achieved in flying colors. The way “20th Century Women” weaves between its different characters and draws from the world around them and the character’s histories has to be seen to be believed. Add in some fellow Oscar nominees, and you have an interesting category.

Best Costume Design

  1. “The Dressmaker”

  2. “Captain Fantastic”
  3. “Cafe Society”
  4. “Hello My Name is Doris”
  5. “Jackie”

Every stitch of clothing in “The Dressmaker” was an event. As Kate Winslet spun unique creations for each person in her ramshackle Australian town, the movie came alive. Similarly, “Captain Fantastic” was able to define so many of its characters based on the colorful clothing that was used. Viggo’s funeral suit speaks volumes even as he’s silent. If we are going for old school glamour, nothing has looked better this year than the cast of Woody Allen’s “Cafe Society.” Again on the character specific journey, Doris is defined by what she wears and how she wears it. It’s a fantastic example of storytelling through costuming. With all that said and done, let’s hope “Jackie” and its painstaking commitment to bringing to life Jackie Kennedy’s wardrobe nabs the Oscar.

Best Cinematography

  1. “La La Land”

  2. “Jackie”
  3. “Moonlight”
  4. “The Witch”
  5. “The Light Between Oceans”

Swinging over traffic and gliding around Griffith Park, “La La Land” looks breathtaking. Just as breathtaking are the too close for comfort looks at a cracking Jackie Kennedy in “Jackie.” The cinematography in “Moonlight” brings out the melancholy and color in present day Miami. Both “The Witch” and “The Light Between Oceans” use brilliant cinematography to open up these very different stories about isolation.

Best Foreign Language Film

  1. “Toni Erdmann”

  2. “Elle”
  3. “Land of Mine”
  4. “Fire at Sea”
  5. “Julieta”

Recently referred to as the best Amazon series put to film, “Toni Erdmann” runs long. Even at 2 hrs and 45 minutes, it packs each frame with comedy and emotional wallop to boot. There is no emotional tightrope more challenging or complex than the one Isabelle Huppert weaves in “Elle.””Land of Mine” is “The Hurt Locker” meets “Hunger Games,” only more effective than that sounds. “Fire at Sea” marries a haunting documentation of refugees with the charming mundanity of one family. While not his best, Pedro Almodovar’s “Julieta” retains the director trademark skill and vibrancy.

Best Documentary Feature

  1. “O.J. Made in America”

  2. “The 13th”
  3. “Gleason”
  4. “Weiner”
  5. “Jim: The James Foley Story”

“O.J. Made in America” is a transfixing monument of documentary filmmaking and one that needs to be celebrated. However, in any other year, “The 13th” would be taking the prize and that headline as well. Ava Duvernay presents the facts of our country’s prison issues with such clarity and fire, it’s impossible to resist. On a more emotional front, “Gleason” does a fantastic job wringing tears out of former NFL star Steve Gleason’s health issues. “Weiner” does an exact opposite thing, exposing how a person functions as their ambitions and dreams are torn asunder by scandals they have set in motion. Bringing up the field is a traditional, yet moving doc about crisis journalist James Foley who was executed while on assignment in the Middle East.

Best Animated Feature

  1. “Zootopia”

  2. “Moana”
  3. “The Red Turtle”
  4. “Kubo and the Two Strings”
  5. “Sausage Party”

Disney hit it out of the park with “Zootopia,” which married whimsey with social consciousness. “Moana” wisely threw away a traditional romantic princess plot for the empowering jaunt of Moana fighting evil forces. “The Red Turtle” was more a fight against time and weather. However, it ended up being a beautiful meditation on both. “Kubo and the Two Strings” rested on its breathtaking visuals, while “Sausage Party” rested on its brilliant concept and watershed of R-rated laughs.

Best Original Screenplay

  1. “Hell or High Water”

  2. “20th Century Women”
  3. “Zootopia”
  4. “Toni Erdmann”
  5. “The Edge of Seventeen”

“Hell or High Water” crafts a tight modern day bank robber western imbued with commentary on our financial institutions. That it accomplishes all of this with briskness and humor is quite a feat. The complexities of five very different housemates is examined with such vivid specificity in “20th Century Women.” “Zootopia” has the unenviable task of teaching children about racism. However, it manages to deftly tackle that topic without being the mystery noir “Inherent Vice” wished it could be. At an unwiedly 2 hours and 45 minutes, “Toni Erdmann” needed to deliver the laughs to justify the length. It did more than that and brought both this undercurrent of warmth and gravitas to some wildly hilarious set pieces. Finally, “The Edge of Seventeen” treats its protagonist’s anxiety and loneliness with profound sincerity. It’s a heartwarming and affirming gem people need to check out.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. “Moonlight”

  2. “Lion”
  3. “Hello My Name is Doris”
  4. “Hidden Figures”
  5. “Fences”

“Moonlight” is a masterpiece of storytelling, as every moment and bit of minutia builds into this wonderful kaleidoscope of a personal portrait. With a more conventional narrative, “Lion” could have easily turned into a conventional film. The script by Luke Davies takes some interesting risks and detours, exploring the rougher fringes of the traditional weepie story. Likewise, the script for “Hello My Name is Doris” could’ve been strictly for laughs. Luckily, the writers found the melancholy beating heart within Doris and unearthed it in glorious fashion. “Hidden Figures” shines a light on fantastic, important accomplishments with great optimism and spark. What could’ve so easily been didactic or by the numbers soars off the page thanks to strong writing. Lastly, what else can be said about the genius of August Wilson. While the transfer to screen bears some clunks in translation, the power of the words still rings true.

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Nicole Kidman – “Lion”

  2. Viola Davis – “Fences”
  3. Naomi Harris – “Moonlight”
  4. Janelle Monae – “Hidden Figures”
  5. Octavia Spencer – “Hidden Figures”

Kidman as a winner is a controversial choice, and I have long been a stan of the Australian actress. I’ll take the jabs. Her performance is moving in the quietest of ways. She finds the heart and soul of Sue Brierley, but never sugar coats the specific challenges she had to face as a mother. There are so many pitfalls the performance could have fallen into. Luckily, Nicole Kidman navigates around them. With great sound and fury, Viola Davis acts her ass off in “Fences.” It’s a powerhouse performance that bears the same humanity, heart and strength that is now synonymous with the actress. More interested in weakness than strength, Naomie Harris unearths some dark places in “Moonlight.” However, rather than act as a one note villain, Harris manages to craft a more specific portrait of addiction by giving us glimpses into the mother Paula could have been. Lastly, “Hidden Figures” was a true ensemble vehicle, and every woman pulled her weight. Monae was the spitfire truly emerging on the screen. Spencer was the mother hen who shepherded the film to new heights.

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Trevante Rhodes – “Moonlight”

  2. Dev Patel – “Lion”
  3. Mahershala Ali – “Moonlight”
  4. Alden Enhenreich – “Hail, Caesar!”
  5. Ralph Fiennes – “A Bigger Splash”

“Moonlight” culminates with what Trevante Rhodes is able to do in the final act. Every facial movement bears the weight of previous actions in the film. His subtle reactions and wordless exchanges with Andre Holland in the diner are the moments I will remember most from 2016. It’s spellbinding. Another main character, Dev Patel also has to take the reins of his film from his child star counterpart. Rather than link the past to his performance, Patel offers us a fresh start. His Saroo has lost his past life and is searching to reclaim it. It’s one hell of a weepie that never loses its potency thanks to Patel. While the third act of “Moonlight” may be my personal favorite, the first act gives us the transcendent Mahershala Ali. As Juan, Ali is able to deconstruct the myths of traditional masculinity and shade our media’s perception of drug dealers. He’s a good guy who lives within the moral gray areas. It’s fascinating in its understatement. Plus, no one gives reaction shots better than Ali. The next two standouts are the spark plugs to films that work and don’t work to varying degrees. Alden Enhenreich’s perfectly calibrated performance as a western actor forced into a drama is high comedy. However, he also makes a compelling case for being a leading man. Ralph Fiennes goes past the extra mile in making one have fun in “A Bigger Splash.” What’s even better is how his wildly uncouth character remains insatiably unpredictable until the bitter end.

Best Actress

  1. Annette Bening – “20th Century Women”

  2. Sally Field – “Hello My Name is Doris”
  3. Isabelle Huppert – “Elle”
  4. Emma Stone – “La La Land”
  5. Natalie Portman – “Jackie”

This is one of the strongest years for this category. Annette Bening is transcendent and surprising at every turn. It is a career best in a major way. Sally Field crafted a wholly unique character in Doris. She brought to life this woman’s sexuality and dreams that have been bottled up for decades and managed to make it both hilarious and heartbreaking. There is no stronger tightrope walk than Isabelle Huppert’s tricky work in “Elle.” Emma Stone may seem to have had the easiest role of the three. However, the way she unearths Mia’s insecurities is beautiful. Lastly, Natalie Portman lays bare the shattered pieces of Jackie Kennedy following JFK’s assassination and it is haunting to watch. A brilliant crop of performances with many just missing this lineup.

Best Actor

  1. Viggo Mortensen – “Captain Fantastic”

  2. Casey Affleck – “Manchester by the Sea”
  3. Denzel Washington – “Fences”
  4. Hugh Grant – “Florence Foster Jenkins”
  5. Joel Edgerton – “Loving”

There was something so unique and lived in about Mortensen’s performance as Ben Cash. His hurt was real, but his pride was all consuming. It’s a masterful, layered performance that doesn’t continues to reveal itself. Similarly, Casey Affleck has garnered a lot of hardware for his incredible ability to depict sadness and turmoil. It’s an incredibly affecting performance, even if the film around him doesn’t adequately push the boundaries. Denzel Washington gives a master class in acting and has bravado to spare throughout “Fences.” Grant does some of the best career work to date navigating the tricky waters of St. Claire and Florence’s relationship. The same can be said for Joel Edgerton, who is wonderfully understated as Richard Loving in “Loving.”

Best Director

  1. Barry Jenkins – “Moonlight”

  2. Damien Chazelle – “La La Land”
  3. Mike Mills – “20th Century Women”
  4. David Mackenzie – “Hell or High Water”
  5. Pablo Larrain – “Jackie”

Barry Jenkins’ vision is magnificent. He crafts this three act masterpiece with poise and great vision. “Moonlight” is the perfect example of a director in perfect control of his creation, while also collaborating with other talented people. Chazelle’s love for movie musicals manifested itself in an ambitiously constructed original piece. “La La Land” looks beautiful, and Chazelle amps up the difficulty level to make this quite the event. People seem to label “20th Century Women” as an “actors film” or “writing film.” I saw it as a beautifully, ambitiously constructed auteur piece. The movie whizzes in so many directions, but always has a cohesive voice. Mike Mills helms the film with confident strength and a beautiful heart. Rounding out the category are Mackenzie and Larrain, two directors who work at economy of scale while crafting a deft, efficient vision. It’s been a great year for film.

Best Picture

  1. “Moonlight”

  2. “La La Land”
  3. “Lion”
  4. “20th Century Women”
  5. “Zootopia”

Read my Top 10 piece for more information on each of the Best Picture films.

What would you nominate? Share in the comments.

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