Monday, February 29, 2016

Morning Coffee (2/29/16)

WHEW. The Oscars are over; I am delighted and thrilled that Spotlight won best picture. Here are my picks and predictions, with links to my thoughts on the 45 nominated films I managed to see.

Me elsewhere: The week's TV news.

I couldn't decide what part of Rebecca Traister's NY Mag cover story on the political power of single women to quote, so you should probably read the whole thing and also the book from which it was excerpted.

This this this this this: America loves women like Hillary Clinton – as long as they’re not asking for a promotion

We've lost sight of how wildly irresponsible the Republican tax plans are

I love that this was a specifically planned journalistic trap and not just a one-off coincidence: How We Fooled Donald Trump Into Retweeting Benito Mussolini

Well. People say the Islamic State is using a fruit-flavored drink as fake blood in its videos

To Men I Love, About Men Who Scare Me

This is so important: Bridging a Digital Divide That Leaves Schoolchildren Behind

"Ultimately, what Sanders does after he exits will reveal if the movement was about him or us."

"While it's true Rubio needs to defeat Kasich, Sen. Ted Cruz, and Dr. Ben Carson — whom the email accused of being horcruxes — to get the nomination, it is extremely unlikely that Trump has actually embedded pieces of his soul in their bodies."

Extremely Sad Boys In Fancy Dress In Western Art History

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Oscar Project 2016: My Picks

Well, here we go. I wound up seeing 45 of the 56 nominated movies; I saw everything in 20 of the 24 categories. Here's what I think can and should win in each category, with additional comments where necessary. Click on the name of each nominated movie to read my thoughts.

Best Picture: The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Room, Spotlight
What should win: Spotlight
What will win: The Revenant
Note: I would have nominated Creed in this category, probably in place of Bridge of Spies, though Spotlight would still be my pick to win.

Actor in a Leading Role: The Danish Girl, The Martian, The Revenant, Steve Jobs, Trumbo
Who should win: Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs)
Who will win: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)
Note: Michael B. Jordan (Creed) should have been nominated and probably should have won.

Actress in a Leading Role: 45 Years, Brooklyn, Carol, Joy, Room
Who should win: Brie Larson (Room), though I'd also be happy with Ronan or Rampling.
Who will win: Brie Larson (Room)

Actor in a Supporting Role: The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Creed, The Revenant, Spotlight
Who should win: Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight), though Mark Rylance was also great. Mark R-something, whichever.
Who will win: Sylvester Stallone (Creed)

Actress in a Supporting Role: Carol, The Danish Girl, The Hateful Eight, Spotlight, Steve Jobs
Who should win: Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)
Who will win: Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)

Animated Feature Film: Anomalisa, Boy and the World, Inside Out, Shaun the Sheep Movie, When Marnie Came Home
What should win: Anomalisa
What will win: Inside Out
Note: Sorry, Animated Features, I'm just not that into you. Boy and the World was hard to find and I just didn't get to renting the other two. Of the two I saw, though, I thought Anomalisa was much better, though everyone in the world seems to have liked Inside Out way more than I did.

Cinematography: Carol, The Hateful Eight, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant, Sicario
What should win: The Hateful Eight
What will win: The Revenant

Costume Design: Carol, Cinderella, The Danish Girl, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant
What should win: Cinderella
What will win: Cinderella
Note: I would have nominated Brooklyn and Crimson Peak in this category, and given it to Crimson Peak.

Directing: The Big Short, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant, Room, Spotlight
What should win: Spotlight
What will win: The Revenant

Documentary (Feature): Amy, Cartel Land, The Look of Silence, What Happened, Miss Simone?, Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom
What should win: Winter on Fire
What will win: Amy
Note: This is the category that I'm saddest about not finishing - these were all pretty readily available to stream, so I put them off while I tried to catch harder-to-find things in the theaters, and then ran out of time. I liked Winter on Fire, but having seen only one thing in the category, I don't have a strong preference.

Documentary (Short Subject): Body Team 12, Chau, beyond the Lines, Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah, A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, Last Day of Freedom
What should win: A Girl in the River (or Last Day of Freedom as a fairly close second choice)
What will win: Body Team 12

Film Editing: The Big Short, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant, Spotlight, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
What should win: Spotlight
What will win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Foreign Language Film: Embrace of the Serpent, Mustang, Son of Saul, Theeb, A War
What should win: Mustang, though I really loved A War too.
What will win: Son of Saul
Note: Unfortunately, neither Theeb nor Embrace of the Serpent have opened anywhere in my area yet, so I couldn't see them.

Makeup and Hairstyling: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant
What should win: Mad Max: Fury Road
What will win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Music (Original Score): Bridge of Spies, Carol, The Hateful Eight, Sicario, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
What should win: The Hateful Eight
What will win: The Hateful Eight

Music (Original Song): Fifty Shades of Grey, The Hunting Ground, Racing Extinction, Spectre, Youth
What should win: Racing Extinction
What will win: The Hunting Ground
Note: This is another category I didn't manage to finish, but luckily, you can listen to all the songs online. Honestly, I wasn't wild about any of them. I kind of want Fifty Shades of Grey to win just to mess with people.

Production Design: Bridge of Spies, The Danish Girl, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant
What should win: The Martian
What will win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Note: Crimson Peak and Carol should have been nominated here, and Crimson Peak should have won.

Short Film (Animated): Bear Story, Prologue, Sanjay's Super Team, We Can't Live without Cosmos, World of Tomorrow
What should win: World of Tomorrow, though I keep vacillating between that and Bear Story.
What will win: Sanjay's Super Team

Short Film (Live Action): Ave Maria, Day One, Everything Will Be Okay, Shok, Stutterer
What should win: Everything Will Be Okay
What will win: Shok

Sound Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Sicario, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
What should win: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
What will win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Sound Mixing: Bridge of Spies, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
What should win: The Martian
What will win: Mad Max: Fury Road

Visual Effects: Ex Machina, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
What should win: I'm torn between Ex Machina and The Martian.
What will win: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Writing (Adapted Screenplay): The Big Short, Brooklyn, Carol, The Martian, Room
What should win: The Martian
What will win: The Big Short
Note: FWIW, I've read the source material for Brooklyn, The Martian, and Room, so I have a more complete opinion about them.

Writing (Original Screenplay): Bridge of Spies, Ex Machina, Inside Out, Spotlight, Straight Outta Compton
What should win: Spotlight
What will win: Spotlight

Oscar Project 2016: Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom

Movie: Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom

This documentary about the revolution in Ukraine did a great job of combining on-the-ground footage with enough context and informational aids (especially maps) to give a good overview of the situation for viewers who weren't familiar with all the particulars. It was both sad and inspirational, and had some really great visuals.

Availability: Streaming on Netflix.

Nominated in:

Documentary (Feature): I didn't have time to see any of the others so I can't compare, but I thought this was very good and deserving of recognition.

Oscar Project 2016: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

Movie: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

This Swedish comedy was the kind of movie that makes me think "I get why people like this, but it's just not my cup of tea at all." It also made me think "Ugh, I hate comedy." So. Fair warning.

Availability: Streaming on Amazon Prime.

Nominated in:

Makeup and Hairstyling: That said, it did a very good job with old age makeup, so. I couldn't really object.

Morning Coffee (2/28/16)

Happy Oscar Day! We're going with themed links today.

ICYMI, I posted about several movies yesterday: A War, Straight Outta Compton, A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, Last Day of Freedom, Chau, beyond the Lines, Body Team 12, Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah

I don't agree with all these choices, but there's a lot of interesting stuff here: Who Will Win, And Who Should Win, At This Year’s Oscars

Take a look at Todd VanDerWerff's rankings, too.

Oscars 2016: why The Revenant is favored to win Best Picture

What It’s Really Like to Work in Hollywood* (*If you’re not a straight white man.)

Leonardo DiCaprio Hasn't Acted in a Movie Directed by a Woman in 2 Decades

What Does the Academy Value in a Black Performance?

Important historical perspective: #OscarsSoWhite, #ForSoLong

Boston Globe Reporter Sacha Pfeiffer: How Hollywood Got ‘Spotlight’ Right

And here's Marty Baron's take.

This is why it’s so hard to host the Academy Awards

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Oscar Project 2016: A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness

Movie: A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness

This tells the story of a young Pakistani woman who survives an attempted "honor killing" and then has to rebuild her life and decide whether to legally "forgive" the father and uncle who shot her. It's heartbreaking, and the young woman at the center of it is just breathtakingly strong. Her rare circumstances gave the filmmakers a chance to examine the issue from angles not often explored, and the way they got the perpetrators and others to just bluntly admit their guilt and justifications was powerful and frightening.

Availability: Head this way to learn how/where to see the shorts.

Nominated in:

Documentary (Short Subject): Yes. It's informative and moving and does an admirable job of going deep into the cultural forces around honor killings.

Oscar Project 2016: Last Day of Freedom

Movie: Last Day of Freedom

This is an animated documentary, which surprised me but, I thought, wound up working very, very well. It's about a Vietnam vet with PTSD and other mental health issues who ends up killing someone and getting the death penalty, and it's told very movingly from the point of view of the brother who tried to help him - and who wound up turning him in.

Availability: Head this way to learn how/where to see the shorts.

Nominated in:

Documentary (Short Subject): Fascinating and original in form and very important in subject, so absolutely award-worthy.

Oscar Project 2016: Chau, beyond the Lines

Movie: Chau, beyond the Lines

This tells the story of a Vietnamese boy severely disabled by Agent Orange and his quest to become an artist and an independent adult, and through his story does a good job of illustrating the lasting effects of Agent Orange on the Vietnamese population. Tragic and life-affirming all at once.

Availability: Head this way to learn how/where to see the shorts.

Nominated in:

Documentary (Short Subject): Not my first choice, but very interesting and moving and I wouldn't be sad if it won.

Oscar Project 2016: Body Team 12

Movie: Body Team 12

This was an interesting but very short look at a Red Cross team fighting Ebola in Liberia, and I loved that it focused on the one female member of the team and had such a strong but matter-of-fact feminist message. Unfortunately, it was so short that it felt like a very superficial overview rather than a complete film.

Availability: Head this way to learn how/where to see the shorts.

Nominated in:

Documentary (Short Subject): This was good (and dealt with something important) but just too short to get into the issue with sufficient depth or detail.

Oscar Project 2016: Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah

Movie: Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah

This short, about the making of Shoah, was interesting and well-made but felt more like bonus content that should go with Shoah itself - or, to stand on its own, a more thorough introduction to the movie was needed. Also, the people at the beginning talking about how terrible Lanzmann was were intriguing, and then that whole thread was pretty much just dropped. But this did make me interested in seeing Shoah itself.

Availability: Head this way to learn how/where to see the shorts.

Nominated in:

Documentary (Short Subject): Nah. Just didn't think it held up well enough on its own, especially given the much stronger nominees in this category.

Oscar Project 2016: Straight Outta Compton

Movie: Straight Outta Compton

I came to this with only the vaguest of ideas of who these people were and quite enjoyed it anyway, which is a sign of its strength. (And not knowing much meant I was genuinely surprised by some of the big plot points, which I assume most viewers were not.) I was a little confused by some of the particulars, but I thought the movie did an excellent job of showing the importance of the characters to the development of the genre and to culture in general.

Availability: Available for digital purchase or rental.

Nominated in:

Writing (Original Screenplay): I'm slightly torn because I do think it could have done a bit more to establish the facts for audience members who weren't familiar with the players and story - but maybe they (I) were not really the target audience so it doesn't matter. The writing was quite good otherwise and it's certainly deserving.

Oscar Project 2016: A War

Movie: A War

This Danish film about a soldier and his men in Afghanistan and his wife and children back home did everything I wanted Day One to do as far as digging into the nuances and ambiguities of war and its effects on everyone involved. (But then, it had a lot more time to do so, and I'm really not making a direct comparison between the two.) The war scenes, home front scenes, and courtroom scenes were all equally compelling, and I was completely pulled into Claus and Maria's story even while legitimately torn about Claus's legal situation. I loved the complexities that this set up and the way it ended in a way that felt real and satisfying while providing no easy answers. And lead Pilou Asbaek is, as always, a magnetic presence.

Availability: In a few theaters.

Nominated in:

Foreign Language Film: Sure. It was well-written (so far as I could tell from subtitles), well-acted, and took a nuanced look at hot-button current events while also focusing on interesting, complex, sympathetic characters.

Morning Coffee (2/27/16)

Happy Oscar weekend! There are going to be a flurry of posts as I cram in as many more movies as possible, and then early afternoon Sunday check back for my picks for each category.

ICYMI, yesterday's movie posts: Everything Will Be Okay and Day One.

Yesterday was quite a day and Vox had some fun with headlines while despairing about the actual content: Chris Christie endorses Donald Trump for president. Like, of the United States.

America's Trumpiest governor just endorsed Donald Trump

From Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau: Why Electing Hillary in ’16 Is More Important Than Electing Obama in ’08

Wow: Melissa Harris-Perry Walks Off Her MSNBC Show After Pre-emptions "I am not a token, mammy or little brown bobble head." Good for her. I don't watch any cable news shows regularly, but I'm familiar with her work and hers is an important voice to have in the conversation.

This is amazing. Imagine having your bachelor party crashed by Hillary Clinton. "'I love having men at my feet,' Clinton said, laughing, as Kinney and the men all took photos."

I read this and was shocked by how strongly I felt that of course code should count as speech, since it wasn't an issue I'd considered consciously before.

Interesting: A neurologist examines Ted Cruz's face.

Hey, my mom's in this! Pediatricians back new push to allow medical marijuana for some kids

Terrible: Illinois Republicans target single mothers and their babies: GOP bill would ban birth certificates, financial aid if father is not named

Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of llama/dress day, and this oral history was genuinely interesting and also made me wish Arpaio cared about people as much as animals.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Oscar Project 2016: Everything Will Be Okay

Movie: Everything Will Be Okay

This German short starts off as a family drama and turns into a thriller so gradually that it's completely horrifying and thoroughly compelling. The lead performances are great, especially young newcomer Julia Pointner, whose character's instinctive understanding of psychological complexity is what makes this all work emotionally and keeps the adult protagonist from just seeming like a monster. (Someone please cast Pointner and Jacob Tremblay in something where they get to play with puppies and eat ice cream all day. These kids deserve a break.)

Availability: Head this way to learn how/where to see the shorts.

Nominated in:

Short Film (Live Action): Yes. It was really great and packed so much plot and character development into a short time without ever feeling rushed or like it was doing too much.

Oscar Project 2016: Day One

Movie: Day One

Day One is an intense film about an interpreter working for the American Army in Afghanistan and her eventful first day on the job. It was well-made but just felt too pat to me - look how terrible war is! And it is, and that's important, but there are so many more questions that could have been examined especially in this specific context of Afghan-American women in the military and all the cultural complexities there, so I was disappointed that it didn't - probably didn't have time to - do much with those. (Also, the beginning reminded me of nothing so much as the China Beach pilot, which could have added nuance but came across as more just disjointed.) All that said, lead Layla Alizada gave a great performance, as did Jesse Luken in a quiet but important role.

Availability: Head this way to learn how/where to see the shorts.

Nominated in:

Short Film (Live Action): I'd say that Layla Alizada's performance was award-worthy, but I'm not convinced about the film as a whole.

Morning Coffee (2/26/16)

Happy Friday! ICYMI, yesterday's movie posts on three shorts: Ave Maria, We Can't Live without Cosmos, Shok

Awesome: Simon & Schuster Creates Imprint for Muslim-Themed Children’s Books

Also awesome: President Obama's nominee Carla Hayden would be the first African-American and first female Librarian of Congress.

I neither watch New Girl nor write comedy, and I've never been to L.A., but I loved Liz Meriwether's Why Hating L.A. Is Good for My Comedy so much that it made me consider doing at least one of those things.

If you haven't tried it yet, I highly recommend watching The People v. O.J. Simpson on FX, even if you don't tend to like Ryan Murphy's stuff (I don't) or aren't particularly interested in the case (I wasn't). It's SO so good and VERY timely in a lot of the questions about race and gender it deals with. And, honestly, the recaps on Go Fug Yourself alone would make it worth watching, especially for the perspective they give on what it felt like to live in L.A. during these events.

Related: I don't watch The Bachelor but I enjoy the Fug Girls' cultural observations and writing so much that I still loved their piece about a Bachelor bachelor auction, basically (and why didn't the event call it that??), and especially the way they tried to be a former contestant's get-a-grip friends.

I'm pretty excited about Pee-wee's Big Comeback.

I really want to see this Emily Dickinson movie.

I don't agree with all of these conclusions, but Pairing the Romantic Heroes of L.M. Montgomery and Jane Austen is fun right up until you start trying to decide whether Dean Priest or Wickham was worse and your brain breaks. (Dean Priest. He was worse. He was THE WORST.)

Lines From The Private World Of High Society So Startling I Read Them Aloud To My Grandmother This Weekend

It's been A WEEK. Let's all go to a library bar.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Oscar Project 2016: Shok

Movie: Shok

This short tragedy revolves around the friendship of two young boys during the war in Kosovo. It's extremely grim but has its moments of humor, and it's gripping and emotionally resonant. The young actors, especially, did a great job.

Availability: Head this way to learn how/where to see the shorts.

Nominated in:

Short Film (Live Action): This would be a fine choice. It's well-acted and tells a complete, moving, important story in a short run time.

Oscar Project 2016: We Can't Live without Cosmos

Movie: We Can't Live without Cosmos

This Russian animated film about two cosmonauts training together for years was funny and moving and had a charmingly simple animation style. But at the end it suddenly became magical realism, and there is really no better way to turn me off than to suddenly become magical realism - both in that it doesn't do much for me in general and that in this case I thought it undercut a lot of the meaningful emotional moments of the rest of the film.

Availability: Head this way to learn how/where to see the shorts.

Nominated in:

Short Film (Animated): Nah. The end really ruined it for me.

Oscar Project 2016: Ave Maria

Movie: Ave Maria

Believe it or not, this film about an Israeli Jewish settler family crashing (literally, with their car) into a silent Catholic convent in the West Bank is by far the lightest and funniest of this year's live shorts. It was entertaining but pretty superficial in what could have been a nuanced portrayal of how living in a place with such religious tensions affects daily life.

Availability: Head this way to learn how/where to see the shorts.

Nominated in:

Short Film (Live Action): Enh. It was fine and amusing but not up to the caliber of some of the others.

Morning Coffee (2/25/16)

ICYMI: I liked The Big Short.

Never let it be said that the President is not good at this game: Republican governor of Nevada Brian Sandoval being considered for Supreme Court

ALSO: HE GUEST POSTED ON SCOTUSBLOG. (Yesterday a friend and I mapped out a whole post-presidential guest blogging career. Let him drop in on sports blogs! Handle some Dear Prudence questions! Recap a political TV drama! PUT HIM ON THE SLATE GABFEST.)

This this this: Why I'm more worried about Marco Rubio than Donald Trump

"But the Republican Party did try to stop Trump. It just failed. And until the nature of that failure is appreciated, the strength of Trump's candidacy is going to be underestimated."

As someone who was too young/oblivious to follow the 1994 crime bill at the time, this piece was very helpful in understanding the discussions of it now.

Of all the ridiculous things happening in this campaign, Glenn Beck lying about carrying around George Washington's copy of Don Quixote is possibly the most hilarious. (Me: "Aside from everything else, do you think the Cruz campaign wants to be just INVITING people to think about the word 'quixotic'?" Friend: "Do you think they even know what that means?" Point.)

Trump is consulting with Giuliani because of course he is.

Oh for the love of - Georgetown Law Professors Say Students Are “Traumatized” by Criticisms of Scalia, Demand “Remedies”

Vice President Biden is presenting at the Oscars! (I'm not sure . . . why . . . but I am generally in favor of him doing WHATEVER HE WANTS.)

"What all of these scenes have in common, though, is a recognition that simply having characters shift away from the missionary position does not constitute insight."

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Oscar Project 2016: The Big Short

Movie: The Big Short

I mostly enjoyed The Big Short, and I thought it did a good job of making a complicated big economic issue interesting and explicable. I'm of two minds about the various gimmicks they used to get there, though. I thought they were distracting and took some of the power out of the story. But at the same time, I'm not sure there was another good way to explain the concepts that honestly needed to be explained. And when I said this to my dad, he said he thought the gimmicks were perfectly appropriate for a movie about fraud, which is . . . also a good point.

Availability: In some theaters, and also available for digital purchase or rental.

Nominated in:

Best Picture: It's not my choice, but I wouldn't be wildly upset if it won. It was interesting and ambitious and well-made and dealt with important issues.

Actor in a Supporting Role: Until a few days ago, I honestly thought Bale was nominated for Lead Actor. So. Huh. I thought he did a very good job here, staying just this side of caricature.

Directing: Sure. It had a very strong point of view and a lot going on and seemed well-directed.

Film Editing: Yes, some very interesting decisions there; clearly a lot of attention was paid to the editing. (I first typoed "intention", but that too, really - the choices felt very intentional.)

Writing (Adapted Screenplay): Yeah, okay, I wouldn't be upset. It turned a non-fiction book into a narrative that often felt like fiction (in a storytelling sense) while scrupulously pointing out when it strayed from facts. As I mentioned, I'm of mixed feelings about some of the narrative gimmicks it used, but they may have been the best way to make the whole thing work.

Morning Coffee (2/24/16)

ICYMI, yesterday's Oscar project posts: The Martian (YAY!), Prologue (meh), Bear Story (whoa). (I have a book review for you for February that I'm working on, but because of the avalanche of movie posts, I might hold it until early March, when I will not want to think about another movie for a while. So you'd get February's review in early March and March's review a few weeks later. Would that be okay, Patreon folks?)

So. Nevada happened. Brian Beutler, as usual, is worth reading on this: "Assuming the trend continues after Trump’s overwhelming victory in Nevada’s Republican caucuses, it’s both redundant and stunning to note that what’s happening in American politics right now is completely novel: An unwelcome insurgent is commandeering one of the country’s two major political parties, and its leaders are simply pretending it isn’t happening."

Also: "Republican operatives have told major donors it would require an eight-figure advertising campaign or campaigns to make any kind of dent in Trump’s surprisingly durable popularity. While many of the donors have privately voiced support for the cause, most have begged off writing big checks."

ALSO: "Nearly 20 percent of Mr. Trump’s voters disagreed with the freeing of slaves in Southern states after the Civil War."

And: Donald Trump on Protester: ‘I’d Like to Punch Him in the Face’ (Among many other things, I sincerely worry about Trump inspiring his supporters to lots of random violence against pretty much anyone they don't like.)

This is worrisome: More than half of Americans think Apple should comply with FBI, finds Pew survey

Considering everything else happening in the world, I guess this is ...good Don't buy the hype: Russia's military is much weaker than Putin wants us to think

This certainly is: The First Day of the New Supreme Court

Shocker: Hollywood Is a ‘Straight, White, Boys’ Club,’ Blistering Study Finds

And for a perspective on that: A Hollywood Agent Explains How Negotiations Work and Why Actresses Get Paid Less

Ava DuVernay is directing the Wrinkle in Time movie and I am SO excited.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Oscar Project 2016: Bear Story

Movie: Bear Story

A bear tells his life story through a mechanical diorama he shows to children (well, cubs) and it is completely charming and enthralling and heartbreaking. Seriously. The animation is gorgeous and intricate, too.

Availability: Head this way to learn how/where to see the shorts.

Nominated in:

Short Film (Animated): Yes. Interesting, imaginative animation and a complete, moving story.

Oscar Project 2016: Prologue

Movie: Prologue

This is a short (only 6 minutes) and dialogue-less short, about a young girl watching Athenian and Spartan warriors fighting in a field. It does some interesting things with the animation, but didn't make much of an impression on me in general; "war is terrible and scares little girls" is not a particularly interesting theme when it's no more detailed than that.

Availability: Head this way to learn how/where to see the shorts.

Nominated in:

Short Film (Animated): Nah. As I said, the art was interesting, but overall this was just not up to the caliber of the other nominees in the category.

Oscar Project 2016: The Martian

Movie: The Martian

As I said yesterday about Steve Jobs, I loved this because of course I loved this. Space! Math! Brilliant women! Government bureaucracies! An ensemble full of actors I like! Based on a novel I enjoyed! Moreover, this and Spotlight are the two movies this year that most strongly fall into my favorite genre of anything: smart, imperfect people working really hard together to do something important. And they're probably my top two movies in the Best Picture category, and I just made that connection as I was writing this. At least I'm predictable?

Availability: Back in some theaters! Available to rent or buy physically or digitally! It's pretty much everywhere!

Nominated in:

Best Picture: Sure. Technically ambitious, philosophically interesting, well-written, well-acted. And fun to watch, which certainly isn't a requirement but is sometimes a nice change.

Actor in a Leading Role: Sure. A movie that spends so much time with one character barely interacting with anyone else could easily get dreadfully boring, but Matt Damon pulled it off.

Production Design: Yes. THEY MADE MARS. And also lots of office and work spaces that helped give real flavor to the parts of the movie set on Earth.

Sound Editing: Sure. Spaceship sounds! Science sounds!

Sound Mixing: Yes. They walked a nice line between playing with the "no sound in space" idea - which adds to the general feelings of alienation - while still making sure we could hear what we needed to hear, and without making those transitions jarring.

Visual Effects: Yes. Again, THEY MADE MARS. And space travel and that rescue scene at the end that almost seems plausible. Which is saying a lot.

Writing (Adapted Screenplay): Yes. I really liked the novel, and I thought Drew Goddard did an admirable job of turning a somewhat idiosyncratic narrative (long diary entries about science, etc.) into a screenplay that retained the things that made the book interesting while also working as a movie on its own. (I did not like that one thing they added at the very end.)

Morning Coffee (2/23/16)

ICYMI, yesterday's Oscar Project posts: Mad Max: Fury Road, Steve Jobs, Sanjay's Super Team

I agree with Ezra Klein's worries about Sanders's management style: "My worry about Sanders, watching him in this campaign, is that he isn't very interested in learning the weak points in his ideas, that he hasn't surrounded himself with people who police the limits between what they wish were true and what the best evidence says is true, that he doesn't seek out counterarguments to his instincts, that he's attracted to strategies that align with his hopes for American politics rather than what we know about American politics. And these tendencies, if they persist, can turn good values into bad policies and an inspiring candidate into a bad president." (There were two other paragraphs I considered quoting instead, so really, go read the whole thing.)

If you're going to spread a false story about your boss's opponent at least make it a more believable one, geez.

FBI and Apple vie for public support in dispute over California shooter's iPhone

And: Apple, DOJ fight heads to Capitol Hill

An interesting look at the labor law involved in Kesha's case: Following Kesha's Court Decision, Is It Time To Reexamine The Seven-Year Contract Statute?

‘She Was Proving Hard to Control’: Some Background on Kesha's History With Dr. Luke

"Men in the music industry shouldn’t support Kesha out of some sort of chivalry. They should support her because exploitation and unfair business practices are issues that affect every performer, of whatever gender. But, somehow, women are the only ones expected to do anything about it."

The X-Files revival ended last night, and I agree with pretty much everything Zack Handlen says here both about how TERRIBLE that finale was and how I persist in wanting more episodes because they COULD be good. I WANT TO BELIEVE. (There are obviously spoilers at that link, but here's a great, non-spoilery line: "His dialogue sounds like it was a translated from the Greek by a person who speaks excellent German.")

In other X-Files news: We're getting YA books! I find it fascinating that Mulder's book is being written by a female author and Scully's by a male author.

The publication of Umberto Eco's final book has been pushed up a few months to capitalize on his death, and . . . my first thought was "Is it ready??" but it's a collection of previously-published essays, so maybe it is. And, frankly, this is better than whatever the fuck I'm expecting to happen regarding someone miraculously finding yet more unpublished stuff they're just sure Harper Lee would want out in the world making other people money.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Oscar Project 2016: Sanjay's Super Team

Movie: Sanjay's Super Team

This is an adorable Pixar short about a little boy whose superhero daydreams combine with his father's Hindu practices. It was delightful - beautiful art, real-seeming characters, fun little plot. Nothing earth-shaking - except maybe the fact that an Eastern religion was portrayed as normal and positive, thank goodness - but very nicely done.

Availability: Head this way to learn how/where to see the shorts.

Nominated in:

Short Film (Animated): It's not quite my first choice, but I really liked it and would be happy if something with such a positive representation of a non-Western religion won.

Oscar Project 2016: Steve Jobs

Movie: Steve Jobs

I knew going in that I was likely to love this movie, and I did, just as expected. One of my Twitter friends semi-jokingly asked "Who is the audience Steve Jobs?" and my answer was: Me. Me exactly. I love tech history. I love movies about smart people making things. I love difficult complicated geniuses. I love Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet and Jeff Daniels. And while I can recognize his (many) problems, Aaron Sorkin's writing somehow just hits my brain in a way virtually no one else's does; almost every line makes me so happy I want to cry.

Availability: Available to buy or rent on Blu-ray/DVD or digital download.

Nominated in:

Actor in a Leading Role: Yes. Fassbender was great here - not every actor can make Sorkin's dialogue seem natural, and he did a great job of showing Jobs's complexities and how he evolved (and didn't) over time.

Actress in a Supporting Role: I thought Winslet was good but . . . not quite convincing enough to win this category. Part of it was the accent - it just never seemed natural or even and I'd have preferred if they'd just left it out.

Oscar Project 2016: Mad Max: Fury Road

Movie: Mad Max: Fury Road

I haven't seen previous Mad Max movies and, to be honest, this was probably just not my kind of movie - as I mentioned in my post about The Revenant, I gravitate toward movies with a lot of dialogue and little action. I found this somewhat hard to follow, but I think the problem was more me than it. All that aside, I could recognize that this was extremely well done and I was of course delighted by its female hero, its depiction of sexism and focus on bringing down the patriarchy. (Jessica Valenti has a good overview of this aspect here.)

Availability: You can catch it on HBO or streaming on HBO Now or HBO Go, or buy or rent the DVD, Blu-ray, or download.

Nominated in:

Best Picture: Probably not, but that's more because there were other movies I thought were better than because I think this wouldn't deserve it, if that makes sense. But really, if a feminist action movie won Best Picture? I would not be complaining.

Cinematography: This was beautifully shot.

Costume Design: Sure. The costumes did a good job of helping construct this world and of establishing the social system.

Directing: Lots of movement and crowds and complex scenes that, well, mostly made sense, so I think the director gets some of the credit for that.

Film Editing: Yes. This was quite a feat, not least because they had almost 500 hours of footage. NPR interviewed the editor here and it's very interesting.

Makeup and Hairstyling: Yes. As with costumes, the makeup and hair went a long way toward establishing this world; they helped make it look both foreign and familiar, and cohesive.

Production Design: Maybe not my first choice, but sure. Making a world feel so different but so real and cohesive at the same time is impressive.

Sound Editing: Okay. Lots of complicated sounds.

Sound Mixing: Nah. Some levels seemed a bit off at times. Nothing egregious but enough that I noticed (and in some places couldn't hear things I think I was supposed to be hearing).

Visual Effects: Sure. They were impressive.

Morning Coffee (2/22/16)

Happy Monday and welcome to Oscar week! Just to warn you, we're in for LOTS OF MOVIE POSTS this week, and then as early as possible on Sunday (Oscar day), I'll post a final list of what I saw and my picks for each category. As of right now I've seen everything nominated in 17 of the 24 categories; I'm hoping to get that to at least 20. Sometime next week I'll post a little retrospective with some statistics and thoughts on what I got out of the project.

Me elsewhere! TV news for the week.

And! If you like The 100 - I guest co-hosted the awesome podcast The Ark 100 FM yesterday, so take a listen! I think I said at least 15 things that may alienate swathes of their audience. You're welcome, guys!

Why Michael Bloomberg Could Run for President and Win (Not that I necessarily want this to happen - though I'd certainly take him over any of the Republicans - but I started talking about this possibility a few days before every pundit in the world started talking about it, so if it happened I'd feel very smug.)

Republicans might end up wishing they had compromised with Obama over Scalia’s replacement

Taylor Swift gave Kesha $250,000 to help out, and while I get the "she should have spoken up publicly" thing it's also neat that she just... did that. I don't know. Since she didn't try to hide it or anything, it feels like it counts as publicly allying with Kesha while also helping in a practical sense. But sure, it would be great if she tweeted something, too.

Donald Trump reminds Republicans he can sink their party even if he loses the nomination

Scalia-Ginsburg friendship bridged opposing ideologies

Marcia Clark Is Redeemed (I finally started watching The People v. O.J. Simpson last night and it is so good and it was all I could do to go to bed before watching the car chase episode.)

Here is the trailer for the new Pete's Dragon movie. I have concerns.

"[Trees] can count, learn and remember; nurse sick neighbors; warn each other of danger by sending electrical signals across a fungal network known as the “Wood Wide Web”; and, for reasons unknown, keep the ancient stumps of long-felled companions alive for centuries by feeding them a sugar solution through their roots."

Todd VanDerWerff's review makes me really want to see The Witch, but I'm not sure I can handle it.

Related: Reasons I Would Not Have Been Burned As A Witch In The Early Modern Era No Matter What I Would Like To Believe About Myself And Would Have In Fact Been Among The Witch-Burners

Friday, February 19, 2016

Oscar Project 2016: Stutterer

Movie: Stutterer

Stutterer is the powerful story of a young man named Greenwood who has a bad stutter, told from his perspective (with voiceover of his interior monologue) as he goes through his daily life - going to work, hanging out with his dad, trying to call the cable company - and tries to psych himself up to meet in person his online girlfriend, who doesn't know about his stutter. It's extremely well-made, especially given that it was reportedly made for just £5000, and lead actor Matthew Needham is completely mesmerizing.

But I hated the ending so much that it pretty much ruined the whole thing for me, and I get madder about it the more I think about it. SPOILERS IN THE NEXT PARAGRAPH.

SPOILERS: At the very end of the film, it's revealed that Greenwood's love interest Ellie is deaf, so . . . everything's great because he can't speak to her anyway! Love wins! Sunshine and puppy dogs! I know Greenwood's other problems would persist, but having this AMAZING MIRACULOUS COINCIDENCE in his romantic life just served to cheapen and undermine for me all the work he put into getting to the point at which he could meet Ellie in person, and I found it maddening, especially because I liked the rest of it so much.

Availability: Head this way for info on how to watch the shorts.

Nominated in:

Short Film (Live Action): Ugh, most of it was SO GOOD, but . . . no. I just can't get over the issue described above enough to want this to win.

Morning Coffee (2/19/16)

Happy Friday! Sorry so late - I saw all the animated AND live action shorts last night and then got home completely wired and couldn't sleep until two, so I slept in this morning.

ICYMI: I liked The Hateful Eight more than I expected.

Since a few people have asked recently: If you'd like to help offset the cost of these Oscar posts, you can become a Patreon patron or, if you'd rather make a one-time donation for this project, you can do so through PayPal here.

Let's get your Friday off to a good start with Maggie Smith and Leonardo DiCaprio on the BAFTA Kiss Cam.

And this is the kind of longread you should save for Friday afternoon boredom: Bad Blood the Color of Rubies (It's about a JEWELRY DYNASTY FEUD. It's very dishy, and I want someone to write the novel about the women who end up marrying the central figures.)

It was so kind of Ryan Reynolds to imply that he and Josh Jackson totally made out in high school.

Meet the Most Powerful Woman in Hollywood

This is a really interesting profile of . . . Justin Bieber?!?!

My new goal in life is to make/inherit/marry into enough money to hire the folks at Heywood Hill to make me a library.

I love KonMari parodies: "Burn all your books. We will have a special book incineration ceremony in the town square this weekend followed by a tidiness parade. Please report your friends who do not attend."

Kate Spade is really speaking my language this fall.

One Man's Impossible Quest to Read - and Review - the World

I hope you're ready to really want a bagel.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Oscar Project 2016: The Hateful Eight

Movie: The Hateful Eight

So! This was my first Tarantino and I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. Well, I expected violence, and got that, and it wasn't particularly a selling point for me but I also didn't mind it. What I didn't expect was how often the movie would remind me of Laura Ingalls Wilder (running a line to the barn so you can feed the horses in the snow!) and Agatha Christie. My favorite element was definitely the locked room mystery aspect, and - slight spoilers! - I only sort of figured it out because at one point I remembered a name appearing in the opening credits and realized we hadn't seen that actor yet. Definitely enjoyable.

Availability: You may still be able to find it in a few theaters, but it's pretty much gone.

Nominated in:

Actress in a Supporting Role: I don't know. I thought Jennifer Jason Leigh did a perfectly fine job with what she was given, but I was a bit underwhelmed by the role in general.

Cinematography: Yes! THE SNOW. THE HORSES. YOU GUYS. This was just gorgeous, to the point where I was sitting there saying "This is just so gorgeous" to myself, kind of in disbelief.

Music (Original Score): Yes yes yes. Definitely my favorite score of the year, and it made me want to seek out movies just on the basis of having Ennio Morricone scores, which is . . . not usually the main part of my movie selection process.

Morning Coffee (2/18/16)

ICYMI: Yesterday's Oscar Project posts were on The Revenant and The Hunting Ground.

How Hillary Clinton Won Harlem

This is exciting: ABC has named the first (I'm pretty sure) African-American female network head, Channing Dungey.

I'm on Apple's side.

And an explainer in case you've missed this: Why Apple and the FBI are fighting over access to the San Bernardino shooter’s phone

Speaking of San Bernardino, the New Yorker has the best piece I've read on the shooters.

SB Nation Publishes, Deletes "Complete Failure" Of A Story About Convicted Rapist Cop Daniel Holtzclaw

This kind of process thing is always interesting: How the San Antonio Express-News Got the Scoop on Antonin Scalia’s Death (Confession: I had a thought process while reading this that started with "I'd watch something like..." and ended with me realizing I'd basically just reinvented Spotlight and/or The Newsroom. At least I'm consistent.)

WHOA: Met to Stage Its First Opera by a Woman Since 1903

New evidence: Easter Island civilization was not destroyed by war (JARED DIAMOND WAS WRONG. And yet this made me want to read Collapse, which I own and started on a vacation once but never finished.)

"Murdering people for inefficiency on the planet you control doesn’t really seem intersectional. -7"

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Oscar Project 2016: The Revenant

Movie: The Revenant

I just looked through my notes for each category here, and almost all of them pretty much say "Not my first choice, but fine, I guess" - and that's pretty much how I feel about the movie as a whole. It was fine! It was good! I didn't love it! I'm also probably not the target audience here: I prefer my movies to have way more talking and less Toughing Out The Wilderness. I'll give it this: It was not as boring as I kind of expected. High praise, I know!

Availability: In theaters.

Nominated in:

Best Picture: Nah. It was good but I just didn't think it was up to the level of several other Best Picture nominees this year. Once you get past the "he's out there stranded in the snow!" stuff, I just didn't feel like there was a lot of there there.

Actor in a Leading Role: Oh, fine, whatever. No, okay: various feelings here. First of all, I think the whole meme about Leo DESERVING an Oscar is ridiculous; tons of better actors haven't won them. (Alan Rickman was never nominated! Alan Rickman was never nominated.) Leo is a good actor; Leo has been a far better actor in other roles than this one. I know he actually froze and starved OMG or whatever, but this just felt very one-note to me. But it sounds like everyone thinks he will win and I've mostly come to terms with that I guess.

Actor in a Supporting Role: Um. Tom Hardy was fine? I have nothing bad to say about him here. But there are definitely stronger nominees in this category.

Cinematography: So - weird thing. I spent much of this movie thinking "THIS CINEMATOGRAPHY IS SO DISAPPOINTING. THESE VISTAS SHOULD BE BREATHTAKING. EVERYTHING LOOKS SO FLAT." So I'd say no, it does not deserve an award. But! I have talked to several people who thought it was breathtaking! So I'm almost wondering if it was a technical issue with my theater or something. (My other theory is that the snow scenery in The Hateful Eight was SO good that this seemed flat by comparison.)

Costume Design: Eh. Objectively I can recognize that putting together all those rags and bits of fur was difficult, but it just wasn't that interesting to me.

Directing: Sure. The setting and various technical difficulties certainly provided a challenge, and everything felt very precise and intentional in a way I think speaks well of the directing.

Film Editing: I was able to follow the battle and other action sequences, so clearly this was edited well. (I'm joking but also not. I'm not generally bothered by fight scenes but I do tend to have trouble following exactly what's going on.)

Makeup and Hairstyling: Sure. Making everyone look that grimy is a feat.

Production Design: I guess? Because of my personal tastes, I always want to give this to people who create very specific, elaborate historical settings, which . . . I guess this is, in a different way. So, not my first choice, but not an undeserved nomination.

Sound Editing: Okay. Lots of sounds! Bears! Weather! Rivers! Battles!

Sound Mixing: The various wilderness noises seemed to be at realistic levels vis-a-vis the dialogue and other sounds, without ever making anything too hard to hear, so sure.

Visual Effects: The bear! And, um, other things. Enh? I don't think it's not deserved but there were other movies with much more impressive and complicated effects.

Oscar Project 2016: The Hunting Ground

Movie: The Hunting Ground

First: Campus rape is obviously a very real, very important problem that deserves attention and research and action. And I have nothing but admiration for the young women in this movie who have the courage to tell their stories and to help others. But I was disappointed to find that the movie presented as objective fact things that were unsubstantiated, and especially that it relied so much on the highly questionable work of David Lisak. (You can read more about these issues here.) Misrepresenting the problem, especially regarding Lisak's serial rapist theory, helps no one.

Availability: On DVD and Blu-Ray, or available to download to rent or own.

Nominated in:

Music (Original Song): Nah. You can listen to "Til It Happens to You" here. I know there's been some controversy over whether Lady Gaga deserved her writing credit, but regardless, I just don't think it's a very good song.

Morning Coffee (2/17/16)

ICYMI: I liked The Danish Girl.

This "simple" chart of the war in Syria shows it's actually mind-bogglingly complicated

This is a fascinating look at the interplay between censorship and self-censorship and reasonable business decisions in Russian publishing.

Scalia Was Almost Never The Most Conservative Justice On The Supreme Court

Why nutty conspiracy theories on Antonin Scalia's death are already surfacing

And of course Trump is encouraging this.

Ha: Rand Paul: It’s A ‘Conflict Of Interest’ For Obama To Nominate A Supreme Court Justice

Emily Bazelon is always worth reading on legal matters: How to Bring the Supreme Court Back Down to Earth

What’s Really Behind Why Women Earn Less Than Men?

The Onion but also completely true: Female Presidential Candidate Who Was United States Senator, Secretary Of State Told To Be More Inspiring

"'The beach is named for the stranding of a whale in the 1800s but a whale cannot possess a beach,' reads a Municipal Design Committee memo on the subject."

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Oscar Project 2016: The Danish Girl

Movie: The Danish Girl

This story of Danish artist and transgender pioneer Lili Elbe was heartbreaking and heartwarming, emotionally complex and very well made. I don't know a lot about the real lives of Lili and Gerda, other than what I gleaned from Wikipedia after watching, so I'm speaking of the movie on its own merits and not as a historical document - which is not something I think it intends to be, anyway. I think it did a good job of making the story feel universal and relatable while still showing how new and shocking and groundbreaking Lili's transition was in her time.

Availability: Still in a few theaters.

Nominated in:

Actor in a Leading Role: I know there's been a lot of discussion about whether cisgender actors should keep getting cast as and awarded for playing transgender characters, and there are a lot of good and complicated questions there. Putting that aside for a moment, though, I thought Eddie Redmayne did quite a good job, and I'm not sure he's my first choice but I wouldn't be sad if he won.

Actress in a Supporting Role: Yes, Alicia Vikander was great here - her Gerda was fascinating and compelling without pulling too much attention away from Einar/Lili, and she successfully gave the character an incredible range of emotions.

Costume Design: Absolutely. The costumes were gorgeous and elaborate and, since the artist characters paid a lot of attention to the visual they were presenting to the world, the costumes did a significant amount of work toward establishing the characters and their frames of mind at any given time. They also grounded the movie in the place and time and culture.

Production Design: Sure. I'm always inclined to give this to rich, detailed historical settings, and they did a very good job with this one.

Morning Coffee (2/16/16)

Replacing Antonin Scalia will be a profound test of the American political system

Democrats and Republicans are both making misleading arguments about Justice Scalia's replacement

Clinton: "We have a president, he was elected, he has the right to nominate another Supreme Court justice."

"Alluding to one progressive analyst’s criticism of the Sanders agenda as 'puppies and rainbows,' Mr. Goolsbee said that after his and others’ further study, 'they’ve evolved into magic flying puppies with winning Lotto tickets tied to their collars.'"

Why Do Young People Have Such Visceral Dislike for Hillary?

Why Hillary Clinton Can’t Seem to Win Over Young Women

The Flint water crisis, explained

Fascinating: The Unfavored Daughter: When Margaret Chase Smith Ran in the New Hampshire Primary

A Polygamist Cult's Last Stand: The Rise and Fall of Warren Jeffs

The Onion: Obama Compiles Shortlist Of Gay, Transsexual Abortion Doctors To Replace Scalia