Our Best Picture Quest Begins Anew

As we have done almost every year since 2012, Candice and I are on a quest to see as many of the “Best Picture” nominees as possible prior to the Academy Awards show on March 4th.  Last year we were on a roll…and then life intervened, and we only saw four of the nine nominees.  This year we’ll have to get them all in this month, as Candice will be otherwise occupied with hip replacement surgery on March 1st.  So to get ahead of the game, we saw four pictures in four nights last weekend (and into Monday).

Film Reel

Our wonderful American Film Institute Silver Theatre here in Silver Spring has been showing five of the Best Picture nominees, so it was easy to go two blocks and drop in for a movie.  All four that we’ve seen were excellent, each in its own way.  Here’s our initial take (from two highly unqualified movie critics).

We both loved The Post, as much for what it says about the importance of a free press as for the quality of the film, although that was very high.  It moves along at a quick pace, the ensemble acting is very good, and Meryl Streep is terrific as Katherine Graham. This is also a love letter to old-style newspaper production.  (The views of the presses at work are worth the price of the film.) You should go see this one to remind yourself why democracy matters, and how easy it can be to lose it (as if you don’t already know that in 2018).

The very next night we saw Phantom Thread, which is a luscious film for the senses.  Daniel Day-Lewis is incredible — as always — as the designer whose desire for order and perfection runs into love after he meets a waitress who refuses to fit into his mold.  The pace is as slow as The Post’s is quick, but that’s okay.  This won’t win the Best Picture award, but it is a movie worth seeing.  We both enjoyed it a great deal.

For our third movie, we took in Lady Bird, the coming-of-age movie that introduced us to Saoirse Ronan in the title role where she is a deserving nominee for Best Actress.  As with many such movies, it can be difficult to watch at times as teenagers move through those difficult years.  The views of Sacramento throughout the film helped you move, along with Lady Bird, from thinking of the town as the “Midwest of California” to the point at the end of the film where every turn is magical.  Again, I don’t think this will win the award, but we enjoyed the movie (as did our Claire).

Finally, we saw a film that I believe could very much be in the running to get the award:  The Shape of WaterThis story from the Cold War era and how the mute janitor Elisa (played with power by Sally Hawkins) finds out about the top secret project in her lab, kept us entranced throughout.  Octavia Spencer — from last year’s wonderful Hidden Figures — is a joy any time she is on the screen.  We didn’t know what to expect going into this film, and halfway through, we still weren’t sure where it was headed, but in the end it was very satisfying.

So there are our first four.  We’re going to try to catch three or more over the upcoming holiday weekend, so keep reading (and watching).  As always, comments on your favorites are always welcome.

More to come…

DJB

Quest for the Best (Picture): The Best-Laid Plans Edition

Film ReelWell, Candice and I were on a roll to get to all nine Best Picture nominees prior to Sunday night’s Academy Awards show.  But then two sold-out theatres (when we tried to see Fences and Lion), trips to Tennessee (both of us) and Florida (Candice), a board meeting, and a very bad head cold (the last two are mine) intervened.

So the four I ranked on February 18th are the only ones we’ll see prior to the awards show.  I’m sorry we did not see the other five nominees, and especially Fences and Arrival.  This was an especially rich year for Best Picture nominees.

Of the four that we saw, the odds-on favorite to win the Oscar is La La Land.  It is a delightful movie, but compared to the other three we saw, it is a lightweight.  What most reviewers note is that the voters love nothing better than to award good films about making films.

In reflecting on the other three – Hidden Figures, Manchester by the Sea, and Moonlight – I think they all would be worthy Best Picture winners.  Moonlight and Manchester are the better films from the standpoint of the craft of film-making.  Hidden Figures is such a good story for our times.  My heart is with Hidden Figures, but if I were voting, I would go in the following order:

  1. Moonlight
  2. Manchester by the Sea
  3. Hidden Figures
  4. La La Land

Well, let’s see what the Academy does on Sunday.

More to come…

DJB

Quest for the Best (Picture) – Part 3

Film ReelEarlier this week Candice and I saw the fourth of this year’s Best Picture nominees.  Manchester by the Sea is both a tragic story and a well-crated, artful movie.  It is very much a deserving nominee for the Oscar for Best Picture of the year.

The script is the first star here, in that the movie tells a story full of flashbacks and dreams that let the story unfold at a pace that is never rushed yet seems appropriately paced.  Lee Chandler – played masterfully by Casey Affleck – returns to his hometown after his brother Joe dies of heart failure.  He quickly learns that Joe has made him the guardian of his 16-year-old son, Patrick, played by Lucas Hedges.  The relationship of Lee and Patrick could normally be seen as sharing a common grief – if from different perspectives – but as the movie unfolds it becomes clearer that Lee’s grief is much deeper and longer, and is sparked by a return to a town he had to leave in order to live.

There is a great deal to unpack in this movie.  First of all, it takes the viewer seriously.  This movie looks at the lingering – perhaps never-ending – affects of unspeakable tragedy, and accepts that neatly tied bows are for sit-coms, not life.  However, there is also a good bit of humor in this movie.  One reviewer noted that Lee and Patrick – for all the awkwardness in their relationship – make a great comedy team.  There were numerous times when our audience was laughing out loud – appropriately – at the short comments that punctuate the dialogue.  Heck, just watching Lee learn of – and then try and negotiate – Patrick’s two simultaneous romantic relationships is a mini-comedy in and of itself.

As Candice and I drove home from seeing Manchester-by-the-Sea, we commented on the Irish-Catholic overlay to this movie.  In reflection, part of the tragedy of the story is the loss of exceptionalism felt by the white male.  That the prerogatives of the white male exists can easily be seen in Lee’s ordeal at the Manchester police station.  This line of thinking is developed more fully in A.O. Scott’s review of the movie for the New York Times, and this element helps make the movie relevant in this day and age.

Manchester-by-the-Sea is a tragic story, but a movie well worth seeing.

So now with the fourth movie under our belt, here’s my (always changing) ranking:

1A.  Hidden Figures

1B.  Manchester-by-the-Sea

3.  Moonlight

4.  La La Land

We are hoping to catch a couple more before Candice heads out of town…and I’ll be left to my own devices to watch what’s left.

In any event, this is shaping up to be a great group of Best Picture nominees.

More to come…

DJB

Quest for the Best Picture (2016), Part 2

Film ReelAfter this weekend, Candice and I are one-third of the way towards our annual goal of viewing all the “Best Picture” Oscar nominees.  We’ve seen three very different films, but all terrific in their own way.

Last weekend we saw Hidden Figures, a wonderful movie with an inspiring story just right for our times.  On Friday we again walked up to AFI Silver Theater, this time to see Moonlight.

This coming of age film was both difficult and yet ultimately very satisfying. I was initially uncomfortable, because I was disoriented by the context.  The story of a young, gay, African American male learning about who he is through the bullying, teasing, and uncertainty was one I could understand. However, the setting – amidst the poverty, racism, and drug culture of Miami – was not familiar.  Once I sorted that out in my mind, I saw the strong qualities of this movie on multiple levels.

The acting is superb, beginning with Mahershala Ali as Juan, the drug dealer who befriends the main character, Chiron, and Naomie Harris as Chiron’s mother Paula. It was also nice to be introduced to Janelle Monáe in the first two films we saw the week, in Moonlight as Teresa and as Mary in Hidden Figures.

Moonlight is a well-crafted film on several levels, and is worth a view.

On Sunday, we decided to go in a different direction and took in La La Land at the nearby Bethesda Row Cinemas.  This film has much to recommend it.  The music is infectious.  The acting – especially Emma Stone – is superb.  The opening musical sequence is incredible – and worth the price of admission.  Do I think it is the year’s best movie?  No.  Do I think it is worth your time?  Absolutely.

So my first ranking looks like this:

  1.  Hidden Figures
  2. Moonlight
  3. La La Land

Two and three are actually interchangeable, and they might change as I see more.  But I think the time is just right, and perhaps even critical, for Hidden Figures.

We have some more to see, so check back!

More to come…

DJB

Quest for the Best (Picture) Returns

Film ReelAfter skipping a year, Candice and I are back and enthusiastic about choosing this year’s Best Picture winner for the Oscars.

We started this annual review of the top picture nominees from two highly unqualified movie critics around 2012, and did our last round in 2015.  Sometimes in year’s past, we weren’t interested in seeing up to a third of the nominees due to violence or other graphic content (I’m looking at you Quentin Tarantino).  But in reviewing the trailers for this year’s class, we’re excited about all of them.  We have a month…so let’s go!

Today, we walked up to AFI Silver to see Hidden Figures – a marvelous movie that we both highly recommend.  A colleague at work told me she had seen it three times already!  The story is compelling (especially since it is true) and the ensemble acting is superb.  Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan was especially compelling, but all three female leads were terrific from my perspective.

Get yourself to see this movie.  Oh, and bring your hanky.  Even though you know how the basic story ends, this is still a well-crafted tale that will probably spring some tears from those tear ducts.

We’ve set a high bar right out of the box.  I’ll post again after we get a couple more under our belt.

More to come…

DJB

We Believe You

Lady Gaga at the Oscars

Andrew with Lady Gaga and other survivors of sexual assault on the stage of the Oscars (photo credit: Patrick T. Fallon for The New York Times)

These past two weeks have been emotional ones for our family.

It began when Andrew called us while on his way home from a singing gig about 10 days ago.  He had been asked to be on stage at the Academy Awards in Los Angeles with Lady Gaga as she sang her Oscar-nominated song “‘Till It Happens to You” from the film The Hunting Ground

A survivor of a sexual assault while a freshman in college, Andrew’s story was included in the film and in media such as the Huffington Post. Andrew has bravely stepped forward over the past few years to talk about his experience and to help others with similar experiences.  And now, he had a chance to stand with other survivors on the national stage. 

Fast forward to late last week.  Andrew had flown to LA and spent the first night with a family friend before connecting with his sister Claire (who was back in her apartment after a multi-day retreat).  We spoke with him on Friday evening and could tell by the tone of his voice that he and the other participants were part of an incredibly important healing experience. Andrew indicated that social media posts about the upcoming performance were forbidden by the producers, so when we mentioned Andrew’s journey discretely to a few friends, we always added the caveat that they couldn’t tell anyone until after Sunday evening.  We heard from him again on Saturday, after the dress rehearsal.  Our anticipation grew. And then Sunday evening we turned on the Oscars to wait for the performance.

As she entered on the red carpet, Lady Gaga mentioned that 1 in 5 young women would be sexually assaulted by the time they graduated from college.  For young men, the number is 1 in 16.  Those odds took our breath away.  However, it turns out that when we’ve talked to friends and colleagues, the percentage that have been sexually assaulted or have a family member who has been assaulted is frighteningly high. It breaks your heart.

Shortly after 11 p.m. on the east coast, Vice President Joe Biden came onstage at the Dolby Theater. We had not heard that the VP was introducing Lady Gaga’s performance, but found out later that he was the author of the Violence Against Women Act in 1994, with a long history of advocacy on issues of sexual assault.  He urged the audience to join in a crusade against sexual assault by joining the “It’s On Us” campaign.

Andrew with the VP

Andrew with Vice President Joe Biden following the Oscars

Then Lady Gaga began “‘Til It Happens to You,” pouring her pain as a survivor into the emotional performance.  Halfway through the song, Andrew and 50 other survivors emerged from the background and came to surround Gaga’s piano – each supporting the other.  The survivors had phrases written on their arms – Andrew’s was the title of this post:  “We Believe You.”

Andrew and Lady Gaga

Andrew with Lady Gaga at the Oscars

Andrew and Candice’s Facebook pages quickly filled with comments.  Almost 700 friends liked his photos and posts about the evening. To take it from here, I’m turning to Andrew’s own words.  First, from Facebook:

Yesterday was the most important moment of my healing since September 5, 2011. I’m so humbled by the openness, resilience, and radical love we have shared over three days. Thank you to Lady Gaga for her beautiful soul and breathtaking performance (she gifted the song, as did Diane Warren!). An incredible thanks to Vice President Biden and all of the passionate, deeply empathetic work he has done through the decades on empowering survivors, most notably as the original author of the Violence Against Women Act. And thank you to our fifty-one survivors, my great friends in heart and soul. I could never have had the strength without all of you. We are love, we believe you, and you are not alone.

When he returned home, a classmate from St. Albans School arranged for Andrew to speak to AOL about his experience. He described how Lady Gaga gathered the survivors together for a heartfelt prayer before heading on stage, as recounted by the AOL reporter:

“She just sort of said: ‘To the creator — whoever whatever created the universe — thank you for bringing us here, for giving us this story to tell and this message to give.’ And then after the prayer she said, ‘Gonna go out there and sing the shit out of it!’ ” Andrew Brown, a survivor featured in the performance and in “The Hunting Ground,” told AOL.

But his perspective on the weekend has remained the same as when he was included in The Hunting Ground or featured in national media such as The Huffington Post:

A weekend with Lady Gaga. Hugs from Brie Larson and Kate Winslet. Handshake from Jason Segel. Conversation with Joe Biden. Well wishes from Jared Leto, Leo DiCaprio, Alicia Vikander, Whoopi Goldberg, and Chris Rock. Truly a blessing.

But I would still give it all back. That’s always been true.

Candice and I would give anything to have kept Andrew from having to go through all the hell that he has experienced as a result of the assault. But we don’t have that option. So we love him unconditionally (as we always have). We support him the best we know how. We are proud of how he has taken an awful experience and turned it to good for others. And we marvel at his personal love and resilience.

“We Believe You” means so much more to us than just we think your story is true.  In every way possible, it means we love and support Andrew – and his wonderful sister who carried this news with Andrew well before his mother and I learned of the trauma.

Thank you, Andrew.  Thank you, Lady Gaga.  Thank you, Joe Biden. Thank you to the 50 other survivors on the stage.  We need you more than ever.

More to come…

DJB