Leave No Trace (2018)

Leave no Trace

There is no trace of any falseness in this father/daughter relationship.

With only a few minutes before the start of Leave No Trace, the only thing I knew about the film was that it starred Ben Foster. Then I realized it was directed by Debra Granik, who made my favorite movie of 2010, Winter’s Bone. This got me excited and eager to watch her newest flick, and I am happy to say it did not let me down at all.

I will leave very little room for what happens, because it is one of those great films that you need to see with little knowledge going into. Therefore, I will just give the basics. Will (Ben Foster) is living on his own with his teenage daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) after returning from military service and suffering from PTSD. The best way to cope for Will is to be as far away from culture as possible, with the exception of his daughter.

Like great film artists, Granik paints with the finest of brushes for characters. Events happen, and they are introduced to people in the world but father and daughter don’t react the same way. The same can also be said for the look of the film, which is luscious to say the least (it had me thinking if any other film had used natural light with negative results, which is not the case here).

Something else about the film I truly enjoyed was the rating of PG. I don’t recall any swearing, but the most is the thematic elements and some thematic material (involving injuries that are bad but not gruesomely so). A friend of mine took his preteen daughter, who I hear is now obsessed with survival skills.

The only two movies I know for sure I have seen Ben Foster in for sure was 3:10 to Yuma (2007) and Hell or High Water (2017). In both films, he was the character we loved to hate on. That is far from the current case. He gives us a damaged guy beyond repair, with only his daughter to possibly help fight his personal demons.

This brings us to Thomasin McKenzie. It is admittedly hard to say how great her performance is, only since I have yet to see her in anything else. It is far easier to say how affective her performance is. We see a character arc in Tom that is so relatable we can almost touch it.  She may not get awards consideration, but Granik did direct Jennifer Lawrence to an Oscar nod in Winter’s Bone. So if anything, it will surely launch her career.

This is one of the year’s very best films.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)

Can you ever forgive me

Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) does what she can to survive.

I made a startling realization about half way thru Can You Ever Forgive Me?: It was the first time I had seen Melissa McCarthy on the big screen (I would later find out the only other film I had seen her in was 2010’s abysmal  Life as We know it, which I don’t remember her being in. I take it she would be thankful for me for that.)

Oh, I have seen plenty of her clips online from movies like Bridesmaids (which she got an Oscar nomination for) as well as her skits on Saturday Night Live, so I knew enough going into this film that this would be a change of pace for her. Change of pace is a gross understatement. The fact that her Lee Israel swears a lot is really the only thing even close to resembling Melissa McCarthy. The performance is nothing short of revolutionary, and will surely be in the Oscar conversations for the next couple months.

Based on a true story, Israel is a struggling writer living in New York in the early 1990s, whose books have been all but forgotten. Her biography on Fanny Brice is a dead end, there are an abundance of flies in her apartment, and her cat is sick. Her agent Marjorie (Jane Curtin) invites Lee to her party, and we see right away people skills are not in Lee’s skill set.

By accident, Lee comes across the letter of a famous writer, and realizes she can do well at impersonating them as she writes fake letters, later selling them to collectors. The only person she informs her plan to is her homosexual writer friend Jack Hock (an equally great performance by Richard E. Grant), who is not the best drug dealer out there. The chemistry between Grant and McCarthy is near magic.

The rest of the supporting cast is spot  on (including Ben Falcone, real life husband of McCarthy), but the unsung heroes in my mind are screenwriters Jeff Whitty and Nicole Holofcener. The dialogue is as near perfect as it can be. They deserve Oscar consideration right along Grant and McCarthy.

Parents, the R rating is justified, as there is a lot of swearing that I would think no middle schooler has heard before in context (at least I hope not). There is no sex in the movie, but we do see some rear male nudity. High School and above.

The title of the film comes from a letter from author Dorothy Parker, one of the many authors that Lee Israel tried to impersonate. In a way, it is also fitting to some of the roles Melissa McCarthy has had throughout the years (I know, I never saw them, but I can only speculate from what I have heard). It may have taken some time, but after her performance here, I can safely say I can forgive her.

 

Overall: Four and a Half Stars **** 1/2

A Star is Born (2018)

A Star is Born

Jack (Bradley Cooper) shows Ally (Lady Gaga) what she has to offer the world of music.

There are many nods that Bradley Cooper makes in his directorial debut towards the former versions of A Star is Born. I won’t list them, for doing so would be stupid and rob you of the fun of finding out yourself. Even if Cooper did not make these “easter eggs”, his version of A Star is Born stands alone as a triumph, and certainly one of the best directorial debuts of the 21st century.

The original was made in 1937 with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March in the leads (the only one that was not a musical). The next (and the only other one I have seen as of this writing) was in 1954 with Judy Garland and James Mason (Garland’s loss at the Oscars that year to Grace Kelly is one still questioned to this day, and once you witness her, it is not hard to see why). Later in 1976, it was Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. Now, it is Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. Though the times are different, the premise is the same: a down on his luck star who is about to fade out finds a newcomer who he wishes to take under his wing, and they fall in love.

Like Garland and Streisand before her, Gaga clearly has pipes, and anyone with a single brain cell would say the same. She has even acted in minor parts before (she started as an extra on The Sopranos), but this is clearly her star making (how poetic) role as an actor. We know from the past that this is the same woman who has performed in extravagant (to say the least) costumes and settings, but it is (aside from one or two scenes) not visible in her performance as Ally. In short, she has totally made a serious statement for being an Oscar favorite in the next few months.

Speaking of Oscar contenders, there is veteran actor Sam Elliot as Bobby, who is Jack’s (Bradley Cooper) older brother. Not his dad, but older brother. I admit that seemed a little questionable at first, but there is no doubt in the acting that we can firmly believe these are two (half) siblings who have been through the mud and dirt over a dozen times and still can talk to each other. Elliot is nothing short of stellar.

Parents, in no way is this for kids. There is plenty of swears, some sexual content and partial nudity. High School and above.

You may have noticed by now I have not mentioned much about Bradley Cooper, mainly because I am still in awe of what he has done. For his first time as a director, he was not swinging for the fences so much as the parking lot. Clearly it is one of his very best performances, as is the case with the rest of the cast, mainly due to the fact that everything in the film feels completely authentic. Consider the small moments we have with Ally’s dad Lorenzo (Andrew Dice Clay) or his friend George (Dave Chappelle, yeah, you heard right). We are so involved in the world of Jack and Ally that we don’t think for one second about film making.

One of the key moments of the film is when Jack is telling Ally that, in order to make it, she needs more than talent. What she also needs is a message to tell the world. Cooper has always had talent. Now we are hearing his message.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

My predictions of the 90th Academy Awards (2018)

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#Metoo has been what Hollywood was known for in 2017 more than any film title. People went so far as to making sure that all the presenters at the SAG awards were all female (which I thought was too much).

I mention this because that is what is still at the forefront of everyone’s minds, and what may be the key indicator of certain categories at this year’s Academy Awards.

That, and talent, of course.

 

And the Oscar will (probably) go to…

 

Best Picture

 

Best Picture

 

It has become a two-way race between The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The former is my favorite (as well as my second favorite of 2017), but I am going with the latter. The Shape of Water does have more nominations (it was a technical marvel), but I think the Academy will go with the top-notch acting, smartly written, and daring power of Three Billboards.

 

Will win: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Could win/Should Win: The Shape of Water

 

Best Actor

Best Actor

There is no way, in any shape or form, I can see anyone beating Gary Oldman. His turn in Darkest Hour is the easiest win of the night. Not even legend Daniel Day-Lewis in his last role (which I still hope is not true) has a chance. Also, kudos to young Timothee Chalamet from Call me by your name.

 

Will win: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Could win: Timothee Chalamet, Call me by your name (again, won’t happen)

Should win: Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread

 

Best Actress

Actress

It says something when Meryl Streep (The Post) is the least likely to win. In any other year, these woman would have won easily, but it is far too competitive. The one who has emerged is Frances McDormand for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The only possible upsets would be Saoirse Ronan for Lady Bird, or Sally Hawkins for The Shape of Water. Still, like the character she plays, I would not mess with McDormand.

 

Will win: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Could win: Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird

Should win: Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water

 

Best Supporting Actor

Best

 

All talented men, but Sam Rockwell of Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri has become the frontrunner. This is one of the few categories where I agree with the Academy. Rockwell had one of the best character growth arcs I saw last year. However, if he splits the votes with his co-star Woody Harrelson, it could possibly go to Willem Dafoe for The Florida Project (who was the backbone of that film).

Will win/Should win: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Could win: Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project

 

Best Supporting Actress

BSA

An upset could still possibly occur in the form of Laurie Metcalf for Lady Bird, but it is still a safe bet to call Allison Janney will be winning her first Oscar as I, Tonya ‘s mom from hell.

 

Will win/Should win: Allison Janney, I, Tonya

Could Win: Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird

 

Best Director

Director

If you win the DGA award, it is very hard to not win the Oscar. So expect the winner to be Guillermo Del Toro for The Shape of Water.

 

Will win/Should win: Guillermo Del Toro, The Shape of Water

Could win: Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk 

 

Best Original Screenplay

Best

Easily one of the toughest categories, nearly any one of these films can win. However, since Martin McDonagh did not get a best director nomination, I am pulling for him to win for writing Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Will win: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Could Win: Get Out

Should win: Lady Bird

 

Best Adapted ScreenplayBest

Despite three past nominations for Best Director, expect the 89-year-old James Ivory to finally win for his work on Call me by your name.

Will win: Call me by your name

Could win: Mudbound

Should win: Logan

 

Best Cinematography

Cinematography

Kudos to Rachel Morrison for becoming the first woman nominated in this catagory. Still, with his 14th nomination, can we please just give an Oscar to legendary Roger Deakins for his work on Blade Runner 2049? It has been far too long.

Will win/Should win: Blade Runner 2049

Could win: Mudbound

 

Best Costume Design

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Will win: Phantom Thread

Could win: The Shape the Water

 

Best Film Editing

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Another close one, but I am having a gut feeling the action packed (and underrated) Baby Driver will win.

Will win/Should win: Baby Driver

Could win: Dunkirk

 

Best Sound Editing

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Will win: Dunkirk

Could win: The Shape of Water

 

Best Sound Mixing

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Will win: Dunkirk

Could win: The Shape of Water

 

Best Original Score

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One of the central parts of The Shape of Water was the score, which is why it will win.

Will win: The Shape of Water

Could win/Should win: Phantom Thread

 

Best Original Song

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Another close call, but I am going with “Remember Me” from Coco. While the songs were the only universal praise for The Greatest Showman, it was near impossible to not cry during the scene between Miguel and his great grandma.

Will win/Should win: Coco “Remember Me”

Could win: The Great Showman “This is Me”

 

Best Make-Up/Hairstyling

Make up

Despite great make up on a fantastic young actor (Jacob Tremblay) in Wonder, expect the winner to go to make up on another fantastic actor (Gary Oldman) for Darkest Hour.

Will win/Should win: Darkest Hour

Could win: Wonder

 

Best Production Design

 

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Will win/Should win: The Shape of Water

Could win: Blade Runner 2049

 

Best Animated Feature

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It is not wise to mess with Disney/Pixar.

Will win/Should win: Coco

Could win: The Breadwinner

 

Best Foreign Language Film

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Will win: A Fantastic Woman

Could win: The Square

 

Best Documentary Feature

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Will win/Should win: Faces Places

Could win: Icarus

 

Best Documentary Short Subject

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Will win: Edith + Eddie

Could win: Heroin(e)

 

Best Animated Short

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Kobe as an Oscar winner? It could happen, and should.

Will win: Dear Basketball

Could win: Lou

Best Live Action Short

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Due to the terrible recent school shooting in Florida, expect the Academy to award Dekalb Elementary, which revolves around a similar situation.

Will win: Dekalb Elementary

 

Best Visual Effects

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Will win: Blade Runner 2049

Could win: War for the Planet of the Apes

 

And the Oscar Nominees (and my thoughts) are…(2017)

oscars-2017

In years past, the president of the Academy would be accompanied by some known movie star and announce the list of the nominees to the movie going public. This year, it was streamed live with interviews with past Oscar winners and nominees such as Jennifer Hudson, Ken Watanabe, Gabourey Sidibe (I forgot she had comic chops), and Jason Reitman. It was a nice change of pace.

Here are the nominees (and my thoughts)…

Best Picture

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

 

Thoughts: I wish a tenth spot would open up for Silence, but overall, nothing too surprising here.

 

Best Director

  • Damien Chazelle, La La Land
  • Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge
  • Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
  • Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
  • Denis Villeneuve, Arrival

 

Thoughts: Again, no love for Scorsese on his work for Silence, but each of the nominees were no surprise to me. Sad though there was no room for Denzel Washington for Fences.

 

Best Actor

  • Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
  • Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
  • Ryan Gosling, La La Land
  • Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
  • Denzel Washington, Fences

 

Thoughts: No surprise, as these were the five heavy hitters (sorry Tom Hanks. Tough year.)

 

Best Actress

  • Isabelle Huppert, Elle
  • Ruth Negga, Loving
  • Natalie Portman, Jackie
  • Emma Stone, La La Land
  • Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

 

Thoughts: Here was the category that surprised me. As of now, I have only seen two of the nominees (Jackie and La La Land). Huppert’s surprise win at the Globes probably helped her here, as did Streep’s speech at the Globes (and the obvious fact that she is Meryl Streep). Still, the biggest surprise is Ruth Negga, who was probably the reason there is no nominations for Annette Benning (20th Century Women) or (more shockingly) Amy Adams (Arrival).

 

Best Supporting Actor

  • Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
  • Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
  • Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
  • Dev Patel, Lion
  • Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

 

Thoughts: Despite a Golden Globe win in this category, Michael Shannon’s co-star, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, did not get a nomination. I was very happy though for Lucas Hedges, who did spellbinding work in Manchester by the Sea. This one may be a tight race.

 

Best Supporting Actress

  • Viola Davis, Fences
  • Naomie Harris, Moonlight
  • Nicole Kidman, Lion
  • Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
  • Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

 

Thoughts: No surprise, and the main category I can predict right here and now. This is a clear win for Viola Davis.

 

Best Animated Feature

  • Kubo and the Two Strings
  • Moana
  • My Life as a Zucchini
  • The Red Turtle
  • Zootopia

 

Thoughts: Either Zucchini or The Red Turtle would explain why Finding Dory was not on here, which did not surprise me at all.

 

Best Cinematography

  • Arrival
  • La La Land
  • Lion
  • Moonlight
  • Silence

 

Thoughts: Nice to see Silence recognized for at least one category.

 

Best Costume Design

  • Allied
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  • Florence Foster Jenkins
  • Jackie
  • La La Land

 

 

Best Documentary

  • Fire at Sea
  • I am Not Your Negro
  • Life, Animated
  • O.J.: Made in America
  • 13th

 

Thoughts: I am very happy that Life, Animated was recognized, though I have heard nothing but praise for O.J. (the movie, not, you know, the player).

Best Documentary Short Subject

  • Extremis
  • 4.1 Miles
  • Joe’s Violin
  • Watani: My Homeland
  • The White Helmets

 

Best Film Editing

  • Arrival
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • Hell or High Water
  • La La Land
  • Moonlight

 

Best Make Up and Hairstyling

  • A Man Called Ove
  • Star Trek Beyond
  • Suicide Squad

 

Best Original Score

  • Jackie, Mica Levi
  • La La Land, Justin Hurwitz
  • Lion, Volker Bertelmann and Dustin O’Halloran
  • Moonlight, Nicholas Britell
  • Passengers, Thomas Newman

 

Best Original Song

  • “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”, La La Land
  • “Can’t Stop the Feeling”, Trolls
  • “City of Stars”, La La Land
  • “The Empty Chair”,  Jim: The James Foley Story
  • “How Far I’ll Go”, Moana

 

Best Foreign Language Film

  • Land of Mine, Denmark
  • A Man Called Ove, Sweden
  • The Salesman, Iran
  • Tanna, Australia
  • Toni Erdmann, Germany

 

Best Production Design

  • Arrival
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  • Hail, Caesar!
  • La La Land
  • Passengers

 

Best Animated Short Film

  • Blind Vaysha
  • Borrowed Time
  • Pear Cider and Cigareets
  • Pearl
  • Piper

 

Best Live Action, Short Subject

  • Ennemis Interieurs
  • La Femme et le TGV
  • Silent Nights
  • Sing
  • Timecode

 

Best Sound Editing

  • Arrival
  • Deepwater Horizon
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • La La Land
  • Sully

 

Best Sound Mixing

  • Arrival
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • La La Land
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  • 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

 

Thoughts: Yes, a Michael Bay movie is nominated for an Oscar.

 

Best Visual Effects

  • Deepwater Horizon
  • Doctor Strange
  • The Jungle Book
  • Kubo and the Two Strings
  • Roge One: A Star Wars Story

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • Arrival, Eric Heisserer
  • Fences, August Wilson
  • Hidden Figures, Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi
  • Moonlight, Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney
  • Lion, Luke Davies

 

Best Original Screenplay

  • Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan
  • La La Land, Damien Chazelle
  • The Lobster, Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou
  • Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan
  • 20th Century Women, Mike Mills

 

Congrats are in order to La La Land for tying All about Eve (1950) and Titanic (1997) with 14 nominations. More importantly, congratulations are needed for the Academy for no longer having to hear about “Oscars so white”.

The 89th Academy Awards will take place on February 26th, 2017. Jimmy Kimmell will be hosting.

My predictions will be announced in the weeks to come.