What I Watched This Week: 29 Jan 2017

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “Making Dennis Reynolds a Murderer” (B+)
Another deft media parody, this time chronicling the vague murder mysteries that captured the nation’s attention by revealing precisely nothing.

Angels in America (A-)
One of those ultra-ambitious projects that’s so daunting you can’t help but be in awe of the magnitude of the thing, while still having to acknowledge that not all of it works. The acting is tremendous, the writing is melodramatic, the special effects are questionable, but it’s brilliant.

The Man in the High Castle – Season 2 (B+)
More narratively messy but more thematically satisfying than Season 1, as it tackles fate, betrayal, accepting one terrible reality to avoid a more devastating one, and if you’re rooting for terrorists or not.

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Netflix Picks: February 2017

Brazilian Western – 2/27
A festival favorite that could have easily been lost to time, this is great – if bleak – revenge thriller that ignites the screen.

American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson – 2/2
The best narrative TV show of 2016 is finally here if somehow you haven’t seen this fascinating look at the biggest trial of the 20th Century. Prepare to be wowed by Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark, Sterling K. Brown as Chris Darden and Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran as the attorneys on both sides of the case that would decide the fate of O.J. Simpson.

Daniel Sosa: Sosafado – 2/3
Imperial Dreams – 2/3
Santa Clarita Diet (Season 1) – 2/3
Michael Bolton’s Big Sexy Valentine’s Day Special – 2/7
David Brent: Life on the Road – 2/10
Stronger Than the World – 2/11
Girlfriend’s Day – 2/14
Katherine Ryan: In Trouble – 2/14
Project mc2 (Part 4) – 2/14
White Nights – 2/14
Chef’s Table (Season 3) – 2/17
Dragons: Race to the Edge (Season 4) – 2/17
The Seven Deadly Sins (Season 2) – 2/17
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore – 2/24
Legend Quest (Season 1) – 2/24
Ultimate Beastmaster (Season 1) – 2/24
Ultimate Beastmaster Mexico (Season 1) – 2/24
VeggieTales in the City (Season 1) – 2/24
Mike Birbiglia: Thank God for Jokes – 2/28

Frequency (Season 1) – 2/2
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Season 2) – 2/11
Girl Meets World (Season 3) – 2/19
When Calls the Heart (Season 3) – 2/19

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What I Watched This Week: 22 Jan 2017

Saturday Night Live – “Aziz Ansari/Big Sean” (A-)
While no sketches will be considered all-timers, this is one of the most remarkably consistent episodes of SNL that I can remember. Absolutely no dud sketches, a terrific monologue and at least two solid pre-filmed segments that always help. I hope Aziz comes back as often as some of the other frequent hosts of late.

This Is Us – “Three Sentences” (B)
While I’m not sure the temptation of another interested heavy-set guy is what I wanted from Kate’s storyline, the rest is working like gangbusters, particularly with Kevin finally showing some emotional depth.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “Wolf Cola: A Public Relations Nightmare” (B+)
Frank’s confusion of Boko Haram with Boca Raton joins the pantheon of great sitcom misunderstandings. The whole show is solid, as Frank, Dee & Dennis satirize the 24-hour news cycle and Charlie & Mac sell their horrific protein shake to actual UFC fighters.

Bright Lights: Starring Debbie Reynolds & Carrie Fisher (A-)
A beautiful, messy documentary on the (unaware) last days of two Hollywood icons, presenting their unvarnished relationship in all its highs and lows. It’s not a complete picture, but it’s beautiful snapshot of a mother and daughter who clung to each other after decades of driving each other apart.

This Is Us – “The Big Day” (B)
A somewhat redundant but lovable episode that doesn’t time-shift at all, focusing solely on the intense emotions of the tangentially related family members of 1980.

Happy Endings – “Four Weddings and a Funeral (Minus Three Weddings and a Funeral)” (A)
This Season Two finale is easily in the top 10 wedding episodes of all time, and would have served as a solid series finale had it not been renewed for one final, glorious season. This might be a new tradition, to watch this before every wedding I go to. “I may have hung up my cone bra and headset a long time ago, but that mole still fits.”

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Reactionary Tale: Oscar Nominations 2017

Biggest Snubs (in order from most to least egregious)
1. Arrival – Actress
Arrival really could not have done better among this year’s nominees. It had the highest gross of any Best Picture nominee, and its director Denis Villeneuve got his first nomination. Add in a slew of technical nods (most well-deserved for its gorgeous cinematography and production design) and it might end up earning the most awards after La La Land. But how did Amy Adams miss out? I know this was a surprisingly strong year for lead actresses, but Adams is a five-time nominee who completely carries a Best Picture nominee. Her absence makes absolutely no sense. But then again, neither did 2016.

2. 20th Century Women – Actress
This was always an uphill battle, but it hurts the most. A four-time nominee, this was her best role to date. But she was a victim of overcrowding. Yet it’s almost fitting for a movie about a woman who doesn’t quite get her due in life.

3. Christine – Actress
This was never going to happen, but to me this was the best lead actress performance of 2016. With a bigger studio pushing it, she might have sneaked in. After all, it is a performance filled with blood, sweat and tears about a real-life tragic figure. But it was not meant to be, and so Rebecca Hall goes unheralded for another year.

4. Silence – Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay
I won’t beat around the bush: Silence is a tough hang. But it’s a masterfully crafted, deeply personal film that we’ll all be talking about for much longer than most of these nominees. I’d have given it much more attention than the Academy gave it, and you’ll look back in years and wonder why they didn’t.

5. Sing Street – Original Song
Guys. I know La La Land is the big musical. But c’mon, none of the other songs nominated are nearly as good and energetic as “Drive It Like You Stole It.”

6. Tower and Weiner – Documentary Feature
Another victim of overcrowding, there just happened to be an abundance of stellar documentaries, many of them dealing with race relations. That meant school shooting doc Tower and political disaster Weiner found themselves on the outside.

7. Hail, Caesar! – Costume Design, Original Screenplay
While it did get nominated for its gorgeous Production Design, it absolutely deserved another craft nod for its stellar costumes. And, as usual, the Coen Brothers write dialogue better than just about anyone, I’d say it probably should have gotten a slot for original screenplay. Somehow, they’ve only been nominated in that category for Best Picture nominees (Fargo and A Serious Man; plus Bridge of Spies, which doesn’t really feel like a Coen Brothers movie).

8. 10 Cloverfield Lane – Supporting Actor
John Goodman should have been nominated over Alan Arkin for Argo. I’ll defend that forever. And he should have been nominated here as well, if the Academy didn’t have such a genre bias. He’s terrifying and memorable, just like winner Kathy Bates was in Misery.

9. Certain Women – Supporting Actress
With Certain Women being writer-director Kelly Reichardt’s first movie to pass $1 million, there was no way Lily Gladstone was going to get nominated this year. But I’m still trying to find a performance that touched me as deeply as her major debut.

10. Sausage Party – Original Song, Animated Feature
I guess South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut getting nominated for “Blame Canada” was a total fluke, as joke songs have rarely been nominated since (except for winner “Man or Muppet,” which still has that torch song vibe). But “The Great Beyond” has the award-winning pedigree, but the obscenity of the movie kept it away from the apparent dandies in both the song and animated feature categories.

Pleasant Surprises (in no particular order)
Kubo and the Two Strings nominated for Visual Effects
For the first time since The Nightmare Before Christmas, an animated movie is nominated in this category. And given its painstaking craft, this is absolutely deserved.

Jackie nominated for Original Score and Costume Design
Natalie Portman was a lock, but nothing else was, especially its challenging score by Mica Levi. Its costumes were outstanding, too.

Suicide Squad nominated for Make-up and Hairstyling
Make no mistake: Suicide Squad is a giant pile of garbage. But its make-up – from the prosthetic effects on Killer Croc to the paleface make-up and colorful hair of the Joker and Harley Quinn – this is the one award-worthy aspect of one of the year’s worst movies.

Silence nominated for Cinematography
It won’t win, but I’ll be rooting for it. Rodrigo Prieto frames every scene exactly it as it needs to play out, plus that instantly iconic shot of Andrew Garfield seeing Christ’s reflection in the water.

20th Century Women nominated for Original Screenplay
I went out on a limb to predict this, and I’m glad I did. Mike Mills’ script would get my vote (at least since Moonlight was officially ruled an adaptation). But it’s not going to happen, so this nomination – the film’s only one – is reward enough.

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What I Watched This Week: 15 Jan 2017

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “Old Lady House: A Situation Comedy” (A)
A brilliant deconstruction of multi-cam sitcoms and the type of network interference Sunny has been lucky to avoid by virtue of being on a a cable network. I forget just how funny the actresses who play Charlie and Mac’s moms are.

The Good Place
“Mindy St. Clair” (A)
“Michael’s Gambit” (A) / season finale
A rug-pulling (season? series?) finale that upends everything about the extremely detailed rules of the show. If this is all we get, this will go down as one of the all-time great one-season wonders, alongside Police Squad! and Freaks and Geeks. A true original that will be studied years from now. Even if we get another season, I’ll still marvel at these 13 episodes.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “The Gang Goes to a Water Park” (B+)
Typical gang shenanigans, executed terrifically. Dennis’s heart almost grew three sizes during his time with a pre-teen scammer he takes under his wing. Plus, Frank tells everyone he has AIDS to skip the lines, then ends up bleeding in the wave pool. Disgustingly funny times.

This Is Us – “The Right Thing to Do” (B+)
Despite a groan-inducing fake-out at the beginning, this is the show in its groove: never astonishing, but quietly challenging in how it depicts normal people in difficult situations actually making the right call.

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Final Oscar Picks 2017

Just like 2016 was a year of unease, I am not very uneasy about these picks. Several of these picks haven’t picked up the precursor nods that would typically foretell a sure-fire Oscar nomination. This is likely to be a down year for the Oscars, as none of the Best Picture nominees will have crossed $100 million at the box office at the time the nominees are unveiled (though several will have by the time the awards are handed out). Does that mean they’ll do something insane like nominating Deadpool in one or more categories? Not bloody likely, but last year found several unprecedented winners, and that could extend to this year as well. One thing is for sure: There will be no #OscarsSoWhite controversy this year, as nearly every acting category will have at least one nominee of color.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land
Hacksaw Ridge
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea

Dark Horse: Hell or High Water
Long Shot: Jackie
Total Shock: Sing Street

The skinny: The hardest part – as usual – with a variable number of Best Picture nominees is knowing exactly how many there will be. I know four locks: Hidden Figures, La La Land, Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight. Beyond that? They’re just guesses, but educated guesses: a solid combo of modest box office hits and awards darlings (not that they’ve won any… this is La La Land vs. Moonlight all the way). The only thing I’m going out on a limb for is Silence, and that’s probably just my own praise blinding me. But consider this: It’s a passion project, its fanbase is small but vocal and Martin Scorsese has had five of his last six movies nominated for Best Picture, and he himself has been nominated for directing those same five movies. So maybe it’s naïveté, but I think his long-gestating adaptation about missionaries in Japan gets in by the thinnest of margins. It’s better to have a small group of very enthusiastic fans, than a large group of people that have your film farther down their ballots, which is why against all odds I think Hell or High Water doesn’t make it. What’s more surprising is how little of an impact Jackie is making, especially considering how powerful Fox Searchlight used to be. This stuff used to be catnip to voters, whereas my catnip is kids singing New Wave songs.

Damien Chazelle and Emma Stone of La La Land
Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Garth Davis, Lion
Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Martin Scorsese, Silence

Dark Horse: Denis Villeneuve, Arrival
Long Shot: Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge
Total Shock: Ezra Edelman, O.J.: Made in America

The skinny: In what I believe is a first, all five Directors Guild Award nominees are first-timers, including the somewhat surprising inclusion of Garth Davis. I would be shocked if a similar event happens at the Oscars, so I’m keeping Scorsese here. Though it would be just as likely to see first-timer Denis Villeneuve (especially if Arrival gets the number of nominations I’m predicting) or previous winner Mel Gibson for his old-fashioned war epic if Scorsese doesn’t make it. What would be an even more impressive first? Ezra Edelman becoming the first documentary director to be honored in this category.

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

Dark Horse: Michael Keaton, The Founder
Long Shot: Joel Edgerton, Loving
Total Shock: Colin Farrell, The Lobster

The skinny: Honestly, I don’t see much movement in this category at all. It’s possible Garfield ends up nominated for Silence instead, or in a sad turn of events, splitting the difference and not getting nominated at all. It would be anyone’s guess as to who would replace him, since Keaton (and fellow older actor killing it lately Tom Hanks) haven’t gotten the nods you would expect for playing real-life people. If Loving hadn’t fallen off most folks’ radar, I’d have put him higher, but only Ruth Negga seems to have a chance of being honored for that important film.

Emma Stone in La La Land
Amy Adams, Arrival
Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Natalie Portman, Jackie
Emma Stone, La La Land
Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

Dark Horse: Annette Bening, 20th Century Women
Long Shot: Ruth Negga, Loving
Total Shock: Rebecca Hall, Christine

The skinny: For the first time in a while, this is the stacked category, with at least 10 women doing great work who could be nominated. As much as I love Meryl Streep, I’d much rather see Annette Bening honored for her career best work in 20th Century Women, but what do you expect the Academy to do? Isabelle Huppert might not make it if voters are repulsed by Elle, but European actresses in otherwise unloved movies (Charlotte Rampling, Marion Cotillard) have found their way here in recent years.

Jaden Piner and Mahershala Ali in Moonlight
Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel, Lion
Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Nocturnal Animals

Dark Horse: Hugh Grant, Florence Foster Jenkins
Long Shot: Issey Ogata, Silence
Total Shock: John Goodman, 10 Cloverfield Lane

The skinny: Let us now apologize for not taking Aaron Taylor-Johnson seriously before. After a Golden Globe win and BAFTA nomination, his insane performance in Nocturnal Animals is looking like the real deal. So that probably leaves Hugh Grant on the outside looking in. (Though if Florence Foster Jenkins gets nominated for Best Picture somehow, all bets are off.) Also, I have a nagging suspicion that Issey Ogata ends up being the only major nomination for Silence, but I’ve been way off on things like that before.

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

Dark Horse: Greta Gerwig, 20th Century Women
Long Shot: Helen Mirren, Eye in the Sky
Total Shock: Lily Gladstone, Certain Women

The skinny: You can go ahead and put these five ladies down in ink. There will not be any other names called that morning.

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What I Watched This Week: 8 Jan 2017

The Good Place – “What’s My Motivation?” (B+)
Has a lot of plot to churn through since there are only two more episodes, but it deepens Jason’s character in a way I didn’t think was possible. It also really upends the world of the show and gives it a lot of new possibilities for a (hopeful) second season.

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2016 in Review: Box Office Report

SURE-FIRE HITS – The Kings of the Box Office (All Disney Edition)
Finding Dory ($486.2 million)
*Rogue One ($408.2 million)
Captain America: Civil War ($408 million)
The Jungle Book ($364 million)

SURPRISE SUCCESSES – They got there through word-of-mouth or succeeded where others failed
The Secret Life of Pets ($368.2 million)
Deadpool ($363 million)
Central Intelligence ($127.4 million)
Sully ($124.9 million)

CONSOLATION PRIZES – Didn’t do so hot here, but made up for it overseas
Kung Fu Panda 3 ($143.5 million) – $377.6 million outside North America
Ice Age: Collision Course ($64 million) – $343.6 million outside North America
Warcraft ($47.2 million) – $386.3 million outside North America
The Mermaid ($3.2 million) – $550.5 million outside North America

DISAPPOINTMENTS – Movies that should have done better
Jason Bourne ($162.1 million) – previous film made $227.4 million
Star Trek Beyond ($158.8 million) – previous film made $228.7 million
X-Men: Apocalypse ($155.4 million) – previous film made $234.3 million
Neighbors 2 ($55.3 million) – previous film made $150.1 million

FLOPPIEST FLOPS – These cost a lot and didn’t come close to returning their investment
Alice Through the Looking Glass ($77 million) – cost $170 million, made less than previous film made in its opening weekend
The Divergent Series: Allegiant ($66.1 million) – budget not reported, but underperformed so much that Lionsgate is making the fourth film a TV movie
The BFG ($55.4 million) – cost $140 million, Steven Spielberg’s lowest-grossing movie since 2005’s Munich
The Huntsman: Winter’s War ($48 million) – cost $115 million, made less than previous film made in its opening weekend

LOW BUDGET VICTORIES – Low-cost, high-yield successes
Bad Moms ($113.2 million) – cost $20 million
Sausage Party ($97.6 million) – cost $19 million
Don’t Breathe ($89.2 million) – cost $9.9 million
Lights Out ($67.2 million) – cost $4.9 million

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping made less than Nine Lives, Bad Santa 2 and a few comedies that never played in more than 1,000 theaters.

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2016 in Review: The Best Performances – Film

As I mentioned in a similar post for the year’s best TV performances, I have forgotten about honoring the best acting in film. This post should remedy that. I decided to take the Golden Globes approach and honor musical or comedy performances as well. After all, they deserve mention too. I also took a page from the Screen Actors Guild and made mention of the year’s best ensemble cast too.

Best Ensemble Cast

The cast of Moonlight
The cast of Moonlight
With three separate actors playing Chiron at different ages and levels of uncertainty, this would already be a strong contender. Add in the three separate actors playing Kevin, Janelle Monae as Chiron’s surrogate mother, Mahershala Ali as his mentor and Naomie Harris as his drug-addicted mom, and you’ve got a cast for the ages. And considering that, aside from Ali and Harris (and André Holland), much of the cast is new to acting in film, well that just makes it all that much more beautiful.

Best Actor in a Drama

Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea
Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
If we judge solely on the basis of answering the question “Who gave the best performance in this category?” there is no question Casey Affleck deserves it. Of course things get more complicated if we must consider a person’s past indiscretions. But if we aren’t allowed to reward art by artists who aren’t good people, there would be very little art to even reward. Affleck does so much with a character who says so little, whose shuffle through this life is pained in every gesture. I didn’t love Manchester by the Sea as much as a lot of critics, but there’s no denying how powerful it is, and much of that rests on the shoulders of Affleck’s performance, his best yet.

Best Actress in a Drama

Rebecca Hall in Christine
Rebecca Hall – Christine
Rebecca Hall has toiled away in supporting roles for more than a decade now, but she truly shines in the first lead role worthy of her talent. As Christine Chubbuck, the reporter who shot herself live on TV in 1974, she draws us in close, only letting her mental illness slip out in little tidbits, until it overtakes her. If there was justice in the awards world, she would be the frontrunner for the Oscar.

Best Supporting Actor in a Drama

John Goodman in 10 Cloverfield Lane
John Goodman – 10 Cloverfield Lane
John Goodman has been so good for so long, he’s easy to take for granted. And he’s often such a gentle presence, it’s easy to forget how terrifying he can be. 10 Cloverfield Lane lets him play both sides of that coin in one of the most memorable performances of the year. It’s his best role since Barton Fink.

Best Supporting Actress in a Drama

Lily Gladstone in Certain Women
Lily Gladstone – Certain Women
Certain Women
is two-thirds of a great movie. (That middle section with Michelle Williams is the most boredom I’ve felt in a theater all year.) Its best moments come in its final story, about a young attorney (Kristen Stewart) traveling out of her way to teach an adult education class to locals who would much rather pepper her with questions than learn about the law. Gladstone plays the ranch hand who stumbles into her class and falls head over heels – or at least as deep as her stoicism will let her. It also heralds the arrival of a major new talent, one who will hopefully pop up in even better films in the next few years.

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2016 in Review: The Best + Worst Films

Thanks to my membership in GALECA, I got to see a lot more movies than I ever have before in my years as a critic. There were lots of hidden gems (Blue Jay) and pleasant surprises (Swiss Army Man), but when the big movies flopped, they flopped hard (looking at you, Suicide Squad). That’s probably why so many dubbed 2016 a “bad year.” That’s a total lie, especially compared to real cinematic droughts like 2005. So with so much beauty in a very ugly year, here are my top 10 films of the year, along with 25 honorable mentions.

Annette Bening and Lucas Jade Zumann in 20th Century Women
10. 20th Century Women (dir. Mike Mills)
Mike Mills’ long-awaited follow-up to Beginners is a quasi-tribute to his mother. Annette Bening is quietly astonishing as Dorothea, the 55-year-old single mother trying to raise a teenage son (Lucas Jade Zumann) amid the death of punk, changing social mores and what President Jimmy Carter calls “a crisis of confidence.” One of the rare movies that could have been longer, 20th Century Women is beautiful, flaws and all.

Two re-enactors in Tower
9. Tower (dir. Keith Maitland)
Breathtaking in its innovation and humanity, Tower re-tells the tragedy of Aug. 1, 1966 and barely even mentions the name Charles Whitman. Instead, director Keith Maitland assembles his first- and second-hand accounts to ensure we focus on the heroes and the fallen of that day, and not the troubled ex-Marine responsible for the worst mass shooting in the U.S. until 2016, which also tragically saw campus carry laws go into effect in Texas on the very anniversary of the horrific murders.

The cast of Sing Street
8. Sing Street (dir. John Carney)
Pure, unfiltered John Carney. While Once could have drowned in its misery and Begin Again was too excitable to keep its story tight, Sing Street strikes exactly the right tonal balance. Plus, the songs are even better. This is nostalgia done properly.

Temple Baker, Blake Jenner and Quinton Johnson in Everybody Wants Some
7. Everybody Wants Some (dir. Richard Linklater)
The year’s ultimate hangout movie. While not as profound as Boyhood, pitch-perfect as Bernie or bone-deep as the Before trilogy, this is as relaxed as can be, which is a nice change of pace. Saved from being too bro-y by a game cast and characters that (occasionally) have more on their minds than baseball and ladies, this movie eschews most if not all college comedy clichés.

The cast of Captain America: Civil War
6. Captain America: Civil War (dirs. Joe & Anthony Russo)
Miles ahead of where DC is, and not just because they had a major head start, Civil War grapples with the cost of being a superhero, and whether the collateral damage is justifiable in protecting the planet (and soon, the galaxy). It also asks a pressing question that we may be asking ourselves sooner rather than later: How much can you trust a government that has continually proven itself to have nefarious intent? Did I also mention it has the best action set-pieces of the year?

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