Thursday, February 2, 2017

Oscar Quest 2017 is Cancelled

When I first saw the slate for this year, I was a bit worried about finishing all the films. I decided that, even with my vacation, if I cut a few categories, I could make a strong push at it.

Unfortunately, two things have happened since then in addition to the fuller vacation schedule than anticipated. Perhaps the biggest blockade is that the failing graphics chip on my laptop seems to crash much more frequently in warm weather, and thus, outside of late nights and early mornings, my computer has a tendency to crash every few minutes. It has crashed nearly a dozen times writing this article (often a few times in a row). Secondly, en route to Mexico, the TSA took one of my bags aside for a "HAZMAT threat," and by the time I received it, everything valuable had been stolen including, most pertinently, my hard drive with all nominated films.

Thanks for tuning in, but I'm signing off to enjoy myself without so much tethering me.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Oscar Quest 2017

Like every year, I swear to myself I am going to watch more film and be better prepared than the last year, but come nominee announcement time, I've only ever watched a few. To be fair, I spent my time in film in December catching up on Academy Award nominated films that I never got around to in 2013 and 2014. Mostly they've been documentaries, and that's my most viewed category (at all of two) headed into this year. There are forty-seven films, and I have thirty-two days with a seven film head start. I am going to be out of country during almost this entire project, though, so that presents a two-fold challenge. Firstly, I will likely be able to access far fewer films. Secondly, I don't want to spend a vacation to Mexico inside a theater. I am almost certainly going to cut the original song category which, unfortunately, only saves me two films this year. Expect this year to be less formidable than my past couple of years, but hopefully, I can still get through a fair amount and have fun with it. Primarily, though, I'm on vacation, so we'll see.

Sunday, February 28, 2016


Today's the day! The Academy Awards will be presented starting at 8:30, but, of course, there is the fashion pre-show that is more important to many. My second mom knows all the fashion, and I know all the movies. As is becoming tradition, I'm going to go hang out with her so we can let each other know what's going on. If you're not up to the Oscars, black movie directors (who were all snubbed) are hosting a fundraiser in Flint! It's almost the same thing!

So that I have a handy reference sheet, and so that you can more easily make fun of me, here is a list with my picks in every category. Let the wrongness commence!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Best Picture

I know what you want to be doing on a Saturday night is to read this blog. You're all anxiously waiting at your social media accounts with bated breath waiting for me to post, refreshing obsessively. Well, wait no longer. Here's the big reveal! I might actually keep this article rather short [ed: lol] since I have written so extensively about these films already. Good gravy, I might have two thousand words on just The Revenant. That's basically an eight page paper, which is as long as anything I wrote in college. Speaking of, I finally deleted all my college papers about a month ago since I haven't looked at them since. Of course, today I really want to know how long my longest college paper actually was but cannot. It was about social views on sexual and gender variance in pre-Meiji era Japanese literature. Some things never change. Oh, right. This is a film blog. We can revisit that when there's a film adaptation of The Changelings. No. Not The Changeling. No. Not ChangelingTorikaebaya Monogatari.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Documentary Feature Film

Foreign film isn't happening. At least not before the Oscars air. I'm probably not even getting to snubs. Blame my dating life and my inability to learn how to use an alarm clock.

Documentary (Feature):

  • Amy
  • Cartel Land
  • Senyap (The Look of Silence)
  • What Happened, Miss Simone?
  • Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Animated Feature Film

I'm at the point where I'm finishing movies the day I write their articles. As soon as I finish this, I'm off to watch The Look of Silence and hopefully get documentary written up tonight. There is the barest of chances I might yet get to Foreign Film, but I'm very strongly thinking of watching Concussion, Chi-Raq, and Beasts of No Nation to write about snubs and, particularly, to throw my, admittedly white, voice in on #OscarsSoWhite. Only time will tell.

Animated Feature Film:
  • Anomalisa
  • O Menino e o Mundo (Boy & the World)
  • Inside Out
  • Shaun the Sheep Movie
  • When Marnie Was There

I am continually amazed at how far stop-motion animation has come, particularly with Laika and their run of films (Coraline, ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls). Instead of Laika's whimsy, Anomalisa occupies an uncanny valley of set design that is so almost real it's disturbing as it makes a very adult-focused animated film. Where Charlie Kaufman previously let us all be John Malkovich, he inverts this gaze and instead of the multitudes occupying one man, one person now occupies the multitudes. I had originally thought Kaufman was trying to write a film on face-blindness and his idea of how difficult that may make human interaction when no one is distinguishable from anyone else. Instead, though, it becomes incredibly clear that this is a fantastically produced take on the Fregoli delusion wherein everyone else is just an iteration on the same person. Kaufman has written several fantastic screenplays, but Anomalisa doesn't hold a candle to his previous work. It goes so far as to bludgeon you with its theme, explicitly telling you exactly what it is about. Originally conceived as a stage production, I have to think that it simply doesn't translate to film. 

Gorgeously animated, Boy & the World looks as though someone took The Very Hungry Caterpillar's art style and reimagined it in paint, crayon, and collage and then animated it. Set to an alternatingly despairing, terrifying, and effulgent soundtrack, Boy & the World explores the imposition upon Brazilian culture and destruction of her people by imperialistic Western industrialism as seen through the eyes of an orphan trying to find his father. By using printed collage for modern goods and advertisements, AlĂȘ Abreu directly equates them with bland overproduction and reimagines them later as collage trash. This garbage litters the countryside literally turning the nation into a landfill to which the local workforce is displaced when their textile factory is mechanized. A proud, colorful, joyous populace is distilled through the eyes of a child, and by the end of Boy & the World, it and he are reduced to drab colors living out their lives and fighting amongst each other for survival in the waste byproduct of their colonizers. As though the allegory may be too dense*, toward the end of the film, Abreu literally burns the animation to show a countryside in flames and workforce ravaged by industrialism. As much a call out as Seuss' The Lorax, Boy & the World entrusts the hope for preserving the previous generations' achievements and culture into the hands of Brazil's children.

There are a million and one articles praising Inside considers it for "Pixar's best movie" while The Telegraph calls it "the best children's film." And then there's Amy Poehler calling it "the best movie ever made." After watching it, I certainly can't fault them for gushing over it. It is, however, likely an incredibly Amerocentric view, but perhaps they just never saw a single Studio Ghibli film. The best things about Inside Out are definitely all to do with the screenplay, so, seriously, go read that. The animation was typical Pixar - gorgeous, fluid, and wonderfully expressive. That's a thing, though: it was typical Pixar and thus doesn't terribly stand above the shoulders of those giants. Wonderfully conceived and realized, Inside Out will definitely be on most best animated films of all time lists from this point forward, but I'm reticent to catapult it to the top.

I positively adored Chicken Run when it came out as well as The Pirates! Band of Misfits when I got to watch it for this project (even though I ultimately didn't write that year), so you can imagine how excited I was for another Aardman production. Shaun the Sheep Movie, though, while being adorably animated claymation, comes off as rather tedious. Even more than Boy & the World, dialogue is non-existent here, but the visual story is hardly engaging enough to make up for it. I suspect it functions well as a children's movie, but it is a little too clunky for most adults who might have to sit through it.

In 2013, Hayao Miyazaki gave us Kaze Tachinu (The Wind Rises), and Isao Takahata, the collaborator with whom he founded Studio Ghibli, gave us Kaguya-hime no Monogatari (The Tale of Princess Kaguya). Despite being two of the most visually stunning films in recent history, animated or not, and dripping with storytelling, neither won an Academy Award having lost to Frozen and Big Hero 6, respectfully. That year, with those two films, both directors stepped back from creation, handing off the reigns of the studio they founded. Miyazaki has been coined time and again "the Walt Disney of Japan," which is probably doing him a disservice, but it would follow to liken Studio Ghibli to Walt Disney Studios. With new creators at the helm, When Marnie Was There is set to answer the question of how the studio will fare without the old heads overseeing production. Maybe it will grow on me, but this is without reservation my least favorite Ghibli film. Admittedly, my exposure has been biased by popularity for most of their production run, but this is absolutely no Princess Mononoke. It's not even Ponyo. As per usual, the non-character animation is richer and more nuanced than nearly anything else in existence which only makes sense seeing as director Hiromasa Yonebayashi has been animating at Ghibli since 1997's Princess Mononoke. Even still, the animation feels restrained, as though Yonebayashi is fearful of stepping out and making a mistake with his first project. This conservativism extends throughout the film as the direction comes off as a little subpar, the acting as mediocre, and the script as bland and uninteresting. When Marnie Was There, however is still a Studio Ghibli production, so it's almost worth a watch just for that. It is clear, though, that Miyazaki and Takahata have left shoes that may be too big to ever fill. Hopefully, these growing pains will pass quickly so that it will at least no longer feel like a child clomping around in their mother's heels.

I legit cried writing this article while I was thinking about Boy & the World's animation. It is so stunningly gorgeous. They say a picture is with a thousand words, and this moving tapestry is millions upon millions of words that more than make up for the minimal dialogue. Without a single reservation, it is my favorite of these films. Having witnessed one stunning foreign language animated film after another lose to the yearly production of American animation powerhouses, though, I also don't have a single reservation suggesting that Inside Out is going to win this one.

Should win: O Menino e o Mundo (Boy & the World)
Will win: Inside Out

* I know I just ripped Kaufman for such direct exposition, but the theme of Anomalisa was more obvious and less in need of such explicitness. Also, it is a film for adults who, theoretically, should be able to deconstruct themes with greater ease.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Lead Actress

One of my favorite things to do is to read bad reviews for great things. Sometimes it's one-star Yelp reviews for three-star Michelin restaurants. A lot of times it's bad amazon reviews thanks to twitter.

The takeaway is that, while I'm really critical about a lot of films, I am also very ignorant about a lot of their components. A lot of elements go right over my head, and I wonder who out there is reading my reviews like I read this take on Kung Fu Panda.