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FACES PLACES & THE INSULT: They Lost At The Oscars But Shouldn’t Lose Their Audiences

These two films, now playing at a indie art house near me, lost their respective categories at the Oscars last Sunday, but that doesnt mean they aren’t worth your time:


FACES PLACES
(Dirs. Agnès Varda & JR, ) 



This lovely film, which is nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar this year, could have been titled FACES ON PLACES as it concerns a couple of artists pasting large pictures of faces on buildings. The artists, Belgian filmmaker Agnès Varda and French street artist JR, don’t only do faces as they paste huge pictures of fish on a water tank at one point, but it’s mostly the faces of local villagers, farmers, and other various folks they meet on their journey that they photograph, reproduce in large prints and affix to the side of what they deem appropriate structures.

Agnès Varda and JR are shown traveling across the French country side to brighten up farms, ruins of old houses, and most stunningly a concrete German blockhouse from World War II, on the Normandy coast, in Saint-Aubin-Sur-Mer. 



Varda and JR’s film is loose and rambling at times, but never boring as its filled with such vivid eye candy. Throughout their pasting adventures, Varda tries in vain to get JR to take off his sunglasses. His refusal to not be seen without them reminds her of her old New Wave filmmaking friend Jean-Luc Godard, whose house they make their way to at the movie’s conclusion.

The warmth the unlikely duo of Varda and JR exude is felt in every frame, though it’s easy to see why FACES PLACES didn’t get enough votes to win last Sunday as it could be seen as fluffy compared to its more serious competition. Its lightness shouldnt be mistaken for insubstantiality though as it carries a lot of weight, as well as considerable charm, but, most importantly, its a visual treat through and through.



THE INSULT (Dir. Ziad Doueiri, 2017) 


There’s no way this film, the sixth feature by Lebanese-born filmmaker Zias Doueiri (THE ATTACK), had much of a chance up against the power of Sebastián Lelio’s A FANTASTIC WOMAN for the prize of Best Foreign Film at this year’s Oscars, but it still is well worth moviegoers’ attention.


The film concerns a crude incident between a Lebanese Christian and a Palestinian refugee that escalates into a national threat. It begins with a Beirut street scene in which construction crew worker Yasser (Kamel El Basha) asks Tony (Adel Karam) a tenant of a building they’re working on, if they can fix the drainpipe illegally sticking out of his apartment balcony. When the Palestinians-hating Tony refuses Yasser and his men’s entry into his place, they fix the pipe anyway but Tony smashes it and a heated exchange results.


Yasser’s boss tries to arrange a truce between the men, but it becomes violent when Tony says “I wish Ariel Sharon had wiped you all out!” and Yassar loses it and punches him in the guts, breaking Tony’s ribs. Before long they are fighting in court over the argument, with the extra added twist of their opposing lawyers (Diamond Bou Abboud and Camille Salameh) being father and daughter.


If that engrossing courtroom drama narrative isn’t enough, there’s Tony’s pregnant wife (Christine Choueiri), and both men’s dark back stories involving the roots of the Christian/Palestinian conflicts. Doueiri, whose worked on several of Quentin Tarantio’s films, sheds light on the humanity of both sides of its argument, and gives us a fair, unbiased look at how deep seeded hatred can wreck all kinds of havoc if triggered.


A FANTASTIC WOMAN definitely deserved the Oscar, but THE INSULT definitely deserves a big audience too.

More later…

Hey Kids! Funtime 2018 Oscar® Predictions!


T
he 90th Academy Awards® Ceremony is in two days, so it’s time for my predictions. Mind you, the last few years I got the same score: 16 out of 24, so I’m no Oscar-predicting genius here (my best score was 21 out of 24 in 2014). The only real lock this time around is that host Jimmy Kimmel will touch greatly on the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements.

This year is a particularly difficult roster to choose from as every other critic’s predictions are very divided especially when it comes to the big one:

1. BEST PICTURE: GET OUT

It looks like the front-runners for this category are THE SHAPE OF WATER (12 nominations), THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE OF EBBING, MISSOURI (7 nominations), and GET OUT (4 nominations). Now, if it wasn’t for that big snafu last year when LA LA LAND was mistakenly announced as the winner, when it was really MOONLIGHT that got the gold, I would probably go with THE SHAPE OF WATER. LA LA LAND seemed like such a lock, but that incident has made me rethink my pick again and again.

But I’ve settled on Jordan Peele’s brilliant debut. I hesitated at first because it’s my favorite of the three, and playing favorites doesn’t always work out, but it just feels like it has the edge over its competition.

The rest of my predictions sans commentary:

2. BEST DIRECTOR: Guillermo del Toro for THE SHAPE OF WATER

3. BEST ACTOR: Gary Oldman for DARKEST HOUR

4. BEST ACTRESS: Frances McDormand for THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

5. BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Sam Rockwell for THREE BILLBOARDS

6. BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Allison Janey for I, TONYA

7. PRODUCTION DESIGN: Paul D. Austerberry, Shane Vieau, and Jeffrey A. Melvin for THE SHAPE OF WATER


8. CINEMATOGRAPHY: Roger Deakins for BLADE RUNNER 2049

9. COSTUME DESIGN: Mark Bridges for PHANTOM THREAD

10. DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: FACES PLACES

11. DOCUMENTARY SHORT: EDDIE+EDITH

12. FILM EDITING: Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos for BABY DRIVER


13. MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING: Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski, and Lucy Sibbick for
 DARKEST HOUR

14. VISUAL EFFECTS: Joe Letteri, Daniel Barrett, Dan Lemmon, and Joel Whist for 
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES

15. ORIGINAL SCORE: Alexandre Desplat for THE SHAPE OF WATER

16. ORIGINAL SONG: “This Is Me” from THE GREATEST SHOWMAN (Justin Paul & Benj Pasek)

17. ANIMATED SHORT: DEAR BASKETBALL

18. LIVE ACTION SHORT: DEKALB ELEMENTARY

19. SOUND EDITING: Richard King and Alex Gibson for DUNKIRK

20. SOUND MIXING: Gregg Landaker, Gary Rizzo, and Mark Weingarten for DUNKIRK


21. ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Jordan Peele for GET OUT

22. ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: James Ivory for CALL ME BY YOUR NAME

23. ANIMATED FEATURE FILM: COCO

24. BEST FOREIGN FILM: A FANTASTIC WOMAN


As I always say, tune in Monday to see how many I got wrong.

More later…

The 2018 Oscar® Nominated Short Films: Animated

Death, fairy tales, bullying, a player’s love of his game, and frogs are the subjects of this year’s group of Oscar-nominated animated shorts which are playing at various theaters near me alongside programs of the likewise nominated Live Action and Documentary shorts.

The 90th Academy Awards® will be broadcast live on March 4th, so there’s plenty of time to catch up with these short films, and good reason too as they’re a pretty pleasing batch.

The first animated short, Glen Keane and Kobe Bryant’s DEAR BASKETBALL, is Bryant’s love letter to his sport, based on a letter he wrote to The Players’ Tribune in 2015 announcing his retirement.


Bryant is depicted in sketchy hand-drawn animation from when he was a child shooting imaginary game-winning shots with rolled-up tube socks in his bedroom, to imagery of him making his famous moves that won five NBA championships with the Lakers as an adult.

It’s a swift and fluid five minute film, but it feels like a commercial or beginning of a feature length documentary. It’s no doubt a sincere, and well-intentioned ode, but it still struck me as self-promotion and I wasn’t moved by it that like I bet somebody who’s a fan or into basketball would be.

Anyway, onto a very differently toned short, GARDEN PARTY which was written and directed by Victor Caire, Florian Babikian, Vincent Bayoux, Théophile Dufresne, Lucas Navarro and Gabriel Grapperon.

That’s right, it was made by six French 3D artists, who dub themselves Illogic Collective, during their studies at MoPA, animation school in France.

The seven minute movie concerns a group of amphibians exploring the immaculately detailed grounds and interiors of a mysteriously abandoned mansion. The frogs and toads swim in the pool, feast on rotten food, and inadvertently turn on the house’s lights, stereo system, and outside sprinklers by jumping on the buttons of a control panel. The photo realism is stunning, so much so that the visuals border on the grotesque especially when we find out what happened to the estate’s former resident.

These students’ production definitely deserves to win, but I’m thinking that because of its dark undertone it’ll probably be passed over.

Every year, Pixar has a short in competition and Dave Mullins and Dana Murray’s LOU, about a schoolyard bully being taught a lesson by the contents of a lost and found box, is their entry this time around. 

In a colorful animation style that should be well familiar to anyone who’s seen any of the Disney subsidiary’s movies, the film tells the story of a mean kid who steals his classmates belongings – such as a red hoodie, a couple of baseballs, a football, a piggy doll, a pitcher’s mitt, an orange and white scarf, a slinky, a toy truck, a jump rope, a book, a shoe, a lunch box, a hat and a tennis racket.

I listed all of those items because they come together to form an anthropomorphic character with the baseballs as its eyes. After a hilarious scuffle, the bully is punished by having to return all the things he stole, and is redeemed just as you thought he would be. LOU, which originally ran before showings of CARS 3, is a predictably pleasing six-minute piece of fast paced Pixar fun, but since they won last year with the charming PIPER, I doubt this is their year.

The following short, Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata’s NEGATIVE SPACE also concerns the assorted contents of a box, but this time it’s a suitcase and it’s about a father teaching his son how to properly pack it for a trip. 
The French film is an adaptation of a poem by Ron Koertge via a neat-looking stop motion world of models and miniatures. It’s a charmer with a touchingly witty conclusion, and, funnily enough, it’s the second short of the bunch that animates the rolling up of socks (DEAR BASKETBALL is the other). I can totally see this one winning.

At 28 minutes in length, Jakob Schuh and Jan Lachauer’s REVOLTING RHYMES is the longest of the animated shorts. It is an adaptation of a 1982 Roald Dahl book of poems satirizing six famous fairy tales that’s narrated by The Wire’s Dominic West as the big, bad Wolf.

The Wolf tells his story to a kindly woman in a café about Red Riding Hood and a blonde Snow White meeting at the funeral for Snow White’s mother. We learn that Red Riding Hood keeps her money in a bank made out of many piggy banks run by one of the three little pigs, and that Snow White’s father, the King (voiced by Rob Brydon of those TRIP movies with Steve Coogan) marries a crude woman, Miss Maclahose, who has a magic talking mirror for the “who’s the fairest” bit. The seven dwarfs appear as ex-horse race jockeys, who ask the mirror which horse to bet on as Snow White pines for her Prince, and so on.

Dahl’s dark spin on these familiar stories is illustrated by computer animation that at times resembles the work of Aardman Animations (Wallace & Gromit) despite not involving clay. The rhymes aren’t really revolting, but there are some grim fates for some of the characters. As the film feels a bit stiff, it may be my least favorite of the animated shorts, but the British-German production just may tickle enough Academy voters to get it the gold.

Since four of the five films run around five to seven minutes, there are three bonus shorts to pad out the Animated Shorts package to feature length: Kevin Hudson’s WEEDS, Daniel Agdag’s LOST PROPERTY OFFICE, and Lucas Boutrot, Élise Carret, Maoris Creantor, Pierre Hubert, Camille Lacroix, and Charlotte Perroux’s ACHOO! I ‘m not going to go into any detail about these “commended” shorts, but I will say that ACHOO! about a sneezing Chinese dragon who invents fireworks is my favorite of them.

If you haven’t already check out my reviews of the Oscar® Nominated Live Action Shorts.

More later…

The 2018 Oscar® Nominated Short Films: Live Action


T
he 90th Academy Awards® ceremony is in less than two weeks so it’s a good time to catch up with the nominated Short Films that are playing at various theaters near me in separate programs of the Live Action, Animated, and Documentary nominees.

The five Live Action Short Films are a fairly dark lot, with one comical exception, but even that one has a dark edge to it. The first short in the program, Reed Van Dyk’s DEKALB ELEMENTARY, concerns a school shooting so it’s impossible to not think about the Parkland, Florida school shooting last week. 

Writer/director Van Dyk, based the film on a recording of a 911 phone call from 2013 that was placed during a school shooting incident in Atlanta, Georgia.

Bo Mitchell plays the young gunman who takes a front-office administrator (Cassandra Rice) hostage in the school’s front office, but she calmly handles and diffuses the situation. The 20 minute film is full of unpleasant tension and can be hard to watch, so much so that there have been reported walk-outs at showings.

But if you can make it through, the acting by Mitchell and especially Rice is effective, and the spare scene feels chillingly real. Maybe the timing is bad for this short, but when would be a good time for this subject? I really can’t decide if its timeliness will work for or against it when it comes to Academy voters.

Onto the aforementioned comical short of the batch, Derin Seale’s THE ELEVEN O’CLOCK. This 13-minute Australian film concerns a therapy session between a psychiatrist and a patient who thinks he’s a psychiatrist. 

Josh Lawson, who wrote and produced, stars with Damon Herriman as the two men who get into a verbal then a bit violent battle over who’s the patient and who’s the doctor that echoes Monty Python (that’s because it’s based on a sketch from the heavily Python-influenced BBC series A Bit of Fry & Laurie).

It’s an amusing 13 minute trifle, but it has an ending that most people won’t be surprised by, so I really wouldn’t bet on it to win this category.

After that light diversion, we’re back into the darkness with Kevin Wilson Jr.’s MY NEPHEW EMMETT, which dramatizes the last night in the life of Emmett Till, an African-American teenager who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955. 

Director Wilson Jr., who also wrote the short, shoots the incident from the perspective of Till’s uncle, Mose Wright (L.B. Williams), who has to stand by with his wife (Jasmine Guy) in the middle of the night when two white men (Dane Rhodes and Ethan Leavertonwith guns abduct Till from their home, and take him off to be murdered.

As one of the racist abductors, Rhodes is intensely sinister as he threateningly spouts the n-word and drops f-bombs at Williams’ Mose making this another short that’s hard to watch at times, and also feels sadly timely.

The nearly 20 minute historical drama will definitely get some voters sympathy, but I doubt it’ll get the gold.

Chris Overton and Rachel Shenton’s THE SILENT CHILD doesn’t involve murder or guns, but it has a dark undertone. It concerns a deaf six-year old named Libby (Maisie Sly), who is taught sign language by Joanne, a caring social worker (Shenton). 

Libby and Joanne develop an affecting bond, but Libby’s dreadful mother (Rachel Fielding) says she’s worried about her daughter “learning this language that I don’t know and no one in her school will know,” and cancels Libby’s sessions with Joanne.


Despite it ending like a Public Service Announcement for deaf awareness, Overton and Shenton’s 20 minute short is a poignant, and heartbreakingly sad drama that makes a strong case for its subject. I’m not feeling a win for it on Oscar night, but I won’t be unsatisfied if it does.

Finally, the most cinematic of this roster of the Live Action Shorts, Katja Benrath and Tobias Rosen’s WATU WOTE (Swahili for ALL OF US), which takes place in the border region between Kenya and Somalia where, as the opening titles tell us, “the atmosphere of anxiety and mistrust between Muslims and Christians is growing.”
Based on the true story of the Mandera bus attack by Al Shabaab terrorists in December 2015, the 22-minute film * stars Adelyne Wairimu as a young woman named Jua, a Kenyan Christian who has to contend with a bus full of Muslims on a trip to visit her sick mother.

When the bus is ambushed by the terrorists, Jua and the other passengers are commanded at gunpoint by their leader (Faysal Ahmed) to point out the Christians, who they call infidels. This results in a jarring, but powerful moment, which got to me more than anything in the other competing films.

I may feel differently closer to the Oscars® (I’m posting my predictions a few days before the broadcast), but right now I’m thinking this beautifully-shot short about people of different beliefs protecting one another is the one to beat.

* All of the Live Action Shorts this year are around 20 minutes in length, except, unsurprisingly, the lone comic one, THE ELEVEN OCLOCK.

More later…