Tag Archives: Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land, Moonlight Wins 89th Academy Awards (Sort Of)

I don’t even know what to say.

Every year, the Oscars hand out their fair share of snubs and surprises. Last year, it was when Mark Rylance won best supporting actor for Bridge of Spies over Sylvester Stallone for Creed. The year before that, it was when Big Hero 6 won best animated feature over How To Train Your Dragon 2, whereas The Lego Movie wasn’t even nominated.

I’ve seen the Academy snub films every year, but I’ve never seen the Academy snub the moment of winning before. Unbelievably, the Academy did just that last night.

First thing’s first: Jimmy Kimmel was a fun host. Running the show like he was running his late night talk show, he quipped zingy one-liners, had nominees read mean tweets, poked fun at the president, recreated the Lion King moment with Lion’s Sunny Pawar, and even invited a tour bus into the stage area to meet all of the snazzy-dressed celebrities. He was a good host, although I think he did drag on the political jokes for too long (and tweeting the president was definitely a bad idea. You never stoke the flames of a forest fire).

Everything else, however, was in complete debacle. Let’s start with the biggest one of all on Oscar night:

Best Picture: The most shocking win from the night, and not because of who won, but because of how they won. At first, Faye Dunaway read La La Land off of the card and producers Jordan Horowitz and Fred Berger came up to the stage to accept their award. A few seconds later, they retracted their statements and announced there had been a mistake. Moonlight won best picture instead.

How did this happen? Apparently there was a mix-up with the envelopes and Warren Beatty was given a replacement card for best actress instead. Since that card read Emma Stone, who won best actress for her role in La La Land, Dunaway mistakenly thought that meant La La Land won best picture. Her inferences were wrong and the La La Land team had to turn over their statuettes to Moonlight.

Number one: How could the Oscar staff mess this up this badly? The night went smoothly for all of its categories throughout the night until it came to best picture. Suddenly, Beatty and Dunaway were handed the wrong envelope and announced the wrong winners. How could the production team be so negligent? How could they possibly goof it up so badly to the point where they hand a card that clearly reads “BEST ACTRESS” to the announcers for best picture? I still can’t wrap my mind around it. It is without a doubt the biggest and most embarrassing mistake in Oscar history.

Number two: Props to Jimmy Kimmel, who kept his cool and even offered a few laughs through the whole ordeal. When he got up to the mic after that massive upset, he turned to cheek and said “Sorry guys, I knew I was going to mess this up.” He made the best out of a terrible situation, and I’m grateful he was there to make everyone feel lighthearted despite going through such a heavy-handed mistake.

Number three: Respect also to the La La Land team, who graciously handed their awards over to Moonlight after that embarrassing stint. I’m sure no one was happy after having that moment taken from them, but the La La Land producers were quick to get off of the stage and to get Moonlight on it. They’ve clearly demonstrated their love, respect, and passion for the arts and were more concerned with honoring the rightful winner rather than take the moment away from them. Thank you to Fred Berger, Jordan Horowitz and Marc Platt. You are the definition of Hollywood class.

Number four: Obviously, congratulations to the Moonlight team, not only for being involved in making a brave and courageous film, but for also being brave and courageous enough to produce it in the first place. Independent film is a part of the industry that has always been wobbling on its own two legs, but putting Moonlight center stage gave the independent scene a little more foundation in its footing. Moonlight is a masterful picture, it is an important picture, and it is the best picture of the year. Congratulations to that talented team for their monumental achievements in storytelling and character development.

All that aside, I’m still frustrated by that massive slip-up. In one fell swoop, the Academy took that important moment away from multiple filmmakers at once. Somebody is definitely getting fired for that stint.

Best Director: No surprise here. Damien Chazelle won the Director’s Guild Award, so that means he also won best director. At age 32, Chazelle is the youngest best director winner in Oscar history. Congratulations Damien, and thank you for encouraging everyone to dream just a little bit more.

Best Actor: Another upset. I was split down the middle on this category since Casey Affleck and Denzel Washington were on equal footing for Manchester By The Sea and Fences. Since Washington won the screen actor, however, I felt that gave him a slight edge in his race towards the Oscar. Turns out I was wrong. Casey joined big brother Ben in the Oscar crowd and took home best actor for his quietly moving performance in Manchester By The Sea. Congratulations to him and for taking on a personal, intimate role that speaks on the human condition and for our longing to reconnect with the things we’ve lost.

Best Actress: Emma Stone won best actress for her performance as an aspiring actress in La La Land. She was a standout in the movie and deserved to be recognized for her complex role as a down-on-her-luck artist. It’s funny, though, how her win would come back to haunt the best picture category mix-up. But don’t even get me started back up on that again.

Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali won for Moonlight, making him the first Muslim to win an acting Oscar at the Academy Awards. Congratulations, my friend. You were one of the strongest elements of Moonlight, and your speech was also one of the strongest moments of the night. You have my blessings.

Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis won for Fences. Her call to exhume and exalt the ordinary person summoned a powerful force in the room, and everyone resonated with her message to celebrate life, love, and the arts. Jimmy Kimmel hilariously followed that up with “I think she’s nominated for next year’s Emmy’s for that speech.”

I still feel Naomie Harris was more commanding in her role as a drug-addicted mother seeking redemption in Moonlight. But Moonlight already got some love. It’s nice to see Fences get some too.

Best Animated Feature: Zootopia won, clearly. Look out for its sequel, which will be adapting the 2016 Presidential Elections. (I’m kidding, of course, but don’t be surprised if you see new characters introduced next year named Donald Skunk or Hillary Chimpton).

Best Documentary Feature: O.J.: Made in America won best documentary. That was when Taraji P. Henson pulled out a paper tag from the card and read “MADE IN TAIWAN.”

Best Foreign Language Feature: In another upset, Asghar Farhadi won best foreign language film for The Salesman, making him one of the few filmmakers to win this award twice. Sadly, Farhadi could not come to the ceremony to accept his award in person due to the immigration ban placed on Iran. His call to empathize and understand beyond judgement and apprehension is a message we all need to hear more of.

Best Original Screenplay: Kenneth Lonergan won best original screenplay for Manchester By The Sea. Lonergan dedicated the award to many people in his life, including his father, who passed away earlier last year. Him winning for his passion project behind Manchester made me immensely happy for him, and I can’t help but feel he’s written something relevant for everyone, no matter what age you are. Congratulations, Kenny. No doubt that your father would be proud.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight deservingly won best adapted screenplay, as he guides us through Chiron’s complex childhood and clearly demonstrates how actions in the past affect decisions made in the future. Like many other winners from the night, Moonlight demands that we see people not for their labels, but for their experiences. Congratulations to him and his wonderful achievement in defining human empathy.

Best Film Editing: Before I get into this, I need to apologize. In my predictions, I commented that Tom Cross was going to win best film editing for La La Land, even though he was vastly undeserving compared to his great work on Whiplash. I want to now redact my statement. The Oscar for best film editing did not go to La La Land, but instead went to John Gilbert for Hacksaw Ridge.

It was my mistake to underestimate him. Gilbert has edited numerous films, from The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring to Bridge to Terabithia. Hacksaw Ridge is a full demonstration of his talents as he expertly navigates us through the physical and spiritual warfare that happened on the battlefields of Okinawa. Congratulations and thank you, Mr. Gilbert. You’ve delivered us a very powerful film.

Best Cinematography: La La Land. It should have gone to Bradford Young for Arrival, but since La La Land got snubbed way worse in the best picture category, I’m willing to hand this one over to Linus Sandgren. Hopefully it made the loss a little easier to bear.

jared-leto-joker-suicide-squad

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Okay, now this is getting ridiculous. Suicide Squad won the Oscar for best makeup over A Man Called Ove and Star Trek Beyond. While I’m happy that it won and agree it is the most deserving nominee out of the bunch, I’m frustrated at the Academy voters because they’re so blasted inconsistent with this category. The Iron Lady beat out Harry Potter in 2011. Les Miserables beat out The Hobbit in 2012. The Grand Budapest Hotel beat out Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014. Year after year, the Academy snubs the clear standout in this category for one stupid reason or another. Why is it this year that they decide to set themselves straight again?

Whatever. The DC Extended Universe now has an Oscar under their belts, and that’s one more thing they have over the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Congratulations guys, but don’t let it go to your head. You still have Justice League coming up right around the corner.

Best Costume Design: Another infuriating upset. While I agree that Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them has some outstanding costume work, it does not warrant it for an Oscar, especially when you compare it to its nominees such as Allied and Jackie. Plus, its win now makes it the first film in the Harry Potter series to win an Oscar. Yes, dear reader: Fantastic Beasts is considered Oscar-worthy whereas none of the other eight Harry Potter films are. That’s just lividly frustrating to me.

In either case, Colleen Atwood is still the costume industry’s version of Meryl Streep. Congratulations and all that jazz.

Best Production Design: La La Land. A worthy winner, but are you really that surprised?

Best Musical Score: La La Land, obviously.

Best Original Song: La La Land, for “City of Stars.” John Legend’s cover of the song was the stuff of dreams.

Best Sound Editing: The first big surprise of the night. Arrival took home best sound editing and not Hacksaw Ridge. It didn’t seem likely that it would win considering it was a slow burning science-philosophy film filled with quiet moments and eerie alien moans, and most of the previous year’s winners were in-your-face action movies. However, I don’t take away its nomination or its worthiness of the award. Congratulations to Arrival for best sound editing. It was genuinely shocking to see you dethrone Hacksaw.

Best Sound Mixing: However, Hacksaw Ridge’s loss wouldn’t last long since it won for best sound mixing not even two minutes later. I keep debating back and forth in my head whether it was the most worthy nominee or not, but at the end of the day, I really don’t care. It’s outstanding sound work anyway, and the gunfire and bomb blasts made every moment tingle with excitement and urgency. Congratulations to the Hacksaw Ridge sound team. You did Desmond Doss justice.

Best Visual Effects: Since the Academy ruled out Doctor Strange and Rogue One, The Jungle Book won best visual effects that night. It’s not an undeserved win. Congratulations to Jon Favreau and for making these incredible jungle animals come alive. Don’t mess it up now with the Lion King remake.

Surprisingly, I even got one of the short categories correct, predicting that Piper would win best animated short film. With that, I’ve correctly predicted 14 winners out of the 24 categories. Not my worst record, but not my best either.

In any regard, congratulations to Moonlight, La La Land, Hacksaw Ridge, Manchester By The Sea, and all the other winners from last night. Hopefully next year the Academy will be more thorough with handling its envelopes.

– David Dunn

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , ,

2016 Oscar Predictions

I’m preparing to rename the 2016 Academy Awards “The La La Land Awards.”

Seriously, ever since it broke award records at the Golden Globes back in January, the amount of traction La La Land has received has been absolutely ridiculous. Almost immediately, everyone started predicting that La La Land would sweep awards season, from the BAFTAs all the way to the Academy Awards. That train kept going and going and going, and like the Energizer Bunny, it never stopped.

I know two things for certain at this point: Jackie Chan will win an honorary Oscar, and La La Land will sweep Oscar night. That’s it. I don’t know how many awards La La Land will win, or what awards the other best picture nominees will win, and I especially don’t know what will win in those blasted short categories. A lot of people are saying that there’s a strong chance that La La Land will win 11 Oscars, putting it in an exclusive club with Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Titanic, and Ben-Hur. With my current predictions, I have them winning 10 Oscars, but it can really go in any direction on Oscar night.

Either way, I’m expecting a full rundown of snubs and surprises this year, just as there are a few during every ceremony every year. Let’s go through my predictions and see where they’re expected to be:

Best Picture: No surprise here. La La Land is going to take home the highly coveted award for best picture. Last year, I went against my gut predicting that The Revenant would beat out Spotlight for best picture. While I was correct in predicting the other categories, Spotlight still managed to nab the top prize, despite only winning one other award from the night. I’m not going to make the same mistake again this year. La La Land it is.

Best Director: Damien Chazelle won the DGA, so more likely than not, that also means he’s going to win the Oscar. He wasn’t nominated in 2014 for his masterful work on Whiplash. Him winning for La La Land this year will make up for that snub years ago.

Best Actor: One of the first categories where the odds are split right down the middle for me. It’s down to Manchester By The Sea and Fences for this one. Casey Affleck won the golden globe. Denzel Washington won the screen actor. Who’s going to take it?

It’s a tough race, but I’m going with Denzel for a few reasons. First, the Screen Actors Guild is more accurate at predicting best acting Oscars than the Golden Globes are, even if it is by a fraction. Second, with most best actor wins, their performances usually break out emotively, expressing a wide range of emotions for voters to judge from. Great as Affleck’s performance was in Manchester By The Sea, it was also very muted and soft spoken, which works against him compared to Denzel’s confrontational, intimidating presence in Fences. This category really is a flip of the coin here, but I’m betting on Denzel.

Best Actress: Another pincher. Emma Stone for La La Land versus Isabelle Huppert for Elle. Who will win? Since Stone has La La Land by her side, I’m betting on her. Again though, this category can go either way.

Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali for Moonlight. Even though you could make a strong argument for Dev Patel in Lion or Michael Shannon in Nocturnal Animals, Ali has had the traction for a long time now and strong support from the acting community. If he didn’t get it now, it would be one of the biggest upsets of the year. Considering we already got one last year with Sylvester Stallone losing for Creed, I’m not looking for another upset anytime soon.

Best Supporting Actress: Can we all agree that Viola Davis was robbed in 2011 from her performance in The Help? Her portrayal as a confused yet courageous housemaid compelled the film forward in its narrative and made her one of the standout performances of the year. She deserved to be recognized alongside her acting colleagues including Jean Dujardin in The Artist, Christopher Plummer in Beginners, and Octavia Spencer in The Help as well. The award instead went to Meryl Streep for her performance in the dull, lifeless, mind-numbingly tedious The Iron Lady. Oh, don’t worry about it Academy voters! Give her all of the awards, why don’t ya?

In the place of that massive snub, Viola Davis will win her first Oscar this year for portraying the supportive, strong-willed, yet heartbroken Rose Maxson in Fences. The fact that she will be recognized for her hard work is encouraging. The fact that she will get it at the cost of Naomie Harris’ performance in Moonlight is not. Different performances, yes. Powerful performances, yes. But when it all comes down to it, it’s a matter of opinion, not quality, as to which performance deserves the Oscar more. I felt Harris’ was superior, but I have a feeling I’m going to be in the minority on that one. It’s a shame Harris and Davis had to go against each other in the same year. They’re both outstanding talent.

Best Animated Feature: Zootopia. Even though Disney’s other animated nominee Moana is more deserving, there’s no denying the popularity and the influence that people share for Zootopia. Cute and cuddly zoo animals beat The Rock going on a deep sea adventure.

Best Documentary Feature: O.J. Simpson has been getting a lot of attention this year. The TV drama based on his notorious murder case, “The People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”, broke critical and commercial barriers and won the Golden Globe for best television miniseries. His documentary O.J.: Made In America also swept critics’ top ten lists, both for best of the year and for documentaries. I can’t see another film winning this year, so I’m going with O.J.: Made In America.

Best Foreign-Languge Feature: I have a good feeling about Toni Erdmann. While The Salesman has also been getting a lot of traction and buzz for the Oscar, Asghar Farhadi already won the foreign-language Oscar in 2012 for A Separation. Repeated wins are unusual in this category, so I’m betting on Toni Erdmann in its place.

Best Original Screenplay: The great thing about La La Land is how many layers it has to peel away, not just as a fun and snappy musical and comedy, but also as a complex drama, a heartfelt romance, and a journey towards pursuing your dreams. The script is one of the greatest things about La La Land, but it isn’t the best thing. No, the best things from the film are its brilliant score and standout performances from Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. The script supplements their talent. It doesn’t provide it.

Since this is the case, I’m going against the grain here and guess that Kenneth Lonergan will win best original screenplay for Manchester By The Sea. That’s a movie that has less to work with than La La Land does, and yet, it ends up doing so much more. It’s a heartbreaking tragedy, a family drama, a dark comedy, and a tale of mending open wounds that achieves everything that it set out to do. For its ambition, bravery, and intimacy in handling the delicate topic of death and how we react to it, I’m going with Manchester.

Best Adapted Screenplay: It’s hard to imagine any other nominee winning this year besides Moonlight. That’s because with it, Barry Jenkins broke barriers in racial, economic, and homosexual communities, and it allowed viewers to understand its characters because of their experiences, not because of what they looked like. Arrival was equally genius in its structure and Fences was faithful to its source material. But I’m going with Moonlight, if for no other reason than it deserves it the most.

Best Film Editing: I’m going to start this by saying that literally everyone in this category deserves the award over Tom Cross for La La Land. Everyone. Joe Walker’s smart sequencing of events built up the intrigue and the mystery surrounding Arrival. John Gilbert’s assemblage of chaotic, bloody firefights in Hacksaw Ridge made all of the madness clear and readable. And Moonlight was especially outstanding in its editing, in how it gradually built up Chiron’s childhood and how it carried over into his adult years. All of these nominees are most deserving for the Oscar for best film editing. None of them will get it.

Instead, Tom Cross will win best film editing for work on La La Land. Why? Because he won the ACE award for best editing, which is more often than not accurate in predicting the Oscar winner. So Cross it is.

If this goes down as I predict, this will be the win that frustrates me the most on Oscar night. Don’t get me wrong, Cross is an exemplary editor. But the editing is not the thread that holds La La Land together. It is the music, the acting, the story, the cinematography, the art direction. Every element in the film fits and works with each other in the way that it needs to. Cross just had to assemble it all together. I realize that in itself is a time-consuming job, but it required no innovation on his part, no deep attention to detail. Just an observation on the characters and the scenery and arranging clips into the right order.

If you think I’m overreacting, look at his work on Whiplash, which won him his first editing Oscar in 2014. Now compare that to La La Land. You will see for yourself how much more difficult and impressive it was to edit that action together compared to the lighthearted ambiance of La La Land.

Moving on.

Best Cinematography: The best cinematographer in this category easily goes to Bradford Young, whose skillful, deliberate shots built up the suspense and the eerieness of Arrival. But by this point in the night, La La Land will already be on a roll, and I don’t expect Arrival to derail the train anytime soon. Linus Sandgren will win best cinematography for La La Land. Celebrate by singing a song and two-stepping to it.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: This is a difficult category to pick this year, because unlike previous years, there’s no clear standout among the nominees. A Man Called Ove is so under the radar that it’s barely gotten any attention, so you can already cross that right off the list. And everyone hates Suicide Squad, so I don’t expect a win there either. Since I’m out of options, I’ll begrudgingly guess Star Trek Beyond will win the Oscar, even though it’s only repeating the work that it did the first time it won in 2009.

Best Costume Design: While Jackie and Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them both demonstrated some outstanding outfits, it’s hard to imagine La La Land working without the great costume work by Mary Zophres. From Ryan Gosling’s suave jazz suits to Emma Stone’s elegant dresses, her costumes made every scene come alive with the music. For that reason, I’m going with La La Land.

Best Production Design: First thing’s first: Passengers, get your butt out of here. Doctor Strange deserved to be in your place. Second: with a pack of outstanding nominees including Arrival, Fantastic Beasts, and Hail, Caesar!, it’s hard to pick the most worthy out of these nominees. However, none of these films throw you back to the classic Hollywood musical days where sets were filled with bright lights, vibrant colors and beautiful designs. I’m going with La La Land since it does exactly that.

Best Musical Score: La La Land. It will be a national outrage if anything else wins.

Best Original Song: This award is obviously going to go to La La Land. The question is for which song? La La Land is nominated twice here, once for “City of Stars” and another for “The Fools Who Dream.” Considering that I’m still humming “City of Stars” weeks after seeing the film, I’m placing my bet on that one.

Side note: Twenty One Pilots should have been nominated here for their phenomenally dark and ethereal work on “Heathens.” Suicide Squad got straight up robbed on that one.

Best Sound Editing: How many action films have won for best sound editing? Too many, that’s how many. From the past six years, six action films have won the Oscar in this category. Skyfall and Zero Dark Thirty tied in 2012. American Sniper won in 2014. And Mad Max: Fury Road also won last year. At this point, I would be foolish not to go for the action-packed war epic like all of the Academy voters. So I’m going with Hacksaw Ridge. Deepwater Horizon also has a good chance of nabbing it too.

Best Sound Mixing: La La Land. It’s hard to time music to action on-screen, especially when that action includes tap-dancing and motion choreography. La La Land did exceptionally well not only with its music, but with making it relevant in every scene. So La La Land it is.

Best Visual Effects: The most visually impressive out of the nominees here is easily Doctor Strange, whose shape-shifting, mind-bending visuals bend and break reality barriers like you wouldn’t believe. Visual effects are supposed to be transportive in their art, and I haven’t visually seen a film like Doctor Strange since Avatar or Inception.

Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s going to get it. Why? Because a Marvel property hasn’t won a best VFX Oscar since over a decade ago with Spider-Man 2. If Iron Man, The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, and X-Men: Days of Future Past couldn’t nab it, then it’s highly unlikely Doctor Strange will now, no matter how good the visual effects may be. The fact that Captain America: Civil War isn’t even nominated in this category should tell you everything about the Academy voter’s opinions of superhero movies.

Since that is the case, I’m going with my runner-up option, which is Jon Favreau’s live-action remake of The Jungle Book. His team expertly combined practical effects with CGI, and the body movements of the animals were so accurately depicted that it’s hard to tell that they’re not real animals. If The Jungle Book had any achievement, it was in its visual effects, so that’s the one I’m going with.

And now we come to the infuriating short categories. I never know what to put any year, considering I’m never able to see any of the nominees. The following are just blind guesses: Piper for animated short, Joe’s Violin for documentary short, and Silent Nights for live action short. Watch me get all of them wrong this year. Just wait.

That concludes my predictions for this year’s La La— oops, I meant Oscar ceremony. I’ll see you guys on awards night, preferably without any singing.

– David Dunn

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Top 10 Films Of 2016

I think I speak for everyone when I say this has been an exhausting year for us all. The politics. The presidential elections. Not to mention all of the celebrity deaths. I thought last year was bad. 2016 felt like it was having a competition with 2015 on how much more miserable it could make everyone feel. If I were judging, it wouldn’t even be a contest for me. 2016: you win.

During these difficult times, I try to find some positive from the year that everyone can take away to make the next year more positively impactful. Most years, they are the movies, because they usually reflect our mindset, where we’re at socially, and where we need to go from here together as a society. This year, however, my point of positive is not the movies (although that is a close second).

No, this year, its the people.

No matter what we’ve faced this year, there were always people there to help others with the horrible things they were going through. There were Christians that helped the homosexual community after the Orlando nightclub shooting in June. Legal citizens helping their fleeing refugee neighbors from war-torn countries. The Americans that banded together for the ethnic minorities that were targets of many hate crimes during the presidential elections. On and on.

My point being, no matter who is triumphing over whom, there will always be a group of people there to hold everyone accountable for their actions. Cries for justice may go unanswered, crimes may go unpunished. But we as a people, for the most part, know the difference between right and wrong. And you can’t ever escape morality, no matter what office you hold or what seat you sit in. These same unnamed heroes are the same people who made the year’s most important stories on the big screen. Perhaps that is why 2016 is one of my least favorite years, but one of my favorite years in film.

Before we get into my top 10 list for the year, it’s important for you to understand that I have not seen every movie made this year. I tried. Films that I wanted to see but didn’t get the chance to view included A Monster Calls, La La Land, Silence, Patriots Day, and Fences. What can I say? 2016 is a year filled with movies, but since the other 11 months aren’t close enough to awards season, those filmmakers decide to push those releases to the very end in December next to all the other Holiday releases. Since they’re more concerned about trophies than they are in reaching their audience, they will not be included on this list, even if their films deserve to be.

Also, this is my top 10 list. My favorite films. My opinion. You will notice that Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is not included on this list. That is because I saw 10 other films that I enjoyed more than I did Rogue One. That does not lessen or expand upon Rogue One’s success, or the success of many other films. It just means that I liked these movies more.

That being said, let’s hop into my favorites from this year:


10. Kubo and the Two Strings

A movie that is not only better than most of today’s animated films, but also better than most of its live-action ones as well. When Kubo (Art Parkinson) is being hunted by his evil grandfather the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), he enlists in the help of two new friends he’s met along his journey: Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey). Together, these three embark on an adventure to defeat the Moon King and free Kubo from his clutches forever. Filmed using stop-motion technology, Kubo and the Two Strings feels and breathes of Japanese mythology, its characters talking, fighting, flipping, and moving like the origami figures Kubo loves to craft. The action is also surprisingly exciting, with its fast-moving and acrobatic characters fighting in sequences that are more impressive than most of the year’s live-action films. There is one plot twist that doesn’t fit in with the overall plot, but beyond that, this is an excellent movie. Like Akira and Spirited Away, this is a movie that challenges animated movies and what they can accomplish. If Kubo is anything to go by, they can accomplish a lot. Three and a half stars.

9. Moana

A great deep sea adventure and memorable animated odyssey. When the powerful demi-God Maui (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) loses an ancient artifact known as the Heart of Te Fiti, he sends the world spiraling into a pit of darkness that is polluting all of the Earth’s crops and lands. But when the ocean picks Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) as the one who will rescue Maui, find the heart of Te Fiti, and restore the planet, she embarks on an epic journey to find the stone, and along the way, herself. Disney outdoes themselves yet again with this one. The animation alone is visually colorful and dynamic, even the waves are so detailed and accurate in their movement that its hard to tell the difference between it and the real ocean. The voice talent is outstanding, with newcomer Auli’i Cravalho surprising us at every turn with her singing and projection. A great throwback to classic Disney adventures and a great tribute to female empowerment. Three and a half stars.

8. Miracles From Heaven

Part medical drama, part family drama, part spiritual drama, all human drama. Based on a true story, Miracles From Heaven follows a tight-knit Texas family when their middle daughter is diagnosed with intestinal pseudo-obstruction, a fatal disease that freezes the intestines and makes it nearly impossible to digest food. Now left wondering how something so terrible could happen to a girl so sweet, Christy Beam (Jennifer Garner) is determined to nurse her daughter back to health, no matter how many pills, tests, or doctor visits it takes. Jennifer Garner is a standout in this movie, expressing genuine joy and relief in some moments, while in others demonstrating genuine grief and depression, just like all of the ups and downs a mother would go through with her child. Despite this film being labeled a “Religious” film, it isn’t preaching to the choir, and is considerate and respectful to viewers of all faiths, especially those who don’t believe. Other movies should follow its template if they want to be as impactful and meaningful. Not just a good Christian film, but a great one. Three and a half stars.

7. Doctor Strange

A unique, compelling, visually spectacular entry into the superhero genre: one of the best. When Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) gets into a devastating car accident, he loses the nerves in his hands and his career as a neurosurgeon. When he is told that a monk called the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) can help him, he traverses to the deep mountains in Nepal to be cured, only to be introduced to a world full of magic and sorcery that he’s only beginning to understand. The visual effects are easily the standout element of this movie, with sorcerers kung-fu fighting each other on constantly shifting walls, windows, pillars, ledges, and anything else that can turn into a kaleidoscope of architecture. Not since Avatar or Inception have the visuals been so sensory that they felt more like an out-of-body experience rather than a cinematic one. Cumberbatch, just as well, plays his role with charisma and gravitas, making his character feel more tragically Shakespearean rather than larger-than-life. A great moviegoing experience that shows our titular character not as a superhero, but as a man, fatally egotistical, selfish, eccentric, ignorant, and most of all, flawed. Four stars.

6. Finding Dory

A surprisingly meaningful animated sequel that is every bit as good as its predecessor. Taking place years after the events of Finding Nemo, Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) suddenly remembers her parents and her life before meeting Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence). Now determined to reunite with her parents, Dory, Marlin, and Nemo embark on yet another journey across the ocean to find Dory’s family. With Finding Nemo writer-director Andrew Stanton returning to once again helm this oceanic odyssey, Finding Dory displays a fine understanding of everyone’s favorite forgetful fish. So fine, in fact, that this movie truly stands on its own, needing almost no support from its previous entry. From its animation to its screenplay, Finding Dory is a smart homage to its origins, but also a funny, unique, and emotional roller coaster of a film that stands very well on its own two feet (well, fins). Four stars.

5. Don’t Breathe

An intense, immersive experience that makes the best use out of its limited premise. When a team of professional thieves decide to rob the home of a retired blind veteran, they think its an easy job. But when one thing happens after another, they realize this veteran is not all that he seems, and soon they’re the ones fearing for their lives. This cat-and-mouse invasion thriller is excellently paced and tightly edited, with director Fede Alvarez making the best use of his environments and with how characters react to shocking revelations. He also makes great use of sound space, with the most tense moments often being the most silent. The cast is convincing in their roles, and Stephen Lang demonstrates the full capacity of his skills as this spine-chilling, creepy, yet sympathetic veteran desperate for the things that he’s lost. A creative, captivating thriller that is as unconventional as it is unpredictable. Four stars.

4. Deepwater Horizon

A unique and riveting action film that seeks to honor its real-life subjects by showing us exactly what they went through. Mark Wahlberg stars in this adaptation of the 2010 BP oil spill directed by Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, Lone Survivor), and he handles this subject with delicate treatment of the events and for the real-life figures involved in the tragedy. Berg connects us to the crew members’ humanity before ominously foreshadowing to their dreary fates beyond the spewing oil, the collapsing metal frames, the wild fires, and the empty sea gallows looming beneath them. This is a movie that completely understands what the real-life crew members were up against, and they bring you every detail of that disaster with nerve-wrecking alertness and urgency. The PG-13 rating is deceiving. Definitely do not bring your children. Four stars.

3. Arrival

A science-fiction drama that starts out as one thing, only to slowly transform into another. When aliens land on multiple places at once on Earth, the U.S. army enlists in the help of Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguist who is notable for her translation of thousands of languages on the planet. As she investigates deeper into the reasons why the aliens are there, she makes a discovery that will change the course of the human species forever. Smartly crafted from the mind of director Denis Villenueve (Prisoners, Sicario), Arrival is an intelligent observation of the extraterrestrial, how humans react to the unknown and how they build and learn foreign communication. Adams is a powerhouse as the lead, a hero who is intelligent, vulnerable, yet persistent in doing what she has to do. Smart, emotional, and leaving you with plenty to think about long after you’ve left the movie theater, Arrival is a science-fiction experience that you simply must see. The twist near the end will guarantee have your jaw dropping. Four stars.

2. Captain America: Civil War

The best MCU movie to be made to date. When the United Nations decides that the Avengers are too dangerous to be left unchecked, the team is split into two factions. Captain America (Chris Evans) believes that the team should be allowed to continue to operate freely without interference. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) thinks that the team needs to be held accountable in some way, shape or form. As tensions between the two sides rise, the team eventually collapses and comes to blows with each other, never to leave them the same again. A film as politically-charged as it is fast-paced, fun, and exciting, Captain America: Civil War is unique in the superhero genre in that there is no black-and-white sense of morality. No established sense of right and wrong in the picture, just characters whose ideals and values clash violently with each other. What’s left is an unconventional masterpiece, a moral dilemma packaged as a superhero blockbuster that excites us just as much as it challenges us. Chadwick Boseman and Tom Holland shine in their breakout roles as Black Panther and Spider-Man. Four stars.

1. Hacksaw Ridge

A powerful, emboldening film, one that does not shortchange the horror of war, but equally does not shortchange the power of belief either. Hacksaw Ridge is based on the incredible true story of Desmond Doss, a WWII combat medic who saved over 75 soldiers during the battle of Okinawa. Most impressively, he did it armed without a single weapon. Directed by Mel Gibson, who is a master at epic filmmaking with Braveheart and Passion of the Christ, Hacksaw Ridge pulls emotion out of you to the point where you don’t feel like you’re watching a movie anymore, and are instead completely immersed in its harsh, uncompromised reality. Andrew Garfield equally commits to this uncompromising role, showing how his character is scared, frightened, yet earnest and determined all the same. I can’t praise this movie enough. Hacksaw Ridge does more than strengthen the soldier’s spirit. It strengthens the human spirit. Four stars.


And now for my special prize. For those of you that don’t know, every year I award a special prize to a limited release that not many people heard of, but nonetheless deserves to be sought out just like any blockbuster out there. This year’s selection was difficult, because for the longest time, I debated if this film should be placed as my number one in my list over Hacksaw Ridge. I eventually decided that its achievement places itself at a higher, more important caliber than a top ten list. So I decided to give it the appropriate award for its uniqueness.

And my special prize this year goes to…

Special Prize: Moonlight

An urgent, important, and timely film that presses the viewer not to understand its characters by their race or sexuality, but by their personal experiences that mold them into the men that they become. Broken up into three parts, Moonlight follows a young man growing up in an ugly urban neighborhood that doesn’t care much about the people who live in it. As he is hit with one childhood trauma after another, we watch as they shape him into the man that he grows up to become, with all of his flaws, scars, and burdens on his shoulders intact. A great movie that hits on many important issues, Moonlight absorbs great performances from Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, and even child actor Alex Hibbert, who surprisingly keeps up with the outstanding talent surrounding him. Barry Jenkins, who hasn’t made a film in eight years, comes back center stage with a film that is technically immaculate, creatively shot, and emotionally absorbing. It is a personal, astounding film that shows while a person may be scarred, hurt, maybe even broken, they are no less beautiful because of it.

I can’t make it any simpler than this. If you can only see one movie from this year, make it Moonlight.

And that’s my list, folks. Here’s to leaving 2016 behind, and looking forward to making 2017 better.

– David Dunn

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

“HACKSAW RIDGE” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Convicted by belief.

I don’t believe in God anymore.

The first time I heard those words uttered from one of my closest friends’ lips, I was shaken. Growing up in a deeply spiritual household, I’ve always held the notion that God was quietly watching over everything. The thought that he didn’t even exist truly frightened me. To me, it was as if hearing love doesn’t exist.

But as my friend continued his testimony, my shock turned into sadness as I slowly realized where he was coming from. Fighting in the Iraq war, he saw things nobody should ever see, not even soldiers. He saw his friends blow up right in front of his face. People he called his brothers, suddenly turned into small, bloody piles of meat laying on top of the dirt. He saw women and children killed daily, and in turn, he also saw women and children kill others. He does not exaggerate when he says he saw a very real picture of hell, and at the end of it all he looked at me and asked “How can a God see that and let it exist?”

I’ve never agreed with him, but I’ve always understood where he came from and why he held the position that he did. I’m sure he looks at other war films, such as Saving Private Ryan or Black Hawk Down, and is tragically reminded of the horrifying images he saw half a world away. I can watch a movie. He only needs to watch his nightmares.

I would like this same friend of mine to watch Hacksaw Ridge. It is a powerful, emboldening film, one that does not shortchange the horror of war, but equally does not shortchange the power of belief either. This is a movie that does more than strengthen the soldier’s spirit. It strengthens the human spirit.

Based on an incredible true story, Hacksaw Ridge tells the story of Desmond Doss (Portrayed by Andrew Garfield), a combat medic during WWII that saved the lives of over 75 American soldiers during the battle of Okinawa. That much I already knew. What I didn’t know was that he exhausted and nearly killed himself saving most of those men in one single night. The number of lives that he saved is impressive enough on its own. The fact that he did it within a 12-hour period makes his story seem impossible.

And yet, Desmond Doss did exist, he did save 75 soldiers, and he did do all of it in one night. Even more impressive is the fact that he did so without arming himself with a single weapon. Yes, dear reader: he was a conscientious objector, and he is the only war hero in history to have earned that title alongside a Medal of Honor.

To try and verbalize the feelings that the film emotes is impossible. Like other great historical epics, such as Schindler’s List or 12 Years A Slave, it pulls emotion out of you to the point where you don’t feel like you’re watching a movie anymore, and are instead completely immersed in its harsh, uncompromised reality. It’s easy to relate to Desmond Doss because you’re not experiencing the film through the third-person perspective as the viewer: you’re experiencing it firsthand as Doss, seeing the same things that he does while reacting to them in real time.

Mel Gibson is no stranger to this sort of storytelling. His previous films, including Apocalypto, Passion of the Christ, and the Oscar-winning Braveheart, each threw our heroes through impossible, monumental, life-changing events that personally challenged each of them as those movies went on. Hacksaw Ridge is a welcome addition to his incredibly impactful filmography. Like each of those films, Hacksaw Ridge finds tragedy in a real-life subject, hammers it mercilessly at our hero, only to see him overcome it with every grit of his teeth, every sweat pouring down his brow, and every grip of his nails digging into the dirt.

The fact that this film exists, and that it is done as well as it is, is a testament to Gibson’s skill as a filmmaker. What is most impressive is the fact that this person existed in real life, and that he really did the things we saw him do on screen. How could this have possibly happened? I’m a believer, and I don’t believe the things I saw on the screen. It’s so far-fetching to think about, but the film is done so vividly well that you can’t see it as anything but real. The film exists in this weird space where you want to question everything you’re told, but then as you watch it, you suddenly silence your questions and your disbelief.

You stop doubting. You start believing.

Garfield deserves equal credit in bringing this man’s story to life. Yes, Gibson is the director in the chair, and his master strokes as an artist is what allows this film to live and breathe. Yet, a movie is nothing without its character, and Garfield performs his role brilliantly. Imagine a character pulled right out of the frames of any other Christian film, professing his status as a believer, hit with some monumental tragedy, then questioning himself and the things that he was raised to believe.

Now throw that character through the gritty, violent, gory battlefields akin to any horror movie, and watch as he reacts to everything he’s witnessing in the moment. That is the role Garfield has to play, and he does it convincingly as his character is scared, fearful, chaotic-minded, and alone. Yet, there is also an earnest courage and bravery to him that feels equally real, and when it overcomes his fear and his sadness, that is when the film is at its most powerful. Garfield is simply stunning in this role. If he does not at least get an Oscar nomination for this performance, the Academy will have truly lost all authenticity as an awards ceremony

To elaborate on this film any further would invite the threat of spoiling it. Go and see this movie. I repeat: GO AND SEE THIS MOVIE. There are films out there that excite us, thrill us, depress us, madden us, scare us, and empower us. Hacksaw Ridge changes us. Even if you do not share the same religious views as Doss, you share the same spiritual views, which is the spiritual power of overcoming.

I don’t know if Hacksaw Ridge will change my friend’s view on God. It probably won’t. But it might change his view on life, on the resilience of the human spirit and the things that it can accomplish. If Hacksaw Ridge doesn’t bring my friend to God, then I pray that it at least brings him to hope.

Tagged , , , , ,
Advertisements