Tag Archives: Moonlight

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

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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

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Oscars Strike Back

You spoke, Academy Award voters listened. Well, mostly.

After the #OscarsSoWhite controversy last year regarding the obvious lack of diversity in their nominations (all 20 acting nominees were Caucasian), the Academy wisened up with their pool of nominees this year. While there are still a healthy amount of snubs (there are every year), most of the nominees are at least well-deserved, and the nominees don’t seem to be lacking diversity-wise in many areas.

For best picture, we have the eerie science-fiction mystery Arrival, the Denzel Washington-directed Fences, the incredible and emotional war epic Hacksaw Ridge, the western-heist film Hell or High Water, the behind-the-scenes story of the moon landing Hidden Figures, the uplifting tap-dancing musical La La Land, the true story that spans technology and time in Lion, the personal family drama Manchester By The Sea, and the pivotal and passionate Moonlight. From the look of these nominees at first glance, it seems clear that the Academy is trying to make up for their relentless snubbing of Creed and Straight Outta Compton last year, as the inclusion of Fences, Hidden Figures, and Moonlight shows they’re trying to atone for past mistakes that they’ve made.

Still, they’re lacking in some areas. Captain America: Civil War is no where to be found, as well as its profane cousin Deadpool. Both of Peter Berg’s films Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day were skipped over by the Academy, despite them both being biopics and for featuring outstanding talent from its cast and crew. Perhaps most surprising to me is that they decided to snub A Monster Calls, a fantasy drama that has been getting Oscar talk for a long time now. I guess it goes to show that buzz doesn’t equal results, and with how many Christmas releases are included in the lineup, it especially shows how close to the chest Academy voters play with the nominations process.

For best director we have Denis Villenueve for Arrival, Mel Gibson for Hacksaw Ridge, Damien Chazelle for La La Land, Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester by the Sea, and Barry Jenkins for Moonlight. My immediate reaction is that Gibson and Jenkins are most deserving. After all, it’s hard to take the subject matter they’ve had to deal with and translate it into film so well. Myself personally hopes that Gibson will win it, because he’s had a hard few years and made a comeback as powerful and groundbreaking as Hacksaw Ridge. But he already won best director a few years ago with Braveheart, so it’s unlikely the Academy will strongly consider him again, especially with all of the outstanding talent that he’s up against.

For best actor we have Casey Affleck in Manchester By The Sea, Andrew Garfield in Hacksaw Ridge, Ryan Gosling in La La Land, Viggo Mortensen in Captain Fantastic, and Denzel Washington in Fences. Not much to complain about here. All of the nominees are well-deserved in one way or another, and there’s no obvious snubs like Johnny Depp’s absence last year for Black Mass. I’m sure others will raise arguments about one actor or another, but for the most part, this category is well-rounded. No complaints here.

For best actress we have Isabelle Huppert in Elle, Ruth Negga in Loving, Natalie Portman in Jackie, Emma Stone in La La Land, and Meryl Streep in Florence Foster Jenkins. First thing’s first: Meryl Streep again? Really, Academy? This is literally her 20th nomination. I agree that she’s an outstanding talent, but you don’t need to nominate her every time she makes a movie. Amy Adams was subtle yet masterful in her role as a linguist in Arrival. But no, Meryl Streep needs another nomination, for a movie as clunky, awkward and uncomfortable as Florence Foster Jenkins.

Keep in mind I’m not criticizing Meryl Streep, I’m criticizing the Academy. There are outstanding artists every year yearning for recognition, yet the attention the Academy keeps giving her is taking away from those same performers. At this point, I’m expecting her to get a nomination if she portrays a wood table and chair. She could even win it too.

Back to the nominations. I like that Huppert is nominated for Elle, as French actors usually go unnoticed by the Academy unless it’s in the Foreign Language film categories. But I am also pleased to see Stone under the nominations as well. She’s always been a stand-out talent, from The Help all the way to Birdman. I don’t know whether she’ll win this year or not, but I’m excited to see what the race will be like. This is a category to look forward to.

For best supporting actor, we have Mahershala Ali for Moonlight, Jeff Bridges for Hell or High Water, Lucas Hedges for Manchester By The Sea, Dev Patel for Lion, and Michael Shannon for Nocturnal Animals. An oddity I found in this category was Dev being nominated for Lion. Isn’t he the main character? I haven’t seen the film myself, but I know its about a young boy who uses Google Earth to find his birth parents after years of separation, which is the role that Patel plays. Even if the film uses flashbacks, he’s still portraying the elder version of the main character. Why is he nominated in a supporting role?

For best supporting actress we have Viola Davis for Fences, Naomie Harris for Moonlight, Nicole Kidman for Lion, Octavia Spencer for Hidden Figures, and Michelle Williams for Manchester By The Sea. Again, nothing really lacking in this category, although I would have liked to have seen Felicity Jones nominated for A Monster Calls. I’m personally pining for Harris to win for her outstanding work on Moonlight, but this category can really go any way. Cross your fingers on this one.

The most obvious snubs come from films that are frequently ignored by the Academy, although they shouldn’t be. Suicide Squad got a nomination in makeup, although it should have also gotten nominated for best original song for Twenty One Pilots’ “Heathens.” Deadpool also had outstanding makeup and costume work and is nominated for a Writer’s Guild award for best adapted screenplay. Of course, it isn’t nominated for that same award here.

The biggest snub came from Captain America: Civil War, a movie which really deserved to be nominated for anything. Best Picture. Best Director. Best Adapted Screenplay. Best Sound Editing and Mixing. Best Visual Effects. It got nominated for nothing. Yep, that’s right: it got The Dark Knight Rises treatment in 2012.

To me, this really speaks to how disconnected the Academy voters are to moviegoing audiences. Captain America: Civil War is simultaneously the highest-grossing and one of the highest-reviewed pictures of the year. With its complex story, mind-blowing action scenes, as well as its blurred sense of morality, this is a movie that is more resemblant of our politically-polarized society than it is as an action blockbuster. To look at its depth of layers hidden inside a superhero epic and ignore them is just a plain sham. The Academy Award voters should know better than this.

You can check out the full list of nominees here. In the meantime, I’m sharpening my pencil and checking off on my ballot. I’ll see you on Oscar night.

– David Dunn

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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

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“MOONLIGHT” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Beautifully broken.

If you can only see one movie this year, make it Moonlight. With most movies, we go with the purposes of either being entertained or enlightened on a particular issue, sometimes both. Moonlight transcends both of those purposes. It is 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. Moonlight not only deserves to be seen: it is essential.

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 that live in it. This man has been called many things during his childhood. Little. Black. Chiron. One of those is his name. All of them define him.

Chiron has had a hard childhood. He was bullied when he was in elementary school. He watched his mother sink into drug abuse with a new man she brought home every night. He witnessed the drug trade up close as he lived with a dealer when he ran away from home.

In high school, bullying further intensified as all the “hard” kids intimidated Chiron because of his small size. His mother’s abuse intensified. His loneliness grew. He fell in love with one of his classmates. He was assaulted on school grounds. And in experiencing the pure essence of hurt and anger, Chiron makes a great mistake that costs him much. We see him sink deeper into this despair that we call life.

Now in adulthood, the older Chiron is starkly different from his younger self. He now deals drugs himself, but he never uses them, fully remembering what it did to his mother. He worked out, got hard, built himself up so that he would never be intimidated by others again. He carries a gun on his waist, gold chains on his neck, and a chip on his shoulder everywhere he goes.

Before I praise anything else in this film, I have to praise the casting. With most movies with flashbacks, the casting isn’t paid much thought when it comes to the younger counterparts. In Batman V. Superman, for instance, the young actor Brandon Spink looks nothing like the elder Ben Affleck, from his bone structure all the way to hairstyle. In last year’s equally failed Fantastic Four, the young Evan Hannemann was chubby and round-faced, looking nothing like the slender, more robust Jamie Bell at an older age. It’s a small element but it’s a noticeable one, and most filmmakers choose to overlook it since the younger actors are in the film for less than 10 minutes.

But Moonlight is not like most movies. In this film, it is written and divided into three parts, with each act resembling a different time and age of Chiron’s life. Because of this, the casting is so crucial, to the point where if it is unbelievable even for a second, the entire film can fall apart.

But the casting in all of the roles are pitch-perfect. None of the actors falter for a second, and it’s at times hard to believe that these are actors that we are watching. Even child actor Alex Hibbert does such a good job expressing the younger Chiron’s innocence and vulnerability. He embodies everything a child is supposed to be: playful, excited, energetic, but also confused, shy, fearful, and sometimes, intimidated. The scenes where Hibbert had to react to his mother’s drug abuse were especially hard, because he just stands there frozen, petrified, unsure of how he’s supposed to react to his mother’s outbursts. It’s a simple role, but one that’s brilliantly filled. Even at such as young age, Hibbert demonstrates a talent that I hope grows as he becomes older.

The other actors are just as great in their performances. Ashton Sanders, who plays the same role in high school, physically resembles his younger and older counterparts, and appropriately identifies with the confused, awkward hormonal period all teenagers go through at his age. The most convincing performance, not surprisingly, belongs to the experienced Trevante Rhodes, who portrays the older Chiron as a broken fragment of himself, trying to piece together his childhood and understand why things happened the way they did. Any one of these actors can be nominated for an Oscar, SAG, or Golden Globe, but if it’s even one actor, it’s an unfair nomination. All three actors need to be recognized, because all three brilliantly portrayed their characters at different, chaotic, messy times in their lives.

This film is directed by Barry Jenkins, who before Moonlight hasn’t made a feature-length film in eight years. How can this guy be out of the director’s chair for so long and come back and make such as minimalist masterpiece as this?

I think it’s because he tried to relate the film on a human level as opposed to a technical one. Look at Chiron’s older self. As a man, he identifies with numerous minority communities that are, as of late, facing discrimination. The African-American community. The LGBT community. The American lower class. For one reason or another, each of these communities have been seen in a negative limelight by parts of our culture either due to current events or moral debate.

The reason why you need to see this film, even if you end up hating it, is because it forces us to think differently from what we’re used to. Chiron commits many wrongs in the film, most of which we might not agree with. But we at least understand where he is coming from and why he behaves the way he does. He might be seen in the wrong, but he is also seen as sympathetic. After all, when a kid grows up in a broken household, neglected by his family, hunted by his community, and emasculated by his peers, do you blame him for coming out a little more confused about life rather than more clear about it?

By the end of the film, we see Chiron for all that he is. Black. Gay. Drug-dealer. Felon. Flawed. We see him as all of these things and more. Yet, under the calming blue hue of the moonlight, we also see something else: that he is still beautiful regardless.

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